Joker – 6/10


The announcement of a Joker origin movie had me excited on all kinds of levels. The Clown Prince of Crime is Batman’s greatest foe and more importantly is my favourite comic book character of all time so of course I was looking forward to seeing a new on screen version of the character.

We have seen so many different versions of The Joker in film and television over the last 50 years or so and he has become one of the best pop culture villains. We have been graced with the performances of Cesar Romero in the Adam West Batman television show in the 60s, Jack Nicholson’s infamous performance as the clown in Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 and Mark Hamill’s chilling voice performance in a number of cartoons and video games. Most famous of all however would be Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning performance in The Dark Knight in 2008.

The release of Suicide Squad in 2016 would hand the reigns to Jared Leto whose portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime did not go down well with audiences and despite Leto signing on for future movies, including appearing in a Batman movie, he would ultimately move on from the role. As a Joker fan I felt the character needed to be redeemed on the big screen following Leto’s exit and us fans were left wondering when we would see the famous purple suit and green hair again.

When the solo Joker movie was first announced there were rumours that Leonardo DiCaprio would be playing the character and that Martin Scorsese would be directing the R rated flick, this news got fans hyped following the success the pair had making The Wolf of Wall Street. However, they both left the project and it would fall into the hands of The Hangover director Todd Phillips who would cast Joaquin Phoenix in the role.

The trailers released drew massive praise from everyone and the movie itself received an eight minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival. Everyone and anyone were praising how good the movie was and commending Phoenix on his performances so it would surely go down as one of the candidates for movie of the year and even further, one of the best comic book movies ever made?

Well…not exactly.

Let’s firstly establish what actually happens in the movie and the kind of Joker that Phoenix plays.

The dark tone of the movie is set straight from the beginning as Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) struggles with his life as a clown actor. He regularly visits a social worker to talk about his issues who prescribes him with high levels of medication to try and stop him from feeling so negative. The movie also establishes from the very beginning that Arthur has a medical condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably at inappropriate times.

Arthur stays with and looks after his mother Penny, a former employee of Thomas Wayne who is desperate to speak with her former boss as she believes he will give both her and Arthur a better life. Together the mother and son watch a talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). A show that Arthur dreams about being on and has a hallucination that he’s in the studio audience. Arthur gets the opportunity to appear on the show later in the movie after Murray shows a clip of Arthur doing stand up, ridiculing him for his audience at Arthur’s expense.

Things go from bad to worse for Arthur as he is fired from his job after having a gun, which was given to him by a co-worker for protection, at a children’s hospital.

His life is somewhat lifted when he meets single mother Sophie played by Zazie Beetz, most famous for playing Domino in Deadpool 2. She attends one Arthur’s comedy shows and the pair seem to start getting closer as the story unfolds. However, things turn out bad again as he murders three Wayne Enterprises employees on a train, shooting all three after they beat him up for laughing inappropriately again. This leads to a disturbing scene where Arthur, covered in blood and without remorse, dances in a bathroom and starts to take shape of The Joker.

It is then revealed that Thomas Wayne is Arthur’s father but following an interaction at Wayne Manor between Arthur, a young Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth (yes Batman’s butler!) and a meeting between Thomas and Arthur where Thomas says that Penny is mentally unstable, it becomes apparent that Arthur was in fact adopted by Penny and abused as a child. This is confirmed to Arthur when he steals Penny’s case file from Arkham that shows her condition and tells how she stood by and allowed her boyfriend to abuse a young Arthur.

This is ultimately what drives Arthur over the edge as he goes and smothers Penny with a pillow in hospital and murders the co-worker that gave him the gun which lead to him being fired earlier in the movie. We also find out that all of his encounters with Sophie have also been hallucinations.

The final act sees Arthur escape from two detectives on a train and appear on Murray’s talk show. He asks Murray to announce him as Joker and confesses on air that he murdered the three Wayne employees and rants about how people view him in the world. Arthur then shoots Murray live on air for ridiculing him and is arrested however his actions spark chaos amongst other people living in Gotham who view Arthur as a hero.

The movie ends with Thomas and Martha Wayne being murdered (yes we had to see it again) and Arthur imprisoned in Arkham Asylum where he starts to laugh uncontrollably to the psychiatrist who asks him to tell her what the jokes but Arthur says she wouldn’t understand. The last shot of the movie is Arthur walking down the asylum hallway leaving a trail of bloodied footsteps.

Let me start off by saying this isn’t a superhero movie, yes it’s set in Gotham City and yes it ties in to the origin of Batman but its not your average comic book movie. It’s a disturbing and unsettling movie that pinpoints one mans struggle with the world and for two hours we see him hit breaking point and laugh back at those who made him who he is.

The first act is completely arthouse and it’s only really within the last 30 minutes that I started to get into it.

I’ve seen people write about how much of a masterpiece this movie is and I disagree, it’s not something the average movie goer will enjoy as it predominately relies on cinematography and music for the majority to tell the story Arthur’s descent into madness.

The movie is a great character study as Joaquin Phoenix delivers an expertly portrayal of person suffering with mental health and we see the effect this quickly has on him becoming The Joker.

Phoenix’s performance is chilling and is nothing like we have ever seen in a comic book movie before.

The best part of the movie isn’t the story, nor is it the music or the cinematography, it’s purely down to Phoenix’s acting which carries the whole movie. The support characters don’t bring anything to the story and lack emotion despite what’s going on.

At times it’s hard to watch, not in a bad way, as Phillips’ direction creates this uncomfortable atmosphere that leaves viewers on edge not knowing what Arthur is going to do next. This is a major plus point but I felt as though this only started to take real effect in the last twenty minutes of the movie where he becomes full on Joker but by that time it was too late.

I see people saying that the violence was unsettling but for an R rated movie I have seen a lot worse. Other than the brutal murder of Arthur’s co-worker where he stabs him to death with scissors and smashes his head repeadetly off the wall, there wasn’t anything that I thought was over the line and difficult to watch.

For me the association with Thomas Wayne playing a part in the movie weakened the story and it’s almost as if they had to remind people that it was at the end of the day a Batman related story by including the Dark Knight’s father playing a pivotal part. As I mentioned above, we get to see another interpretation of the Wayne’s being killed which I felt was unnecessarily forced to tie the story into the origin of Batman.

The biggest issue I have is that it’s a complete standalone from the rest of the DC movies and this is all we are getting. No matter how impressed you are with Phoenix’s take on the character we won’t be seeing him again so you can only imagine what it would be like to see him go up against Batman.

In the end I was finding it hard to call it a Joker movie but an art movie that simply uses the name Joker to tie in with the Batman universe. The sole aim is not to give us a typical comic book origin movie origin but to give us an interesting showing at how the contrasts in society can have negative effects on people, in this instance how the world can take someone like Arthur Fleck and turn him into The Joker.

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