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Before we do anything, let's get this out of the way. This review will not be based on the controversy pre-release, or Todd Phillips making himself look like a complete idiot during the press tour when he should have let the movie speak for itself, even if he does deserve all the flack he's getting for the comments made. Also, do not take your kids to see this film. I don’t know why parents are taking their kids to an obviously R-rated comic book flick about a killer clown. Educate yourself before you see this film. Now then, let's talk about one of the most controversial films of the year, Todd Phillips' Joker.
For the beginning of DC's new line of one-off/experimental stories, Joker had a lot to ride on, because, as I said previously if superhero movies want to stay relevant, they need to evolve beyond being simple superhero films. Unfortunately, while I am glad it's a financial success, I wish the film was a better experience.
Not to say there aren't good elements, because there is plenty to like or admire about Joker. As usual, when you have Joaquin Phoenix in your film, you should always expect a great performance, and that's no different here. Phoenix brings a very unhinged performance as Arthur aka the Joker. His performance is the best part of the movie. The film is full of incredibly unnerving scenes, from the moment he meets young Bruce Wayne, to his first comedy set, to the subway ride home. You will feel uncomfortable as you watch his demented rise into becoming the iconic character. Also, as many may misunderstand, you are, without a doubt, not meant to idolize this character. Sure, you feel bad for his situation and life, but the emotional investment is kept at an arm's length because even Todd Phillips knows you aren't meant to see this character as a proper state of being a positive role model. The rest of the cast is also quite stellar with Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, and others. While this may be a comic book movie, and yes, it is a comic book movie, I do respect that it wanted to tackle themes about mental health, how our society is failing to help people with mental problems in need, and class disputes. It's always nice to see a film try to go the extra mile in wanting to be taken seriously and talk about uncomfortable subjects.
Like I said above though, it wants to tackle these topics, but I don't think the film knows how to. It has plenty of memorable scenes and that one Oscar-bait monologue scene with Phoenix talking to Robert DeNiro's character about how society and the rich have failed us, but it doesn't want to take that next step. It reminds me of last year's Vice, where Joker has a lot to say, but doesn't know how to properly continue the conversation, or even want to continue the conversation. It's like the writer and director got excited about it, but then realized they were way out of their zone and backed out with no real evolution of the conversation. It also doesn't help that it has plenty of plot elements and characters that could have been cut, or expanded upon. I don't know if Zazie Beetz was supposed to have more to do, but after a twist that happens with her, she is never seen or mentioned again. I think a better director like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu would have done a better job with these themes.
Even if the film knows that we aren't supposed to like him, Joker still tries a little to make us root for him, when you absolutely should not. As I said, everything feels a bit undercooked, and maybe a second viewing would help things out, but if I'm already picking up that the film doesn't really juggle its themes properly, then why should I invest more time into a film that already drags itself through its two-hour runtime? If you want to see Phoenix be the literal Joker, it's pretty much in the last 20 minutes of the film. I wouldn't mind this, and while it has its moments of being compelling, the fact it takes that long, and we don't see him as the infamous clown, is disappointing.
I was hoping we could move into the award-season batch of films without much conflict. I'm so tired of watching prestige films or films that won big at old and out-of-date film festivals that pick these films. I don't care much for them, because once we get our hands on them, we tend not to be on the same wavelength. It's an okay movie with one really strong award-hopeful performance and some nicely shot scenes. If you want a film that tackles this kind of story better, well, you will find those. I don't think a lot of the controversy was worth it, but I do respect the people that were concerned over the film's release, and if I see anyone that I know mock or harass anyone over the concerns/controversy or that they didn't like the film, you are a punk. Don't be a punk. I could recommend seeing Joker, and my mixed review isn't hurting its box office chances, but I could recommend way more movies, and especially Martin Scorcese films over Joker. Phillips obviously wanted this to be like one of Martin's films but didn't realize that directors like Tarantino and Scorcese make their film-making projects look easy. I'm more caught in the middle with how I rate this film, and I don't plan on changing my mind about it either. Please respect my wishes that I am indifferent to the film, and others are not going to like the movie either. I would recommend people watch Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, Taxi Driver, Her, and You Were Never Really Here over Joker. Joker is a film I would play once, and then never again.
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