By: Ian Young
As a Batman fan of 30 years and in celebration of the world of the Dark Knight detective celebrating its 80th anniversary tonight is a particularly special one for me. Not only do we see the release in the USA of a new Batwoman series starring the awesome Ruby Rose but for audiences the world over we see the release of one of the most anticipated comic book movies of the year, Joker.
Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix, directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover Trilogy) and written by Scott Silver (8 Mile) is the tale of Arthur Fleck and his transformation into the clown prince of crime himself, the Joker. In this gritty world of an economically depressed Gotham City we see Fleck depicted as anybody who is a nobody, a failed stand up comedian. It is clearly influenced by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland Batman’s defining graphic novel The Killing Joke in its depiction of his spiralling into violence and insanity.
Much has been made of the fact that this movie is aimed directly at mature audiences. Within the genre of comic book movies this isn’t anything new, we have had the industrial gothic revision one with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, we have had the political one with V for Vendetta, the philosophical one with Watchmen, the horror one with From Hell, the realist one with David Cronenberg’s awesome A History of Violence, the costume drama one with Road To Perdition, the funny one with Deadpool and the martial arts one with Blade. What Joker strives to do, however, is offer the audience something unique and boundary-pushing. It takes a pop culture icon from the world of comics and attempts to construct a psychological thriller around him which offers something brand new to audiences who have seen the character portrayed by some of the greatest actors in the world who have played the Joker as one of the defining roles of their careers. It also flies in the face of the current trend of brightly colored, family-friendly comic book movies. It’s a bold move on the part of WB and DC, and they have created a masterpiece.
Every element of this movie is a fantastic achievement. The movie creates a dark and complicated world seen through the eyes of Joker. The locations, sets and costumes all work together to create a movie that could sit in the middle of a triple bill with Taxi Driver and The Warriors. The influence of the history of the comics is present as well with the influence of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in the third act which just adds another level of authenticity to the feel of the movie.
The script is brilliantly written, funny, emotive and powerful and although not a strict adaptation of one Batman comic definitely draws from the history of the franchise. For those who are fans in the know, there is plenty to discuss and analyse like the subtle influence of Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum Serious House on Serious Earth. The plot moves quickly and efficiently from act to act and there is a wonderful sense of tension that builds towards the elegant catastrophe that is The Joker giving birth to chaos.
The performances are all of of an incredible standard, much will be written about Phoenix’s rendition. It’s a dominant and commanding performance which is in many ways an homage to all the Jokers that came before. It’s ultimate success is that it has done nothing short of bringing the Joker out of the comics and onto the screen without a world of CGI around him to prove it.
The other performances within the film are great as well, Robert DeNiro is always a pleasure to watch, Frances Conroy brings huge amounts of clever ambiguity to her role and Zazie Beetz once again proves she is an extraordinary talent in movies and television.
The score is fantastic, every beat of it exists to create menace and discord and supports with elegance the other elements of the film. It also creates a successful mood in representing a Gotham of yesterday.
Joker is a comprehensive character study of an icon and it outshines most of its competitors. A spiritual successor to Taxi Driver, this intense and fast paced movie is worth your time.
About The Author: Growing up in the 80’s, Ian Young’s highlight of the week used to be when the mobile video store (a van with some videos in it) came down his street. It was more often than not that he rented these titles so frequently that the tapes disintegrated. He will also roundhouse kick anyone who says Cannon Films’ Masters of the Universe isn’t the greatest film ever made! Ian Young has spent the last decade or so, scribbling his thoughts on line, for pop culture websites, his most high profile article have been for Wargames Illustrated and has recently been published in two books.