Every time I review a DC film, I say pretty much the same thing: they have to stop taking themselves so seriously. Well, once again, they ignored me: Joker is about as serious as you can possibly get, and it’s a much better film for it. For me, this is their best outing to date, and it’s pretty grim.
Joker is set in Gotham, before Batman and before Arkham became a rest home for homicidal super villains. The connection is there, but it’s very loose: this is not a film about super heroes, this is a film about how we’re all just a few steps removed from becoming a menace to the public.
Joaquin Phoenix, unsurprisingly, turns in a masterful (and I mean masterful, as in ‘Oscar worthy’) performance as Arthur Fleck, a failed clown and failing stand-up comedian suffering from a range of mental ailments and perpetual bad luck. As his life spirals out of control and his past unravels around him, he becomes increasingly unhinged, delusional, and of course, homicidal.
The script is fantastic, the acting (from everyone) is superb, and it’s an exhausting and fascinating watch. You can’t say that many films of this nature are character-driven, but Joker is this and more. Arthur first tries to to find his way back to sanity, then tries to live with it while Gotham decays around him, before finally accepting the inevitable and letting madness consume him – and that’s where the fireworks start.
The film has courted a lot of controversy in the US. Pundits claim that it’ll lead to an outbreak of copycat violence, which strikes me as a little odd, considering that they must release half a dozen films a year that can lead to an outbreak of copycat anything. So what’s all the fuss about?
Well, is the problem that the film talks about mass violence, or is the problem that it’s about mass violence against rich people? Mmmm.
And here’s a jaw-dropping moment: during the excellent soundtrack, they slipped in a few bars of Rock and Roll by Gary Glitter! Who is insane enough to put a Gary Glitter song to anything? That move alone expands the insanity from a single character and spreads it throughout the whole film. Wow, now I think about it, does that mean that Gary Glitter is actually going to make money from this? Oh well, perhaps his reputation hasn’t made much of an impact across the pond.
Anyway, if I haven’t already said it, Joker is DC’s best outing to date. Not your run-of-the-mill superhero epic, but an epic nonetheless. If Phoenix doesn’t pick up an oscar for his turn as the Joker then there’s no justice in the world.
So, and I can’t believe it either, I’m going to give DC their first ten out of ten. If you’re a fan of the superhero genre, see it. If you’re not and you’re also not squeamish, see it anyway; you won’t be disappointed.
Scarred for life, maybe, but not disappointed.