Joker is a film focusing on the origins of the iconic character who has never had in his whole history an agreed-upon backstory. This version of the character is not an interpretation or adaption of any specific comic book or film, but rather something new entirely. Joker sets itself apart from the DCEU, and is basically an Elseworlds story, taking more from the likes of the King of Comedy then from Batman Vs Superman.
The Scorsese influences on display here are undeniable; this lends the film a gritty edge- even more so than Snyder’s DC grit, and that’s saying something. The Joker’s Arthur Fleck could fit into the background of Goodfella’s or The Departed, just as easily as any other DC superhero film. That’s the beauty of this film: it’s incredibly real world while also being fantastical.
The Joker is an unrelentingly harsh film; there are a lot of scenes that will make you feel uncomfortable, maybe even distressed, but it’s all done with a purpose. These scenes heighten the subtext of the film; this idea about what happens to societies most vulnerable people when you spit on them and cast them out. It even ventures into themes of the limits of human endurance — showing the need for greater, more productive discussion and actions towards mental illness.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur to perfection, perhaps being my favourite on-screen version of the Joker to date. You can see his vulnerability both physically and mentally through the early stages of the film, and you do feel bad for him. As the arc progresses, we see him more and more like a monster, but a monster that could have been avoided, had someone noticed sooner.
Phoenix delivers a career-best performance of a man who is coming apart at the seams, Phoenix nails all the mannerisms and emotions of the character perfectly, the naivety, the insanity and the laugh. The laugh is the best Joker laugh put to film; it is both tragic and menacing.
The violence is grisly and direct, and I’m glad of it, as the character in the comics is a very mature, very adult character. If this were a 12, or PG-13 for you Americans, then it would be a disservice to the character- he would effectively be neutered to keep to an age rating. Here his brutality and murderous rage are on full display- it is shockingly visceral.
My one complaint of Joker is that I don’t like some of the things it implies about Joker, or Arthur within this universe, or in DC lore. Some of the cannon events this film alters change the whole DC universe if this were an in-universe title. These changes also feel that they somewhat cheapen the events themselves.
Overall I think this is not only a strong comic book film, but a masterpiece in the crime/ character study genres. I have tried to keep this review as free of spoilers as I can, as I think you should go into the film with no expectations of what it’s going to be. This is my favourite film of 2019 so far, most certainly up there with the likes of John Wick 3, and is something I think you should all see.
Reviewed by Luke
*I’ve not mentioned the controversy because it’s irrelevant to the nature of the film.