The R-rating on this film did little to restrain parents who did not research the movie. Many brought children to the film, expecting something of a Marvel movie with DC characters.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Joker is only similar to a Marvel movie because it’s a movie with comic book origins. This is where the similarities stop. Whereas Marvel movies are fun, campy, and humorous, Joker is gritty, violent, and dark. Despite scoring only 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, Joker has received relatively high audience reviews.
The film tells the familiar story of Batman’s nemesis. It is the first solo film to tackle the Joker’s origin story alone, rather than the Joker’s role as a villain in his own right. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is so believable that it’s frightening: his Joker laugh easily beats that of Heath Ledger’s in The Dark Knight. Moreover, this Joker’s slow descent into madness, the pillar of the film, is entirely believable. It is chillingly raw and harrowingly intense.
The cinematography is excellent. Gotham City looks beautiful when it is intended to look beautiful. When it is meant to look disgusting, it looks disgusting. It is three-dimensional in a way that few superhero movies are. Even the best Marvel movies fail to achieve the same level of setting realism as Joker.
Though the film’s beginning shows great promise, and it harbors technical excellence, the end is heavy-handed. The Joker- and the movie as a whole- is unnervingly reminiscent of current events. It echoes many of the fears surrounding mental illness in relation to school shootings and mass violence. This is evident that many theaters were concerned of attacks specifically during or because of showings of Joker.
Phoenix plays the role of an unhinged pariah in a way that hits far too close to home. A film well-done, its most frightening aspect,however, is the idea that it could happen in real life- though perhaps not to quite the same extent.