Welp, I watched Joker. Spoilers for Joker will follow. If you don’t want them, please don’t read this.
SoJoker was.. a movie? I dunno, I’m having a hard time with this one. It wasn’t a capital B/M Bad Movie, but it also wasn’t good. It had a great cast who tried their absolute best with what they were given, but therein the problem lies. The film wanted to be Serious. It wanted to have A Message, but a lot of that got garbled up with genre problems and a difficulty with what it wanted realism to mean. The movie had a bunch of fun set pieces, and a cluster of modern ideas relevant to inflammatory social issues. It seemed like it wanted to say things about mental illness, about protest culture, literal class warfare and rampant inequality.
Unfortunately, it couldn’t escape from its own trappings. For all of its ambition to raise beyond comic book stakes, it played out like a cartoon. Peoples’ reactions were nearly always wildly out of proportion. I’ve never been to Gotham, but it seems that pedestrians hand out arse kickings like greetings. It’s literally unbelievable how many times people beat the shit out of Arthur while he’s curled up on the ground. Nobody seems to be able to act like an ordinary person. Most characters’ delivery is garishly over the top and the dialogue is trash. Just clunky as shit. Unnecessary roughness all the way down. The film takes a complex series of interrelated societal issues and makes sure you got the point. Everything is triple underlined, with all the subtlety of a cast iron pan to the face. A protester runs past at some point with a sign that says “RESIST”. No further context or explanation. It’s all shallow, surface level stuff. It wants to be greater than the sum of its material but as Scorsese himself said “I saw clips of it. I know it. So it’s like, why do I need to? I get it. It’s fine.” The price is on the can, yo.
It’s hard not to have sympathy for Arthur, a character that Phoenix disappears into. He’s a wretched creature, literal skin and bones, and his laughing affliction is genuinely affecting in its scope. We see the difficulty he has with simple social interactions, and it’s heartbreaking. It just sucks that all the peripheral characters behave like anthropomorphised cardboard cutouts. Of course, because it’s a DC film, Bruce Wayne gets shoehorned in, and it directly cheapens the movie. I’ve got no issue with fanservice, but the Joker character created in this film is not the Joker we love. He’s emotionally stunted and fragile, a simple and kind man relentlessly kicked around by the world he inhabits. He’s not, however, clever. He isn’t a criminal mastermind. Even giving the film a ton of leeway, assuming that this was all hiding behind his myriad of medications, for instance, is stretching suspension of disbelief too far. Aside from shooting his beloved talk show host, this Joker character doesn’t commit crime with intention. The actions he’s eventually praised for were accidental, or a byproduct of other decisions. He’s a symbol for a movement, but he’s not an architect. If we’re to believe that the riot he birthed resulted in Bruce’s parents’ death, it’s impossible to see this Joker as an adversary for this Bruce’s Batman. Or at least, he wouldn’t be a super capable one. If this was an unrelated movie to the franchise, honestly it probably would’ve read a lot better. But it wasn’t, and this film has no right to the Best Picture or Best Adapted Screenplay categories.
2019 was a great year for film. This wasn’t one of them.