Comics Movie Reviews
By Hervé St-Louis
April 30, 2021 - 22:51
Studios: Village Roadshow Pictures, BRON Studios, Joint Effort, DC Comics
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Produced by: DC Films
Running Time: 122 minutes
Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures
When former mental health patient Arthur Fleck attempts to rejoin the world as a performer, he finds that every step meets with ridicule, deceit, and sometimes violence. His coping mechanism is laughter. Instead of venting, crying, stressing in difficult times, he laughs. And obviously, this tends to lend him in worse problems. Finally, Fleck abandons the mockery of his life and decides to embrace his inner madness. Is this the story of how the Joker became the villainous arch enemy of Batman?
First, I need to address the criticisms that Joker is a movie celebrating incel culture and toxic masculinity. It may well be but just because Joker is a white guy, it doesn’t mean that his plight on screen makes him a victim or a pretend victim the way incels claim they are. In fact, Joker’s time period is 1981, decades before the alienating culture that sprang from 4Chan and the internet. Joker has more in common with Taxi Driver than Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro. He does not so much as blame the world or even espouse a libertarian or conservative mindset, like a character like Watchmen’s Rorschach. He’s just trying to perform and be known as a comedian and a performer.
Instead, we are presented with a great “what if” story with very little in the way of a grown-up Batman influencing the history of his arch nemesis. And this is one of the most enthralling aspect of the film. We know of the Joker and his madness. We know how far he can go. Thus, the potential for all this violence and excess is always at a moment’s notice, but the film balances our expectations by teasing. It is not until the full transformation happens that we get the real Joker. Raising our expectations is a great storytelling device that allows the film to fall into thriller territory. At every moment, we know that this endearing character can become much worse.
There was a great meme a few years ago after the release of the first Suicide Squad movie about who had portrayed the Joker best. Mark Hamill’s cartoon version was of course the best, as depicted in the meme. Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker will have to push some of the other contenders a bit in order to take its place in the roll call. I still prefer Hamill’s Joker because of one thing that he has over Phoenix. The laughter. It seems force with Phoenix. He is not funny even when he becomes crazy.
What did impress me about Phoenix was his body language. He channeled some Charlie Chaplin and other early pantomime performers. Thus, his title in the realm of the Joker should probably be the “performer”. I have seen the label the comedian used but that does not cover the extent of the physical performance Joaquin Phoenix displayed in this movie.
Another thing that impressed me were the parallels with older films such as Taxi Driver. I have read that Joke also borrows much from Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. The Blu-Ray has plenty of extras to entertain. They are worth watching if you missed the original theatre release of Joker (like I did) or if you want to rewatch this villainous classic.
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