Joaquin Phoenix IS the Joker. There’s no getting away from it. And up on the Dolby Cinema screen (now open at Odeon Cinema, Trafford Centre), he looks nothing short of perfect for the role. This is a very dark back story, told in a 1980’s Gotham City, with director Todd Phillips lighting him up in great fashion. But rather than using Zack Snyder’s techniques to renact scenes lifted straight from the frames of the comic book, Phillips is defining his own iconic shots. It’s not the most pleasant journey as we arrive at the conclusion of the film with the Joker stood behind a curtain waiting to be revealed to a crowd. But the actual image and everything he encompasses as the curtain is drawn is as close to perfection as you could wish for. Read our Joker review to understand why…
It’s so real you’ll be forgiven to forget this is all taking place in a fictional city. If anything, the mere mention of Batman-related things (the Wayne family feature heavily) are a bit of a distraction. It detracts from the realism of it all – and this is all a bit too real. Gotham is struggling, once more with class divide and the Joker, or Arthur Fleck as he is known when we first meet him, is a man with some serious issues. Mental health issues – a man who needs his meds but he living in a system that does nothing to support him properly.
Maybe that’s where the fun stops. Don’t get me wrong, a strength of The Dark Knight – a film we consider to be the greatest comic book movie of all-time – was that it all took place in a world closer to real-life than any other comic book movie before. But this is so real, it’s almost boring. It’s not glamorous and unfortunately it is not particularly enjoyable. It’s quite a change for a director who previously gave us Road Trip and The Hangover – for pub quiz points, Bradley Cooper produces here too.
For me, this is a story that didn’t really need telling. But as I said that comes from a fan of Batman movies and this is not trying to be one. As a film, I guess it had to be made. Here you have an actor at the height of his powers. Joaquin Phoenix IS the Joker. He just doesn’t have somebody to bounce off. Throughout the years a constant theme for the character, and one he often likes to remind us of, is that he exists because of the Batman:
“I don’t want to kill you […] You… complete me.” – Joker (The Dark Knight – 2008)
He is his opposite. And in truth that is all that is missing here – but it’s a big miss.
MAKE ‘EM LAUGH
For without any real opposition there’s no real opportunity for us to see the sides of the Joker character you can take some enjoyment from. Here, he is battling to survive in a world that is always up against him. Supporting his sick mother and without a platform for his voice to be heard. He is a clown by occupation – but there are no laughs. His humour is just confused, and although that helps explain how crazy he is, it sucks all the life out of the character. As a viewer all you are left to feel is sympathy, at best. I do not wish to empathise with the Joker, that should just never be a thing. But there are clear attempts to do it with this back story. He is here due to his circumstances. Is that right?
As I said at the top, this is a film that certainly looks the part. The aesthetics will inspire Instagram posts for years to come. When you look back at the 1980’s everybody generally looks like they need a good wash. It’s all grey clothing and bad hair cuts. The people of Gotham take to their busy streets, set beneath high-rise run-down city apartment blocks and key scenes of the film play out on dirty-looking subways and badly-lit hospital wards. The flashes of colour are on our tired looking clowns. Or – SPOILER ALERT – from the splashes of blood that come from some very graphic murders. The kind Martin Scorsese would be proud of.
GIVE US WHAT WE WANT
I like films leaving you wanting more. Despite my initial thoughts, I do want to see this again soon. Joaquin Phoenix physically transforms into this loser – with significant weight-loss and bad teeth – but his coy smile, evil laugh and ability to turn some personality traits on and off like a switch is admirable. Robert De Niro also brings some real class in a role which naturally draws comparisons with Scorsese’s The King of Comedy.
But what I mostly want is to see Joaquin’s Joker go up against the Batman. It would be quite a departure from the tone of this film to see a goodie pop onto the screen and deal with this maniac. As it stands, the Joker we see here wouldn’t be capable of taking on any kind of superhero. There’s very little to suggest this is a man who could command an army of followers or come up with any kind of plan. Despite what he says, there was always a plan. This incarnation of the villain is weak but instinctive, and of little remorse. I guess that’s still a very scary prospect.
JOKER REVIEW – THE FINAL SCORES ARE IN
As this is our Joker review, lets give this film a score. I go for 6 out of 10. As I said, I can’t dismiss what has been achieved in terms of cinematic merit. It’s personal taste and despite not being what I wanted it to be in the beginning, I do want to revisit it at some point. I fully expect it to gain cult status because of how bold it is as a picture. But rather unlike any other comic book movie you have seen before, this is a reflection on society, with strong adult themes; dealing with mental health, social divide and mob mentality. The Joker always looked like he was having fun, that was always his appeal. Maybe next time around they try and inject some.
The film is out now, so go see it for yourselves. If you dare.
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