Joker - Reviewed By Movie Zilizotafsiliwa

I think it’s fair to say the discourse surrounding 'Joker' has been a nightmare and the amount of attention, controversy and reaction that this film has stirred up is ridiculous, especially considering that the film itself is frustratingly bland. I think in many ways, this film wasn’t designed to be watched, people who loved it were going to love it, people who thought it was going to be controversial will still think that and ultimately the lasting impact of the film seems redundant. I did not enjoy this film, as a film, it was nothing to do with Phillips’ personality or the rallying controversy around it but purely looking at it I felt exhausted and frustrated. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I saw it about a week ago, I’ve been trying to figure out what really drove me to dislike this film I thought I would adore.

In many ways, ‘Joker’ is a comic book film designed to distance itself from comic book films, it feels like a pale imitation of someone’s idea of a ‘real film’. It is dripping with pride and pretension, flaunting around with this arrogance of a film that knows it is special, a film attempting to be the next thought piece, attempting to get everyone talking about it and that thinly disguises a dull and uninspired narrative. There are scenes and moments where the character of Arthur Fleck does things that are there to portray a character moment, he will dance on his own or smoke with angst and thoughtfulness, but I can’t help but feel like nothing is being said about his character. It feels like a film imitating the ideas that make revolutionary films but without the talent and commitment these film’s have. It doesn’t have a voice, but insists it does, Phillips taunts the audience with this simple concept of a man losing his mind yet never commits to really exploring the why. The film is scared to make its statement, instead it jumps from statement to statement giving the illusion it is telling you something interesting and captivating, but it is a thinly based ideology. Phillips’ is brewing with potential, but instead of letting this potential come through he points at it and shows off how genius it is like magician building up to a non-existent trick.

There has been a stirring of controversial takes on the film spreading around the internet about ‘Joker’, it has been called dangerous due to its depiction of violence and misery. I feel like this is the sort of film where people made this narrative to increase attention for it, in no way is the film a dangerously compelling factor in influencing male violence because it doesn’t want to take a stance on it. Arthur Fleck is faced with a series of events where society drives him to the edge to the point where he compels a mass-riot due to his violent actions. This spiked this worry in spectators that this film is going to inspire more Arthur Fleck’s to rise up and compel more riots like the ones seen but instead the film feels confused and intimidated by this controversial take. The dialogue flips from making Fleck at fault for his actions and then making society at fault, all whilst insisting that it is in no way political. The opening scene estabvlishes Fleck has a condition causing him to laugh manically without control, establishing he has a mental illness however from then Phillips leaves every action Fleck commits with the opportunity of a scapegoat through the guise of his illness, often using it for plot convenience. Occasionally Fleck reacts to a genuine issue in a rational but angry manner, but at other times he is crazy and unpredictable without any real cohesion between the two. Phillips’ doesn’t lean on the idea that he is insane and needs help enough nor does he push the ‘society bad’ angle enough to create a compelling or controversial ideology. Instead we get a confused and lacklustre set of ideas.

Moral ambiguity is a not a topic that cinema is unfamiliar with, almost any iconic character or film explores this idea to some extent because it is a simple way to create a compelling character. However, nowadays the topic feels more like a trope and is often overused in some films to the point of ridicule so dedicating a film to it is simply something I have seen before. I think it comes down to the factor that Phillips raises a lot of ideas that I have simply seen done better countless times, sometimes in films that he directly is influenced by (Scorsese originally produced but dropped out) and so he isn’t offering me anything new to get attached to.

And I think when it comes down to it, the biggest problem is that this isn’t a trope I want to be attributed to a character like The Joker. As a fan of Batman, I would never really consider The Joker a morally ambiguous character, personally I’ve always seen him as this purely chaotic evil character and that’s what made him interesting. He is this force of chaos and unpredictability, there is a reason he has never been given a definitive origin, instead he seems to be this elusive idea that doesn’t have a motivation against society or from spite, instead he is joyously unpredictable which makes him a fantastic counterpart to Batman and why the two have arguably the most iconic dynamic in comic book history. If you strip away all the references to the fact Fleck is The Joker, this is just a ‘Taxi Driver’ rip-off with nothing more, a film that would do well at festivals but not generate the attention it has had. Phillips himself has openly admitted to creating the film as a way to “Sneak a real film into the studio system” which just shows that there is no real care or attention put into it. He steals from films he is familiar with and is afraid to really push on what separates his film from those that he is inspired from.

I’ve mainly complained about blatant narrative problems in this review, but I have to say there is a lot to like about ‘Joker’. For one, Phoenix is incredible because he always is. His performance is engaging, committed and he disappears into this character that he obviously put a lot of work into. However, he seems to be fighting with the dialogue occasionally, almost embarrassed at some lines and instead pouring himself into the silent reflective moments. The supporting cast is good for the most part, De Niro is fantastic, and it is brilliant seeing him actually care and try in a role, Zazie Beetz gives a charming performance that is ridiculously underused, and her character is treated with such disregard. It also looks very pretty, a lot of the shows are lit beautifully and the colours and focus in some moments are spellbinding but they don’t really have much of a purpose, it has these wonderful shots that don’t say anything of any real impact other than to look nice momentarily.
‘Joker’ really let me down, it is the fa├žade of a film that I thought it would be and for that reason it really disappointed me. I wanted it to be something special, this was supposed to be DC attempting new and interesting takes that are standalone and try something different but instead we got an imitation of a Scorsese film with ‘Joker’ slapped on as the title.