The action in this movie is very limited. Most of the time, the camera is focused on Joaquin Phoenix. And Phoenix does limited things but the limited things he does makes your skin crawl. The camera focuses on his abused, extremely thin body. It’s painful to look at and Todd Philips wants you to feel that pain. The abuse he faces from the people around him is captured with intensity and his laughter is probably equal parts the genius of his acting skills and uncomfortable.
The highlight of the movie for me was the political stance it took on how people with already unstable mental conditions can be failed a lot worse by the social, economic and political climate in society. The breaking down of social structures and what it means, especially for the poor and the working class, is an important issue tackled in the movie. But you wanted it to have said more, be shown more and not just as random protests in the background. Arthur Fleck, the patient who could have been rescued, eventually spirals into the Joker.
The use of stand-up comedy and Late Night Comedy show, very effectively conveys the power of popular culture on the views and opinions of people. It shows the influence and the ways in which these structures can be used to break a person down, even within the scope of humour. There were certain scenes in the second half of the movie that got the audience going, in the theatre I was watching the movie in. And these scenes also seemed kind of like an homage to Heath Ledger. There is one specific scene where the Joker is in a police vehicle which is very reminiscent of ‘The Dark Knight.’ There is also the scene of the Wayne murders which reminds you that this movie is part of the DC universe, a throwback to Synder’s incredible pearl necklace scene from ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, that could also be used as a set up for the upcoming Batman movies.
To me, Joker seemed like a comic book movie that was taking itself way too seriously. Some dialogues like “I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realise, it’s a comedy” feels too artificial, too on the nose, a quotable line that will forever live on in social media. While the set looks and feels like a replica of the Scorsese movies of the 70s, the background score sometimes felt too loud and out of place. The story seems like a story of today’s times as well, especially in America where there is a renewed interest in Socialism with the rich getting richer and the working class struggling more than ever before. But Joker neither goes too deeply into this vein of thought, neither does he seem to be the chaotic mastermind that was Ledger’s Joker in ‘The Dark Knight.’ We know exactly why Phoenix’s and Todd Philips’s Joker does what he does, which was not the case with Ledger. And while it does seem unfair to judge this movie with a previous portrayal, it was something that was bound to happen.
Joker leaves you wanting for more. We’ll have to wait and see if Phoenix will now turn up in the upcoming Batman movies and how this portrayal will evolve.