Joker: Five Things We Learned
As Robert Pattinson readies himself to don Batman’s cape and cowl in yet another reboot of the Batman franchise, The Hangover and Old School director Todd Phillips is taking one of its central characters off in a very different direction with his latest movie, which pulls up his comedy roots and tackles something much, much darker.
Joker arrives in cinemas today and not only creates a new origin story for Batman’s arch-enemy, it also presents itself as a standalone story, completely detached from any previous incarnations and, indeed, the upcoming reboot being overseen by Matt Reeves.
Phillips’ gritty and grimy super-villain primer stars Joaquin Phoenix in the role of Joker’s alter-ego Arthur Fleck, with a supporting cast that includes Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy and Marc Maron.
With the film out today, we caught a screening and rounded up five key things we learned about Joker…
Joaquin Phoenix delivers an Oscar-worthy performance
Even through supporting performances by the likes of Robert De Niro are delivered with as much class as you would expect, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Joaquin Phoenix carries this movie almost single-handedly. Phoenix had some pretty damn big clown shoes to fill with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Cesar Romero and, not least, Heath Ledger all having delivered legendary turns in the role, but he finds his own balance somewhere between Ledger’s nihilism and Nicholson’s unhinged mania, delivering a take on the character that’s completely his own.
The entire film is built around Phoenix’s tour de force performance and if this is Todd Phillips making a serious run at trying to win an Oscar for one of his movies, he’s chosen his leading man well.
It’s not just Joker’s origins that are being re-imagined here
One advantage of making this movie a completely standalone story is that Phillips is free to mess around with other elements of Batman canon besides the origins of Joker himself. In reimaging how Batman’s nemesis came to be, he also throws new light on the origins of the caped crusader himself and, in this telling, Joker’s impact on the life of Bruce Wayne manifests in ways that are much more far-reaching than you might expect.
It pays homage to several classic films
It’s no accident that Robert De Niro has been cast in a supporting role here: in terms of style and sometimes even substance, two of De Niro’s most iconic roles are referenced heavily throughout.
The most overt of these is King of Comedy’s Rupert Pupkin, whose ambitions of becoming a stand-up comedian and propensity for delusions are both echoed heavily here, as are Taxi Driver protagonist Travis Bickle’s growing disgust with society and gradual descent into madness.
There are echoes of other classic stories too – the clown masks worn by rioters are very reminiscent of the those bearing the face of Guy Fawkes in V for Vendetta – but although Phillips supposedly took inspiration from another of Alan Moore’s works, The Killing Joke, it’s the twin spectres of those two De Niro movies that loom largest and haunt Joker’s every scene.
This is Gotham City at its most bleak
On a couple of occasions, elements of the story seem closely based on notorious real-life crimes, but they are only vaguely referenced and are presented as random acts of violence in such a detached way, you can’t help wondering whether this is meant to reflect Arthur Fleck’s detachment from his surroundings, or whether it’s being suggested that society doesn’t take any notice anyway. Either way, the intent seems to be to make Gotham as closely linked to real-life cities –specifically New York – as possible, and the outlook is pretty grim.
The ending will make you rethink everything you’ve just seen
There are moments throughout the film that hint towards the idea of Arthur Fleck as ‘unreliable narrator’, his delusions often being what the audience sees, and there are two ways you could interpret the film’s ending. You might read it as a joke on the audience or as a cop out, or you could read the ending completely differently, but there’s a twist in this tale which may cause you to reassess everything you’ve just witnessed.
Joker is in cinemas now - you can also pre-order it here in our online store.