Todd Phillips’ Joker has quickly become one of the most popular movies in the world. Breaking financial records left and right, it’s clear this movie is resonating with audiences. But is it any good?
The short answer is: Yes. It seems like every year since 2008’s Iron Man, skeptics of the genre have been talking about super-hero fatigue, but then we’ll have a movie like Logan, or Thor: Ragnarock that will break the mold a bit to open up new possibilities and keep things fresh. Joker is no exception.
With a phenomenal performance from Joaquin Phoenix and a surprisingly dark script, the $55 million film made more money in its opening weekend than Warner Bros.’ reported $300 million Justice League. It’s a safe bet we’ll see more movies like this.
I went into the movie pretty skeptical to be honest, I wasn’t really interested in a Joker movie without Batman, nor did I see (from the trailers) too much of a distinction between Phoenix’s Joker and Ledger’s portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime. I was pleasantly surprised to find out this movie wasn’t interested in creating an origin for a criminal mastermind, but instead showing what happens to a person when you remove love and compassion.
The most unnerving thing about the film was how real it all felt. This isn’t a mastermind supervillain who’s always one step ahead of the world’s greatest detective, this is an unhinged murderer who could really exist.
However, I think this movie was more directly about what creates a killer and tries to convey there are people out there who can’t catch a break, so thinking of the film through this lens, that critique gets a bit of a pass from me.
For all of the media frenzy surrounding this film concerning its politics, the film is ironically unpolitical. In the film, Arthur’s acts of violence inspire a working-class protest movement as they are mistakenly taking his acts of self-defense and murder as a political statement, but then when asked about what statement he was trying to make Arthur’s response is simply, “I’m not trying to make a statement.”
That moment was one of my favourites in the film because in one moment it displays how people who are wrongly inspired by mass killers think they’re following some grand ideal or actions of a martyr, in reality, are only being inspired by nothing but chaos and violence.
If I had one real criticism of the movie it’s that Arthur Fleck isn’t really given a choice to be anything but the Joker.
Take Scorcese’s Taxi Driver or King of Comedy two films Joker takes heavy inspiration from. Each feature unhinged characters, but they both have some kind of shot at a normal life, but they very clearly choose not to take it. Joker’s Arthur is never given that choice to find a different path.Overall Todd Phillips’ Joker is a tense, but mesmerizing watch that is definitely worth seeing in cinemas. I hope DC takes more innovative risks like this and we get more low budget character studies going forward.