Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix
Review Author: Shaun
When you think of comic book villain’s the Joker would probably be top of the list for many people. For nearly 80 years the Joker has terrorised the Dark Knight and cemented himself as an iconic figure in pop culture. In recent years the character has become an immortal character in cinema history, the role has helped give numerous actors a solid legacy and is easily the most dynamic villain to play. With Matt Reeves Batman reboot currently in production, I’m sure another future depiction of the clown prince of crime is soon to be coming around, with Hollywood’s A-list actors jumping for a chance to play the role. This time Joaquin Phoenix takes over the role that needed some recovering after the controversial Jared Leto portrayal. The film looks at an unconventional Joker that not only dives into the psychology of the character but also looks at the surrounding society.
As mentioned, Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck; The base of this character is not primarily from one comic but is a mixture of many. Phoenix takes different elements from the Joker’s 80-year history and blends it together to create something fresh but also familiar. For what this film is trying to achieve, Phoenix’s performance is simply flawless, and you can tell he’s throwing everything at the role. The direction this character is heading has been in front of our noses the whole time, but it takes Phoenix’s sinister, fluid movements to bring it to life. The character of Arthur Fleck is crafted beautifully, Todd Phillips gets the audience to sympathize with him during the early goings of the movie before pulling the rug and unravelling the inner layers which define the Joker. I believe Philip’s true intention for the audience is not to relate to Arthur but to understand him, his world, his predicaments, and what makes him become the Joker.
The main theme of the film is Mental Illness which is a common pillar for a lot of the Batman’s rouges gallery, but Phillip’s also sprinkles some very real and authentic elements that mirror our own reality. The film addresses one of Joker’s key traits in a unique way, we see that Arthur suffers from a condition that makes him laugh at unfortunate times like a tick. It’s significant to see the filmmakers of Joker use a characteristic of the character we’ve all just accepted as part of his insanity and give it a completely different view that honestly makes you feel stupid for not having that thought about it earlier. The film also dives into other deeper elements of mental illness and the neglect many feel who suffer from it, which is a topic by itself.
The film is the first movie from DC’s Black label film series, which intends to be a dark & adult look at its characters. For the moment, regarding superhero universes, this stands on its own two legs. It does borrow some elements of films gone by but doesn’t connect to them in any way. Instead, the storyline takes elements from well known Joker stories from the comic books, the main one with would be recognizable to any fan is The Killing Joke. The character of a struggling standup comedian decent into Madness is heavy taken from the graphic novel with the Jokers one bad day into instantly on full show. With this the movie also borrows from classic cinema with people using Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy as a comparison which they would be correct. The film doesn’t try to hide this but instead does the opposite with casting Robert De Niro as a comedic late-night TV host and uses these elements in a unique angle within a comic book story.
Saying that the films’ supporting cast are solid but limited, I would have enjoyed more interactions between them, two main examples are Arthur’s love interest in the film Sophie, their interactions are unique to say the least and more screen time would have been nice, but their relationship has a big part to play later on. The second being Thomas Wayne who is uniquely portrayed as a wealthy tycoon figure who wants to change what he views is infecting Gotham, primarily the poor. It’s certainly a different take than we are accustomed to rather than the fallen, well-respected father we’ve seen through Bruce’s eyes. As a Batman fan, I found this interesting as we rarely see the street level view of the Wayne’s and how the normal people of Gotham see the family.
The lead up to Joker’s release has seen a lot of controversy, the main talking point being how the movie might incite violence. Yes, the film has some violent scenes and yes; It has mature topics and many reviewers are using this to streamline their political views. I personally don’t believe this and have always seen film’s as a personal experience for entertainment and not a tool to inspire real world action. This movie might not be for everybody and that’s okay, there are some elements in this film which are going to make people uneasy and uncomfortable as it takes serious issues from our world from our world and injects it into theirs. I personally found it strange during some parts during the start of the film siding with Arthur which can make some people feel wrong as you’re feeling sorry for the Joker and in my mind, this makes the film more complex and makes it something worth talking about so hats off to the filmmaker.
Overall film that achieves what it set out to do, Joker has ticked all boxes. It’s a guarantee that all eyes will be fixated on Phoenix’s performance. I thought after Ledger’s mythical performance of The Joker; the character was done but thankfully this isn’t the case. Looking beyond the social commentary, this film is outstanding in sound design, cinematography and costumes. It’s a strong launch for DC’s planned black label films. I’m looking forward to seeing what they have lined up next. As for Phoenix’s Joker, I do hope that this isn’t the last we see of him. Hopefully, if this film does well at the box office, we might see him face off against the Dark Knight one day in the future.
Rating: 5 / 5 pints of Guinness