DC has finally given up on its shared cinematic universe building with Joker. Presenting it as a stand alone story unconnected with the recent DC films marks an opportunity to produce films unencumbered by the other films failings.
Joker is also the most controversial DC film before it was even released to the public. Being hysterically accused of presenting the Joker as relatable and sympathetic inciting domestic terrorism and being used as “A rallying cry for incels” by an ad revenue hungry media with very little basis in fact.
Let’s see if Joker is pushing an anarchistic subtext, normalizing anti-social behavior or is a cautionary tale.
Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck / Joker deserves the praise he has received for his performance as he twists himself into the tortured and abused / PTSD / mentally illness survivor. It is not only a transformation of the body but also his mind with what must have been some deep method acting on Phoenix’ part.
Phoenix portrayal is anything but glamorized. You will feel pity, you may feel sympathy or empathy for his version of the Joker however you won’t think “Wow I wan’t to be just like this guy!” Anyone who has actually been through what this character has wouldn’t want to be that way.
Robert De Niro is Murray Franklin a talk-show host. De Nero seems like this is the first performance in 20 years he actually gives a shit about. It is great to see him even in a small role just owning it and making you remember why he is one of the greats.
Zazie Beetz is solo mum Sophie who lives in Arthur’s building is one of the only rays of sunshine in Arthur’s bleak existence.
Joker is grounded in a very realistic depiction of early 80’s Gotham which is fantastically realized. Much like the Martin Scorsese films set in New York that serve as sources of inspiration for Joker, Taxi Driver and King of Comedy this is film steeped in the urban decay of the era.
Arthur is a down on his luck clown, with a mental condition taking care of his elderly mother.
Things descend from bad to worse for him due to his illness, his nature and the harsh realities of a city in turmoil.
Arthur although already not in a good place mentally he is getting treatment and he only gets worse once due to lack of city resources his support is removed and the program is cut.
This is a very grounded in reality treatment of the comic book character and setting. Arthur as the main focus of the movie is so tragic you are rooting for him to not snap and fully embrace the chaos of who he will inevitably become.
It does serve as a complete origin story and character study for Arthur’s descent into darkness and becoming the Joker.
In some ways Joker may be a victim of wanting to tell its own story and peoples expectations.
Joker is first and foremost a psychological drama and it pays heavy homage to Taxi Driver and many other Scorcese films, possibly too heavily as it draws very close comparisons.
Joker will likely be too slow burn and arty for the fans too used to the standard tent-pole blockbusters and too comic book for some of the art film crowd, although it did do very well on the festival circuit. If you are expecting an action packed chaos filled tale of the Joker doing Joker shit for 2 hours this probably isn’t the film for you.
For those worried or expecting it to be 2 hours of brutality and violence it will likely be “what?! is that it?” as it is very low key until it all boils over towards the end. This isn’t a problem with the films pacing as it does deliver but more to with peoples expectations both positive and negative.
The Good Stuff
Joaquin bloody Phoenix. Playing an iconic role like the Joker will always draw comparisons with Nicholson and Ledger. Phoenix’ portrayal will stand on its own along side them for his depth of character and the unique approach he took.
The cinematography and setting of early 80’s Gotham is well realized and shows the city decaying into crime and unrest. This is shot with a damaged beauty mirroring Arthur’s fall.
Mental illness and portraying it in film without demonizing and stigmatizing it is a delicate thing to get right. Negative handling of mental illness in film has caused many people to hide their issues and not seek help when they need it to only get worse. Joker approaches it in a realistic way.
No, this film isn’t the rallying cry of normalizing violent incel behavior.
A Clockwork Orange was banned and R rated in many countries when it was released 50 years ago as it was going to corrupt the youth but society as we know it still stands.
Taxi Driver came out 42 years ago and inspired an obsessive Jodie foster fan to try assassinate President Reagan, so that happened and we still managed to dodge nuclear war.
FightClub came out 20 years ago and presented a far more subversive and was widely misrepresented as a glamorization of anarchism than Joker (if you want to spin it that way) however guess what? We are all still here.
Those taking the extreme viewpoints seeing the character as something aspirational or are convinced out of their own fears despite all evidence to the contrary that the film will be used as gateway to violence and should be banned, that says more about them, their outlook and their state of mind and in either case, if anyone feels that way please talk to someone and get some support.
What Joker undeniably is however is a powerful and mesmerising study into a troubled mind and the factors that lead to his birth into the sociopathic reflection of the worst aspects of the city.
You’ll like it if you enjoy:
Taxi Driver and Scorcese films
The more grounded take on comic-books
Dark Psychological thrillers
Skip it if you:
Are looking for a fast paced comic-book movie
Are easily upset by mental illness or violence
Want it to connect to any other DC films
In cinemas now