Todd Phillips’ origin story for the Clown Prince of Crime veers away from the trappings of a traditional comic book movie by taking inspiration from the Martin Scorcese films of the 1970’s like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. The result of this bold, though slightly derivative, direction is an impressive piece of filmmaking and an absolutely mesmerizing performance from star Joaquin Phoenix. However, without Phoenix’s performance and some of the visuals that Phillips and crew have cooked up, Joker doesn’t quite hold together as well as it should.
Arthur Fleck (aka Joker) is on a journey of self-discovery, however he spends most of the movie bouncing between various depressing circumstances and upsetting revelations. He never seems to be the master of his own story and his relationship with his neighbor (played by the always wonderful Zazie Beetz) feels poorly conceived and executed. The uprising of the “Joker movement” is also largely disconnected from our main character’s story and just sort of happens. The film is overtly bleak and nihilistic from beginning to end. Could it be seen as a rallying cry for others wanting to incite violence? Sure, but it’s also not nearly as audacious as the hype would suggest. It’s also difficult to discern what we, as the audience, are supposed to take from this movie as it glorifies the Joker and all of his violent delights without any sense of a moral compass. It’s not a world or story I’m looking forward to revisiting any time soon. Grade: B-