Joker - Review

The "comic book movie" genre is vast, providing many different takes and feels to comic book movies. Every now and then a film comes a long to challenge the meaning of the genre, and transcend it completely. The Dark Knight did that. So did Logan and Avengers: Endgame. The latest to do that is Joker and it might be the most severe departure of the genre yet.

Joker is, by all intents and purposes, a masterpiece. But it should only be considered that when judged in a bubble. The film is dark, haunting, uncomfortable, and deeply troubling. It adds nothing positive to our conversation in society about the stigma of mental illness. The Joker is Batman's greatest foe. He is a murderous psychopath. For a film to make him a sympathetic character is a bit tone deaf and distasteful. It can also be dangerous when seen by the wrong people.

When seen by everyone else though, it is quite the spectacle. It is an honor and a privilege to watch Joaquin Phoenix act. He will without a doubt, win an Academy Award for his take on the Joker, and it will be very well deserved. Robert De Niro lends his talent to his first ever comic book movie, and he is not wasted. Everybody else in the cast adds to the story too.

Phoenix's performance is what makes the movie so special. The laugh he crafted is truly unsettling. The sweet demeanor he gives to Arthur Fleck make his actions even more shocking. Director Todd Phillips made sure to show there is an inherent sweetness in Fleck somewhere, before spiraling him into complete insanity. Pairing those elements with Hildur Guðnadóttir's haunting score makes for something unique and powerful.

Brett Cullen plays a version of Thomas Wayne that has never been seen before. He has a dark quality to him. The way we see him is not in a flattering light. However, since the entire film is through the prism of Fleck, it is hard to tell if that was a true representation of his character or just a delusion of Fleck's.

The story comes from the edit, and Joker is masterfully edited. It has a similar feel to The King Of Comedy (starring De Niro as a mentally ill man who wants to be a comedian...) where you do not know what is real and what is in his head. De Niro plays a character very similar to Jerry Lewis's character in King, closing a loop in his illustrious career. There are also some Taxi Driver elements to Joker as well. Both Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy are masterpieces from Martin Scorsese. This borrows elements from both, and shows why those films are still so impactful today. Joker also looks beautiful. The masterful cinematography by Laurence Sher makes sure specific images stick with you.

The film doesn't deal with mental illness by using a scalpel. It deals with it by using a bulldozer and dynamite. It doesn't paint Arthur Fleck's actions as negative. Usually when an antagonist is driven to doing heinous things, there is a protagonist to serve as the films moral center. Joker has no moral center. It is pure chaos from beginning to end, much like the character has always been.

If someone were to call Joker a horror film, they wouldn't be wrong. This is a world without Batman, and while there are threads here that lead one to believe Batman will soon happen, it is not a guarantee. Joker is a strong testament to what risks a comic book property can take. It doesn't have to be beholden to any sort of continuity to tell the best story possible.

Art is meant to challenge, inspire, and invoke emotions. Joker definitely does that, positive or negative. It is a film that will be debated and thought about for a long time after it leaves theaters. Society may have forgotten about Arthur Fleck, but our society will never forget Joker, for better or for worse.

Joker is now playing in theaters everywhere.


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