Villains are often times more memorable than the heroes that save the day. It took the deaths of multiple beloved heroes to equal the gravitas that Thanos brought to the table. Darth Vader is arguably more iconic than any of the Jedi in all of the Star Wars films. Even when we look back at the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker is the most prominent aspect of that film series. So it came as no surprise when a film chronicling the creation of the Joker would be coming to theaters. What is surprising is just how good Joker truly is. In our Joker movie review, we’ll dive into what makes this film so memorable, and yet frightfully disturbing at the same time.
Joker is a very realistic take on the comic book villain. The character doesn’t fall into a vat of acid or anything else that feels beyond this world. Joker is squarely grounded in reality, which is partially what makes the film somewhat disturbing. Everything that happens to Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) could just as easily happen to you. Arthur suffers from mental illness, but he’s still a functioning member of society. As society pushes him into this decent toward the Joker character, it’s easy to imagine the same experience happening right now in the US.
As a comic book film, Joker feels more akin to The Dark Knight than it does to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice or any of the Marvel movies. It offers a gritty take on Gotham City that echoes what audiences experienced in The Dark Knight trilogy. And while Joker focuses squarely on the creation of the titular character, it doesn’t take much to connect the dots to either The Dark Knight or Batman v. Superman. While this is a standalone film, it’s not a stretch to think it could’ve been a prequel to either of those films.
Joaquin Phoenix is featured in almost every scene of Joker. His performance is what makes or breaks this film. While there will be inevitable comparisons to Health Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight, both portrayals offer outstanding performances that bring their respective films to life. One could even say that Arthur Fleck either inspired the Joker in Dark Knight, or simply evolved into that character. Because while the film is called, “Joker” this is the creation of the character. Joker is a case study on how society breaks us and then in turn frees us from the burdens we face.
Arthur Fleck simply can’t catch a break. He goes to work as a clown-for-hire, sees a social worker therapist, and comes home to care for his ill mother. Whether it’s his work, his personal life, or even if he’s just minding his own business, the world is there to remind him that he is unwanted every step of the way. Arthur was just trying to live his life, but human beings at their worst are vile creatures, worse than any comic book villain, and that’s fully on display in this film. This isn’t Arthur Fleck having a bad day, this is Arthur Fleck trying to live his life and being beaten down by society for merely existing.
What’s disturbing about Joker is that it’s easy to see how Arthur’s turn toward the Joker could happen to you or someone you know. This doesn’t feel fictional, or that it takes place in some make-believe world. With all of the mass shootings in the US, it’s very easy to believe that this very film is more documentary than fictional work. What’s scary is that the film elevates Arthur, and eventually the Joker, to a near heroic status. You want him to succeed, to take out his frustrations on society, and even to commit violent acts if that’s the only option.
The standout performance from Joaquin Phoenix is only one part of the winning formula at work. The film score from Hildur Guðnadóttir is integral toward building the intensity of every scene. As Arthur Fleck’s mind breaks into a million pieces, the score bursts to life providing a fitting soundtrack to the madness of the character.
Joker is a masterwork that simply does everything right. From the acting to the score to the cinematography, everything not only works, but sets a new bar for films of this nature. For some people, Joker will not be an easy film to watch. It’s not overly gruesome, but there are many violent acts that seem more real than anything found in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, or any of the comic book films that have released since that time. This isn’t just a comic book film, this is the creation of a terribly troubled villain that could easily exist in today’s society.
Review Score: 10/10
Plot: A gritty character study of Arthur Fleck, a man disregarded by society.
Genre: Drama, Comic Book
Director: Todd Phillips
Writers: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz
Length: 2 Hours, 1 Minute