In what feels like DC’s answer to Logan, Joker gets an origin story that reminds you why he is one of the top fictional villains of all time.
|Screenplay By||Todd Phillips, Scott Silver|
|Who Is This For?||
|Where To Buy, Rent, or Stream?||Fandango (Tickets)|
|Thomas Wayne||Brett Cullen|
|Martha Wayne||Carrie Louise Putrello|
|Bruce Wayne||Dante Pereira-Olson|
|Murray Franklin||Robert De Niro|
|Carl||Brian Tyree Henry|
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Plot Summary/ Review
An underdog discarded by society either through budget cuts to mental health services or indifference, Arthur lives a mediocre life with his mother, Penny. A woman who formerly worked for Thomas Wayne and thinks the world of him, despite the conditions he allows her to live in. But, while Penny, sickly and elderly, spends all day at home, Arthur works.
What does he do? Well, he is a rent a clown. One which works on the street spinning signs, at children’s hospitals, and honestly Arthur is just trying to make an honest living. However, between a condition that makes him laugh at inappropriate times, constantly getting the crap beat out of him, budget cuts which lead to him unable to afford his medication, and a co-worker named Randall giving him a gun, Arthur becomes Joker. One murder at a time.
Other Noteworthy Facts & Moments
- Zazie Beats is a love interest, solely in Arthur’s delusions and Brian Tyree Henry has a small role as an administrative clerk in Arkham who has records Arthur wants to get his hands on.
Phoenix As Joker (Arthur)
One of the best and worst things about Joker is that Phoenix, like Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, puts on a performance that reminds you why The Joker is such a fascinating character. Yet, like Nicholson, and Ledger due to his untimely passing, we, unfortunately, won’t see Phoenix as the Crown Prince of Crime again (Edit: Joaquin Phoenix claims to be open to a sequel)
But it is with no desire for a sequel, a rare standalone project in the times of trying to build universes and the next big franchise, that we get to see Phoenix truly shine. For unbridled by an eventual comeuppance by Batman or James Gordon, Arthur is allowed to both devolve and evolve at the same time. At least, in terms of watching Arthur slowly but surely lose his sense of hope and come to realize all means of what could save him from himself, be a worthy distraction, are a lie.
Leading to you understanding why the idea of this being a character study is continually pushed. This idea that the downtrodden, unlucky, the ones the government have divested in, any of them can become the Joker. All it takes is the loss of one of few things keeping them going, one swift kick to the gut, metaphorical or physical, and they can snap.
Add in Arthur being mentally ill, thanks to quite a bit of childhood trauma, and while Phoenix will never lead you to feel sympathetic for Arthur, you may come to understand why so many fear Joker could inspire violence.
On The Fence
The Balance Between Being Entertaining Yet Dramatic
There is clearly a pull and push here between showing the Joker people have come to love, idolize, and dress up as, and trying to take the character seriously. On the one hand, there is Arthur who hasn’t really experienced much in the way of joy, be it friends, meaning, or love that wasn’t toxic. Yet, to understand how someone can become Joker, a comic with a dark sense of humor, and a flare for guns and explosives, you have to note the trauma.
Leading to the film trying to throw fans of the character a bone with the grim joke, or eyebrow-raising violence, but just to keep them entertained. For the true goal, at the heart of Joker, is the downward spiral of a man trying to make the best of things until he realizes all his effort has been to make things better for others and not himself. Pushing you to realize that Joker, Arthur, Carnival (his clown name), or what have you, is, at his core, a person who is sick and tired of being sick and tired. Which is what Phoenix uses to be the beating heart of a film that sometimes seems like it wants to be loosely inspired by than a true adaptation.
Overall: Positive (Worth Seeing)
Perhaps the main problem with Joker is also the best thing about it. Due to the desire to make this an exclamation mark of a movie, a one and done featuring one of the most visible and greatest villains of all time, it’s like having the last piece of candy in the jar. You savor it for how good it is, yet are left frustrated you can’t get more.
Fans won’t get to see Phoenix playoff another recognizable character. All you get is this origin story that doesn’t necessarily build-up to anything. Thus making you feel things finished just as they usually begin.
Yet, that’s how spoiled we are nowadays. Thanks to Marvel, we expect characters to be exploited, like Loki, until they lose any sense of being formidable and end up a joke. So, ultimately, consider Joker and the fact Phillips and Phoenix have no desire for a sequel, a mercy killing. After all, Phoenix’s Joker isn’t really meant for the long term, and with the way they treat the character, while Arthur can be given meaning and some sense of depth, you can’t do that for someone who has devolved to the point he is beyond wanting or asking for sympathy. All Joker wants is whatever will help take the edge off and there has never been a rhyme, reason, or deep meaning behind Joker, once he forgot his own origins.
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Joker Ending Explained
The beginning of the end for Arthur comes in Randall giving him a gun and three wall street types, employees of Thomas Wayne, who is a douche similar to his TellTale Games portrayal, trying to beat up Arthur. However, with killing them, he finds relief. Also, a form of acceptance he never really had. For with people talking about what he did, (in his mind) supporting it, praising it even, he feels empowered.
Thus, while he doesn’t go on a killing spree, it enables him to kill over and over. For example, he kills his mother due to her being the cause of all his trauma. She is the reason he is screwed up, for she let an ex-boyfriend beat him to bruises and cause significant head trauma. Also, Penny lied about him being her son and even the son of Thomas Wayne. In truth, he was adopted after being abandoned, and the only thing Wayne knows about him is that he is as delusion as his mother, and he dared put a hand on his golden child Bruce.
So, with learning the truth, and also the lie, Arthur kills his mother. But, what turns Arthur from just another mentally disturbed person to the crown prince of crime is Murray Franklin. You see, before his first kill, Arthur got up on stage and did a set. One he barely was able to get through due to his laughing condition, but he finished a set nonetheless. Said set, somehow, was recorded, sent to Murray Franklin, who has a Tonight Show type program, and Murray makes a big thing out of it. In fact, he makes it go viral, in how things went viral before the internet.
Meanwhile, as Arthur gets famous, and is killing people, Thomas Wayne is running for Mayor and makes it seem, in the most pompous way imaginable, he is the only person who can fix Gotham’s crime and poverty problem. Mind you, while looking down at the poor and those who protest him and the rich.
Leading to Joker’s crowning moment. Thanks to Murray Franklin, Arthur, who takes the name Joker from a comment Murray made about him, goes on Murray’s show and on national TV berates those like Wayne, like Murray, and the society who long allowed him to not only be kicked while he was down, but didn’t even extend a hand to help him get back up. Not even to check to see if he was still alive.
All of Arthur’s spiel is treated as self-pity, and Murray doesn’t show any of the empathy it seems Arthur needs. Something to make him have second thoughts. So, on national TV, Joker kills Murray Franklin with a bullet in the head and a few extra shots for good measure. Then he tries to address viewers but is cut off.
Leaving us watching riots outside, and it seeming like Arthur is going straight to jail. However, a stolen ambulance hits the cop car he is in, and for a little while, Arthur gets to bask in the chaos he started. But, in the end, he ends up in Arkham with no clear sign of how he’ll perform one of the first, of his many, escapes.
Is A Sequel Possible?
Let’s say if it wasn’t made clear there is no interest in a sequel – the answer would be yes for one big reason: Arthur/ Joker inspired the person who murdered Thomas and Martha Wayne. So with that in mind, alongside Bruce and Arthur’s brief meeting, you can imagine a darker Bruce Wayne. One fueled by vengeance, more than justice, and perhaps fighting what could be seen as his true nature just like Arthur did. Thus setting up the idea that while socioeconomically Bruce and Arthur are different, in the end, at their core, despite all that could be considered their differences, they are one and the same.
Question(s) Left Unanswered
- Did Arthur kill Sophie, or did he leave her alone like he did Gary after Arthur killed Randall?
- Gary was over Arthur’s home to show his condolences to his former co-worker, and being that Randall’s gun got Arthur fired and began his journey, he is violently murdered.
- As for Sophie, Arthur develops a crush on her after meeting in the elevator, and you are led to believe, for reasons unclear, they hit it off despite how weird Arthur is. In truth, after meeting on the elevator they never spoke again. Arthur stalked her, but they didn’t have conversations, kiss, and perhaps went beyond that. He is just the weird neighbor who decided to, one day, show up in her apartment, and who knows what he might have done from there?
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