You know you’re in for a rough ride when the first ten minutes of a movie sets a sinister yet, intriguing pace. Once it takes off, you know this is not the Gotham, nor the Joker, we recognize from nearly 80 years of established storytelling depicted by DC Comics. Rather, this is astandalone for the infamous character, the tale of an atmosphere of unrest upon a man, like his city – and likely, because of it – down a rabbit hole of anarchy!
Forever alone in a crowd, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) seeks connection. Yet, as he strolls the corrupt soiled streets of Gotham City, Arthur wears two masks: one, the one he paints on for his day job as a clown and two, the one he can’t remove; a guise he projects in attempt to feel he’s a part of the world around him, and not the misunderstood individual whose life is repeatedly beaten on. (Literally!) Fatherless, Arthur has a fragile mom (his best friend) who has nicknamed him “Happy,” a moniker that’s fostered in Arthur a smile that masks his heartache. But, when bullied too far, this social misfit becomes even more out of sync with everything and everyone around him.
It’s rough. It’s rugged. And most of all… ruthless! Todd Phillips’ vision for the Joker character carries a lot of emotional weight. An artsy origin that builds upon the POV of a crushed soul and his surroundings, JOKER flips the script, and gives the audience harsh exposure on what makes an outcast tick, tock, and explode! It’s one of the best and most relatable comic-book movies to date. It isn’t geared for everyone. In many ways it will be frowned upon, because it’s going to be a lot for some to digest. It’s a metaphor symbolizing sympathy for the bad guy. The overall scope is a buffet of humanistic complexities that provides much to chew on given character development, and a brilliant actor cast to play it out: Joaquin (the real DARK) Phoenix! A man whose fierce portrayal of the iconic villain turned out uniquely edgy and sharp as any of his predecessors.
Off the bat, folks… this is NOT for kids! The R-rating for the film is where it sets it aside from other comic-book films. The execution for the story is one that could have been done without Joker hoopla, because if you’ve seen one film based on an outcast, you’ve seen them all. So, it isn’t reinventing the wheel per se, but its fantastic exposition among society, its divide, and sinister results thereafter makes this chaotic piece ugly and beautiful. It’s social commentary from an angle that’s not common. The building blocks to Phoenix’s and the film’s climax couldn’t have been as effective had it not been for all the grittiness throughout the film’s narrative. Scenery, set-pieces, sketchy characters, sound-editing, score, and a violent path to uncertainty links it all very nicely.
While Phillips does tap into Joker/Batman storyline(s), for sure his take – which again isn’t DC-based – will trigger reaction from fanatics of the franchise. And it shouldn’t, because from the start, Phillips did say it was an original story based on how he felt an individual would work his way up to being the infamous Joker. Therefore, JOKER isn’t a movie about the Joker. It’s a movie about becoming the Joker. The narrative will divide moviegoers. The film is like a pot of water placed on a stove to boil. It slowly warms, then finally boils. Blistering bubbles erupt, giving off heated aggression. So get ready, because when the narrative goes there, it goes there! It’s a boil which many will see and feel. Some may even feel it’s a story about “them.” Which, in turn, is where the fear comes regarding parallels between the film and current events.
Without doubt JOKER will tap into your feelings. It’ll press buttons. It’s a solid slow-burn with lots of impact from start to finish. Again, it’s not your typical DC film. Endure it for what it is and isn’t. It’s not linked to any of the prior films, and from what I see, I don’t think it will. For that alone is where DC/WB may hold their strength. Plenty of dark characters and storylines to dive into and take their time with. Therefore, give this joke a shot. I bet you’ll giggle! Directed, co-written and produced by Todd Phillips, JOKER may be his best film to date.
Grade: A / Genre: Crime, Drama / Run Time: 2:02 / Rated: R
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz, Brian Tyree Henry, Brett Cullen