Rated R because of its very disturbing nature. The movie went for disturbing and, thus, was disturbing. It is filled with violence and gore. The language is pretty strong. Joaquin Phoenix dances in tighty whiteys that leave little to the imagination. The movie was shooting for a hard R and it got the hard R. Much of the movie is uncomfortable to sit through, so keep in mind. Watch the trailer for the tone. It's pretty hard R.
DIRECTOR: Todd Phillips
Okay, I'm going to say it. I hate to be the voice of the other side because it makes me look snobby, but Joker is just okay. I'll even go as far as to say that it's good. But it isn't the work of genius that people say it is. I'm more upset because Joker is not the work of genius that it ought to be. I've been fighting for genre films to get accepted as cinema and I thought that Joker was going to be the movie that burst that veil. Instead, I got something that rests on the shoulders of geniuses and doesn't actually say anything all that new outside of the sophomoric.
Joker was the movie I was waiting for. When I heard that Martin Scorsese was going to be producing a Joker film and that it was going to use the aesthetic choices that were seen in things like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, I could not wait. That first trailer came out and I had to watch it again. This was the genre film I was waiting for. I think the Cult of Joker that our society has is pretty messed up. I wish that the movie wasn't about the Joker, mainly because I'm not ready for all the shirts to be sold from my local Hot Topic. But if any character could really embrace the gritty '70s exploitation film, I thought that the Joker was the one to do it. I hear that Sony is going to make a bunch of films based on villains. I know that they already started with Venom. But villain narratives can get really problematic. I am not talking about anti-hero stuff. I think anti-hero stuff can be pretty great. Speaking of which, I gotta watch El Camino when I get the chance. But villain based movies seem to be preying on the troubled who see evil as a justified storytelling device. I know that was some of the buzz happening before the movie was released. I read somewhere click-baity that those rumors were started by the studio to drum up controversy, but there is a point to that whole philosophy. The fact that I was afraid to see this opening weekend and I saw it in a more rural environment on a Tuesday night might reflect my whole discomfort with the glorification of a monster. Still, this is the era in which we live.
What I liked is that Joker reads like a new subgenre of superhero film. I am well on-board the Marvel train and love what Marvel Studios is doing with each entry in their constantly expanding franchise. The DCeU has drawn more criticism from me. But what DC needed to do was to create a stark alternative to the carbon copy Kevin Feige format. Zack Snyder thought that to contrast the Marvel movies, the DC movies had to be dark. Don't get me wrong. Joker is remarkably dark. Too dark, I would probably say. But Marvel could make a dark film and it would still feel like a Marvel formatted movie. Instead, Joker looks at what Scorsese deems cinema and decided to mess with tone and voice. That's what is exciting about Joker. That's why I needed to see it on the big screen. Joker got me to ask my wife to leave the house and see a movie. It reminded me why I love going to the movies so much. There were, like, five things I wanted to see. I now wish I saw those other movies, but no part of me regrets seeing Joker early in its run.
But Joker has a real problem in its execution. It's no secret that Phillips was inspired by Scorsese's The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. (Get ready to see those two titles over and over in this analysis.) Scorsese quietly left his producer role in this film and left a lot of the heavy lifting to his company rather than be involved directly. Part of this is that Joker has very little new to say. Joker actually feels like a gritty remake sooner than something original. The thing is, a lot of Joker's audience hasn't seen The King of Comedy. The casting of Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin is a nod to that film. There's a fan trailer on YouTube of The King of Comedy cut to look like the Joker trailer and the similarities are frightening. Phillips is clearly a fan of this film, but in a really childish way. The opening fonts nail the aesthetics of the heyday of Scorsese, but the movie instantly starts kind of falling apart. Phillips takes what he likes about The King of Comedy and superficially slaps on the tone of Taxi Driver over it. Only, not all of Taxi Driver. Just the latter half of the movie. I kind of left Joker thinking that I was just watching a more extreme version of Taxi Driver. I'm going to be kind of a bummer here, but I left Joker thinking that I left a remake of The King of Comedy directed by a more-restrained Eli Roth.
There's something really self-conscious about the film as a whole. Joaquin Phoenix is amazing in the role, but a lot of the film is just giving Phoenix the opportunity to act the crap out of scenes. Much of the movie is pretty loose in terms of storytelling. But these scenes are often excuses for Phoenix to emote. There isn't much growth in terms of character. When I discussed this with my students yesterday, their jaws dropped. They thought that the character changed drastically. The only scene where Arthur comes across as sympathetic is the first scene, while the opening credits are running. The second scene, we see that Arthur is borderline the Joker already. He only has negative thoughts. His journal look like the ramblings of a madman. He has pornography taped to the insides of his journal. What kind of transition is that? Seeing Arthur already pretty far gone and then slightly shifting over the edge isn't captivating. With Taxi Driver, Travis starts as a mentally impaired man who is sympathetic. He tries his best to fight off his demons, only to embrace them in the second half of the film. In this, Arthur is practically the Joker already. So the movie becomes more clever than captivating. Arthur's laugh and ticks are fun ways to explain Joker's choices. But they're tricks, not character development.
I don't know why the Joker has to be directly tied to the Waynes in film versions. I'm harkening back to the 1989 Batman directed by Tim Burton. SPOILERS: As a comic fan, I think I enjoy that moment where the Joker's actions tie to the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. But as a film fan, it makes the world way too small. Also, the idea that this little kid is going to beat up Old Man Joker in the future is a weird choice. I don't want the movie to be embarrassed that it is a superhero themed film, but I almost felt like the movie really tried to remind us that it is a superhero film. We don't really need to see the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The thing that I'm most torn about is the sibling element between Arthur and Bruce. I love that Phillips and the team play with the reality of the situation. We never really get a clear answer about what is the truth, which makes the movie worth watching. But I kind like the idea that Thomas Wayne should simply be a TV personality who represents the upper class than anything else.
Joker has one really toxic thing in it that seems ambitious, but really just leaves a sour note on the whole film. There's this weird message about the nature of protests. I know what happened. The filmmakers had this image in their heads of a riotous crowd embracing the Joker as the Waynes died feet away. It's a cool image. I know that would be something that I really wanted to work towards. To do that, the movie touched on the message of the power of the people. The movie hovers around class and economics and I adore that there could be a greater message. But what the movie actually said about protesting is that people are sheep. It was so obsessed with getting to its ending that it never really cared how it got there. I don't believe that three people getting murdered in Gotham would start a revolution. It made everyone look like violence obsessed juggalos. It's a bummer and I think that the movie should have handled that with more nuance.
Joker is fine. It's an impressive movie that had the burden of needing to be better. It's got some solid imagery, but mostly the movie is an excuse for Joaquin Phoenix to emote. Darker doesn't mean better. A Joker movie needs to be dark, but this movie is dark for darkness' sake at times.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.