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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Review: JOKER is deeply stupid and creatively bankrupt

The idea of marrying Batman to the work of Martin Scorsese is not a new one, with writers like Gerry Conway and Doug Moench parlaying some of that gritty influence into their work with the character and his bevy of rogues. But this union comes especially screaming out at the reader with Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One, with the visuals and tone of Taxi Driver permeating page turn after turn. On its face, Todd Phillips' Joker utilizing that same palette and approach for an examination of the property's most iconic villain makes a good deal of sense.

Transporting viewers into a 1980's version of Gotham that appropriately looks like post-70's New York, with "super rats" infesting the sewers and late night talk show hosts as a communal bonding exercise, Joker is the first film to successfully evoke the aesthetic value of that classic short run of comics. With a slight yellowing of the picture, to top-notch art direction, Joker is a beautiful example of craft and one can tell that no expense was spared in not only evoking a particular period, but also securing on-location shooting through New York City itself (being able to work with the MTA to secure a shooting permit might be worthy of an Oscar alone).

But craft does not maketh a film, and while Joker has style to spare, substance is another matter entirely. 

Joker answers the question that really no one was asking, "what is this character's origin?" Truthfully, the best approach surely remains Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's take which proposed a multiple choice option, perfectly echoed by Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight ("do you know how I got these scars?"). The fact is, once the unknowable monster is known and we begin to really understand why he does what he does, so much of his power is taken away. It's a faulty premise from its outset, but even taken as its own standalone project, which it presumably is, Joker struggles to justify its own existence through troubling and confused storytelling.

Joaquin Phoenix steps into the role this time out, where the titular Joker starts off as a troubled schlub named Arthur Fleck. A hapless sort of fellow, Arthur has a troubled past and is scraping by, living with his mother, making ends meet as a hired clown. He's the kind of guy who is consistently kicked when he's down, either by street toughs, or local subway yuppies. His boss treats him like garbage, never taking his side on any matter, and he carries a general air of unease that leaves his coworkers uncomfortable. Does that sound at all familiar? You wouldn't be amiss if you felt like you were reading a profile of one of these lone gunman shooters that have plagued this country since Columbine. Phillips and company tick off all the notable boxes that have filled news profiles over the last 20 years in shaping this version of the Joker. And as you can expect, one night it becomes all too much and he snaps, taking the lives of a few of his attackers and it begins his descent into darkness.

Or was he always headed there all along? 

You see, while there's certainly a compelling story to be told about systemic breakdown and the plight of those who are left behind thanks to bureaucratic decision making and budgetary cutbacks to essential social services, Joker basically just skims off the top of this idea to instead basically create another Travis Bickle but with little of the depth, and certainly none of the clear intention of a master filmmaker like Scorsese. Literally, all Phillips does here is take the plot of Taxi Driver and then graft it onto The King of Comedy and mix in a little bit of V for Vendetta style iconography to produce an experience that basically feels like little more than an exercise in brand flexibility. 

Is it exciting that we have a comic book adapted film that doesn't have a CGI-overloaded climax? Definitely. Is the idea of breaking from the tired Easter Egg filled attempts of franchise building that has been the hallmark of the superhero picture this last decade an enticing one? For sure. But instead, what Phillips does here is trade on real world pain, which is altogether a far grosser ambition (they even give Arthur what appears to be Pseudobulbar affect to explain his uncontrollable laughter, the implications of which are rather hideous to contemplate). Again, were he interested in actually trying to say something of value here, he might be onto something...but basically all Joker boils down to is "the system really puts us all down, man!". This is particularly apparent through the film's use of social upheaval. You see, the rise of the Joker ends up keying into a sense of civil unrest, which leads to his becoming a iconographic figure. Again, this might lead somewhere interesting too, imagine one of these films aiming to excavate cults of personalities and branding and what sparks off within the zeitgeist. But a film this lunkheaded? He's, of course, lauded by an adoring crowd of equally aggrieved young men.

While there are other "characters" in Joker, really the only performance of note is Phoenix's, which early notices praised as Best Actor-worthy. To be frank, he mostly seems to be going through the motions here, beyond some nice physicality - watching him contort his body is actively painful. But once he's firmly in the Joker mindset, he finally seems to have locked into something and the first real moments of tension take center stage. This is the Joker as a force of nature, but even at that point, he's still just an asshole in clown makeup taking vengeance out on literally everyone who has wronged him. 

There's also a Thomas Wayne thread here that is both an attempt to clumsily echo a Donald Trump-like figure, though only in the skimpiest of ways, while also trying to tie in the deeper Batman mythos, just in case you forgot what the hell you're watching. I sure wish I could have, as Joker is basically an idiot's version of a thinking man's film. A faint echo of far superior cinema, and a work that has troubling implications to the point of feeling shockingly irresponsible. It's one of 2019's worst.

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  1. Oh no did somebody get triggered ? Maybe something in the reflection upset you ? Hahaha can’t imagine how you get along in life

  2. You know something this review is actually by an idiot who think he's a brilliant man .. you're far away from brilliant though..watch the movie for movie's sake not for some other foolishness

  3. And geekrex is the shittiest of all blogs which no one gives a f**k

  4. Terrible blog. Not missing this movie for the world

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Fresh. Look at the one triggered incel proving everybody's point about this disgusting film.

  7. "Literally, all Phillips does here is take the plot of Taxi Driver and then graft it onto The King of Comedy and mix in a little bit of V for Vendetta style iconography to produce an experience that basically feels like little more than an exercise in brand flexibility."

    Gee Kyle, just how far removed from films that have been made in the past does something have to be to meet your standards here? Given how derivative and samey most comic book movies are I'd say that Joker is certainly more distinct and thought-provoking than just about any of them. I'd love to know what your idea of a non derivative film in 2019 is.

  8. Thank you for this. I thought I was going crazy my self with all the positive talk (by literally everyone wtf) after seeing this and thinking "this wasn't deep, it's deep in the way sucker punch thought it was. You vocalized a lot of my problems with the film, so thank you for that!


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