I’m tired of the Joker character. This might be blasphemy, but keep in mind that I’ve been taking in both the comic books and movies for the past couple years. Every time any new creative name gets behind a Batman related project they usually run at the chance to do their own version of the Joker. This doesn’t mean I hate it when I see a new version of the Joker, I’ve just lost all excitement and I’m now have become indifferent. Though initially against the idea of a Joker origin story at the time of announcement, I quickly changed my mind about it after I thought about it in the comics. The comics have done it before, many times actually. So I became indifferent again. Moving forward Todd Phillips was announced as director and co-writer with Scott Silver. This stuck out to me not because he has been typically known for comedies (we’ve seen other comedic voices make genre jumps before), but because I’ve never liked any of his movies. After thinking about it I don’t really think I’ve ever hated any of his movies, I’ve just never been a fan. I was indifferent again. Joaquin Phoenix was then announced to be the Joker with the name of Arthur Fleck. Sure, I liked seeing him fuck a computer in Her so this should be fine. I still wasn’t expecting this performance to be that impressive for him. He has already shown how great of an actor he is and I doubted that he could surprise me again. Also outstanding actors have been in mediocre films before. The Joker role has also felt like that character that both actors and Warner Brothers jumps to because it’s an easy way to get into the best actor category during award season. It’s the ultimate trump card. It should be obvious that I walked into this movie without expecting anything. Walking out of the movie there was a lot of things that I like, but also a lot of things that I didn’t. In the end I felt like the movie was just fine with a ton of wasted opportunity.
Spoilers are ahead.
You can make the choice to watch the movie first but it doesn’t really matter that much. I’m really supposed to give you a brief synopsis of the story right now, but there isn’t really much to say. It’s the story of how Arthur Fleck became the Joker. If you had even an idea of what Batman is, you already know what this movie is about. Most of the story and twist that the movie offers has been seen in either Batman related content or movies. I get that it’s inspired by some comics and Martin Scorsese films and it wants to pay tribute but it becomes a problem. The film can be aggressively unoriginal. If you have even heard of Batman: The Killing Joke you already know most of the story, a failed comedian goes insane. Certain scenes are even directly taken from Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. We have a scene where Arthur rehearsing with a gun (Taxi Driver) and a scene where Arthur fantasizes about going on stage for his favorite talk show (The King of Comedy). Even for the film’s more original twists the film really doesn’t do a good job hiding. While I won’t say what the bigger twists is, I will say that this twist doesn’t even feel like it has much bearing on the plot in the end. While no story is really original, it feels like the Joker over relies on the work of others when it comes to its story and style.
The movie is also very drab. It has very little hope in it and it makes sense considering that the film isn’t supposed to have a happy ending for Arthur. The problem with this is there’s nothing contradicting Arthur, which makes me think his change won’t really impact anyone. When I started the movie I knew that things wouldn’t go well for him, so the movie never really fouled me that there might be hope for Arthur Fleck.
“ With that said, this is likely meant to add to the overall point of the film. When there are sick people that need help that we leave with no resources we may be manufacturing our own monsters.”
The Joker is born because Arthur has no support. I started to feel like nobody would be affected if Arthur became the Joker.. This is because Joker is committed to only develop the character of Arthur Fleck. He develops no real attachments to anybody and all the supporting characters in the film feel like they are meant to exist just for the sake of continuing the story. Even the romance in the film has maybe only five minutes of screentime. It’s extremely underdeveloped, which is something that all of the supporting characters have in common. This romance even matters less in the end because – Spoiler Alert – it ends up being imaginary. To be honest, once this romance starts in the film it’s fairly obvious that it’s not real. It keeps jumping ahead of important relationship developments and whenever it’s on screen it feels like a fairy tale. This is very disappointing because if Arthur had some sort of hope that gets taken away from him it would’ve made his final turn much more devastating, but since it feels like no one is actually impacted it feels like he hasn’t made that much of a difference. The movie conveys that the Joker has inspired some acts of chaos, but the way the film opens it feels like Gotham was already going to that point regardless . These issues hurt even more because the movie does set up some sympathetic characters. The fake love interest is still a likeable character and they do show some characters that might be sympathetic towards Arthur (though it’s hard to tell sometimes unless the movie directly tells you). A lot of the film’s story problems come back to all the supporting characters having no development. I don’t feel like I can root for the Joker because he is shown to be a lost cause really early in the film and if no one is connected to him then I have no one to really root or feel for.
I did say that Arthur is the only developed character, but even then there is some weird choices when it comes to his character. The film feels like it takes leaps in his development. There is a moment early in the film where it feels like he is past saving and then I was left wondering why the movie was trying to make me think he could still be saved. Also it feels like the movie blows it’s load too early when a hot liquid is shot out of a head (I’m talking about when he shoots somebody in the head you perverts). The movie has the Joker come out of Arthur a little too early in the film. His first scene of murder is then followed by him dancing in a bathroom like it was the ballroom in Beauty and the Beast. This is the moment were there was no way Arthur could turn it around and it takes most of the suspense out of the film.
Also the pacing in the film is very strange. I was expecting a slow and expecting anything else would be strange for a film like this. The film is slow, but it has this tendency where at multiple points in the film it will build momentum and then just stop. Like in the first act when we see Arthur make his first kill, it feels like the movie is going to start speeding forward like the bullets that went into his victim’s heads, then it the next cut the pacing is as slow as it was before, and similar instances like this happen throughout the film. When they happen I don’t even really get excited. I just think: ’Oh, I we already at the climax.’ It just throws you off. There’s a chance that the movie could be trying disorient you, but with the way the film is edited it doesn’t feel like this is done on purpose.
As the film goes on it feels like it starts to rely too much on circumstances and coincidences as it gets to the end. This is hard to get into without describing the entire third act of the film. The best way I can put it without going on for too long is that most of the third act wouldn’t have happened if somebody didn’t film Arthur’s act, which then leads to a bunch more circumstantial events. I have heard some people say that reality could be muddled a lot in the third act, but the film doesn’t really properly set up for that to be the case.
Also the end of the movie goes on for too long. It felt like Phillips would would put up a fine ending shot but then he wouldn’t be confident about he would the film going. Also there’s a point at the end where it feels like it drags because they felt the need to have a child Bruce Wayne lose his parents. While Thomas Wayne is essential to the story (but also another underdeveloped character) the inclusion of his son and the actual scene of his parents death feels unnecessary (this doesn’t need a spoiler warning, you know that his parents die at some point). It should also be mentioned that the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne is the most clumsily put together scene of the film. The staging was unconvincing and it felt like it was put together at the last moment because somebody thought ‘Oh, this is a Batman movie. Everyone kills a kid’s parents in a Batman movie.’ But it’s just something we don’t need in this movie because it isn’t really about that. It’s a Batman movie only in the fact that it shares characters. It’s story has very little to do with Bruce Wayne. The movie is about society being so rotten that it creates monsters, not about where Batman came from.
Now I’ve gone on about things that bothered me in this movie for a while. Don’t mistake this for me disliking the movie. The movie within itself is still fine. There was a lot that I did like.
The writing is fine. I can’t really say it’s amazing, but there isn’t anything bad about it. You won’t notice anything that takes you out of the experience as you watch the movie, which is actually really hard to avoid in films like this.
Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is still excellent. Many are saying Oscar worthy. I say, why not? I can’t really think of that many standout performances this year, so he can have the trophy over his fireplace. While I can’t say that this is really better than any of his other performances, that’s actually a compliment to Phoenix, he is so dedicated to whatever he is doing and never feels like he takes one role more seriously than another. They are all moments to give it his all for him. I still think the Joker has become too easy of a go to for the Academy and I don’t really think he’s that hard of a character to play (just look at how many different actors have played him). The Joker is still a good character and gets nominated not because of the character himself, but because he’s a character that is so open and easy to play around with for actors. He isn’t demanding but he offers a good platform for actors to show what they are really capable of. This is something that Phoenix does really well. I still think that Mark Hammil’s Joker is still the best for the sake that it creates the most exciting character while many more recent life action performances feel like they are just going for the prestige. Phoenix does feel like he’s going for the prestige, but does give an extremely compelling performance in the process.
Despite many aspects of the world and it’s characters being underdeveloped, it still does a good job setting up the circumstances that break Arthur Fleck into the Joker. The film sets up a world where nobody helps anybody. Arthur is sick at the start but it doesn’t feel like that’s what turns him into the Joker, what does is the people around him. It comes off as a cautionary tale of what might happen if we turn our eyes to those in need and the people around us. Of course it does go to the extreme because it is a Joker movie. Though the themes aren’t always conveyed well, it can sometimes feel like the movie uses Arthur’s mental illness as plot armor sometimes (“this wouldn’t help him because he also mentally unwell”), it doesn’t ever feel problematic. While things could’ve been better conveyed, Joker still has some compelling themes.
Also the film does have some very memorable scenes with some outstanding sound design. The movie sets a mood that feels extremely dirty. The movie will also raise its volume and gradually builds the music as Arthur’s mind becomes more and more violent. The film’s effects during the more violent scenes are also very well shot. Granted, the film will show many characters die that I don’t really know so I’m much less invested in the actual death, but the way Philips is able to put these scenes together is still very impressive. This might be a more minor thing, but I really just want to point out how the film handles it’s gunshot effects. They are very impactful shots and the shooting blood is powerful. They seem very wrong and make you flinch and it’s a good thing.
While I did say that the end relies too much on circumstance and the ending feels like it keeps going, once we get to a certain point in the third act the pacing does a good job building. The movie does feel like it really comes together as we go into the climax. It’s a shame that the actual ending of the film has some big problems, but it still doesn’t change the actual adrenaline that the climax gives you.
There’s a lot to like in Joker and I think most people will really enjoy the film. I know I spent more time talking about the film’s issues but I feel like a lot of that stuff is worth talking about. The issues with originality will likely die as the movie ages becomes it will become easier to separate the film from what it replicates and there’s still lots of things to like about the film. Then the rest of my issues more have to do with the film not doing enough, but I think that most people will be able to move past them. I wanted to start by talking about my grievances so that when I talk about the positives towards the end it would make sense when I say that most people will enjoy this movie. If you are reading this and see where I’m coming from in my issues there is still a strong chance you’ll like this movie. I don’t think the problems of mine should be ignored, and they certainly bogged down my experience, but I think most people will be able to get through them. In the end I don’t really like or hate Joker, it’ s just okay. The public will enjoy Joker and if you are unsure I would still recommend giving the movie a chance because you won’t be really losing that much in the end.