Directed by Todd Phillips
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz & Frances Conroy
By Tim Basaraba
Every dominant box office genre bubble eventually bursts. Westerns were huge at one point. War movies had their day. And, in the ’30s, apparently about 15 percent of all movies made were musicals.
That said, aside from perhaps comedy, no genre has ever achieved the combination of longevity and box office domination of the modern super-hero movie. Starting with DC’s Batman Begins in 2005 (or Iron Man in 2008 as some may argue), this multi-billion-dollar genre juggernaut has dominated box office revenues and water coolers alike for more than a decade. Many thought the bubble would burst with 2018’s Avengers: Endgame; instead, it grossed 2.8 billion world-wide and became the most successful film in history.
If the Joker is any indication, superhero movies aren’t ready to give up the movie industry limelight any time soon. Instead, they may soon inhabit award shows and catch more film snob’s attentions as well dominate the box office. In this gripping Todd Phillips film, Joaquin Phoenix gives his most convincing role since I’m Still Here (2010). As his character Arthur Fleck’s journey into madness begins, we are right there with him. It recalls Norman Bates from Hitchcock’s Psycho. At first unconsciously, and then consciously, we feel compelled to root for a character who is committing deplorable acts.
Phillip’s Gotham is full of filth, pain and poverty, only broken up by the Joker himself and the mask won by others in tribute. The constant closeups, along with the film’s tense score, lead to an overload of stimuli and we careen toward disaster with our hero, um villain, I mean hero. Um…I’m conflicted!
An odd plot thread resolves itself by the end of the second act, leaving me feeling like a fool to doubt the integrity of any story line in this excellent film.
Joker is near perfect. It overwhelms us with shock and awe without having to rely on explosions or other cinematic hyperbole. It allows us to save our final judgements about our anti-hero Arthur Fleck until the penultimate scene, when I witnessed two families walk out of the theater. And it delightfully portrays a closing of the disparity between rich and poor in mythical Gotham City. While the film unfortunately won’t do much to create the same change in the real world, it will almost certainly bring about change in the genre it sets out to deconstruct.
If all other films I have seen this year are As, Bs Cs & Ds JOKER is an A+