It’s not an understatement to call The Joker the greatest comic-book character of all time, at least in my opinion. What Batman lacks in personality, Joker makes up for in spades, not only that, but because of this character we’ve had some of the greatest portrayals of superhero cinema; names such as Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, and, of course, Heath Ledger have all stepped up to the character, and each left their own mark.
Having said all that, it’s fair to say that Joker is not your typical comic-book affair, it occupies such a completely different space to most superhero films, that you could be forgiven for not recognising it as such.
On top of being an exciting, fresh take on the Joker character, this film also had a lot of critical buzz coning out of the Venice Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion award for Best Film, starting a steady Oscar buzz for both the film and its leading man.
But, with such a lineage of actors and stories to live up to, can Joker really live up to the hype?
Charting the dark descent into madness of Arthur Fleck, as he goes from aspiring stand-up to raging sociopath.
It’s sometimes really hard to write a story synopsis for these reviews, especially when the story itself may be more abstract, as it is here, it’s a complex and mentally exhausting story, anchored by a traumatic character study.
There will be a lot of talk surrounding where Phoenix stands amongst the portrayals of the iconic character, but I believe that to be counter-productive. Although there is plenty we recognise of the Joker, it’s a completely different character to what we’re used to.
Firstly, it commits the cardinal sin of giving the Joker an origin story, whereas this would be unforgivable in most cases (one of the Jokers great draws is the mystery surrounding him) in a film such as this, which shares no continuity with any established universe, it only enhances the character presented.
I’d say that the film is very reminiscent, in presentation at least, of classic Martin Scorsese films like Taxi Driver or King of Comedy, there is a lot of Travis Bickle about Arthur, in my opinion, and it’s gritty realisation of a city gone to hell reminds me of how Scorsese portrayed New York in his classic films.
There’s a lot about Joker that sets it apart from many of its counter-parts. It hasn’t got any character you could look upon as a ‘hero’ even though Arthur is sympathetic in parts, his actions make him alienating and confrontational, there’s very little redeeming about him, yet his character is so engrossing that you can’t tear your eyes away.
Speaking of characters, Joaquin Phoenix proves here why he is one of his generations best actors, with a performance that garnered a lot of buzz from the off, a buzz that is richly deserved by the way, he didn’t approach it as a typical superhero film, and it shows in his performance, which is as enthralling as it is completely terrifying.
The way it plays with your mind has an almost horror film feel, it creeps in and unnerves you with its portrayal of people at the very end of their rope and a city in chaos, its tense atmosphere sits over you like a layer of cling film, and it’s leading character becomes less and less empathetic as time goes by.
In short, there has never been anything quite like this film in comic book cinema before, it’s daring, it’s provocative, and it delivers an experience as genuinely unnerving as most horror films, and a leading performance which, by rights, should be hoovering up awards come the new year.
An absolute home run by everyone involved in delivering something that feels so fresh and new, with a character we’ve seen in several incarnations throughout the years. It’s staggering beauty is juxtaposes by the ugliness of its world and characters, and as a whole, it is absolutely fantastic.
In conclusion, this represents a new step into the unknown when it comes to uncovering a new sub genre within the comic book world; but I would warn against going back to the well, it stands on its own as an outstanding character drama, it doesn’t need revisiting, its legacy will one day speak for itself.