“Joker” wasn’t the movie I expected.
Going into one of the year’s most anticipated films, I questioned if director Todd Phillips, known for quirky comedies like “Old School” and “The Hangover,” could helm a film of this magnitude. And he did.
Phillips, paired with strong performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro, seamlessly captured what’s made DC’s most popular villain so appealing. Compared to other comic book films, the Phoenix-led “Joker” is almost unrecognizable — in the best ways possible.
Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck, the film’s main character, endures experiences that would drive anybody into a frenzy of craze-induced emotion. His Oscar-worthy performance — yes, I said it — drags you inside the mind of “The Clown Prince of Crime,” provoking feelings of sympathy and unease throughout the movie’s 121-minute run time.
As I’m sure many have heard through the many reviews that have surfaced ahead of the film’s Oct. 4 release, “Joker” is a character study of a man boggled by the hardships of humanity. It’s a theme reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver,” clear inspirations for the movie’s darkly introspective tone.
Between the projects brusque moments of violence, “Joker” tackles issues surrounding society’s view on the socioeconomic divide and mental illness. Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver placed Arthur at the apex of these issues, making his unraveled path toward instability that much more believable.
”Joker” is a far cry from other comic book films, including ones that feature the famed DC villain. Perhaps the most acclaimed live-action depictions are from Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman” and Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight.” But Ledger and Phoenix’s performances are in leagues all their own.
The two actors used the character’s near 80 years’ worth of material to craft their own characterizations of the Joker. In the end, there’s no comparison; they’re completely different versions in separate cinematic universes. But Phoenix’s performance should be considered shoulder-to-shoulder with Ledger’s posthumous Academy Award-winning depiction.
Disregard your expectations going into this film. When it’s all said and done, “Joker” may be among the best comic book movies in cinema history — along the same vein as “The Dark Knight.”
In light of the troupes of comic book films released the last decade, “Joker” is the furthest from them. The movie encompasses all the qualities of a great movie, one that’s story happens to revolve around pop culture’s greatest fictional enigma.
In time, “Joker” could stand as an abnormality in the genre or serve as the starting point for other movies like it to be made, just as Burton and Nolan’s films did for modern comic book movies today.