The Sunday Mail
I have never held this much scorn and praise for the same movie.
That is the beauty of Todd Phillips’ “Joker”, starring the incomparable Joaquin Phoenix.
One is either going to love it or loathe it. There is no middle ground.
It is in that very spirit that I am going to divide my review into two sections, highlighting what there is to love about the film and what some will hate.
Either way, I recommend it.
At its core, “Joker” is an origins story, detailing the descent into madness of one of Gotham and Batman’s biggest foes, Arthur Fleck, also known as The Joker.
The film is an independent production, devoid of any DC Comics association and there lies my very first gripe with it. Co-writers Phillips and Scott Silver took one of DC’s biggest and most iconic villains and totally ruined him by robbing the character of his charisma and aura.
The one thing that has made “The Joker” such a huge character is that his entire history and back-story is shrouded in mystery. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Returns” did an exceptional job in bringing this to light with the identity of the man behind the face paint, the late Heath Ledger, never being mentioned.
They did play around with many back-stories in the film, each divorced from the other. It was the same with his motives, background information and fate in that movie.
What we have here is the duo of Silver and Phillips reducing that mysterious character to nothing more than a whack job tired of being bullied.
He finally loses his marbles and goes insane.
Their Joker is such a cliché and their depiction is nothing more than textbook insight into criminal insanity.
The Joker was crazy, which was supposedly hereditary. Fleck is raised by an overbearing mother with a sketchy past, and suffers from a multi-personality disorder, which is like the holy grail of criminal insanity in the movies.
He also suffers physical and emotional abuse. If one is to construct the most clichéd criminal in literature, he or she would be a carbon copy of Fleck.
The laziness does not end there. The writers relied on way too may Easter eggs, which was either a cheap ploy to pander comic book aficionados or a desperate attempt to stay connected to the storybook that the original character is based on.
There is no basic plot to follow and there are too many wasted talents.
Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson), Alfred Pennyworth (Douglas Hodge) and his father Thomas (Brett Cullen) play no significant role in the movie plot. They only act as roots tying this movie to its source material.
Robert De Niro (Murray Franklin) and Zazie Beetz are totally wasted in their roles. Probably they were signed on to help market the movie, together with Phoenix.
The movie’s only saving grace appears to be Phoenix’s Oscar worthy performance as the titular character “Joker”. Phoenix goes in hard on the method acting, totally embracing the role of a whack job.
Kudos to his research team for doing their homework on the Joker’s mannerisms from the comic books. Phoenix takes it up and hits out the park. Everything about the laugh was spot on. lt evolved as the movie progressed with Fleck descending more and more into madness. Phoenix deserves bonus marks for that. The walk too also shows that Phoenix really paid attention to detail. I shudder to think of the damage he did to his body preparing for this role.
Phoenix’s body was the definition of abuse – deformed, malnourished and pale. It is both sad and something to revere. Unfortunately, as good as Phoenix’s portrayal was, he still does not hold a candle to Heath Ledger’s take on the character.
Even in death, Ledger still rules.