𝘐𝘴 𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘍𝘪𝘭𝘮 𝘈 𝘏𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘺𝘸𝘰𝘰𝘥 𝘚𝘶𝘱𝘦𝘳𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘰?:
ʀᴇᴠɪᴇᴡꜱ ᴏꜰ ᴀᴄᴛɪᴏɴ & ꜱᴜᴘᴇʀʜᴇʀᴏ ʀᴇʟᴇᴀꜱᴇꜱ
I know this is super late. I wrote this a while ago, but got busy and lost interest. With all the awards talk though I figured I’d put this out now though. Anyway…
I’ll throw all my biases on the table:
- I’m against “The Joker” having an origin at all.
- I think Heath Ledger’s “Joker” from “The Dark Knight” is the definitive version of “The Joker”.
- I think “The Dark Knight” is still the best comic book movie ever made.
- I’m more about the characters and the story than the “style” elements of a movie. Every part of a movie is important but the characters and the story are the most important parts to me. A character’s struggle (and finding it relatable) is what I pinpoint at the single most important element of a story to me.
We’ll start with what’s good. The directing, cinematography, and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance are all excellent. That’s pretty much it for the good though. The story is okay at best and as far as the characters most of them are one-dimensional. It also needs to be stated that the tone and style of the movie are heavily lifted from “Taxi Driver”. In addition, the main plot of the story is lifted from “The King Of Comedy”. Both of these movies have better and more proactive protagonists and these two movies do what “Joker” in general is trying to do significantly better..
Ideally, what should a Joker movie do? I think the movie would have to show why a person would become the murderous clown he becomes while at the same time showing why that decision is wrong. To see each step and to see how “The Joker” keeps making the wrong choice. It’s a hard needle to thread, especially without becoming preachy.
In “The Dark Knight” that version of “The Joker” gives several possible origins for himself. Every one of those versions is better than the one in this movie because all of them make you go “that’s fucked up”. “The Joker’s” origin in this movie makes you shrug and go “I guess that makes sense”. It adds up, but it doesn’t quite add up to the “real Joker”. This is “A version” of “The Joker”. An alternate take, I’d say, but it’s not “THE Joker” that we see in comics, cartoons, and TV shows.
In this film the “Joker” doesn’t laugh because he finds murder and torture funny but because he has a brain injury that makes him randomly laugh. The traditional “Joker” is crazy because he kills people. This “Joker” is mentally ill. He has mental illnesses. He’s delusional. All this gives “The Joker” an excuse. I believe the “real” “Joker” is absolutely conscious of what he’s doing. This “Joker” is petty. He kills people because he feels like they wronged him with maybe a couple of exceptions. The “real “Joker” would kill you in if you get this way but mainly kills randomly and indiscriminately. There’s an episode of “Batman: The Animated Series” that illustrates this. My memory of it is fuzzy but some guy actually fucks with “The Joker” deliberately on purpose not know knowing it’s him. I think he cuts them off in traffic or something like that. “The Joker” lets that guy go but tell him he owes him a favor. This, of course, is a fate that is probably worse than death because for the rest of this guy’s life he knows that “The Joker” is going to cash in that favor and he’s going to have to do some horrible thing that ends up murdering people or something. That’s what the “real Joker” does: weird, torturous shit.
Though this is not a “DCEU” movie, it has one trait in common with many of them. That common trait is having one-dimensional bully characters that are only there so the protagonist can get some vindictive revenge against them. “Man Of Steel”, “Aquaman”, and “Shazam” all have these characters. It’s always lame, it’s always stupid, and especially with the hero characters, it makes them look petty, small and kind of pathetic. If you don’t have the self-control to not beat on some asshole who has no power over you, how could you be expected to have self-control over godlike power and not use it abusively? At the end of the day, it’s just a lazy straw man to give “Arthur Fleck” (our pre-”Joker” protagonist) another excuse to become “The Joker”.
In this movie, almost every character is about as big an asshole as you can possibly be at all times. I’m not some happy-go-lucky “everyone is good on the inside” type. I’d even go as far as to say a good amount of people are pretty terrible. They aren’t THIS terrible though in the sense that at least they generally aren’t THIS openly hostile and hide their awfulness. We’re told over and over again everyone is SO mean to poor ‘“Arthur”. Some mean woman on a bus scolds him just for entertaining her kid by making faces at him. His therapist doesn’t listen to him or care. Some mean guys who work for “Thomas Wayne” mess with some poor lady and beat up “Arthur” because he laughs uncontrollably at that moment. He then murders these men. The first two are clearly self-defense and the third guy he shoots in the ass but he attempts to get away. The man hit him unprovoked and got wounded it for it. “Eye for an eye”. He got what he deserved, right? Not for “Arthur”. He goes well out of his way to murder this man. Unloading all his remaining bullets into him. Interesting that “Arthur” shows none of the mercy he asks others to show him. Well, “Arthur” is a cold-blooded murderer now so his transformation into the “Joker” is mostly complete… The only problem is this is at a point that is less than one-third of the way through the movie. Guess the movie is going to need some padding…
This leads to one part of the movie that I just straight-up found annoying. That is everything involving the “Wayne” family. I hate it. I hate all of it. I don’t want any insinuation that “The Joker” and “Batman” are brothers. It’s lame, it’s dumb, and it makes both characters worse. This also takes up a decent chunk of a plot. Just to be consistent “Thomas Waynes” punches “Arthur” in the face after revealing that is not his father (or is he?). This leads to another part of the movie that’s also annoying. That part is the “rich people = bad” part. This is not the only movie guilty of this ( “The Last Jedi” being a good example) but it’s still annoying. If you conclude that this is true, it’s overly simplistic and unhelpful. There’s some effort to address the cutting of social services, but it’s hard to take seriously in any way from all the rich people involved in making this movie that’s made by a super-rich company that is only making this movie to make more money. Again this movie is not the only one that’s guilty but still…
The people in this movie are so alien to the real world that you can’t relate to it and therefore you can’t relate to “The Joker”. “The Joker” literally says he hasn’t had a happy moment his entire life. Even if that were possible and I think the movie itself shows that isn’t even true, it’s not relatable. No matter how shitty your life is, there’s some happiness in it. Also looking at “The Joker’s” life is it THAT bad? He’s not a guy breaking bricks for a living. He’s a clown. A job he seems to enjoy.
Let’s start with his job. The first major thing that happens in the movie is “Arthur” as part of some “clown union” (seriously what is this supposed to be?) has a gig dancing around with a “going out a business” sign. Some kids then steal the sign from him. This sign is completely worthless and he should just report to his “clown union” boss or whatever but instead, he chases after the kids. He catches up to them and they beat his ass. Then in a completely unrealistic fashion, this “clown union” boss accuses him of stealing this worthless sign and says he’ll dock his pay for it. Some guy on the job gives “Arthur” a gun to protect himself shortly after this. This is a setup to have a reason to murder this guy later. This is also the most brutal murder and the only one where he doesn’t simply shoot them. Him being more proactive getting his own gun like “Travis” in “Taxi Driver” would have made this more interesting. We’d see clearly he learned the wrong lesson here. He should have learned to let things go, especially when they don’t matter but what he’d learn instead is that he need to take matters into his own hands with a weapon. This eventually leads to him losing his job…
“Arthur” loses his job because he brought a gun into a hospital while he’s performing in front of children. The world didn’t do this to him. He was stupid and irresponsible. I’m already pretty much done with sympathizing with him at this point. He has a mother that loves him; an apartment in 1970’s New York; and he’s a normal-looking guy. Yes, he has mental illnesses, he laughs randomly, and we learn he was abused as a child but there are people with mental illness that have it a lot worse than this guy.
The part of “The Joker” that we probably can relate to is being awkward. Everyone feels awkward sometimes. The problem is, “The Joker’s” the type of asshole who sets himself up for failure and then gets mad at the world when they fail. He has the aforementioned brain injury that makes it so he laughs uncontrollably at random times. Logically you would think pretty much any career involving a lot of talking in the public isn’t ever going to work. To say the least there’s no way he can be a successful stand-up comedian, especially after one attempt. It’s ludicrous. I guess you can argue “The Joker” in this movie is delusional and kind of dumb. We see that “The Joker” is clearly delusional from the part of the movie where he’s imagining that he’s dating “Domino”. This part was spoiled for me in a review of the movie. I think it was pulled off fairly convincingly though. I just don’t really see the point of it except to show that “The Joker’s” delusional. There’s also a part where you can see his writing and it seems like he can barely read showing he’s pretty dumb. This is a weird edition to the character because I think if anything the “real Joker” is at least kind of smart. The guy makes elaborate death traps and is supposed to have the wits to charm his psychiatrist into dropping everything to be his abused girlfriend and partner in crime. I find his level of stupidity varies to be convenient for the plot. Towards the end of the movie, he makes a speech that someone this “out of it” wouldn’t be able to make. I guess there are people like this but I think it makes for a less interesting protagonist.
Let’s now get into the controversy. On one hand, I don’t believe it was ever fair to blame media for real-life violence. This is a cheap, lazy deflection to avoid talking about real problems such as the need for gun control. On the other hand, I also believe media companies should so show some responsibility in the messages they create. There’s a part near the end where “The Joker” is celebrated by a bunch of people with clown masks because his actions are seen by these people as striking back at the rich. What is this telling us? It is at least on some level saying that this violence is good or at least some people would see it as good. The only counter-argument comes from the host of the show “Arthur” is on then he is framed as “one of the bad people”. He’s framed as a bad person because while not knowing he was mentally ill he made fun of “Arthur’s” (somehow recorded in the 70’s?) attempt at standup comedy. It can be argued that the real counterargument is murder is inherently wrong but in today’s climate and because people are fucking stupid that might not be enough. What is the overall message of this movie? I don’t know. Crazy people are going to crazy? That we should just get rid of mentally ill people because someday they’re not going to get their medication and murder people? Those are definitely messages you could get from this movie. It’s also heavily implied that he murders “Domino” after the audience learns that “Arthur’s” “dates” with her were figments of his imagination. Both “Taxi Driver” and “The King Of Comedy” deal with delusional protagonists and do so without spoon-feeding you what actually happened and what didn’t. I think that ambiguity makes them better films for it. Everyone else the “Joker” kills in this movie wronged him. How did she? By not being the girlfriend he feels entitled to? This gives credence to the “incel” comments about this movie. Maybe he walked into her apartment unannounced, startled her when she discovered him, and left without incident. I find that highly doubtful though…
A “Joker” movie probably should be unsettling, even unpleasant but all movies should be fun in some aspects, shouldn’t they? I’d say this movie is worth seeing. I guess I’d give it a B- for trying something different with a comic book movie but add a huge asterisk for taking so much from other better movies. So did this movie save the day? It stopped the treat I guess. Who would expect “The Joker” to save anyone anyway?
Saved The Day (A+ to B+)
Stopped The Threat (B to B-)
Minimized The Damage (C+ to C)
Lost The Battle (C- & Below)
Outcome: Stopped The Threat