The Joker Review: A Film Which Started a Joke That Started the Whole World Crying
Updated: Feb 3, 2020
During my years as a part-time content writer, I’ve written about many things but very rarely have I written a review about a film. The reason for this is that I have always found films to be very subjective and I know from my own experience that even after reading a review on the latest film release I don’t let it color my judgment and wait to form my opinion until after I see the film. This can probably be said for films even more so than music or video games. So, when my fiancée and I went to see Joker this past weekend, we never expected it to leave us feeling as conflicted or unnerved as it did. So much so that I felt the need to feature it as my latest entry into The Digital Madman.
Let me just start off by saying that I consider myself to be a massive fan of all things Marvel and DC. From reading the comics to playing the video games, and of course being among the first to see the films when they are released onto the big screen. But for the first time in a long time, I had absolutely no idea what to expect when watching Joker. Such is the erratic nature of the character. I’m almost sure the writers themselves didn’t even know what kind of story they would produce for the infamous Clown Prince of Crime. What we got was something I never in my life expected to see.
To say that Joker has re-imagined what a comic book movie can be is an understatement. Not only does it prove that these types of films don’t always need to feature caped heroes or an over reliance on explosions, it also produced a large middle finger aimed directly at legendary directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola who recently branded the entire superhero and comic book genre of film making as “despicable” and compared them to theme parks rather than cinema.
But what exactly is it that Joker does that makes it so incredibly unique compared to its comic book counterparts? Obviously, the major difference between it and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is its dark themes and chaotic nature. Marvel has become famous for its humor and over-the-top action and adventure. You will find absolutely nothing like that in Joker. The amazing thing about Joker is that it stands out as completely unique from fellow DC Comics movies such as Batman vs. Superman, Man of Steel, and Watchmen, all of which deal with themes revolving around contemporary societal problems such as racism, the ethics of vigilantism and religious divide. While deep and dark, they all share one common entity; they all focus on the story of the hero. This is where Joker completely differs. Not only does it veer away from the nature of good vs. evil, it puts a strong focus on humanities worst attributes.
Joker isn’t a film about redemption or the battle between good and evil. No, its the story of a man who has been cast so far out by society that he is slowly twisted and transformed into the living embodiment of what society represents; chaos and pain. It provides a fascinating insight into the deterioration of the human mind and how society perceives individuals with mental health related issues. We fear and objectify what we don’t understand and while we say we want to help people with mental health issues… do we actually? At the end of the day, is it a case of words speaking louder than actions?
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of all is that Joker comes from the mind of Todd Phillips (director, co-producer and co-writer) who is perhaps best known for being the man behind some of the biggest comedy films of the past 20 years such as Starsky & Hutch, Borat, War Dogs and The Hangover Trilogy. Phillips move from comedy to thriller was always going to be a risk but it is one that paid off as he and his team put together a powerful and unsettling allegory of contemporary neglect and violence that will no doubt be remembered in the years to come as a moment that comic book movies took a step forward from being looked upon as cinematic popcorn adventures to masterclass storytelling.
I’m aware at this stage that I haven’t even mentioned Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck/The Joker. But really little needs to be said. You are always in safe hands when watching a Joaquin Phoenix performance, but somehow, he managed to up his game for Joker. His portrayal of Batman’s arch nemesis is possibly just below that of Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight (personal opinion) but not by much. In fact, the acting throughout the entire film was strong. Robert De Niro plays talk show host Franklin Murray in a homage to his character Rupert Pupkin from The King of Comedy. Frances Conroy is as flawless as ever in her portrayal of Arthur’s mentally ill mother. If American Horror Story has taught us anything then its that she really can play any part she is given. Finally, Zazie Beetz shows that her performance as Domino in Deadpool 2 wasn’t a fluke and follows up with a nice tidy display that captures the viewers attention despite her lack screen time.
My one negative takeaway from Joker (and there are few) is the outcome of the film. While the ending is terribly satisfying, it also presents us with a very different type of Joker than we’ve ever come across before. I just couldn’t picture this Joker going up against Batman or going on to become the infamous Crown Prince of Crime that we all know he ends up as. In fact, if the film wasn’t set in a city called Gotham, or featured Thomas Wayne, you would be hard pushed to know that it was a comic book movie rather than a psychological thriller. The fact that it is a standalone movie makes it work though and allows for a lot of creative freedom in both the gritty writing and on-screen performances.