I finally saw Joker this weekend and from start to finish I do not think I have ever had a movie keep me so unsettled. From the disturbing start to the even more chilling ending, Joker keeps you enthralled the way many good horror movies do. It also left me with the age-old questions posed to cutting edge science – Just because something can be done, does that mean it should be done? But we will come back to that part later. Here is my Joker review:
Now This Is Gotham
In every case Gotham creators depict Gotham as a dark, corrupt, decaying city, and nearly every creator refers to a time when Bruce was young that Gotham teetered on the edge of implosion until Thomas Wayne saves the day. The Chris Nolan series does a good job showing Gotham at its worst, but then again keep in mind this is Gotham at its PG-13 worst. For the first time we see Gotham on the brink of destruction, but at its unfiltered R rated worst.
The beginning of the film makes a huge deal of the ongoing garbage strike taking place in Gotham, and because of it, a chain reaction lies on the brink of tearing the city apart. In the real world, this type of thing is exactly what does start to tear a city apart. When major departments of major cities (New York a prime example) go on strike, it not only leaves the city vulnerable but destroys the very heart of the cities, making the future look bleak at best. In Joker this is captured beautifully. We watch the city decaying at the same time we watch Arthur decay.
Joker Review: Is This a Legit Joker?
I stated from the very beginning that this movie was not a Batman/comic movie. It was a movie meant to drive Oscar attention Joaquin Phoenix’s way, and simply took on the Joker name so as not to get swept under the rug. After watching this movie, I think both ended up true. This was a Batman/Comic movie as well as an Oscar vessel.
Director Todd Phillips did an amazing job of avoiding the one trap creators fall into when attempting a villain centric movie. The first inclination seems to be to attempt to make the villain sympathetic and good to start. Through the course of the movie we watch then descend to their evil form. Star Wars, Maleficent and many others have done this and to mixed effect.
With Arthur Fleck, we see from the very beginning this dude is seriously messed up. There may be some sympathy towards his conditions, but in no way is this character ever some pure-blooded white knight that slipped down a dark path. Arthur is seriously messed up from the beginning of this movie and it becomes a case of embracing this darkness more than falling prey to it. The psychoses and neurosis only grow and expand through the film, and by the end Arthur manages to drag half of Gotham down with him.
Joaquin Phoenix as Joker
Joaquin Phoenix. I do not know this man. I have never met him before and know little about him personally. He scares the SHIT out of me after watching this film. For actors to be able to embrace, embody and show the demented minds of killers, murderers and truly evil people means they must possess some of that emotion inside. They need to be able to connect with that train of thought and become that person to act it convincingly on screen. Phoenix has accomplished this many times over to date. From the torn life of Johny Cash, to the subtle dementia of Commodus in Gladiator, to the role now of Joker, he acts these psycho, demented people better than anyone else I have ever seen on screen. For him to do this many roles with this disturbing level of quality, he truly connects to that mindset, yet somehow seems to be a great guy from what I can tell.
Also, a big deal was made of Christian Bale’s body when he went from normal, to anorexic and bone thin Trevor Reznik in the movie The Machinist, to buffing up for his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman the following year. Joaquin does the same with his role as Arthur Fleck. He comes across anorexic and disgustingly bone thin, which of course plays perfectly into the role.
Joker Review: Does He Service the Role of Joker?
Jack Nicholson set the bar for memorable Jokers. Heath Ledger set the bar for perfect portrayal of Joker from all aspects, and Jared Leto…. well, let’s just say when heard about setting a bar he hopped down to the local pub and hasn’t been seen since. So, Where Does Phoenix land with his portrayal?
If we are talking about setting bars, Joaquin set the bar for portraying the psychoses of the Joker. From beginning to end that is the real story behind this movie. We see very little of the DC Gotham-verse in this movie and it could easily be removed from this movie to little effect. Arthur Fleck suffers from mental disorders. That simply put is the story.
At the same time as the movie progresses, the clown make-up sported through out the movie starts as nothing like Joker’s face paint, but it slowly morphs, as does Arthur, until we start seeing glimpses of our clown prince. The brutality, the insane out of control laughing, the easy in which he murders perfects the Joker that squares off against Batman. Is this the Joker that could murder carelessly? Yes. Is this Joker the one that could shoot Barbara Gordon through the spine for the hell of it? Yup. Could Phoenix’s Joker mindlessly beat Jason Todd to near death over and over while laughing? Oh, hell yes!
Does Phoenix’s Joker Lack Anywhere?
For my Joker review, Joaquin Phoenix did a brilliant job acting this character and bringing the mental illnesses to the forefront, but like Batman/Bruce Wayne does he nail every aspect of Joker and the answer is no. We see over and over the mindless killing Arthur enjoys, but the other side of Joker that makes him one of the great villains in comics goes to his ability to out-plan and outthink everyone. Whenever someone makes what they think of progress against Joker, they only come to realize they are doing exactly what he wants them to do. Nolan captured this aspect of Joker perfectly. Heath remains king of capturing the full aspect of Joker. Then again, he has 20 years before Batman surfaces.
The weird thing is that as Arthur transforms into his Joker alter ego and dons colors more fitting to what we know as Joker, he becomes a total package even though he still looks like no other Joker. The make-up/blood looks closer. The outfit and personality morph closer. In fact if I had to draw a line from Phoenix’s Joker to one of the already existing Jokers, the one I would say he bears the closest resemblance to would actually be Cesar Romero’s Joker from the campy 60’s tv show starring Adam West. The look and presence feel very close to Romero’s version if you took it from PG to R.
Joker Review Final Thoughts
Fellow Hashtagger Hunter wrote his review here, but for me, this is a complete movie. Joaquin knocks the roll out of the park, and Todd Phillips really takes the viewer deep inside the psychotic mind of a severely mentally ill person. In fact, it is this viewpoint that brings me back to the original question. Just because one can do something, does that mean they should do it? The fear theater chains and authorities had about what this movie might do for psychotic people looking to kill others for fun, such as what happened with Dark Knight. Thankfully nothing happened, and hopefully nothing will, but this movie dives so deep into the depraved mind that anything could be possible. In fact, as we walked out of the theater, there was a security guard standing outside the theater as we left.
The odd thing with rating this movie comes from quality versus personal taste. I think I enjoyed this movie if one can say that, but I will never see it again, I will not buy it, nor will I have any desire to interact with it in any way. For those familiar with Game of Thrones, it bears a striking resemblance to Jack Gleeson who played King Joffrey or Iwan Rheon who played Ramsey Bolton. Viewers hate the actors because they did such an amazing job making us hate their characters. This movie sits in the same light as those two. It was so well done, I want nothing more to do with it, so of course my Joker review final rating must be: