As the comic book movie genre continues to grow and expand, the movies themselves must continue to grow and become more ambitious to set them apart from each other so the material never feels stagnant or repetitive. Following their success from the critically acclaimed Shazam! Warner Bros. and DC are continuing to focus on singular projects rather than making world building a main focus in their franchises. Their latest movie Joker is right around the corner and is about to hit the festival circuit, screening at both the Venice Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival.
When it was originally announced that the Joker was getting an origin movie, I’ll admit that I wasn’t onboard. I felt that the character didn’t necessarily need an entire film dedicated to him. However, when the it was announced that Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Philips were attached to the project, I decided I should give it a chance to see what they would bring to the table. As the first looks, teaser clips and footage began rolling in, I became more and more excited for the film. The final trailer that was released was the cherry on top.
For those unfamiliar with the premise of the story, the film is about a failed comedian named Arthur Fleck, who encounters violent thugs while wandering the streets of Gotham City dressed as a clown. Discarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker.
I know one thing that many people may be thinking as it pertains to Joker – which is the comparison between Phoenix’s portrayal of the character, to the great Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight. While, I understand that this may be on some minds, I also think it is something that is completely unfair to do. From Batman (1989), to The Dark Knight, to Joker, each actor brought something special to the role that cannot be compared. As this film is solely focused on Joker, he gets the most screen time. However, the same cannot be said about Ledger’s turn at the character, although Ledger’s version stole the show in The Dark Knight. Having gotten this off my chest, let’s get into the review.
From the opening frame I found myself locked in the movie. Something that always made the DCEU movies stand out to me, was the use of iconic and memorable shots delivered throughout their movies, and while Joker is not part of the DCEU continuity, the use of iconic shots within the film is no different. As this movie doesn’t have to rely on supernatural creatures or heavy visual effects, director Todd Philips was sure to make use of the city’s backdrop in order to help tell the story. One of the things I noticed is the character’s clothing and it how it fell in line which was something that felt like a nod to the 1982 Martin Scorsese flick, King of Comedy.
From the beginning, Todd Phillips has said this film was a character study and that is definitely what the audience gets. Aside from transitional scenes that showed the city, Arthur was in every frame of the movie. Even with a supporting cast which touted big names such as Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Brian Tyree Henry and Marc Maron, you would think they would have significant amounts of of screen time. However, that is not the case at all. Regardless, each supporting cast member’s screen time (although short) remained effective and impactful.
In the beginning, the lack of other characters threw me for a loop, but at the same time you’re so focused on what’s going on with Arthur that you hardly focus on anything aside from him – which was the film’s entire purpose. Phoenix’s performance is nothing short of Oscar-worthy (in my opinion). Phoenix fully commits to the role mentally and physically (in his movements and his extreme weight loss) and it’s truly something that deserves to be recognized by the Academy. I was fully captivated by his performance from start to finish.
I believe this is one of Warner Bros. most ambitious projects thus far when it comes to their comic book-based films. In saying this, I also believe Joker could be a potential game changer for the comic book genre in general. Other examples of this would be both Deadpool and Logan. Both of these films really took risks when it came to heavier material, darker themes, and really looking into the minds of its main characters. Therefore, I believe DC has found their niche when it comes to R-rated material in Joker.
One thing that really stuck out to me is the fact that it felt so grounded. This is one of the first comic book movies I’ve seen and gone: “Hey something like this could actually happen.” Although it takes place in the early 80’s, some of the messages it has can certainly be applied to the world we live in now – which is definitely frightening to think about. Joker will most definitely be a hot topic of conversation for the next few months and thinking about it, I believe it’s first comic book movie to make me cringe.
This feeling of uneasiness did not occur because what I was seeing was so bad, but was because I felt extremely uncomfortable – and honestly, I think it was the right move. If you’re going to tell a story about the Joker, some of things he does in the comics are simultaneously crazy and evil. Once the movie was finished, I had to take a moment to simply sit and reflect on what I’d just seen. Even as I sit here and write this review, I’m still processing the this film and the story it told. If possible, do your best to stay away from spoilers or scripts because you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you go into the film completely blind.
It might be early to say, but I believe Warner Bros. and DC have another hit on their hands with Joker. Todd Phillips delivered a game changing comic book film, and I cannot wait to see it again. Just a side note: Joker’s laugh is likely to haunt you for days after seeing this film.
Joker hits theaters on October 4.