Review | Joker (2019)

Review | Joker (2019)

After Romero, Nicholson, Ledger and Leto, Can Joaquin Phoenix bring anything new to the Joker story?

Joker. This was a film that I was honestly not expecting to be any good at all. But first, let us turn back the clock a little. The films based upon DC comics have been struggling since 2013 with the release of Man of Steel.

I admittedly enjoyed Man of Steel but then Warner Bros and DC tried to quickly bring everything into a shared universe, seemingly jealous of Marvel’s success.

Batman vs Superman was a disappointment (somewhat fixed with the extended cut) and even though it does have its moments, I think it’s a shame we’ll never get that standalone Ben Affleck Batman film.

Justice League and Suicide Squad both underperformed and were both confounded by behind the scenes problems during production.

Warner Bros and DC bounced back with Wonder Woman and Aquaman which were both entertaining and lighter in tone.

Joker was then announced as getting the green light to head into production. As a long-time Batman fan, I strongly felt this was something we clearly didn’t need. There is nothing set in stone within the DC universe that says this is how the Joker came to be.

Personally, I’m only aware of two main origin stories. My love of Batman stems from the 1989 Tim Burton film. So, for a long time, I believed the gangster of Jack Napier, played by Jack Nicholson, falling into the vat of acid was the definitive answer.

Then, later on, I read The Killing Joke. Another take on the Joker origin story that has several similarities to the film I’m reviewing here. A failed stand-up comedian loses his wife and child during birth. With nothing left to lose, he joins a criminal gang who try to burgle a chemical factory but it ends disastrously for all of them.

When I saw the first trailer for Joker, my initial thoughts changed immediately. I felt we were going to see something very different; this could be a little bit special.

Set in Gotham City (where else!), we are introduced to Arthur Fleck. During the day he works as a clown for hire as part of an agency. In the evenings he looks after his elderly mother where they share an apartment in a building downtown.

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In his spare time, Arthur thinks of comedy routines and jokes as he would like to become a stand-up comedian.

Sadly, Arthur has psychiatric problems and is seeking help via a counsellor once a week. It is revealed that he has a condition where he breaks into spontaneous laughter of which he has very little control.

But as the story progresses, the events surrounding Arthur send him into a psychological downward spiral which eventually leads to him killing three young men on a subway car.

This becomes a catalyst for a huge movement between the poor of the city and the rich elite, people like Thomas Wayne. Speaking of which, it was interesting to see a different take on Batman’s father. The Thomas Wayne of this film isn’t as sympathetic towards his fellow citizens as he has been portrayed in other films.

This particular portrayal of Thomas, along with the visuals of the city, really give it a depressing, run-down feeling, a place you wouldn’t like to be. Unemployment is obviously high and a refuse collectors strike has been running for several weeks with large piles of trash all over the city.

Although most the of films of the Batman universe have never been set in an obvious time period, with the exception of the Nolan trilogy, Joker very much feels like the 1970s.

Even the film itself comes across as a film produced in this period using the old 1970s Warner Bros logo for its opening. Joker has a moderate budget with everything on the screen giving off a real tangible feel. There are no large action sequences or reliance on big-budget computer-enhanced scenes in this story and to be honest, it doesn’t need them.

Joker feels like a smaller, independent, and I hate to use the word, grittier comic book film and it makes such a refreshing change from the onslaught of family-friendly Marvel stories. The whole film has been expertly directed by Todd Phillips.

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Jacquin Phoenix is simply brilliant on screen, this is award grade acting (it’s won several already!). Combined with the amazing physical presence he has on screen, especially considering the dramatic weight loss he undertook for the role, makes for compelling but yet slightly disturbing viewing.

There are several on-screen graphic moments of violence with one standing out in particular. However, I wouldn’t consider them gratuitous as they all play a part in Arthur’s story. It’s easy to see why this was rated R in the US. Amazingly, it’s only a 15 here in the UK.

I’d love to delve into further plot details but I really don’t want to give anything away for those who have yet to see it.

There was just one small plot point that I felt could’ve been left on the cutting room floor. Joker’s actions indirectly cause the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne.

I understand that the Batman and the Joker are the ultimate arch-enemy match up but why do they have to be linked together in this way. For me, the fact that the Joker is a criminal but insane genius is enough of a reason for Batman to hunt him down. Why the linking back story?

Anyway, if you hadn’t of guessed already, this is probably one of my favourite comic book films of all time. As I watched Joker, all I could think to myself was that this was my favourite non-Batman Batman film of all time and The Dark Knight is at the top of that list.

On that point, Joker has already earned over a $1 billion and is the highest-grossing R rated film of all time. This has studio heads already thinking about profits and asking for another film.

In my opinion, please don’t. Joker is brilliant. Let it stand on its own.

I never thought an origins tale of the Joker could surpass a tale of the Batman. Count the stars above, it does. Loved it. – 5/5




John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves film, and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990s. Whilst that website became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. He's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.