So…Batman’s dad is Donald Trump. It’s not a spoiler if you really think about it.
If what you’re looking for is an action packed superhero movie, then “Joker” may have you walking out of the theater saying, “That’s not what I expected”.
“Joker” is an R-Rated stand-alone prequel of sorts about the man who would become the titular Batman villain. This version of the Joker story was not one that I was familiar with and thus I was happy with sitting through two hours plus of this mentally unstable character, as he watches the world burn. Even though plot-wise there isn’t really much more to it than that, there’s a lot here to appreciate.
Side Note: I get the “Taxi Driver” Travis Bickle,“The King of Comedy” Rubert Pupkin comparisons, but I’m going to throw something different at you. Remember how “Rocky” was a story about a boxer that nobody cared about, who just wanted to go the distance? “Joker” is like that, but instead of a boxer it’s about a fledgling comedian/clown-for-hire, who just wants to be noticed…it even has a stairs sequence.
I think we all knew Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, You Were Never Really Here) was going to be an excellent Joker. I mean, the man is an eccentric character in street clothes. And he is spectacular in this. Not any better or worse than Heath Ledger’s 2008 performance as the Joker. Phoenix’s Joker is a whole other beast. From his dance inspired erratic contortions, to his body transformation, to that laugh, with this performance Phoenix reinvents the character so much so, that audiences will actually find themselves rooting for the Joker; unironically.
I also want to quickly highlight director Todd Phillips, the director of the horrid “The Hangover” trilogy, who has probably made the best movie he’ll ever make by nailing this fan fiction “Taxi Driver” homage. His love for Martin Scorsese is obvious here, as Phillips’ pacing, tone and visuals focus on the protagonist rather than a more conventional plot-driven narrative. He also presents a Gotham that is so alive and toothy, that when the Joker’s snap comes, it all seems right on cue, like a well orchestrated song.
Not everything works though. Two aspects in particular seem forced and tend to weigh things down a bit. Like a dog wearing a sweater; I mean, it’s not hurting the dog, but the dog would probably be better without it. OK, so first is a love story arch which seems forced, but not unfounded; I did see the point of it. The larger issue here was the same issue I had with “Black Panther”. “Joker” only really stumbles when Phillips has to reel the story back into the DC universe. If this would’ve simply been a story about the rise of Arthur Fleck, a poor, depressed and disillusioned man, living in a violent rat infested city, slowly slipping into madness, this could’ve moved from an award worthy to an award winning “Taxi Driver” homage.
Final Thought: Neither violent video games or violent movies cause people to shoot one another.
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