Review: Joker - an Alternative Comic Book Movie

The Joker is everyone’s favourite comic book villain: charming, unpredictable and completely insane. Todd Philips remodels the classic DC character in his new film Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix. However, Philips’ movie is a far cry to the classic comic book films we’ve been conditioned to expect. Joker is very much a “real movie” according to Philips. It tells the tragic tale of Arthur Fleck a middle-aged, single man, living with his mother in rundown Gotham; he has a learning difficulty that makes him laugh hysterically when nervous. Arthur is truly on the fringes of society; when he’s not being fired, he’s being beaten up or mocked for his disability.  The plot focuses on Arthur’s slow transition into the violent, menacing Joker.     

 

Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-worthy portrayal allows the audience to be completely engrossed throughout the two hours. His character develops from a gentle man trying to spread laughter whilst coping with his hardships, to a violent vigilante trying to gain revenge on those who’ve done him wrong. The 180° of Arthur’s personality allows Phoenix to display a full range of acting ability, as we slowly watch him unfold from a hopeless hero to a tragic villain. A different actor probably would have bored the audience but Phoenix kept me glued to my seat. (My friend confessed he needed the toilet during the film but was too engaged to go!)

 

Other stand out characters include Brett Cullen who plays Thomas Wayne (Batman’s dad). In a moving, turning-point scene Arthur tries to converse with his ‘dad’ only for Wayne to reject him, claiming that his mother was a liar and a lunatic who adopted Arthur. In that moment not only does Arthur lose a potential father figure but also trust in his mother. With no-one left to rely on, he essentially has nothing left to lose. Adding to this is the traumatic revelation that Penny Fleck allowed her boyfriend to physically abuse Arthur as boy, perhaps causing Arthur’s learning disabilities. But the film fails to explain why Arthur was returned to Penny and not fostered into a more loving home.

 

The film echoes themes of Martin Scorsese 1976 classic Taxi Driver starring Robert De Niro, who non-coincidentally plays a comic TV host in this. Both movies centre on a protagonist becoming exhausted by the constant hardships life throws at them until they crack and begin to rebel. Personally, I also received Fight Club vibes as violence brings self actualisation. A friend who watched this film with me also commented on the Othello-like ending; Joker never reveals why he kills the three bankers, his power lies in his secrecy. Only we, the audience truly know the motives for his path to destruction. This film is undeniably English A-level deep.  

 

Many critics have commented that this film is dangerous, encouraging mass shootings. Particularly, the end scene which shows rioters wearing clown masks, causing chaos and killing in a quasi-political protest. Arguably, these political themes make the film relevant to today’s society. Political protests are happening globally e.g Hong Kong, USA. I’d argue that the film does not glamorise murder, the most violent scene is disgusting not tantalising. Fleck is a worn, broken man not a sexy sociopath (hint, hint Jared Leto) We pity him, we don’t admire him.

 

I would definitely recommend Joker for being a radical deviation from a classical comic book film. The acting is superb, (my friend later confessed he needed the toilet during the film but was too engaged to go!) Plus the themes and setting are relevant to today’s age. Although Joker is a little slow and lacks many of the cool action scenes and skin tight-lycra costumes that some viewers might be expecting. The movie avoids being too patronising, avoiding a heavily didactic tone. Arguably, Philips’ movie is a social commentary about how to treat everyone with sympathy and respect. On a deeper level the piece holds up a cracked mirror reflecting an ugly, broken society.

 

Rating: 4/5