In 1940, Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson introduced the Joker to the world as a new archenemy for Batman. Known as a criminal mastermind with a warped and sadistic sense of humour, Joker quickly grew to become one of the most popular villains in DC Comics. He has also been portrayed in iconic performances in various Batman movies and TV, including Cesar Romero in the 1960s, Jack Nicholson in 1989, Mark Hamill in animated form, and the late Heath Ledger in 2008, which won him an Academy Award. We now get to see what exactly put a smile on the face of the Clown Prince of Crime, with Joaquin Phoenix bringing a new portrayal in an origin story. Can Joker stand on its own without the Caped Crusader?
Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is running for Mayor of Gotham City in 1981, as he attempts to clean the streets as the crime levels rise. Among the slums of Gotham is Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a man who suffers from a laundry list of mental conditions, including pathological laughter, while also looking after his ill mother, Penny (Frances Conroy). Meanwhile, he manages to find some humility in his neighbour, Sophie (Zazie Beetz). However, life continues to crumble as he fails as a professional clown and a stand-up comedian, especially after being humiliated by talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). As all it takes is one bad day, Fleck finds himself unintentionally starting a revolution as he wheres clown make-up and takes on the mantle of “Joker.”
Origin stories or prequels are often hit and miss, especially when the filmmakers have to adhere and integrate specific storylines that would follow future movies. In the case of a character like the Joker, an origin would almost be considered redundant as what makes him interesting is how mysterious he is. In the case of the new Joker movie, director Todd Phillips (The Hangover Trilogy) derived away from the source material and instead takes inspiration from bleak character studies of the ‘70s and ‘80s, specifically from Martin Scorsese movies like The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. The movie is very small in story and action but has a large scope in an almost unpleasant drama that captures a wonderfully crafted and rich experience.
It’s without question that the crowned jewel of the movie is Joaquin Phoenix as the titular clown prince of crime. His descent into madness is both enthralling and unsettling to watch, especially when you have a protagonist that is so morally ambiguous. This is a character that ALMOST brings sympathy as the world looks down on him, but his actions are not something that can be necessarily “right”. What brings a level of terror is that actions aren’t motivated by greed or revenge, but from a twisted version of what he finds a funny poke at society. It’s not often that characters like this appear in films, especially in 2019 with comic book movies like Avengers Endgame or Spider-Man: Far from Home. And the supporting cast has very strong performances, especially De Niro as Franklin, who brings that needed line between what is right and wrong with Joker’s actions.
Overall, Joker is a very different entry to the vast comic book/ superhero movie landscape that shows a very bleak and dirty story with an outstanding performance. If you’re looking for a character study, this is definitely a movie I can recommend, but do not expect a big action spectacle.
Rating: ★★★★(1/2) out of 5
Joker is in cinemas now.