After its big surprise win in Venice, a big splash (and some backlash) in Toronto, a storm (in a teacup) of opinion on social media, self-generating fear of cinema violence and even incel insurrection, Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by The Hangover’s Todd Phillips, arrives on our screens to a resounding, “hm.” It’s a fine enough film, extremely well crafted, but, in direct opposition to its buzz, there is no discernible need to see it. Indeed, if you’ve seen Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy both, there is truly nothing for you, as Joker, aping those films and setting itself in 1980 squat between them, doesn’t even update their concerns for our own troubled age.

Cinematography, art direction and Phoenix’s performance are the draws here; the story is so derivative, drawn out, empty and vapid that the film’s biggest fault is that it drags. Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy had wit and style; Joker has no wit and all its style is stolen. Its tale of a poor down-trodden wannabe urban comedian who descends into violence has been often told, with minor variations, and resonance to real-life events, most specifically to “subway vigilante” Bernhard Goetz, does not come with any insight. Ugliness is on display here purely for its own sake.

The best takeaway from this film is as a set-up for an upcoming Batman (like we need another). The final scenes are suitably baroque, befitting the Joker’s origin story as operatically linked to Bruce Wayne’s; try as Phillips, his marketing team, and everyone else at Warner Bros. may have to deny it, this is just another comic book movie, in a darker than usual key.

4 thoughts on “Joker

  1. hi CJ,,, i enjoy your reviews, and usually read each one, but i dont use them. i would like a feature where i could go to your site and request all of the movies / series / on say Netflix ,,, or currently playing at the cinemas ( and get season info maybe?) That way,.,, when i want to go to the cinema, i go to your site and see what movies you have reviewed that are now playing,,,,, or when i want to watch foxtel,,, i can see your reviews of however many foxtel shows,,,, this would help me make my choices

    so,,,, that would be really good for me

    what would be good for you would be if you gave the networks or cinemas a link where they would update the screening info for you so you didnt have to do it,,, they might do this as it would increase their houses by reaching more eyes,,,, and serious movie goers maybe

    if i can do this somehow on your site already please show me how

    miss you on the AB but hope all is good

  2. So Rotten Tomatoes has this as a “fresh” review. Do you agree with that? Personally, I find it leaning more towards the negative. Please let me know. Thanks!

    1. Yep, fresh is correct. I do think that the film is worth seeing, and that some people will love it (and clearly they have). It’s a major 2019 film, contributing to the cultural conversation, getting awards, featuring an incredible performance and so on. The key is in the first paragraph: “it’s a fine enough film.” If it’s “fine enough,” that’s ‘fresh’; if, say, I’d written, “this is not a good film”, that’s ‘rotten’. Fine enough implies worth seeing (therefore ‘fresh’), a ‘rotten’ review is stating that the reviewer feels there’s no reason to see the film.

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