Joker is one of the best DC movies for several years with a powerhouse performance from Joaquin Phoenix however, the nihilistic tone and supremely dark subject matter may prevent it from being a huge box office smash but we shall see…
Plot: Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur wears two masks — the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker.
*Minor spoilers may ensue*
Review: When I was younger I was the biggest Batman fan but over the past few years the questionable quality of the DC films (especially Justice League) essentially put me off the character and I generally lost all interest however, when I heard Joaquin Phoenix had been cast as the Joker in a dark tale that would explain his origins I was intrigued.
Early word for Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix has been generally positive however, as we all know it has not been without its controversy. Normally I find when people talk about movies potentially being dangerous, I think they are just being hysterical, but Joker is one of the few that I can understand. It’s an unrelenting tale with themes very relevant for today and as everyone has stated already it has more in common with the likes of Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver rather than a comic book film.
Our protagonist Arthur Fleck is played by Phoenix who gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a struggling stand-up comedian with mental illness who will become one of the greatest comic villains of all time. We’ve never seen him portrayed like this before and it’s a heartbreaking interpretation but also disturbing; it’s the first time we genuinely can empathize with the character despite his madness which is a testament to Phoenix as an actor. A scene featuring three Wall Street thugs on a subway is chillingly effective but also has you cheering for the villain against your better judgement.
I could see from the trailers that this would be unlike any other comic book villain origin story that has come before with Phoenix portraying Fleck as a man who has struggled his entire life, ignored by society but we know in the first few minutes of the movie that he is not all there. He has a “condition” that makes him laugh during times of tension which apparently is a real thing. This makes for some uncomfortable viewing as Arthur tries to get through daily life struggling with basic human interaction. While trying to make ends meet, he is also looking after his sick mother, so it isn’t exactly feelgood fare and has a nihilistic tone similar to movies from the 70’s.
As I said you have an idea from the trailers what to expect and the film is a challenging watch and not something I would revisit often. It’s R-rated with plenty of violence and disturbing moments but if you’re looking for lots of big set-pieces then you’ll be disappointed. I knew going in what to expect and to be honest the trailers really did spoil a lot of it so there were very little surprises for me in the story.
I didn’t particularly like the portrayal of Thomas Wayne who was shown to be a power hungry 1%-er rather than the philanthropist who is trying to improve Gotham. I mean, he says he wants to in this film, but he just comes across as a rich asshole who isn’t remotely sympathetic. It works with the narrative this film is telling though as it touched on various social and political points relevant for today. Could they not have cast some else rather than the guy who was in The Dark Knight Rises?
The acting in general is superlative and it was nice to see Robert De Niro perfectly cast as an obnoxious talk show host after a few years of forgettable roles.
It may be too slowburn for some tastes, but Phoenix is so magnetic every moment he is on screen that it is never dull and the final 20 minutes are some of the best pieces of cinema you’ll see this year.
I was reading a while back when someone stated that we see Arthur struggling to contain his madness and the perfect symbolism is him slowly walking up the almost never ending stairs then when he eventually embraces who he is he dances his way down the stairs and is completely free.
I like my movies dark and gritty and Joker is exactly that giving us one of the most unflinching movies of the year and it sets a new bar for DC films. I want to see Phoenix’s Joker again especially facing off against Batman but apparently we may not get a crossover which would be a missed opportunity.
Overall, Joker won’t exactly put a smile on your face and the constant grimness and uncomfortable scenes make this a tough watch but Phoenix is electrifying and manages to be chilling, heartbreaking and disturbing all at once.