Directed by Todd Phillips.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro, Brett Cullen, Frances Conroy, Douglas Hodge, Shea Whigham, Marc Maron, Bryan Callen, Bill Camp, Josh Pais, Glenn Fleshler, Dante Pereira-Olson, and Brian Tyree Henry.
One of the most infamous comic book villains in history gets his very own film. The Joker is a man without hope and Batman.
What is there to say about this movie? If you clicked on this review, you already have feelings about the film, even if you haven’t seen it. Trust me as I was one of those people. Going into Joker is interesting as there’s a lot of baggage.
As someone who loves DC, I was excited. As someone who is hit and miss on the Joker as a character, I was nervous. I’m also not a fan of this agent of chaos version that became so popular with The Dark Knight. Then there’s the grim nature of the film and how it handles the subject matter.
That came with me as I went into my press screening, for better and worse. Thankfully, the beauty of cinema is its power to make the noise go away and suck you into its magic. For its two-hour running time, I was firmly in the world of Todd Phillips’ Joker.
Now, how do I feel about that world that Todd Phillips’ crafted? Well, the performance at the center of the film is a masterpiece, but the rest of the movie is merely okay. Joker is made well enough and features some craftsmanship that you’d never expect from the director of The Hangover, but it doesn’t go that extra mile.
For the first two acts of the film, the filmmakers showed you a look at mental illness with heavy-handed commentary and compelling scenes sprinkled along the way. That worked for a while but quickly ran its course. Things quickly change when it gets to the final act, and the movie keeps into another gear…then the real fun begins! That last act comes with such a lively performance from Phoenix and even better filmmaking that I felt like everyone finally woke up and came to work.
A slow burn is excellent. You can have a film where things drag out until the very end, that’s acceptable. But you risk losing some viewers along the way if your material isn’t engaging enough. And that’s where Joker loses me. The story gets a little predictable at times and doesn’t entirely make up for some of the slower moments. It wasn’t until things finally kicked up a notch that I thought the movie finally found itself, don’t know if the wait was entirely worth it yet.
Most people are interested in the movie for the Joaquin Phoenix performance, and that makes sense as this is one of the most talked-about performances ever. Tackling a darker version of the character like this is hard following the iconic Heath Ledger performance many loved in The Dark Knight, so Phoenix had big clown shoes to fill.
Well, Joaquin Phoenix more than fills the shoes. His take on the Joker, known her as Arthur Fleck, is chilling from the very first scene. Almost every frame of Joker is Phoenix, and that’s no easy task. There’s plenty of highlights with Phoenix as Fleck throughout the film, but when he appears on the talk show as the trailers suggest, that’s where I finally loved the character. At that moment, it felt like the Joker as a character and Joker as a film finally came into their own.
Before that moment, though, Joaquin Phoenix is fleshing out his demo reel with kooky moments of strange laughter or odd dancing. Speaking of that laugh, the movie tries to explain it away with some medical reason, and that came off as one of the more cringy “we have to explain everything” moments.
As a fan of DC Comics, though, I can’t help but feel like adding any Batman-lore in this movie felt like a chore for Todd Phillips. If you have a younger sibling, you’ll understand this. Remember when your parents asked you to bring along your little brother and sister to hang out with your cool older friends? It felt like Phillips was that older brother having to drag its comic book little brother around embarrassingly.
Every time someone mentioned Gotham or the Waynes; it felt like tacked on. Honestly, if you removed any mention of the Waynes from the movie and shifted some story points around minorly, the movie wouldn’t even miss the connection to the world of DC. The film by no means needed to stick to some source material, a little bit more love for the medium could’ve added a bit more to the project.
Add in little odds to iconic Arkham doctors, add in more of the Waynes, show me the early stages of Gotham’s world of crime. Those simple fixes could’ve brought the enjoyment of the film up, but Joker went for another “more grounded” take following the footsteps of Nolan.
Though, even Nolan tried to include the Falcone family at the very least.
An excellent performance from Joaquin Phoenix? Sure. A great film around him? Not so much. Joker is by no means a “bad” movie, but I didn’t leave me shocked or awed by any of what was happening on-screen.
If you saw Taxi Driver, you’ve seen this movie. If you’ve seen Clockwork Orange, you’ve seen a scarier version of this. For fans of the Joker character, there’s enough to sink your teeth into here. For DC fans, this gets a little trickier to call. Overall, not the worst time at the cinemas in 2019, but for all the buzz around it, I expected to be a little more buzzed.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★