“No laughing matter”- A review of The Joker

The Joker, the Clown of Crime, the Ying to Batman’s Yang. The villain has come a long way from being a one-off character in the 1940’s Batman comics. For those of you who don’t know, he was supposed to die in his first appearance! His hysterical laugh, his iconic grin and his heinous acts of violence have stood the test of time for the Dark Knight’s nemesis. The character getting his own movie has recently sparked controversy; police have been posted outside cinemas and costumes of the character have been banned when viewing the film. The very fact that the last time the character was portrayed in film resulted in a tragedy happen doesn’t help.

Nevertheless, the film had been released and I decided to go and see what all the fuss was about with some friends. Buckle up, this review is no laughing matter (OK, I can assure you that this is the only pun in the review). Oh, and spoiler alert.

(Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

With all the praise and anticipation that surrounded this film, I expected it to be at least coherent in tone. However, it’s almost like this film didn’t know what it wanted to be. It appears Joker is a culmination of dark slapstick humour, a comic book movie, a gritty realistic depiction of the character and a psychological character study. I understand that this is the whole character rolled into one but there are times when I was confused about whether I should take the film seriously or just laugh at some of the scenes featuring dark humour (with the humour being flat out murder).

Like it or not, this is a super villain original movie and you just can’t escape that.

It is almost as though Joker wanted to be a sophisticated take on a well-known pop-culture figure. Although it ditches the DC Comics logo at the start of the film, it still features heavily on the lore of The Dark Knight. I say this because elements such as Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth and the murder of Bruce’s parents all take place in the film. There is nothing wrong with these elements being in the movie. However, don’t distance yourself from the company that own these properties. Just because it is a highly realistic film don’t picture it to be better than the amazing world of DC Comics. Like it or not, this is a super villain original movie and you just can’t escape that.

The twists in this film are formulaic and I could spot them a mile away. From Arthur Fleck being Thomas Wayne’s illegitimate child to Arthur’s perfect date, it all had me rolling my eyes. If this film does win something at the Oscars it sure won’t be the best screenplay because the ‘Arrowverse’ could have come up with better plot twists. Nevertheless, there is one moment I particularly liked, the moment that Joker’s uncontrollable laughter is questioned by the police. This scene left me thinking, “did I just sympathise with a character that was lying all along?” 

Moving away from critiquing the film, there are a few things that I enjoyed in this movie. Joaquin Phoenix, for one, is brilliant in the role. He is fully immersed in the role of the Joker. Thanks to him, you believe that Arthur Fleck is as real as you or I. In the first half of the film you almost feel sorry for him, for his current position in the world makes you want to give him the love that he needs. Phoenix doesn’t play a villain that you love to hate, he plays a broken man that has been pushed to his boundaries. I’m going to ignore the filmmakers when they say that Joker wasn’t based on any other iteration. This Joker is clearly based on ‘The Killing Joke’ storyline and I think it’s quite refreshing for the character to be respected in a way that means he now has an origin.

I also enjoyed the treatment of the ideology of the character as not just one single person. They hinted at this in the television show ‘Gotham’, but I feel it was incorrect. However, this film paints Joker as something that people can adopt and make their own. This way, you can have a young Bruce Wayne and a Joker is his early forties. This won’t be the Joker for Batman, this is just the Joker that will spark the fire that is a beacon for people to take the mantle.

The sets in this film are amazing as you really get to know the city of Gotham. That is something that I think only Tim Burton’s films have performed in the right way. DC Comics’ cities are recognisable on a page so there is no reason why we can’t have that on screen. 

(Credit: Batman Wiki)

Many people have called the film a commentary on mental health, however, I don’t think you can rely on this film to portray such a sensitive subject in the right way. Sure, Joker touches on mental illness, but the character in the film and the comics should not be a role model for the subject. If this is a depiction of people with mental health illnesses, then I believe they have done it poorly. We had the same thing when Suicide Squad came out, that Joker and Harley Quinn were just a weird dysfunctional couple. But the Joker wasn’t just sick he was a murderer. That’s why I think it is so controversial to say that Joker is a model for mental health. There are other amazing characters, such as Moon Knight, who fights their mental health struggles in order to a regular member of society. Joker should not be held on this pedestal.       

So, here is my final verdict. Joker is a sophisticated comic book movie that tries to be more than it actually is. The film has great acting with a good, yes, good screenplay. The likelihood is, you won’t be disappointed with this movie. But, it is not a psychological thriller, it’s nothing more than a comic book movie. Even if it tries to deviate from its original material. 

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