Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
Ever wonder how Batman’s most best known and loved nemesis became that way? Neither did I, but shining a flashlight into every possible corner of the superhero universe in an attempt to squeeze as much cash out of the genre’s popularity (while it lasts, please God in heaven save us) results in movies like this one, an artfully directed and thoroughly enjoyable if completely shallow biography of the man known as Joker. Joaquin Phoenix is bewitching as Arthur Fleck, an emotionally unstable loner who works temp jobs as a clown on the streets of Gotham which, in a film so heavily influenced by movies like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, is unsurprisingly modeled in the style of early eighties New York City. At home he only has his mentally fragile mother ( ), a woman whose main obsession is getting in touch with billionaire Thomas Wayne, for whom she used to work and who she believes would still help them if he knew how they ended up. Fleck dreams of being a stand-up comedian, though his idea of humour isn’t exactly what we’d call mainstream, and his fantasy is to someday appear on his favourite talk show whose host (played, incidentally, by Robert De Niro), is his idol. His dream life, however, is directly at odds with a city that has lost its soul and expresses its rage, it feels like, solely on him, and after one too many beatings by strangers, compounded by Wayne’s rejection of his personal attempt to contact him, Fleck feels he has no other recourse but to take the gun his friend gave him and start fighting back. The film’s investigation of its subject is heavily weighted on aesthetics, it shows things but is never really about any of them, making it easy for viewers to make of it whatever they will (cautionary tale about lone wolves or sympathetic justification of an ordinary man pushed to the brink). The movie has moments of pleasure, but Christopher Nolan’s Joker, as portrayed by Heath Ledger, was not motivated by anything as human as disappointment, revenge or frustration: “Some men just want to watch the world burn,” Alfred told Batman, and to take away his fascinating amorality (and superior intelligence, I should add), diminishes the mystery that the character possessed in that earlier telling of his tale. Director Todd Phillips finds no end of inventive and aesthetically appealing ways to film his images, it’s a pleasure to look at even at its most grotesque, but if the movie was as brave as it is stylish it wouldn’t encourage us to dislike most of the characters that Arthur eventually turns on (two figures that he likely kills without reason are left off screen and their fate is unknown, so my theory remains sound). The Eat the Rich mentality appropriate to a post-2008 audience turns the billionaire philanthropist Wayne, who in Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins created a public transit system that he insisted on using himself, into a pompous dick, making for a movie that is anything but timeless and is mostly just pandering to its insecure audience (a movie about an actual mad man would have him terrorize Wayne despite his not deserving it). It’s more like a remake of Neil Jordan’s The Brave One than a dramatic alternative to superhero movies, but Phoenix’s charisma at least keeps it well on track and, despite the fact that the script offers no surprises, it is a satisfying watch and the ending is terrific.