Joker came to be out of director Todd Phillips’s brain, intending to be a more grounded comic book film. A DC “black” label film, Joker is outside the normal bounds of the DC film universe. This film has no connection to Shazam, or Man Of Steel, or  Justice League. It still is a DC film, but it is a one-off, with currently no intent to continue the usage of any character brought to life in this movie. Joker was intended to move beyond the current idea of a comic book film, and create something new. And in that aspect, it succeeds, with very few references to the Batman-centric universe the Joker character comes from. Phillips intentionally left the character ambiguous. Is Joker the batman Joker? Or is he someone new?

Joker focuses on one Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a clown living, and taking care of his mother, Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy). Fleck lives with a condition based on a real one, pathological laughter. Joker is an intense character study on Arthur Fleck’s transformation. One Phoenix participates in extraordinarily well. His work in this movie is very much deserving of an award. He plays the villain of Joker so well, and he put in a lot of work to make it happen, studying different elements of assassins, studying the pathological laughter syndrome, and losing over 50 pounds in order to develop his spin on the character. He didn’t look at any previous iterations of the character, and it shows. Arthur Fleck is a great iteration of the Joker character. Phoenix’ hard work shows.

Gotham is probably the best iteration of Gotham we’ve seen on screen. It is so realistic, and haunting. The score for this film is purely epic. It will leave you on the edge of your seat and make you want to dance along with Arthur at the same time. Guðnadóttir did a fantastic job putting it together. His score also helps the seamless transition Fleck has from a doubting loner to a confident lunatic. But it’s almost like Joker didn’t know what to do with itself when Fleck hit confident lunatic. There’s ways it could have shortened itself, and declared its journey complete. But the way Joker does end, it spins off, almost unintentionally. 

I do not believe in movies are the bad guys. We do learn things from movies, but they should never be considered justification for our actions. That being said, this movie feels dangerous. It leaves itself open to interpretation. In most cases, this is a good thing. But in such a character study on one of the most iconic villains, this film needed a resolution. It needed a “even if you do bad things for good reasons, it is still bad”. It fails to have that, and as such is left to interpretation by the audience.

Overall, this is a good movie. A great step for DC, and well deserving of its Venice International Film Festival Golden Lion. The cast is great, and Zazie was a particular great addition. Phoenix and the score are defining factors. But Joker will not and should not be for everyone. Joker leaves a lot of questions, including if what happened in the movie actually happened to Arthur, or if it was all in his head. Arthur Fleck is a terrifying character who does a lot of terrible things. He is a voice for the voiceless in Joker. His journey doesn’t necessarily end, but did it ever begin? This is one of the many questions Phoenix and Phillips leave us with. It is up to each of us individually to answer the questions left to us. I and many others can only hope we answer them right. 

Grade: B

I’ve read a couple other reviews that talk about how important this film is, both for comics and mental health. I’ve been reading up to get some perspectives on the film. Here’s a current list:
Joker is in theaters now!
Joker Poster

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