Joker Review: Joaquin Phoenix’s Clown is the One DC Both Needed and Deserves
In the realm of diverse fandom’s and their everlasting rivalry towards supremacy, Todd Phillips’ Joker has come as a boon to all DC fans. The majority of moviegoers recognize DC by Christopher Nolan’s masterful The Dark Knight. The film carried the legacy of its predecessor Batman Begins, which arguably, is the best Batman film and delivered on all expectations. However, it further elevated the superhero genre and stoked the world with its brilliant bleakness and technical wizardry. The film both worked as a thrilling crime-saga and an inspiring superhero film. However, it is more remembered for validating the statement that a film is as good as its villain.
Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker was groundbreaking. His portrayal of the clown was of an utterly outrageous maniac and yet, his actions demonstrated sheer flamboyance. His dialogues were which you could quote and his mannerisms you would imitate. Ledger’s bravura depiction of the Joker has remained the crown-jewel for the fans of DC. And it has been a long, long time since they got something equally rewarding to brag about.
Zack Snyder did some of his best work with Man of Steel and Batman V Superman to go head-to-head with Marvel. Unfortunately, his films didn’t receive the same love, rather polarizing reactions. And DC hasn’t been uniform since then. They had good films to thrive (Wonder Woman, Shazam) and some excessively critical ones (Suicide Squad, Justice League) to end their shared Universe.
It was high time for them to strike gold again. And they put their money on their most beloved character. Thankfully, this time they got it right, even though it’s controversial and not necessarily for everyone. This film is made for the fans who care about the character and those who care about the actor playing the part.
By all regards, this is a director’s film that excels in all technical aspects, along with its twisted origin story. This isn’t a comic-book film. It features one of the most popular comic-book characters. But the story is grounded in reality and is purely original. Fans may wonder if they missed out reading something but this film is penned originally. Arthur Fleck, the name of the Joker, as depicted in the film, differs from the comics, among many other things. (Joker’s real name was Jack Napier)
A Profoundly Satisfying and Stimulating Cinematic Experience
Filmed in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, every frame is breathtakingly beautiful and coated with a precise color palette that captures the gloom of Gotham City to perfection. It’s highly artful and almost impossible to look away from the screen. When seen on an IMAX screen, the experience swells to an altogether different level. Speaking of IMAX, the film pulls you right into the unusual Gotham City, filled with garbage and far away from the glossiness of Nolan’s version. It comes closest to his bestowal in Batman Begins, but even that looks more sophisticated.
The scenario is very different from previous depictions of the City. However, it is far more relevant to the prevailing time. Rising unemployment, crime, and the financial crisis have shredded the city and Gothamites are losing their temper. One of the reluctant victims of their rage and madness is Arthur (Joaquin), a clown-for-hire, who goes by his mother’s principal to make the world a happy place. His life, nevertheless, is starkly opposite. There is consistent misery, disregard, and pain.
As a new, meaningful input, most of the pain comes to Arthur through his laugh. It is depicted that he suffers from a neurological disorder which causes him to laugh at inappropriate times. This often invites a lot of trouble to him, even when he doesn’t wish to be a part of it. The rest of the story follows the events and circumstances that lead him towards the darkest phase anyone can imagine being in their lives and how he becomes the Joker.
On paper, the story wouldn’t seem as effective, barring a few very strong social and political messages. It is entirely through Todd Phillips’ assured direction and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance that heaves the script to its intended direction. The film underlines multiple social messages prevalent in our times. However, it is largely focused on highlighting the role of the government in shaping the lives of those who are poor and cannot afford even the basics. The term basics or day-to-day necessities of a common man are well-elongated in the film. The visual storytelling ensures that everyone gets the gist.
Extraordinary Performance Stiffened by a Haunting Score
Comparisons last the longest when the similarities between two people are too epic to be concluded. Joaquin had insanely big shoes to fill. While it is not right to judge whether he supersedes Ledger’s fabulous work, it is inevitable. And Joaquin ensures that comparisons will be made forever. His journey, as portrayed in the film, from a loner to a murderer is truly mesmerizing. He carries ably film on his shoulders and it’s impossible to imagine any other actor nailing the part as precisely as him.
It’s always a great challenge to make the audience sympathize with an antagonist, knowing it’s a madman whom you’re rooting for. Joaquin’s performance guarantees that you feel bad for him every time he gets beaten up or faces distressing consequences. His expressive face remains easier to contemplate throughout the film, and his eyes reflective of the malevolence building inside of him as the events unfold.
There is a great scene towards the end where his character completely loses his mind and unleashes the devilry. It’s a very disturbing scene in general, but due to our sympathy for Arthur and our great love for the character i.e. Joker, it is hard not to cheer, even if out of guilt. And throughout the climax, it’s a riot to watch Joaquin get under the skin of the character and do what he does best.
The soundtrack further elevates his work. It’s very minimal but extremely harrowing. There are half-a-dozen moments where Joaquin’s physical performance goes in perfect harmony with the soundtrack that intensifies the atmosphere and sends shivers down your spine. The R-rating is aptly provided and it’s strongly recommended that anyone under the age of 18 years, along with those who are not used to watching such kinds of films that are hard to contemplate and can be misinterpreted shouldn’t be seeing this film.
Successfully Transforms the Genre But is not Without Some Flaws
One of the major leaps of this film is to craft an original Joker story that is not borrowed from any comic-book. There are the quintessential characters that have no familiarity beyond their names and their depiction is purely novel. It’s a great way for filmmakers willing to get into this genre to ditch the source material and concoct something new and refreshing.
The film has some downsides too, which primarily include the unrealistic depiction of the people of Gotham. The film often uses the disgraceful attitude of the Gothamites towards Arthur as a major plot device to make his character even more disturbed and enraged. There are moments where you can’t relate to how people react to Arthur. Things differ in the real world and you are compelled to digest it as nothing but cinematic liberty.
Furthermore, the film suffers from a slightly preachy resolution. The climax, although, quite powerful, is less artful as compared to the rest of the film and appeals to the commercial audience. it’s loud in delivering its message and you feel the director could have skipped this route. The film also seems heavily inspired by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and it’s hard for anyone to ignore the similarities in a lot of pivotal scenes. While there is nothing wrong with being inspired by classic films, you wish if those moments were filmed more originally considering the great acting prowess of Joaquin Phoenix.
As a standalone DC film, Joker is the best comic-book film of the year and its impact is more significant than Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame. The film attempts to highlight some of the vital problems of our time and doesn’t shy away from exhibiting a deeply pessimistic journey of one of pop-culture’s most beloved characters. It features breathtaking cinematography that warrants IMAX viewing and the career-best performance of Joaquin Phoenix, who is, by far the best Joker we have had, barring Heath Ledger’s tour-de-force portrayal, which arguably, can never be outmoded.