Joker is one of the most highly anticipated films of 2019, and that’s saying something when you consider other big films that came out this year. It feels like the character might have been exhausted a bit, with several different actors taking on the role over the last few years. It leaves the question of how much a new actor could truly bring; hasn’t it all been covered by now?
(Image courtesy of Variety)
Yes and no.
I went into the film knowing very little about DC, simply because every one of their films and shows seems to branch off into its own universe. It’s hard to keep up with - it was just a few years ago that Jared Leto was the Joker, and a few years before that, Heath Ledger. And, it’s Ledger than seems to be rated by many as the best of them all, even if his rendition is totally different to Phoenix's.
Regardless of previous takes on the Joker, Phoenix totally holds his own from the very second that the film opens. The film is very much an origin story - at least part of an origin story - and at first, he establishes himself as Arthur Fleck. Fleck is a former patient of Arkham Asylum, and works as a clown at kid’s parties to financially support his slightly senile mother.
Even though the Joker is traditionally an antagonist, it’s easy to feel sorry for him. He’s mistreated by his co-workers, ignored by members of society and taken as a joke due to his condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably. Society is the main villain in this film, not the Joker. It’s the rejection of his peers that causes him to snap.
By the end of the film, Fleck has dyed his hair green and is the version of the Joker that we all seem to know and love, but having seen his origin story, it makes you feel different that you might have with other portrayals of the character. Phoenix brings an element of humanity to someone who seems otherwise physcopathic.
However, his performance would not have been the same without the director, Todd Phillips (who also directed the Hangover trilogy). Phillips take a retro approach to the film, with a lot of being it based on old style, gritty crime films. Gotham is portrayed as a poor city, riddled with crime and gangs - something that is likely based on New York in the 1980s (Joker is set in 1981).
And although the events of the film happened a few decades ago, a lot of its commentary is relevant today. The main character suffers as a result of budget cuts, and Gotham is seeing protests and uprisings as a result of social unrest, with Fleck being at the forefront of it all.
Another major talking point for Joker was the involvement of Batman - or lack thereof. A young Bruce Wayne does make an appearance, but unlike previous renditions, he is not the main driving point behind the Joker’s antics. Phoenix proves that the Joker can be a stand alone character, and a good one as well. At no point did he need to be driven by his arch-nemesis to be interesting.
Overall, Joker is a good film. There are moments where the plot seems slow and occasionally repetitive, but on the whole, the main character is entrancing and unpredictable and ensures that you want to keep watching.