Starring Joaquin Phoenix
Joker is unlike anything you’ll have seen in a long time. Calling it a superhero movie is wrong on a lot of levels. Comic-book movie is closer, but again, not accurate. Joker is a kind of in depth character study that’s more commonly found in thrillers and is as far from a blockbuster action epic as you can get. There’s no quipping, no CGI, no bland heroes, no forgettable villains and no weak cop-outs or last minute resets. After 10+ years of the MCU’s good but frustratingly formulaic schtick and frequent blunders by DC and Fox, Joker is fucking refreshing. Actions have consequences here, the characters are human and believable and the final act contains no world ending threat, lame showdown or stupid CGI vortex in the sky.
Long-story short: this feels like an apology for Suicide Squad.
Suicide Squad is the worst Superhero film of the past decade and represents DC’s biggest misstep in its failed (and now rehashed) cinematic universe. Jared Leto’s Joker is still an embarrassment to fans of the character worldwide. There’s a lot of ways Joker can be portrayed, but Leto’s vision of a drug-lord in clown make-up isn’t one of them. No wonder he won’t be in Birds of Prey. By contrast, Phoenix’s Joker is up there with Ledger’s (The Dark Knight) and Hamill’s (Animated Series, Arkham Games) as the best of the bunch. Even the negative reviews of Joker (of which there are some, by woefully misguided reviewers who clearly lack the intelligence or attention span to appreciate it) give credit to Phoenix – he really commits to the character, and if he doesn’t get an Oscar for this, it will be a tragedy rather than a comedy.
Joker is set in the 1980’s, when Bruce Wayne was just a young kid and Thomas and Martha Wayne were still alive and kicking. The Wayne’s and Alfred are the only connections to the Batman universe – don’t expect cameos from Gordon or Harvey Dent or anything, this film remains utterly focused on its lead. Seeing Joker without Batman is a refreshing change and proves the character is compelling (and terrifying) enough to work on his own. Joker’s story ties into the Wayne family’s in ways that are both surprising and plausible here, and would make me very curious to see how a sequel with Batman would go. Not that Joker necessarily needs one. Phoenix nailed it, and his vision doesn’t need revisiting or tampering with unless the script and story is worthy of it.
The most striking thing about this film, which effectively is a origin story for Joker, is how unnervingly plausible it is. Arthur Fleck (Joker’s original name) initially comes across as a troubled, unhappy man who society has failed, who is stuck in a thankless job, with a non-existent social life and a dream he will likely never fulfil. You will feel some sympathy for him for at least the first hour of the film. Then, the film pulls the rug out from under you and shows just how deeply disturbed Fleck really is. He becomes increasingly violent, unpredictable and maniacal as the film goes on – in short, everything the Joker has always been – the second half will cull any sympathy you have for him, and don’t listen to some reviewers – it doesn’t glorify him in any way. His origin takes inspirational from some versions found in the comics, but its very much its own thing here. The problem with some Joker interpretations is that however compelling they are, the character never feels real. This one is terrifyingly possible, as is the broken, crumbling society that unwitting gives birth to him. This is as bleak as Gotham has ever looked onscreen, but its issues (wealth divides, corrupt elites, thuggish louts picking on the weak) feel relatable.
Looking at the other aspects of the film, it has very few, if any, flaws. The direction is superb throughout, and combined with the loud, abrasive, at times oppressive seeming soundtrack makes this tense and in places downright uncomfortable viewing – which is exactly how a film about the Joker should feel. The supporting cast are limited in screen time but all perform to a very high standard, particularly Robert de Niro as a talk show host who Arthur is a fan of. The movie can feel a bit slow in the first 40 minutes, but slow-burners have a habit of building to a satisfying (or in this case, disturbing) crescendo, and you will be on edge for the entire second-half of the film.
I’ve deliberately avoided discussing the plot or the exact journey that Arthur Fleck goes on to become the Joker – this is something you want to experience for yourself – not be told in advance. I can’t promise this will be your favourite version of Joker – for me Phoenix ties with Ledger and Hamill at the top of the pile – but its definitely one who will leave an impression. I also can’t promise you will like this film – but I can say that you should definitely watch it and find out for yourself – because there has never been a comic-book movie quite like this before!
Overall Joker is a dark, tense, compelling study of one of DC’s most iconic villains. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a powerhouse of a performance and a terrifyingly realistic version of Joker that does the character justice. Its not your standard comic-book movie – but that’s a good thing in my book.
It is however, a film only DC could make. Marvel doesn’t have the balls to do something like this, but DC has a record of taking big risks with its films – this time it has paid off.
I was going to give it 4.5/5, but just because I’m so impressed by the risks they took with this and how well Phoenix nails the character…
Rating: 5 out of 5!
Joker is the best movie DC have made in a long time.
Get your arse to a cinema and watch it!
Warning: you will be emotionally drained after. But its totally worth it.