Joaquin’s Joker is an ugly, purposeless film, one that attempts to take us through the transformation into pure evil, but comes up well short.
To quote a different iteration of this character: “Here. We. Go.”
Before we begin, let me be perfectly clear: I went into this movie desperate to love it.
I love DC Comics. I love the Joker. And I wanted the skepticism I’ve harbored towards this project since it was announced to be wrong. I wanted to be wrong. I wanted to be surprised and delighted. I wanted it to be great.
As it turns out … I was wrong. It’s worse than I feared.
This is a contemptible, cruel, tone-deaf, insulting, upsetting act of masturbation.
Where to begin? Do we speak about the film as a film? For what it seeks out to achieve on its own terms, as a movie?
Okay, let’s start there. Joker is all the things the negative reviews have been proclaiming. This is a film which approaches the ideas of mental illness, social injustice, and financial entitlement, and examines them with all the depth and complexity of a fast-food commercial.
Watching Joaquin Phoenix cackle uncontrollably, wallow in his crummy apartment, and dance like a drunk teenager does not convey the complexity that the filmmakers think it does.
This film paints a cartoonish caricature of a physically and mentally anguished man who embarks on a disturbing and violent quest for satisfaction and recognition, but at no point do we connect with or sympathize with him. As it stands, there’s virtually nothing to connect to, nothing to relate to, nothing beyond a continuously depressing sideshow of violence and two-dimensional pop-psychology.
The film thinks it’s saying something clever about the 1% versus the lower class, but it’s empty. There is no discernibly compelling theme, no useful or thought-provoking message. Nothing to justify why we’ve been asked to observe this painful transformation of a tortured man into a twisted killer. And without going into specifics, given the current social climate of gun violence and violence against women, the film is in astonishingly poor taste. As one review so perfectly described it, it’s “a rallying cry for self-pitying incels.”
Or, as my esteemed colleague Simon Foster put it: “shallow, pointless, mean-spirited; certainly a movie for our times, yet still somehow thunderously tone-deaf.”
I can only imagine that the filmmakers wanted to tell a story about the violent descent of a disaffected man, and simply slapped the Joker name onto it so that it would be sent out to a mass audience.
How about as a comic book film? A story that deals with the DC pantheon? Well, it’s not, and it doesn’t.
I can only imagine that the filmmakers wanted to tell a story about the violent descent of a disaffected man, and simply slapped the Joker name onto it so that it would be sent out to a mass audience. If you don’t care about DC’s characters, then you won’t care about this complaint. But if you do, then rest assured: this movie is almost totally disconnected from the broader Batman mythos, and that pisses me off. Yes, I know that this fact has been bandied around the press for months, but as I’ve said many times already, the character of the Joker exists as a foil for Batman. He’s a mirror image of the protagonist. He exists as an inverted reflection of Bruce Wayne, and together they’ve spent 80 years telling a story of control versus chaos.
Without Batman, the Joker becomes the protagonist of the story, which is so clearly the story the filmmakers are trying to tell. Yet the Waynes are fleetingly included, and the film bizarrely and lazily relies on the audience’s prior knowledge of their relationship to the Joker. Their presence feels like a shoehorned element that’s out of place with the rest of the run-away plot and doesn’t wind up affecting it in any meaningful way.
Most importantly, the filmmakers insist that this iteration of the character will not be crossing the path of the caped crusader in the future, so, given the empty calorie that is the rest of the movie, what was the point?