Joker Review

Niko Tavernise

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Will Campbell, Writer/Editor

Comic book characters and their back stories are often fickle. Nothing stays the same from year to year, and every writer has a different take on a character’s personality. Iron Man has ranged from a raging alcoholic to a heroic, selfless hero with the world’s interest at heart. Captain America might be a goody-two-shoes in one issue, and a man struggling with his own morals in the next. But one character who has almost always remained an enigma is Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker.

Sure, his back story has been told before, if you’re inclined to believe that it has been. The Killing Joke is one of the most iconic Batman stories, one that tells the history of the man who Joker used to be and how he transformed into the villain we know today. But the question in the comics has always been if it was real or not?

With Joker, Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix aimed to answer that question, and give us the most concrete back story we’ve ever received for the clown prince of crime.

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This was a very new kind of movie for director Todd Phillips, who in the past has done The Hangover and Old School, both of which are comedies. Joker, meanwhile, is a Scorsese-inspired character study that evokes the same kinds of story beats that Taxi Driver does. But story beats aren’t the only thing that Joker pulls from Taxi Driver. The world of Gotham is extremely similar to New York in Taxi Driver, with grungy streets and piles of trash everywhere.

One of the best parts of Joker is the cinematography. The movie is beautifully shot, and has a vintage quality about it which evokes the time period in which it’s meant to be set, that period being 1981. There’s a number of symbolic shots in the film, one of which includes the long staircase seen in trailers and promotional photos for the movie, which I think shows the film’s competency.

The score is also fantastic. It is used minimally throughout the film, using mostly string instruments without much else added to it. When the score creeps in, it creates a sense of unease. However, the film mostly uses licensed music for its scenes, with the original score being sparse.

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But let’s give credit to the real stars of the show: Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck and, by extension, director Todd Phillips. Phoenix’s performance walks the line between funny and unnerving perfectly, creating a constant sense of slight unease even in the relatively tame early moments of the film. This is, of course, due in part to Todd Phillips. The director’s job in a film is to work with the actors to get the performance just right, so he surely had a part to play in Phoenix’s excellent performance.

Not only that, but I think Robert De Niro as Franklin Murray was great. It is an interesting duality when compared to his role in The King of Comedy, where he plays a character very similar to Arthur Fleck. Now, he’s playing the role of a talk-show host much like the antagonist of The King of Comedy. I think he does a great job portraying Murray as the spiteful person that Arthur Fleck might see him as, even though that might be a biased view of the character.

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I think it is extremely important to address the controversy that this movie has generated. A lot of people on social media are criticizing it for its violence and saying that it seeks to encourage violent behavior through its story. This kind of criticism is nothing new to the film industry. When Taxi Driver released in 1976, it received attention in much the same way that Joker is. In an interview with The Wrap, director Todd Phillips states that the goal of the movie wasn’t to glorify violent behavior. Phillips clarified when he said, “It was literally like, ‘Let’s make a real movie with a real budget and call it Joker.’ That’s what it was.”

Joker is dark, yes. It is relentless in its subject matter and doesn’t hold back for the sake of the audience, and yet that is what makes it great. The Joker has always been a character that acts as an agent of chaos, and the unmerciful showing of that chaos is what makes Arthur Fleck’s descent into madness feel even more real than it might have otherwise.

Joker is the must-see movie of the year. It will likely be looked at in 20 or 30 years as a classic, much like its spiritual ancestor, Taxi Driver. With a new bar set for comic book movie villains and DC’s next big film project on the horizon — Matt Reeves’ The Batman — it looks like this movie might be the renaissance for DC’s failing film industry.

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