“…Warner Bros. really needs to stay with what we do. After the Dark Knight trilogy and after this restart of Superman, we have a tone that works us and works for the DC universe.” – Director Zack Snyder in the year 2013 during the release of Man of Steel.
Sometimes in the heat of competition brands often lose their way. They try and change what was never wrong with them in the hope of beating the competition. Then you get things like Microsoft Zune or New Coke. Adapting to changing times isn’t the same as trying to imitate your competition. Thankfully some brands realize later than never as to what their IP was and then find a way of reverting back to it. Then you get back things like Coke classic or this Joker movie.
After the failure in an epic way in trying to play Marvel’s game, Warner Bros has finally realized Snyder’s acute observation from about 6 years ago. Joker is Warner Bro’s return to what made their comic book movies interesting in the first place – deep, dark and mature director-driven takes on popular comic book characters. And it is indeed a very solid return to form. Joker without even a hint of exaggeration is one of the most intense mainstream movies of the last 3-4 years. Not since Snyder’s polarizing Batman V Superman (2016), have comic book movies dreamed to be deeper than their peers.
Joker, however, is more than just a retelling of the popular Batman villain’s origins. Set in a tumultuous Gotham city of the 1980s, it’s a scary reflection of our times. While the movie is generating a lot of controversies especially in the US…correction….ONLY in the US, it may be because it is indeed intended to do so. The whole purpose of a deep character study of a psychologically disturbed individual abandoned by society is absolutely to tell a relevant story about the INCEL movement, mental disorders and gun violence in the US. But the movie does in no way glorify or intends to inspire such incidences; it is actually about what happens when we lose empathy for such individuals in dire need of care. Joker is also about class struggles, unemployment, effects of media etc- issues which affect not just the US but countries all over the world. More than portraying Joker as some kind of rebel hero figure, the movie portrays him as a sad but inevitable consequence. Think more Breaking Bad than Wanted.
Initially, after reading about the idea, I was personally afraid whether in trying to be a “character study” Joker would end up with the same problem as Logan did. A deep but slow drag of a movie with zero re-watch value (Oh come on admit it, Logan is a good movie but is hard to go through again.) Joker is a rarity in today’s times in that it’s really well-paced. The movie is slow where it needs and steps on the gas when it needs. There are no unnecessary moments, no scene looks like it’s dragged on or cut short either. It moves more like a thriller than an independent film about a person with mental illness, yet gives time for character development and emotions to sink in.
Also, what was really surprising about Joker was that it doesn’t entirely avoid its comic book mythos. Joker isn’t just Taxi Driver with DC branding. It is set firmly in the DC universe and there are some parts towards the end which will definitely appeal to the DC fan in you. There are some twists which are not just fan service but a part of the story itself. Some popular DC mythos are re-imagined in such a way that this stand-alone self-contained story could technically fit into any cinematic timeline of your choice.
Joaquin Phoenix rules this movie from frame to frame. While comparisons to Heath Ledger’s immensely popular role were always inevitable, Phoenix does make this role his own. In my humble opinion, Jared Leto’s Joker (especially with 80% of his footage being cut out) acted as a kind of buffer for the general audience’s criticism for anyone attempting the role after Ledger’s iconic interpretation (even though the criticism was undeserved). Phoenix’s was more or less accepted ever since the initial teasers. The movie shows off Phoenix’s phenomenal acting. The laugh, the body language, the eyes…the magnificent change in those eyes as the movie progresses… Phoenix is just at a whole different level and one would be surprised if he doesn’t finally get an Oscar. The rest of the cast is phenomenal as well, but it’s the Phoenix show in almost every scene and there is nothing wrong with that.
Kudos to Director Todd Philips for making Warner Bros. realize what they can do to this town with just 50 million dollars, a mature tone and a great actor. (Kudos to you too if you got that Dark Knight reference). If it wasn’t for his consistent pursuing, Warner Bros. would never have greenlit this “DC Black Label” kinda concept movie. The movie dares to do go places any other mainstream let alone any comic book movie would be afraid to and it took some real courage from Warner Bros. to finally grow back a pair and let directors do what they want. (Also they just straight out dis-invited the press from their Red Carpet Premiere for spinning wrong narratives about it. That’s just gangsta). Let’s just hope they continue to do this along with the big special effects franchises.
I was initially afraid how the general audience response would be and I must say that not only was my theatre packed but it was quiet like an exam hall in there. Audiences who have been conditioned to expect a joke or a quip every 10 minutes and an action scene every other 10 in a comic book movie, were intently watching this deep slow-moving character drama. That I would say is the biggest success of the movie in that it not only satisfies excited fans like me but also anyone who had no clue about the stand-alone nature of this movie.
When it was announced 2 years ago, DCEU was in a state of shambles, fans did not trust Warner Bros. at all and I said to myself – Who the hell needs a Joker solo movie?
Looking at Phoenix’s performance and considering that this finally helped Warner Bros realize why “dark” works for them, – I think we all needed a Joker solo movie.
Joker is definitely a 10 out of 10. No, am not crazy it really is that good!
Directed by Todd Philips
Cast- Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beats and others