Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours
With the saturation of superhero movies between Marvel and DC at all-time highs, it was only a matter of time before a movie like Joker (2019) would come along. If anything, the current socio-political environment in the real world is ripe for this kind of story. While superhero films are appealing to show how individuals with exotic abilities can do battle in CGI-heavy fight sequences, there is a certain amount of horror involved with Joker in the sense that it could realistically happen. There aren’t any radioactive spiders. There isn’t any high-tech gadgetry. There’s only mental illness.
I applaud the team behind Joker for not resorting to hackneyed comic book origin stories like chemical spills or “tit for tat” vendettas (even if we had to watch one of the same origin stories again near the end). The casting of Joaquin Phoenix was initially an odd choice, but he nails the role. His type of methodical acting almost humanizes one of the worst villains in the DC universe. And I think that’s how this movie works so well: villains aren’t evil “just because.” There is a logic in the madness of Arthur Fleck, and the fact that the system failed him is only one of the reasons why he became the Joker.
The fact that this movie could stand by itself with no strong association with anything related to comic books makes it a triumph in itself. I kept thinking that a film like this could just have easily been about John Wayne Gacy, Jr. instead of a fictional serial killer clown. Using the perspective of Arthur Fleck to show the undulation between the real and the insane was a bold move that might confuse some viewers but will likely become clearer with each repeat viewing. And with only a handful of truly violent scenes, Joker demands repeat viewings.
A masterpiece of mental illness, I give Joker 5.0 stars out of 5.