Joker (2019) – Dir Todd Phillips

In an unlikely turn of events, the director of The Hangover series takes his shot at the origin story of the Joker. Starring Joaquin Pheonix (Gladiator), Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver) and Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under). This is a very different take on the comic book movie.

 

Chris Nolan took a more serious tone to the comic book movie in his Dark Knight trilogy and got a timeless performance from Heath Ledger as the Joker. Here is another approach to the character which draws heavily on influences such as Taxi Driver and, to a greater extent, King of Comedy. This is more a story about mental health and media coverage of crime and poverty.

The obvious comparison will be made between this Joker and Heath Ledgers. I am a massive fan of Ledger’s incarnation. It still is my favourite, however, Pheonix comes very close. In the Dark Knight, the Joker was menacing because of his lack of back story. Here we see his creation. Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerising in this. His Joker has an involuntary laugh which appears to cause physical pain and ends up pushing him further outside of society. We see him losing his sense of reality as he battles with the health system he relies upon for his medication, trying to keep his job as a clown and his desire to make it as a comedian (again the strong link to King of Comedy). In someway, it generates some sympathy for the character. However, this starts to wither as he spirals towards his alter ego. Along the way, we are asked to consider whether his downfall is due to his health, choices, destiny or society’s decay.

I was concerned about an origin film of the Joker which doesn’t feature Batman and the trailers had not convinced. While Bruce Wayne and his parents do feature to some degree, this is the Jokers story and it works. Todd Phillips has produced a dark, twisted masterpiece. It is a beautiful film with amazing cinematography and soundtrack. The performances are excellent and there are so many iconic images.

Much has been made in the press about the violence and how it might influence copycat behaviour. This is nonsense. The movie is not that violent (compared to many other blockbusters) and this is the origin story of a “supervillain”. Therefore, it clearly will have the central character causing mayhem! This is nothing new in comic book movies. Also, the film is an angry film and is very of our time (although set in what looks like the early ’80s) showing a breakdown of society as a result of a gap between the rich and the poor. Marvel this ain’t!

I would love to see a sequel featuring Robert Pattinson’s Batman but it seems this is unlikely to happen. Having said that, the success of the film could push this to become a reality.

Rating – 9/10 Film of the year contender. Bold, challenging and stays with you long after you see it. Its twisted darkness may not be for everyone but I loved it. Let’s hope DC continues this approach to their properties.

 

 

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