I just started this post and I’m already exhausted. When I heard that Warner Bros were moving forward with a Joker movie and that it wasn’t going to be connected to the DCEU, I wasn’t hyped. I had no interest in seeing the origin of Batman’s most famous arch-nemesis and none of the trailers hooked me. Then, a brand new culture battle happened where people questioned whether or not this movie was going to glamorize violence and inspire the next mass shooter, especially in the times that we live in now. There’s others who fear that this movie could be sympathetic not just to mass shooters, but to the incel types. Not making things any better is the film’s director Todd Phillips putting his foot in his mouth with all of the stupid shit he says, complaining about not making comedies anymore because of “woke culture” and talking about making a “real movie” in disguise as a comic book movie because that statement doesn’t reek of snobbery. Still, controversy aside, I went into this movie with no expectations and an open mind, which is what everyone should do when watching a movie for the first time. What did I get out of it? Well, let’s take a look. This is Joker.
In 1981, Arthur Fleck is an aspiring comedian who lives in a Gotham City apartment with his elderly mother and is diagnosed with a disorder that causes him to laugh at inappropriate times. Several reoccurring bad instances causes him to snap and become a murderous criminal. Like I said, I have no interest in finding out the Joker’s origin story and I feel that the fact that the mystery of his origins is what makes him great. When you give the Joker, a villain who’s all about chaos and getting a laugh out of it all, a sympathetic backstory, it undercuts who he would eventually becomes. But then again, this IS pretty much an Elseworlds story and I should look at the story like that. Doing that, it’s hard to overlook the fact that it takes a lot of inspiration from Martin Scorsese films, more specifically Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy. And I do mean a lot, to the point where despite wanting to separate itself from the spectacle of other comic book movies and inject more so-called realism, the story isn’t that original or fresh when you really analyze it. If you could describe this film to someone, you could say “a film student’s Martin Scorsese fan film with a studio budget.” No matter how you frame it, this is still a story about the origins of a killer clown who fights a guy dressed as a bat.
The best part of this movie is easy: Joaquin Phoenix. He’s putting on one hell of a performance as Arthur Fleck, who has to deal with a lot of crap in his life, internally and externally. At points, you almost feel bad for the dude until he starts killing people. Still a better Joker than Jared Leto. Sadly, none of the other characters are as compelling despite solid performances. Robert DeNiro plays a late-night talk show host, Zazie Beetz is nothing but a bland love interest for our main character, Arthur’s mom is just there, and Thomas Wayne is framed as a Trumpian figure as he runs for mayor of Gotham and says he alone can fix the city’s problems.
Okay, let’s address the important question: does this movie glorify violence? No. It’s a movie. It’s not gonna put a gun in someone’s hands and make them shoot at people. The argument that this movie is going to cause violence is about as idiotic as suggesting that video games, rap, and heavy metal causes violence. People need to chill. Hell, despite being an R-rated film, Joker doesn’t really go that far in terms of violence. Yeah, he kills a bunch of people, but it’s relatively tame compared to other movies out there. Are there going to be people who get the wrong message from it? Of course. Considering that this isn’t the first film where people got the wrong message from it and it damn sure won’t be the last, it’s a given. Let’s dive into the other issue that I have with this film. A major plot point is the class warfare in Gotham City. There’s record poverty, crime, strikes, and budget cuts that severely hurt social programs and services, included the one that provides for Arthur’s medication. An anti-rich sentiment starts growing and it gains legs when Arthur kills three businessmen who work for Wayne Enterprises and he becomes their symbol with protestors wearing clown masks. Now, I’m no big fan of capitalism, but I don’t like that the Joker is adopted as an “eat the rich” mascot, especially when Arthur himself expresses that he killed those businessmen not because of any political motivations, but because they were being assholes. So Arthur is invited as a guest on the Robert DeNiro character’s late-night show and he uses that platform to give a “we live in a society” rant before killing Robert DeNiro’s character. It’s nihilistic garbage where he blames society for making him the way he is and says everyone is awful. Even the mental illness aspect is handled poorly, suggesting that anyone with a mental illness could turn out to be a criminal. How many times have we heard about mental illness in terms of mass shooters? Mental illness or not, people still make their own choices and nothing can excuse those choices. Remember the classic Batman comic The Killing Joke? In that story, Joker’s point was that it takes one bad day for someone to be like him and he was proven wrong by Jim Gordon still keeping his sanity despite the torment Joker put him through. Even in The Dark Knight, during the climax, Joker was proven wrong about people willing to destroy one another in the hopes of surviving. In both stories, he had a foil, which was Batman, who was also changed by bad circumstances, but he used those bad circumstances for good where Joker used his for bad. In this movie, there is no foil and because there’s nothing to contrast Arthur’s ideals, he’s seen in the right when he’s not. Speaking of Batman, they actually shoehorned in Bruce Wayne’s parents getting shot (this time, by a protestor instead of a mugger) because we’ve never seen that before on-screen. Before I wrap up, some final praises that I will give this movie is that it has some brilliant cinematography, even if it borrows too much from Scorsese, and I do like the music choices (except for when they used a Gary Glitter song because Gary Glitter is a gross pedophile).
I give Joker a 5/10. This movie is well-shot and scored, but it has a plot devoid of originality, uninteresting characters outside of the main lead, meandering pacing, and a story that wants to say a lot about mental illness and the clash between the rich and the working class, but has very little to say about those topics beyond a surface-level glance. It’s a teenage edgelord’s idea of deepness that isn’t worth the outrage, which feels manufactured in order to generate buzz around this dull, pretentious Oscar bait and make it more interesting than it actually is. I get what the filmmakers were trying to do, but they didn’t execute it well. So, yeah. I don’t like this movie as much as other people. If you did, great. It’s just not movie-of-the-year material for me and I think it’s just okay overall.