Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix‘s Joker is finally set to make its much-anticipated arrival to cinema after over a year of hype, build-up, and impending controversy following the release of its first few trailers. Many fans of the Joker were skeptical when Warner Bros. Pictures expressed interest in producing a Joker origin film, given the character’s lack of one in the comics. This was something Christopher Nolan recognized when crafting The Dark Knight, which many praised him for to this day. However, a grounded, artistically-made Joker origin film not tied to the comics or DCU franchise had been pitched by Phillips for years before it got the greenlight.
With so much circulating about this must-see film and after our private screening, we wanted to provide all the insight you’ll need before you experience, arguably, this year’s best film. And don’t worry, we aren’t spoiling anything for you.
Before the Premiere
In the beginning, Joker was supposed to be set in a 70s/80s-era Gotham City, and co-produced by and co-starring Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, respectively. Even without Scorsese’s involvement in the final product however, much of the film’s plot still parallels Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. The studio wanted Leonardo DiCaprio for the lead role but Phoenix was always Phillips’ first choice, and after Scorsese dropped off the project, first-look footage of Joaquin as Joker began to surface and garner more interest from audiences. The initial trailer was subsequently released and it showcased Arthur Fleck, a failing comedian struggling with mental illness and his deteriorating city, ultimately becoming The Joker.
Cynical takes about the film turned into praise and anticipation, however, some voiced concerned about the film inspiring a wave of violence in our current global political climate.
It may prove to be difficult for audiences to walk into this film without any preconceived notions.
The film would go on to premiere at the Venice Film Festival and receive an 8-minute standing ovation from the audience. Phillips left with the festival’s most prestigious Golden Lion Award, and first wave reviews also heralded the film as an Oscar contender due to Phoenix’s portrayal of Fleck and his dissension into becoming Joker. However, other critics expressed concerns that the film may glorify the anti-hero’s rise to villainy, comparing it as the Fight Club of this era, offering teenagers a false role model of a psychologically damaged, yet charismatic hero.
Once Phoenix and Phillips began doing press, the media began to pressure the duo about the contents of the film and the strong concerns from reviews and social media. In one such interview, Phoenix now infamously walked out mid-discussion when asked whether Joker “might perversely end up inspiring exactly the kind of people it’s about, with potentially tragic results.” Furthermore, during their press run, the families of the victims of the 2012 mass shooting at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, signed a letter to Warner Bros. about Joker. It asks the studio to donate to groups that aid victims of gun violence, and states they are “..calling on [Warner Bros.] to be a part of the growing chorus of corporate leaders who understand that they have a social responsibility to keep us all safe.”
Phoenix would later make a statement to IGN that same day, stating:
“Well, I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong. And those that aren’t are capable of interpreting anything in the way that they may want to. People misinterpret lyrics from songs. They misinterpret passages from books. So I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong. I mean, to me, I think that that’s obvious.”
Firstly; we’ve seen the film, and it is good, however, it does not live up to the hype nor the over sensationalized controversy it garnered. After the U.S. military issued warning to troops about “incel violence” at Joker screenings, it may prove to be difficult for audiences to walk into this film without any preconceived notions. All the Oscar buzz could gear folks up to be disappointed thinking to expect one thing from the film, and realize they should’ve approached it like an A24 indie flick halfway though.
Yes, the film is shot beautifully, and of course, Phoenix’s performance is incredible. But the film also wears a lot of its Scorsese influences on its sleeve, and some of its more original plot points and social commentary are a bit undercooked and predictable. Some characters only serve as plot devices to propel Fleck’s transition to Joker, making them lack any substance on their own. Most of the film’s statements on society are transparent and you can see the plot twists coming from a mile away.
Phoenix excels, especially considering the isolation of his role, the holes in the script, and small scale of the story. Phillips captures so many glorious shots and forces audiences to absorb the atmosphere of every scene, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so. It doesn’t glorify its disturbing lead character and isn’t even really violent when compared to films like John Wick 3. Audience’s best bet would be to come into the theaters this weekend with their expectations tempered and hot takes checked at the door. This is a movie about Arthur Fleck first and Joker second, uninterested in telling a story about anything other than him. It may be disheartening for fans to accept that, especially since the Joker is exceedingly more the draw of the film than Fleck.
Will it Win?
Despite this, Joker is a watershed moment for comic book movies. It breaks the mold of the genre once again, showcasing that it has far more potential than what acclaimed films like Dark Knight, Logan, and Black Panther have already offered. While the latter film was nominated for six Academy Awards, it only walked away with wins for design and music categories. This will be the first movie since the explosion of the comic book genre that has a shot to walk away with Best Picture since The Dark Knight. It may even become the first to win an Actor in a Leading Role award.
What will be interesting is to see where Warner Bros. goes next with their comic book adaptations. It has a flimsily-held together cinematic universe that’s just begun to churn out hits. Will it do away with the notion of connected films, separating itself from what Marvel does so well, or use this film as the building blocks for something more? Only time, and the box office, will tell.