Joker

In the world of DC graphic novels, 2019 has been dubbed “Year Of The Villain”.  Of the most successful franchises in the company’s history, the “Batman Who Laughs” series seems to have captured the imagination of readers to the extent that there is a real hunger to cross-market its’ most recognizable villain in The Joker.

Now, after watching ‘Joker’ I purposely waited to see what the big-name critics had to say and with all of the talk of how this new movie continually tips a hat to various other films, it is interesting to note that the majority of these critics either overlook or dismiss the fact that the name of both the aforementioned comic series as well as the trailer for the ‘Joker’ movie are just a bit more than a wink and nod to a 1920’s silent film, ‘The Man Who Laughs’.

In it (the 1920’s film), a man’s father is put to death for disobeying a king and because (according to the king) the father was such a fool his son is permanently disfigured.  From the story we gather that this was done to always serve as a reminder of the error his father made. Sound familiar?

DC’s refusal to acknowledge an official origin story for The Joker is problematic and while this new movie tends to blend several of the accepted, interchangeable, beginnings, what is even more problematic is that the critics miss this point and claim it as an origin story. The title of the film should be an indicator here. It is simply (and aptly) called ‘Joker’, not The Joker.

So, while ‘Joker’ plays to multiple storylines it also pivots away from traditional superhero ethos and tries to present a character who is more human in his day to day struggles.  In a lot of ways it fails in this aspect but if we are to focus solely on the performance of Joaquin Phoenix the critics should, in their collective criticism, delight.  It’s a daring move for such an accomplished actor to readily attach himself to the sort of film that ‘Joker’ is, popularity of the genre aside.

Phoenix is nothing shy of amazing in his portrayal.  Delicately balancing the manic nature of the character in public with a sense of calm and comfort in private, he articulates the physical manifestations of internal emotions, often without saying a word, and it’s downright impressive.  Granted, Phoenix is helped out by the overall framework, which is eerie and something straight out of the comic book (with a run time of just over 2 hours, giving him time to delve into the role), but every key element is there; his bumbling, passed-over nature, haphazard looks (Joaquin must have lost considerable weight for the role), and a disturbing, off-timed laugh all help to shape arguably the best interpretation of a Joker, any Joker, ever.

Overall, it is an intense two hours to be sure and while the rest of the cast tends to blend in with the dark imagery of a gritty Gotham backdrop, most of the questions that arise from the first portion of the film become increasingly clear as the film wears on.  In fact, by the time you’re two-thirds of the way through (and two or three possible endings later) it is almost a flashing neon sign giveaway of what the end will ultimately be.  No surprises here and no extras at the end of the movie as, again, this is a standalone film.

So, as DC continues to struggle and change things up as it pertains to its’ movie division they have managed to remain consistent in each and every incarnation of The Joker, who has largely remained unchanged (both in print and in cinema) since his inception. However, when viewing this, keep in mind that the marketing style employed here isn’t what makes this movie work; it’s Joaquin Phoenix’ ability to color wildly outside the already well established character structure. He turns an ordinary film into something extraordinary, another thing the critics have overlooked.

He deserves an award and the opportunity to continue in this role.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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