If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out Rob’s review of Joker.
I didn’t initially plan on doing a Spoiler Talk for Joker, as Rob put out an excellent review, so there didn’t feel a need. But that was before I watched the film and as I left the cinema I felt like I had to get my thoughts down and express my views on this, rather polarising, movie.
As always it is about opinions and whether you liked this film or not does not make you either wrong or right. I can see lots of reasons why people will love this movie, but I can also see why there are those out there who don’t like it as much. As for me? Would I agree with Rob’s rating of 5-stars? Yes, I would. I base this on how I felt when leaving the cinema and the technical and performance aspects that I enjoyed. That is not to say that I think this film is perfect, far from it. And I think it is just as reasonable to understand the reasons why some may see this film as being ‘over-hyped’.
Anyway, on to the Spoiler Talk!
Joaquin Phoenix as Joker
Personally? I thought he was phenomenal. I loved his subtle evolution throughout the film. I say subtle because it wasn’t the usual type of transition a character undertakes in an ‘origin story’ movie. The damage was there already, so rather than the personality doing a complete 180, it is a slight shift that simply reflects the damage that was already there, to begin with. I think his varying Joker laughs were great too and appreciated that they set this up early on with the medical card. I truly believe that as an isolated performance, Phoenix has done an incredible job with his portrayal of The Joker. But I know not everyone will see it that way…
“Not My Joker”
As I have just said, I enjoyed this ‘Joker’. But I can just as easily see others might not. While the influence of The Killing Joke is always going to be there, I think this movie might not be ‘comic book’ enough for some people, so might see Phoenix’ portrayal as less appealing because it does deviate from comic book expectations. It’s grounded in reality a little more. I think some of the people who didn’t enjoy this movie don’t like it because they expected more comic book elements to be present. For example, how can this guy become ‘The Clown Prince of Crime’ when he has no signs of being a criminal mastermind? When I was in the cinema bathroom after the showing, I overheard a guy say “That was s****, I thought he was gonna fight Batman”. So there is already that disconnect with the audience in terms of expectations. Even if you are armed with more knowledge of the themes, you still might not have enjoyed it. I feel like some may see this as Joaquin Phoenix flexing his acting muscles rather than focusing on the character itself. I understand that to a degree, but it is not something I personally subscribe to. I am perfectly happy with this version of The Joker and within the context of the film, he was great.
A Visual Masterclass
I know some people couldn’t care less about cinematography, but for me, I’m a sucker for it. With such a confined movie like Joker, I wasn’t expecting to be as blown away as much as I was. But boy did this get my filmmaking juices flowing! I have never been particularly impressed with Lawrence Sher’s work. That was until Godzilla: King of Monsters. So I was interested to see what he was going to do here. I think he does an outstanding job! Some of the shots in this movie are, potentially, iconic and very memorable. The stair setpieces are obviously the scenes that stand out in terms of scale but it was his use of widening the frame as the movie, and Joker, progressed that really impressed me. If you notice in the first act, there are frames within frames, like the subway tracks making the shots smaller. Everything is very tight and claustrophobic, to begin with. But as Arthur stops taking his pills the shots get wider and larger. The confined space of the first act is given total freedom before that full city-wide shot with Joker on top of the police car. I love it when filmmakers use the scenery to add further layers and depth to a film. This technique and many others are applied to the film with great success.
Trusting Your Audience
I really, really disliked this…
If I have one main issue with this movie it is that sometimes it decided to scream things out at you, when in all honesty it didn’t need to. The best example of this was when we realised that all of the scenes with Sophie (Zazie Beetz) were fabrications of Arthurs mind. The beginning of that scene was terrifying, as soon as you realise they have no relationship it is spinetingling. My jaw dropped, I got chills and I was on the edge of my seat to see what was going to happen next. And then they go and ruin all of that great work by hitting you over the head time and time again with needless flashbacks of all the scenes they had together but with Arthur alone. I understand that someone behind the scenes probably panicked and was thinking of a more casual cinema audience, but it just sucked all of that natural tension and suspense out of the scene. They didn’t need to make it so on the nose. I keep going over this scene and feel so frustrated at the way it was handled because the potential was there for something great.
Awkward And Cringy
There were moments in this film where I genuinely felt uncomfortable. I cringed numerous times, but in a positive way, in the way the film intended. I also found myself holding in a laugh when I really shouldn’t have. Oddly enough, I enjoyed that the film made me feel this way. It was another layer of the film that was an amplification and reflection of some of the story and character elements. One of the most awkward scenes was in the flat, shortly after Arthur had killed Randall (Glenn Fleshler) and was left alone with Gary (Leigh Gill). When Arthur performed the jump scare, I let out the beginnings of a laugh but held the rest in. It was such a funny, yet cringe-worthy scene that I just didn’t know how to react. They also followed this up with the door chain gag, again, dark humour being used and you find yourself questioning yourself if this is acceptable. It’s a film, comedy is subjectable and for me, it did what they intended it to do.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think having Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) in the film was a good thing. I don’t have an issue with this. I especially don’t have an issue with the way they portrayed this adaption of Thomas. I loved that he was a complete arsehole! It was, cinematically, a fresh new approach and I thought Cullen did an outstanding job. BUT we didn’t need ‘The Waynes’ shoe-horned in as much as they were. The most obvious addition was right at the very end when we had yet another ‘Crime Alley’ scene and all the falling pearls that come with it. This scene was totally unnecessary. Again, it comes back to my previous point about trusting your audience. As soon as I saw a theatre advertising Zoro, I knew all I needed. If you wanted to go a little further, you could have had them leaving and just walking off, holding the shot until they disappear around the corner. It was the film once again shouting out loud in your face when it didn’t need to.
Wanting More, But Not Really
I think DC and Warner should continue to make these one-shot films and focus on telling a great story with complex characters, rather than trying to copy the Marvel model. Don’t get me wrong, I still want my already established series like Wonder Woman and Aquaman, but you can also do other things. The events of Joker don’t need to be mentioned in other films, they don’t have to interlink. Tell a story and move on to the next one. Likewise, for a sequel, Joker’s story has been told, we don’t need to follow it up with a sequel or have Phoenix popping up in The Batman series. And yet despite saying all this, I also DO want those things! I’m both happily fulfilled with what we have and yet completely greedy for more! It’s a very strange place to be!
So there you have it, my Spoiler Talk thoughts on Joker. Do you agree or disagree with any of the points above? Do you have your own thoughts and theories? Let us know in the comments below!