For many years now, Heath Ledger has been the definitive portrayal of the Joker. For those old enough to hear him tell the tale of his scarred visage from the comfort of a cinema seat, it felt that there would never again be a clown prince to match that of the Dark knight’s calibre. Then Suicide Squad happened and we were proven right.
Now that Joaquin Phoenix has had the chance to spend a couple hours spreading mayhem in a cheap purple suit, superhero fans can rejoice as after over ten years of waiting we finally have a comic book movie to rival that of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight. Director Todd Phillips, armed with a fractional budget of the typical super-hero film, has managed to deliver a fascinating character study of one of fiction’s greatest villains.
We’ve all heard the controversies surrounding ‘Joker’, accusations of inspiring real-world violence and such however, for those who have yet to see the film, you may be surprised to learn that the film itself isn’t nearly as gory as you’d expect. For a character like the Joker, known for his sadism and imaginative ways of spreading misery, Phoenix’s Joker is actually quite tame-certainly not as heinous as the Ledger version or even Jack Nicholson’s. In fact, you’ll probably find more blood and mutilation in a Marvel Netflix show than this film’s most gruesome scene. There’s no smile toxin or poison laughing gas, just an ordinary man with a gun and a lot of anger toward the world. Which to some, could be considered much scarier.
The main focus of this movie however is, of course, the emphasis on mental health. Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck is very much true to the roots of the Joker’s iconic (yet dubious) backstory as shown in the famous story, ‘The Killing Joke’. He’s a loser who can’t seem to catch a break. His laugh here is a symptom of his condition. Arthur begins the movie fighting and repressing it where he can, while the world looks on him in pity and contempt, yet as he slowly evolves into ‘Joker’, the laughter becomes more genuine and as you see “He’s a whole lot happier!” by film’s end.
Of course the movie won’t please everyone. After a decade of superhero films centred around big CGI fights and cheesy one-liners, a movie that strays heavily from the ‘winning formula’ into more ‘art film’ territory can be slightly off putting to those who prefer escapism. Then there’s the slight feeling you get, after seeing Phoenix take a drag on his twentieth cigarette, that you’re watching some sort of subliminal nicotine commercial. Not to mention that Arthur’s transformation into flamboyant madman is, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, a bit too slow and gradual. After all, did we really need the scene with the fridge?
Regardless of it’s lack of comic book connections (you’d forget it was related to Batman if there wasn’t a Bruce Wayne cameo), Joker is definitely a comic book film for the ages that is sure to keep internet theorists and analysers of films busy for years to come. Who knows whether Arthur will escape the asylum and return to disturb and delight us again in a sequel? All that’s clear is that we love that Joker!