Of all the major villains to appear in media throughout history, one of the most prominent and iconic figures if hands down the maniacal clown that fights Batman. The Joker is one of the fascinating and greatest antagonists in comic book history due to the character being in such perfect contrast to the hero and for having many actors take a shot at portraying the character. However, the newest film to feature this iconic film isn’t a Batman story as it just an origin tale about how the man who laughs came to be. With a concept like this, many would expect this film to be a pandering blockbuster that is made to make money to capitalize on the popularity of the Joker. In this case though, Joker is anything but that, as it is a film that is a dark and unconventional take on a comic book character. It results in a film that is every bit ambitious and thought provoking as some of the truly fantastic films based around comic books, making Joker a phenomenal experience from beginning to end.
Joker focuses on Arthur Fleck, a struggling comedian who has a rare condition that makes him laugh uncontrollably. After trying to strive and survive in this dark cruel world he lives in, he finds new life in becoming this mysterious clown figure and thus leads into his descent into madness. One of the elements that made fans skeptical about this Joker film is the fact that the Joker himself often tends to be appreciated more when there’s a mystery to him and not knowing his origins adds to how terrifying of a villain he can be. Some may also predict it would go a safe and typical route of how the Joker became who he really is. On the contrary, this film doesn’t really have a few of the typical origin story clichés besides from maybe one or two things and have enough of a creative twist on the Batman lore to be its own thing. Not to mention, rather than going a typical comics origin route, the film takes a different route by being a Scorsese styled drama that dives into the reasoning behind why individuals can be so terrible. Many fear this film would potentially be a glorification of violence and idolize truly evil figures, however the film is more of critique on that mentality and violence. The violent sequences are not only used sparingly but aren’t seen as cool action set pieces and instead are disturbing acts that makes you uncomfortable. However, that’s why this movie works so well as hard to watch the film may be for some at times. While, it’s not over the top and a gore fest by any means, you’re disturbed by how a man can become so vile he can be, even if the film gives you an good idea on where’s he is coming from. Its message is about the way society can treat an individual and the outcome it could have for the worse, leading into a film that more so questions people understanding others even at their most unforgivable moments. It is not without its faults with a few moments that could be seen as pretentious and some small plot conveniences, but the deep dive sociological and psychological trauma one could have makes those nitpicks more or less insignificant. It is an intriguing work that asks the tough questions and goes through with in this beautiful character study.
The biggest thing many fans are hopeful for when it comes to Joker is the actor portraying the clown prince this time around. Many actors have done the character justice with their performance from Mark Hamill to Heath Ledger, and you might as well add Joaquin Phoenix to the list. Phoenix portrayal of the Joker works not just because he’s a talent actor but also because of the film’s style and message about mental awareness. Every moment on screen we see his already awkward demeanor turn into an immoral human being gradually and Phoenix performs this character subtly with so many nuances that give this character so much depth. As mentioned earlier, many feared Joker would turn into an empathetic glorification of psychopath, but Phoenix even during his sympathetic moments is just as disturbing and unsettling as one would imagine a real person like this. He moves, talks and over-all acts very disconcerting, to which all of this is heighten even for by one of the most unforgettable laughs to ever come out of the character. There aren’t a whole lot of other characters featured in the film and most of them are also downright despicable in a sense, however, this was the film’s intention. Joker doesn’t waste its time on superfluous side plots and sticks the focus on the clown himself. The minor characters that also are terrible people are meant to shown that even despite their role in society, they could be just as equally to blame for Fleck’s mental wellbeing. Phoenix absolutely carries this movie perfectly and will go down as an amazing fresh new take on arguably one of the greatest villains of all time.
Compared to so many other comic books films, Joker has none reliance on big budget special effects to create for an engaging film. The film is on a much smaller scale film but it ends up giving the filmmakers more creative freedom to be an artistic take on the character. The cinematography is dark and depressing but it is on purpose and still beautiful to look at how every shot is articulated. To elevate it even further is some excellent use of music. Some of the most memorable moments of the film are the ones that have ironic use of cheerful and upbeat songs that adds to the Joker’s worldview of horrible acts being rather comedic. When it doesn’t have that, it has a haunting score by Hildur Ingveldardóttir Guðnadóttir who’s use of the slow cello makes adds to Fleck’s dark descend being incredibly unsettling to watch. The film has no real action scenes and as mentioned earlier used its kills sparingly, but rather than feeling like a fake CGI world, it feels like a grim dark reality that still is an incredibly engaging. Director Todd Phillips really branch out and made a film that’s unlike anything he has ever done but it shows how much he has learned over the years about filmmaking. For his first true drama, he knocked it out of the park when it came to its over-all presentation.
Joker is a fine example on how to properly recreate the comic book movie formula. It is a full-fledged drama that pulls no punches when it comes to depicting the clown prince of darkness, even if it is the kind of film that’s not meant for the average movie goer. Despite a few small story points that don’t work Joker still ends up being a gripping film thanks to so many elements that go above and beyond. Thanks to some deep themes, excellent production values and a phenomenal score to add to Joaquin Phoenix’s profound performance, Joker will stand the test the time as a near perfect version of one of DC’s best characters.