Joker is the highly anticipated film which sees Joaquin Phoenix take on the iconic role of the clown prince of crime. Todd Phillips, who is most well known for directing The Hangover trilogy, is at the helm in attempts to provide some levity and a better understanding of the infamous Batman villain, who has remained an enigma for most of his history.
This ‘Comic Book Movie’ is a much-welcomed treat from the usual generic format, villain of the week, superhero movie Marvel and Disney love shoving down consumers’ throats. You will not find one mention of a ‘superhero’ in this film. There are no superpowers, no CGI villains, no gadgets. There’s barely any action in this film, and that works completely in the film’s favour. This is a ‘Comic Book Movie’ in name and in name alone. As mentioned previously, it does away with all the bog-standard aspects a typical ‘Comic Book Movie’ has. Instead, Joker takes a deep dive into the psyche of a mentally unstable man, driven to the edge by society and the abusive treatment he receives, both mentally and physically, by his fellow man.
Joker follows Arthur Fleck, a formally institutionalised clown who struggles to deal with the aspects of everyday life. He regularly sees a state assigned therapist and is prescribed numerous medications in order to help treat his mental illnesses. Phillips and Phoenix do an excellent job of making us feel sympathy for this man who we know will go on to become one of the most brutal villains in Comic Book and entertainment history. They take us through his monotonous, agonising days, only to come home to what can only be described as a kip of an apartment where he must act as the sole carer of his mother. We get a decent understanding of Fleck’s everyday life, which makes the witnessing of that life slowly unravel all the more satisfying. Satisfying from a film making perspective, not from a sadistic perspective. At lest for most people anyway.
Joaquin Phoenix gives the performance of a lifetime in this film. He single-handedly carries this film. He is in every single scene; we are seeing the world through his eyes and his eyes only. There is enough pressure with being the lead of a film in general, but when the entire movie’s success relies on the lead actor giving a convincing performance, that’s when it is time to bring out the big guns. Phoenix does just that. He tells a tale of a man’s demise so effortlessly. He immediately gets the audience on his side, making the viewer feel his pain and his struggles, only for the viewer to take time out to realise that they are in turn routing for the bad guy. But there lies the excellence of Phoenix’s performance, if this film wasn’t called Joker, we wouldn’t know he would turn out to be the bad guy. We would be feeling sorry for this mostly innocent man who has been dealt a terrible hand in life and who is doing his utmost best to make the most of what he has.
Seeing Phoenix portray Fleck’s slow decent into madness is awe inspiring. You truly believe him as a man struggling in life and struggling with his illnesses. You also truly believe him as an unhinged menace to society and all those who are unfortunate to cross paths with him, once his downfall has been complete.
Fans and critics online are campaigning for Phoenix to be given an Oscar for this performance. To be frank, it is extremely difficult to disagree. I personally have not seen and do not predict seeing another performance in 2019 as captivating, emotionally draining and overall entertaining as Joaquin Phoenix’s in Joker. However, we all know the Academy absolutely hate to recognise ‘Comic Book Movies’ at the Oscars, and Phoenix will probably be ‘snubbed’. At the end of the day, the Oscars are meaningless crap for the rich & famous and the self-proclaimed important people in the utter madhouse that is Hollywood. Phoenix has given a career defining performance, which is adored by legions of fans. Oscar or no Oscar, absolutely no one can take that away from him.
It is inevitable that people will start to compare Phoenix’s version of the Joker to other famous portrayals. Most notably Heath Ledger’s from 2008s The Dark Knight. However, it is near impossible to compare Phoenix’s Joker with any other on-screen adaption of the character. In previous portrayals, we get to see the Joker be the Joker i.e. commit heinous crimes, cause chaos, attempt to foil his arch-nemesis Batman etc. This is not that type of performance and not that type of film, however. The different performances share a name in Joker and have similar aesthetics, but that’s just about where the similarities and comparisons should end. In films such as The Dark Knight or Batman (1989), we see the finished product. The Joker in those movies is in his final form. In Joker, we only see the beginning of what is to come. The Joker is only in his infancy. The character has a long way to go and a lot more anarchy to cause before he can even hold a flame to other versions.
The character of the Joker throughout the years has been shrouded in mystery. With most versions of the character, no one truly knows who he is, where he comes from, or what he wants to achieve. The mystery surrounding the character has always been enticing for fans. It has led to countless theories, discussions and debates throughout the years. So, for Joker to give the Joker an outright origin was a bold call. But it has proved to have paid-off. For all we know as well, the Joker we see in this film may not be the Joker that goes on to be the relentless foe of Batman, if there were to be future films in this universe. Hopefully not though. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air to have a ‘Comic Book Movie’ not be enthralled in a convoluted, entangling cinematic universe. Stand alone movies work too. This is a prime example of it.
In closing, if you have not seen Joker yet, I would strongly recommend you do. Even if you don’t like ‘Comic Book Movies’ you will be pleasantly surprised by this film. It is the least ‘Comic Book Movie’ ‘Comic Book Movie’ out there. If you are any way interested in sublime acting, magnificent story telling and excellent film making, then it will be hard for this film to disappoint you. Joker is a slow burning, self-reflecting, stress inducing decent into madness. But most importantly, it is a damn good film.