I was pretty skeptical about the thought of the Joker getting his own standalone movie back when it was first announced. At this point the character has been a bit overdone as we’ve seen several different incarnations of the character in film, animation and TV. In comic books the Joker is normally a character who has a mysterious origin, so looking into his backstory is not really something that appealed to me.
But then they brought on Joaquin Phoenix, one of the strongest actors in the world right now and in the early stages of development it was said that Martin Scorsese would produce. Then all of the sudden I thought this could be a pretty cool idea.
Joker does not directly tie in to the main DC universe’s timeline. Its safe to assume that Phoenix’s Joker and Jared Leto’s Joker are not the same guy and probably don’t even live in the same world. The film appears to take place in 1981. I don’t think its ever confirmed, but Blow Out does appear on a theater sign and that movie came out in 1981.
Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover) directs this movie and he was quite vocal before it came out that some comic book fans would probably be pissed with direction he took this movie. The Joker is a comic book character obviously, but he lives in a very grounded world. There is definitely an attempt to make Gotham city into a Scorsese-like version of New York City in his films like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. Even just in terms of plot the film is sort of a hybrid of Taxi Driver and another Scorsese film The King of Comedy. So it really makes sense why Scorsese was originally attached as a producer because the story obviously lifts a lot from his classics.
Phoenix’s Joker is great. I don’t know that I can say he is the best version of the character. I still think that distinction belongs to Heath Ledger, but Phoenix obviously benefits from the fact that he doesn’t have to share the movie with Batman and he gets a lot of screen time. Arthur Fleck starts out the film as a very mentally ill man and he is essentially driven further and further into madness by Gotham City. Fleck starts out in the movie as a working clown who lives with his mother and dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian and appearing on the Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) show. Franklin’s basically a Johnny Carson like character. Back in the day comedians who appeared on Johnny Carson would basically become famous overnight so De Niro’s character is basically the placeholder for a real person. People expected to see some influence from De Niro’s character from The King of Comedy, but there isn’t really, because he doesn’t really have a big part in the movie.
I don’t think the script is necessarily that good. Phillips co-writes the script, but a think a lot of things in the film happen a bit too conveniently and the message is pretty heavy handed. Sure, “we need to do more to help the mentally ill” is a message that most people can agree with, but I felt like we were beat over the head with it a bit. Phoenix does a lot of heavy lifting in order to develop the character.
One thing that I appreciated about this movie was there was hardly any footage shown from the final moments of the movie. You know that the Joker appears on Murray’s show and anything that happens after that is a complete secret. The ending is brutal and that’s where the movie went up for a bit as a whole in my eyes.
One thing I forgot to mention is a love the design of the character. It seems a lot more cartoon like to me. With the cover the top colored suit I think its one of the definitive styles of the character.
At the end of the day I’d say this movie is a 7/10 or 7.5/10. Many have called this a masterpiece and one of the best comic book movies ever. I don’t think I’d go that far. Phoenix probably deserves some Oscar attention, but I think the script holds this back a bit. One thing that is good about the movie is that you don’t really have to have any comic book knowledge at all. Its just a crime movie and a character study, that happens to have the Joker in it.
Have you seen Joker?