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Todd Phillips’ latest adaptation of the legendary DC villain Joker has already made waves in the cinema industry-only days after its premiere at the Venice Film Festival and less than a month before its release in the UK. Despite the overall positive praise the film is receiving, critics remain divided as to whether the film’s a true masterpiece or a genuine danger to society.
Featuring a critically acclaimed cast including Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro and Zazie Beetz (to name a few), 2019’s Joker acts as a character study on the man behind the make-up. Arthur Fleck is a failed comedian, a loner, trapped by his controlling mother, mentally unwell and suffering from Pseudobulbar Affect. Society shuns him, and so he descends into chaos and violence, eventually becoming Gotham’s supervillain: the Joker.
With standing-ovations and 5-stars all-round, one view is simply that this film is a masterpiece. This film is truly a DC film – dark and disturbing – taking enough risks that it’s taken the ever-popular superhero genre to the next level. Given an appropriate R-rating for its bloody violence, disturbing behaviour, language and sex, this is the beginning of a universe that has a different take from the MCU we know. It’s comic; it’s something new.
The world of superheroes and villains is well overdue a re-invention, and Joker does just that. The film features an in-depth look into the mind of the villain, paralleling but also running separately from the legendary portrayal by Heath Ledger. No longer is the Joker a mysterious figure, whose identity is cloaked behind a series of strange backstories – but he’s raw and real. He doesn’t live in a comic-book-like setting, but a real city with a likeness to the gritty suburbs in the movie Taxi. Phoenix’s performance has been described as “hypnotic and inimitable”, “bold” and “twisted”, with many critics declaring that there is an Oscar nomination on its way.
On the other side, some critics have even gone so far as to link the film to ‘right-wing’ beliefs. This is even though part of Fleck’s descent into crime is attributed to cuts in social service that deprives him of his medication and psychiatric care. Both this and the clear reaffirmation of the stigma connecting the mental illness to violence have mysteriously not been looked at, which shows that most of the film’s negative press has been aimed at smaller pieces of an otherwise complex puzzle. Let’s not forget that this is an insight into the Joker’s birth, not a film running for office.
I think that the latest Joker film is one to watch and I will be going to see it as soon as it’s released. My love for superhero movies started with the Dark Knight trilogy and, unfortunately, ever since then, DC films just haven’t been what they used to be, and they’ve let Marvel take the steering wheel in conquering the genre. I’m excited to see what they do with this new approach, and I think all the press surrounding it tells us how different this film is going to be from what we’re used to.
It is interesting to see a film stirring this much debate already, especially following its recent Golden Lion win at the Venice Film Festival, and it’s one to watch whatever the review. It’s important to remember, however, that films are a work of fiction and that representation is not always an endorsement of behaviour. The Joker provides context to the birth of the famous DC supervillain – should that reflect society in any way, it shouldn’t be seen as an inditement of the film, but rather on the society that we currently live in. My best advice? Engage in the debate but see the movie for yourself and make your own opinions.