Dive deep into the mythos of one of the most iconic and beloved comic book villains of all time. Joaquin Phoenix transcends into another atmosphere while playing the Clown Prince of Crime, but it’s not enough to save this film.
A gritty character study of Arthur Fleck, a man disregarded by society.
The Joker sure likes his cigarettes. He might not even be around long enough for Batman to punch him in his face, lung cancer might be the cause of death for this clown. Joker, written and directed by Todd Phillips, stars Joaquin Phoenix as Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker. What a complete whirlwind this movie as caused. So much controversy going into the release of Joker, but I will not be going into any of that here in this review. Another day, another comic-book movie that has divided the masses. Some are praising this to be a ‘masterpiece’, while others think it’s rather forgettable. I find myself somewhere in the middle.
A 1970’s character study about someone who is mentally ill. Struggling with everyday life, Arthur Fleck feels rejected and neglected from the outside world. He thinks up until a certain point that his life is, in fact, a travesty. Cut off from the world, Arthur feels alone and has a hard time connecting with anyone. Joker examines what it’s like to be severely mentally ill and how the outside world, not only treats you but perceives you. This is his origin story, how a simple man becomes the greatest foe to our Caped Crusader. It’s a haunting and dark tale, one that we’ve never seen told in a movie. Arthur has a hard time finding any joy in the world, that is until confronted with a decision to finally stand up for himself, and not let high-class society push him around anymore. Once Arthur breaks that point, once he is submerged into the deep end, there is no going back for this man. Anarchy, madness, mass hysteria are the driving force behind this man, he simply wants no order in the world. Chaos is his form of pleasure, and towards the end of this film, he’s neck-deep in it.
Honestly, Joaquin Phoenix is a revelation, he’s brilliant in every aspect of this role. He took this seriously, and it pays off for him. That doesn’t mean he makes for a great Joker, and that’s my biggest problem with the film, I could never get behind him or even take him seriously. I’m not taking anything away from his awe-inspiring work here, but I just don’t think at the end of the day, he was a great Joker. Call me crazy, but that’s how I felt. The movie for being so twisted, and dark and chaotic, I never felt a sense of horror or shock from what I was seeing on the screen. The tone of the movie at times is all over the place, especially in scenes where the tension is high and you know something terrible is about to happen, it never struck any sort of fear or intrigue on my part. Arthur has a disorder, where at times, he has an uncontrollable laughing attack, a homage to The Man Who Laughs, and this occurs a lot throughout the film. I disliked every aspect of his Joker laugh, I thought as the movie went on, his laugh would evolve and evoke more actual laughter, than a laugh that felt almost forced. It’s hard to explain, but I was so turned off by it, I felt it was taking me out of the entire movie.
This is a new tale about this character, but another thing I disliked a lot, was how terrible of a criminal he was. The Joker is supposed to be this criminal mastermind, someone who can intellectually go toe-to-toe with Batman, he is the master of grand schemes, huge plots that push Batman to his brink. Where Fleck can barely think 5 minutes into his future, and walk 10 feet without causing some sort of damage to either himself or someone close by. Like he is playing everything he is doing by ear, expect his one planned out ploy that comes to a pretty horrific conclusion towards the end of the film. Again, this is a new take on the character and this is how Phillips wanted to portray him, I just thought it was a misstep. Whereas, how they show his descent into madness, how when the literal curtain is pulled and Joker is essentially finally revealed his almost done to perfection. It’s slow and cathartic, where his mind is slowly breaking. He’s quote on quote “bent out of shape” mentally and physically. Not only his is mind breaking and contorting, but so is his body. Phillips does an incredible job at showing just how weird and twisted his body is, Joaquin is contorting his body and it was the most disturbing part about his performance. His body is so skinny and weak and empty, as his mind goes, so does his body and I thought that was an interesting theme.
Another aspect of the film that they do unbelievable service to, is the depiction of Gotham City. In every Batman tale, Gotham City is a character in itself, it becomes one with the movie. Where we are so used to seeing it through the eyes of the rich and powerful, through Bruce Wayne and Batman, while here we are seeing the very underbelly through the eyes of Arthur. It’s gross, dirty and a place where all hope is lost. Gotham is a disease and it’s dying. So when your body is infected, there’s only one thing to do and that’s fight back. The anti-virus just so happens to be Arthur, the symbol of hope for these people that feel they have been thrown away by the upper-class society of Gotham. Little do they know, this symbol they are rooting for is the worst thing that will ever happen to Gotham.
There’s a ton to unpack about this film, many layers, and themes, mostly surrounding mental health and how we ignore it for the most part. Joker has a quote, “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t” was something that really stuck out for me. The world just wants him to be normal, they want everyone to be normal, and believe that mental illness is something one can shake off. When you ignore something, it tends to bubble up, it boils to a certain point where it’s no longer safe. The untreated disease will destroy the body, the infection will spread, and that’s exactly what happens to Arthur. There’s a great scene with Bruce Wayne, the Batman stuff is somewhat explored here, wherein this universe, the Joker is the reason why he will eventually dawn the mask. It’s a shame we won’t ever get to see that interaction, and when this movie was announced I wondered how seeing the Joker not interact with Batman, be in the world without Batman would work. I believe they need each other, I believe they feed off each other, and I just don’t think one work without the other.
I wanted to love this movie, but it falls flat, the first 30 minutes drags and I felt overall there are a solid 10 goods minutes in here? The score by Hildur Guonadottir is chilling, hauntingly beautiful and one of the best of the year. This is a real film, there are no green screens, something that is expected with a comic-book movie, but not here. The cinematography is stunning, so many enriched shots, so many images that kind of burn into your mind and soul. All of this is not enough to save the movie. There are some great things happening here, but overall, I think it’s pretty hollow and empty. It’s the biggest flaw, the director. In more capable hands, I feel like the elements are changed and the tone and the vibe when things are gritty could have struck a more powerful cord. It’s going to be a massive hit, and people will love this movie, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
JOKER = 66/100