This review contains spoilers!
Joker (Todd Phillips, USA, 2019), once again, takes us back to the crime-ridden streets of Gotham City, a society mistreated by its the upper class. After a series of unfortunate events, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is induced into a world of revolution and murder under the influence of his alter ego: The Joker.
The actor portraying Joker is always a hotly debated topic. Massive parts of the fanbase deliberate over the supremacy of each performance. Ledger vs. Leto. Hamill vs. Nicholson. The very nature of a fanbase will compare and contrast each others opinions challenging tastes, irrespective of the variation in styles and performance required from the production. The use of the Joker’s persona is a key indicator of how the auteur has interpreted the original work. Hamill and Nicholson, for example, take strong inspiration from the comics presenting the character as more of a showman. Ledger, however, took a darker approach blending his character to the fabric of Nolan’s The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, USA, 2008). Phoenix, however, occupies the character in a new realm of black comedy utilising both the solemness of Ledger and absurdity of Hamill. Pheonix’s laugh, derived from his character’s neurological laughing condition, is haunting and skillfully accomplished throughout the film. I feel it unfair to bid Joker performances against each other as they all add something unique to the canon, however, Joaquin’s interpretation can be viewed as on par if not transcending populous favourites.
Aside from the acting, the film has a varied sense of quality. We are thrust into the world of 80s Gotham (which is exquisitely presented through production design) witnessing it’s mean streets first hand. Arthur is immediately presented to us as an insane, downtrodden comedian; which at the beginning, to a certain degree, makes him identifiable. However, when the V for Vendetta (James McTeigue, USA, 20015) style anarchisms begin a dissociation starts to form. Unlike V for Vendetta in which the audience is continually given reason to identify with V (Hugo Weaving) as he transitions from vigilante into the hero; Arthur is never given this opportunity. This is, by definition, part of the Joker’s character; nevertheless, as a standalone film, this poses problems for audience engagement. For the most part, Phillips does a decent job keeping the audience engrossed in the content. However, the reveal (and subsequent flashbacks) that Sophie (Zazie Beetz) and Arthur were never in a relationship was not required to show Arthur’s insanity. Chaotic murder and spaced out dance moves are enough to exhibit insanity. Phillips yet again takes the viewer out of the experience with another admission of the Wayne murder to celluloid. At this point, unborn children know the origins of the Batman story. It would have been beneficial for the audience and character development to have an additional three minutes of Joker dancing than another Wayne murder.
Despite the pitfalls, Joker presents us with a convincing origin story for one of pop-culture’s most valued villans. The cinematography that presents the production design in ravishing detail is combined with an unnerving performance from Pheonix save the film from questionable directing. The film is deserving of the title crown prince, however, it is not quite ready to be king.