Joker is without a doubt the most daring movie to come out with DC Comics associated with a property. While Joker features no superheroes who can talk to fish, or a failed team up of superheroes that will drive a group of rabid fans to demand to see some director’s cut they think exists locked away in a vault hundreds of feet below the Warner Brothers studio lot, there is plenty of risk with associated with this property. It’s a mid-size budgeted comic book movie that features no action sequences, spiffy visual effects, or Bat signal, and is also carries an R rating. It comes from director Todd Phillips, whose biggest titles are The Hangover movies and Old School. And finally, it’s another incarnation of the Clown Prince of Crime, whose previous iterations include a couple that are heralded as some of the best ever villain characters on film. But against all odds, Joker defies expectations and is one of the most memorable comic book adaptations in recent memory, thanks to a powerhouse performance from Joaquin Phoenix and confident direction from Phillips.
Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur wears two masks — the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker.
Joker is a simple A-to-B story where viewers watch the movie’s antagonist, Arthur Fleck, slowly turn into the most famous villain in comic book history. However, this is not your typical Joker movie. Joker is a grim-soaked, disturbing movie with bursts of extreme violence and without any happiness. If you’re not into slow burns, movies with no hope, or movies without happy endings, Joker may not be up your alley. All that being said, however, it’s equally fascinating and compelling throughout its two-hour runtime, thanks to its main character who wants to turn his life from a tragedy into a comedy. Mix in some politics and other elements, which make Joker feel “timely” or mirror parts of today’s society in the depressing background of Gotham City, and you’ve got yourself a movie with more than enough to carry itself until the credits roll. But of course, those things take a back seat to the deranged main character who is out to put a happy face on a city that’s on edge.
Joaquin Phoenix jumps right into the driver’s seat as Arthur Fleck/Joker with stride and sheer force. For this iteration of the Joker, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else coming close to pulling off a performance like this thanks to the screenplay from Phillips and Scott Silver. Phoenix’s performance is every bit as commanding and enthralling as any other performance you’ll see in a movie this year and one that’s sure to land him an Oscar nomination. As we watch Phoenix as Arthur develop his laughter at the beginning to the very end when he tries to get the last laugh, it’s difficult to say how he stacks up against the previous iterations of this antagonist. Only time will tell, but this unforgettable performance will not soon leave the mind of viewers and will certainly open discussions concerning people who deal with depression and/or mental health issues.
A great supporting cast in much smaller roles helps Phoenix’s Joker get from beginning to end. These include Zazue Beetz as a love interest, Frances Conroy as the mother of Joker, Brett Cullen as Thomas Wayne, Marc Maron as an agent, and Robert De Niro as a talk show host. Joker pays homage to movies like Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver in numerous areas, along with giving a nod to characters De Niro plays in those two classic fillms. However, those references contribute to Joker’s only slight downside, where the movie can seem all too familiar, making audiences see certain plot points coming from a mile away. But thankfully, Joker is never dull in its delivery in any area, including rich, beautiful cinematography from Lawrence Sher and a harrowing score from Hildur Guonadottir.
Some might argue that Joker does not have much to say, but it’s not meant to be a complex story. It’s also not meant to serve as another origin story to start a franchise featuring Batman. It’s just about a depressed, failing comedian descending into chaos while putting on a happy face. How others view this is subject to the minds of those who watch it. But as a whole, Joker put out what it’s supposed to as another piece of cinema about a fictitious character known by millions around the world. As the words of the disclaimer posted at the end of all movies categorized as fiction proclaim: The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. And besides that, the title of the film tells audience that after all, this is the Joker.
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