Joker doesn’t open with the DC logo, seemingly proud to not announce its affiliation. Instead the film begins not as a film trying to shake its comic book roots but rather as a film that wants to be taken seriously. The film has far too many references to other Joker/Batman lore that to say it’s not a comic book movie would be a fallacy. Just like the recently released Ad Astra this is a film that draws heavily from the films, themes and feelings of movies released in the late 70’s by the new wave of film-school filmmakers.
Joker by all appearances draws heavily from Scorsese with particular inspiration coming from Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Two films about overlooked people on the margins of society who take to extreme measures in order to be noticed. These are obvious oversimplifications of these films as it is, indeed, an oversimplification of Joker to solely compare it to them. Joker has a lot to say, particularly about the “systems” treatment of mental health and the redistribution of wealth.
Whilst the film could be read as a call to action and militarisation of the bottom rungs of society it seems to me to be more of a condemnation of healthcare in the United States. The non-treatment of mental health sufferers, the inaction of social services and the greed of the elite are all startlingly relevant themes that plague the US. The film could seen as a call to arms for the right but really it’s a film rooted in the left, it’s a call for socialistic reform in a country plagued by violent, mentally unstable people that have created a culture of mass shootings.
All of this in a film that’s pretty good. It does struggle along for a while and really doesn’t find its feet until the third act. The tension breaks in the end but the first two acts don’t fully create a sense of strain that quite deserves this descent into chaos. Phoenix is stellar and gives us a Joker that for me made me feel very uncomfortable for much of the film. The supporting cast (Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, Marc Maron, Frances Conroy and Brett Cullen) are largely underused and their characters underserved. As much as this is a “Joker” movie I would have loved some more time with some of the other characters.
I think the film loses points for how much it leans on other films and how long it takes to get going. That said it’s a stylish movie that’s very well made and finally demonstrates Todd Phillips ability as a filmmaker. The shot choices are fantastic and a shout out has to be given to the soundtrack which is both really catchy and creates stark contrasts with what’s on the screen.
The origin story we never asked for but the filmmaking leap Todd Phillips needed:
Written by Benjamin Boekelaar