The real joke is on us, the audience. For weeks now, ever since the Venice Film Festival, where it won the top prize or whatever the fuck, JOKER has been all over the news. People saying it is controversial, people saying it glorifies violence, people afraid of going to the movies in fear of another mass shooting a la Dark Knight Rises, people saying that Joaquin Phoenix is going to win the Best Actor Oscar and that it is the best interpretation of the villain yet. Overall they’ve been saying it is a great movie and might even have a chance at winning best picture. After reading all of what it won at that festival, after reading all of the initial reactions, and then after actually sitting down last night to watch this movie, I’m laughing my ass off. Not because all those people were right, but because they are dead wrong. Joker is absolutely NONE of those things. It’s all unwarranted hype. In actuality, Joker is bland, unoriginal, has nothing to say, is not the best interpretation of the Joker let alone not being Joaquin Phoenix’s best performance, in fact, I think Jared Leto was better.
I’ll get shit for those last six words but I really don’t care, as I thought that Joaquin Phoenix borrowed from his Oscar nominated performance from The Master, at times almost verbatim. Here’s the rub, if you’ve seen American Psycho, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, basically any movie with a mentally ill outcast that turns into a villain and starts committing heinous crimes, you’ve seen Joker. This movie adds absolutely NOTHING to the table with the issues that are brought up in the movie. Nothing new. In fact, it almost rips off THAT scene off right out of Taxi Driver. And that fact that the movie is a slow burn makes it even worse. I was completely bored throughout the whole film save for the last 15-20 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, I usually LOVE slow burn movies, in fact, those are some of the best out there, but if you are a slow burn that includes cooking up ingredients used one too many times in other and better films, you end up with an under-cooked meal. And the last 15-20 minutes are only watchable because of the instant adrenaline pumped into your system once the only great scene in the film comes along, yet if you look closely you realized the adrenaline wasn’t anything new as well.
The only truly great scene in the film doesn’t even involve Robert DeNiro, in fact, that scene has already been done in the comics. The only shining greatness bright spot in this film is when two of Arthur Fleck’s former associates goes to his apartment to see how it is holding up. Even though everything is dialed the fuck up after that, that scene had wonderful acting, and an aura of a truly sick sense of dark violence that felt like it had something to say. The rest of the movie is shallow, empty, and has nothing new to say. And all of the blame can be put on writer/director Todd Phillips. I know he doesn’t want to do crude dark comedies anymore, but the thing is, that is the only thing he is good at. He has no peripheral vision as a screenwriter or director. Sure, the movie is nice to look at at times, but you can credit the cinematographer on that. Todd Phillips two best films are The Hangover and War Dogs. His future projects should maybe fall within that spectrum, especially if he isn’t going to bring anything new to any genre.
Look, I’m not saying that Joker is terrible, it is not even close to being one of my top ten worst films of the year. To me, it was just meh. And I’m not saying Joaquin Phoenix was bad either. On the contrary, he actually look like he tried really hard and had a couple of moments where he felt like he was bringing a new and exciting interpretation of the character. But those moments were very fleeting (mostly contained in that one great scene I was talking about) and this isn’t close to his best theatrical performance. If you haven’t seen The Master, you are going to think I’m crazy and wonder what the fuck I am talking about. But if you have, I’m sure on some level you’ll agree with me that a lot of his performance of Arthur Fleck was borrowed from his performance of Freddie Quell. We’ve seen the mentally ill outsider with parental issues one too many times before, and we’ve seen the climax of all those feelings coming to a similar final outcome before. In essence, you could probably say that the reason I wasn’t impressed by Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is basically I wasn’t impressed by the overall screenplay. It’s not good when the Joker’s laugh starts to get really annoying. Too much here.
As for the other actors? None of them have that much screen time to really warrant any kind of conversation. Well, that’s not true, but in a negative way. Let me back up a bit. Robert DeNiro is fine in the few scenes he is in, but I didn’t really buy him as a Talk Show Host. Maybe I could’ve gotten into the movie more with more scenes of Frances Conroy’s delusional mother character, and the ultimate “trickery” story with her feels like a pretty big letdown. It is like they were going to be controversial with a controversial revelation, but then that rug is pulled out from under you, and then the film just caters to those fan boys that would’ve been mad with that choice in the first place. But the real problem with the film is Zazie Beetz’s character (she played Domino in Deadpool 2, she was fantastic in that). Not a problem with Beetz but with her character. I don’t want to get into heavy spoilers, but let’s just say things aren’t what they seem, and the ultimate revelation to me has been done before and is a giant big no-no/red flag in my opinion when they do it in movies today. The first rule of that red flag is that YOU STOP doing that red flag.
And then there is another big scene that is kind of expected toward the end, that again, we as DC Comic fans, have seen one too many times to really care. And that dancing stairwell scene that is shown in the trailers and tv spots too much? It uses an overused sports song that felt extremely out of place in the film. This movie was completely all just over-hyped and turned out to be extremely OVERRATED. This movie shouldn’t have people worried to actually go out and see it. It isn’t controversial in the slightest, it’s all just been massively built up to get you out of the house and spend your hard earned box office cash. I encourage you to wait for a rental, is that is all that it is really good for. The worst thing that people will do is compare it to Heath Ledger’s performance. Don’t do that. Keep them as separate pieces of work, and just know that Ledger’s will never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever be beaten. Now that I think about it, I think I am having the last laugh with this movie. I just realized that since it isn’t part of the DCEU, and is its own entity, that I don’t ever have to own it. That definitely puts a smile on my face.