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Joker Review

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Joker, the movie based on the popular DC Comics supervillain, has become one of the most talked about films of the year. There have been several live action adaptations of the character before, but this is the first movie to be entirely about him. With superhero movies ruling the box office, it was about time we got a true standalone supervillain movie. The film showcases the descent of a man with a depressing past and unfortunate living situation into complete madness. Many have taken to social media to discuss the psychology behind the movie, along with how actor Joaquin Phoenix ranks among the other big-screen Jokers.I want to take a look into whether Joker is worth all the buzz, or if it’s all just laughable.

The Good

Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, and the rest of the cast give absolutely stunning performances. Their acting sucks you in and makes you believe these characters are alive. Phoenix’s take on the Joker was especially intriguing. He was entertaining to watch, whether he was trying to be funny or dark. He captured the many sides of the character exceedingly well. There are moments when his next move is so unpredictable because of how he’s acting, adding a lot to the suspense of the film.

Mark Hamill (voice of the Joker in Batman the Animated Series, video games and more) once said that many people who play the Joker often forget one key element of the character: that he is actually funny. His name is the Joker, after all. There should be some jokes. There are moments throughout the movie, like when Arthur (Joker) says “I forgot to punch out” and proceeds to punch the time clock off the wall. It’s a solid pun and is rather funny, but the context is crazy and frightening. It matches the Joker perfectly.

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The directing and cinematography of the film are both a thing of beauty. Whether Arthur is dancing down a staircase or running through a crowded train, each shot is masterfully planned out to cause the viewer to feel what the character is feeling. It’s truly a whimsical experience.

Todd Phillips and the other talented artists working on this picture pulled off an incredible feat with messing with the audience’s minds. There are moments in the film that makes one question whether or not certain events are really happening. They set this up in an early, brilliant scene in which Arthur daydreams about being on his favorite talk show being adored by the host he admires so much. From there, there are several scenes that follow where it’s genuinely hard to tell if things are just in his demented mind or if they’re actually happening.

One of the most interesting elements of the story is the psychology behind Arthur’s character. Throughout, we gradually learn about his past, why he is in the situation he is, and how certain events have affected him. We see what his past traumas are, how he gained his involuntary laughing condition, and why he struggles socially. His less-than-ideal living situation and job are just icing on the deranged cake. It feels realistic that someone who went through his psychological torture would be insane.

Joker tackles the often overplayed themes of social class differences, but does so in the most successful of ways. We see the extremes of each side: Millionaire Thomas Wayne leading a corrupt life and treating those around him as garbage, and Arthur Fleck living in his crummy apartment, struggling to make ends meet while also being abused and mistreated. We’re shown a mental health facility being shut down for funding despite there being rich people who can do something about it. The struggle between the classes looms over the whole movie, with tensions always building between them until the chaotic final act. Not only is it an interesting theme, but it helps to guide the movie’s plot.

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There are genuine twists and surprises throughout the entirety of Joker. Many of those twists revolve around Arthur’s relationships with other people, and how he perceives them. He lives with and cares for his mother until finding out the truth about her past. He views his idol, Murray Franklin, in the highest regards until actually meeting him. There are especially shocking twists regarding his relationships with Thomas Wayne and his neighbor Sophie Dumond. These constant twists and turns make for a wildly unpredictable story and adds suspense to other scenes, as you can never guess what will happen next.

An especially difficult feat the movie manages to accomplish is getting the audience to root for such a well-known villain. With past incarnations of the Joker, it’s fun to see how he gets stopped. Here, it’s hard not to be behind him as he spreads chaos. Every psychotic thing he does to another person feels justified. It almost causes the audience to cheer when he murders people in cold blood. By seeing his motives and the causes for why he is so insane, and by seeing how perhaps his victims had something bad coming to them, it feels good to see the Joker take revenge on the world and rise to the top.

An interesting detail in this movie is that a murder has a big impact on the story and the world. I know in real life that any murder is a big deal, but typically, in movies, people can get killed left and right without anyone really caring. The John Wick movies are incredible, but they have bodies dropping constantly and there’s never any police involvement or news coverage. In Joker, each murder has a huge impact on the lives of Gotham’s citizens and the news never stops talking about it. It adds a larger sense of realism to the film.

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Joker offers a pretty interesting take on Gotham City. We’ve had countless iterations of this DC Comics setting, but this one stands out. At first glance, it just seems like another big city, like New York. I usually prefer the more whimsical versions of Gotham with the giant statues and gargoyles on every rooftop, like seen in cartoons and video games. However, the version of Gotham in this movie is unique. It sets itself up to be like other real-world cities to make the audience relate to what’s being seen on screen, but then shows how dark and scummy it really is. It feels like a real city that actually needs a superhero to protect it.

The soundtrack of Joker is exquisite. There’s no original songs or anything of that nature, but the song choice is brilliant. There are songs, like Jimmy Durante’s take on the song “Smile,” that are typically used as happier tunes, but are used ironically during dark moments. It adds a twisted feel to a film based on a twisted character.

The Bad

Joker is overall a fun and exciting movie with a ton of re-watchability. However, the pacing can be rather slow at times. It’s not a complete snooze-fest, and it does make the exciting scenes that much more intense, but I can see some viewers potentially getting bored if they go into this expecting the action of other comic book adaptations.

We live in a world where comic book movies are almost always successful when they feel like their source material. The Avengers is perfect example of a comic book coming to life, and the series is unbelievably successful. Hollywood has figured out how to make movies that are both good and comic book-esque. However, Joker is not that. It’s absolutely a great movie, but it’s clear that the studio was too afraid to go all in on a story based on the source material. They grounded it in reality, which works, but we already have that with the Dark Knight trilogy. We don’t need that again. Now is the time to see the good, more comic book-like version of the character on the big screen. This could have easily been source material accurate while still being dark, gritty, and rated-R.

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There are several moments in the film in which they tease getting closer to the source material, but then show how afraid the studio was to commit to that. Arkham is a setting in the movie, but it’s Arkham Mental Hospital instead of Arkham Asylum, and it looks like any regular hospital. Even Arthur’s attire when he fully dons his Joker look feels like a legally safe knock-off.

If the filmmakers wanted to be grounded in reality but with comic book references like the Dark Knight, they could have done it more than they did. There are a couple characters and locations from the source material, but that’s it. They could have thrown in a few more references for fans of the source material that wouldn’t have changed the story in the slightest. In the comics, there is a TV personality named Jack Ryder who becomes a villain known as the Creeper. The talk show host, or one of his guests, could have easily just been named Jack Ryder without making him the Creeper. Casual moviegoers wouldn’t know the difference, but it would be fun for some fans to catch. They could have just as easily named one of the cops Jim Gordon.

There are some things in Joker that I would have liked to see more of. It takes Arthur a long time to fully become the Joker. This is fine, but it means that we don’t see him as the complete Joker for very long. It would have been nice to see him as the Joker for a longer period of time, especially since the movie is called Joker. We could have at least gotten his iconic laugh while he was wearing the face paint. I also wish we got a glimpse at what comes after the Joker rises to the top and Gotham City is left in shambles. How did the city, and the rest of the world, respond to it?

The Fascinating

Obviously, the Joker is known for being Batman’s nemesis. There are some other Batman characters who appear in the film, like Alfred Pennyworth, Thomas Wayne, and a young Bruce Wayne himself. As mentioned above, Arkham is one of the main locations seen in the movie. Fans might recognize that as the asylum where many Batman baddies are locked up. We even see one of the most famous and vital scenes from Bruce Wayne’s life take place.

Director Todd Phillips spent a full year attempting to convince Warner Bros. to get a rated-R movie made. They were originally against it since they sell children’s pajamas with the Joker’s face on it at Target. They thankfully came around, though. This is probably why the film distanced itself from the source material so much.

The movie depicts Arthur as being excessively skinny with a fragile body. Joaquin Phoenix actually lost the weight for the role. I can’t imagine that it was at all healthy to do so, regardless of how good it looked in the film.

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Conclusion

Joker has a bit of a slow pace and retains an unfortunately long distance from the source material. However, it’s suspenseful, messes with your mind, and is overall entertaining. The acting, directing, and cinematography are all Oscar-worthy.

The most fun part about the film is that it plays like a Batman movie in reverse, topped off with the infamous scene with the Waynes in Crime Alley appearing at the end. There are several scenes with characters questioning Arthur “hiding behind a mask,” and we see him rise to the top from a tragic childhood, creating chaos instead of order. What’s the Joker if not a reverse Batman?

The first film dedicated to the Clown Prince of Crime is an unpredictable ride, and is a must-see experience.

Rating: 9/10

 

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Movies, Reviews

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