Film (2019). Warner Bros Pictures in association with DC Films, Joint Effort, Bron Creative and Village Roadshow Pictures. Directed by Todd Phillips. Written by Phillips and Scott Silver. Cast includes Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Robert De Niro and Joaquin Phoenix. 122 minutes. Colour.
This origin story for Batman's most famous nemesis (see Villains), which is technically nonfantastic, is included here for convenience. The film imagines the Joker when young as Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a mentally-unwell loner and children's party clown who unwittingly sparks a violent uprising when he kills three financiers in self-defence. As Fleck's resentment builds and his sanity deteriorates, scenes of intense violence take place against the background of a Gotham City indistinguishable from the New York of the late 1970s. Bruce Wayne cameos as a child.
Controversial both for its misanthropy and for its liberal borrowings from Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1983), Joker could have dropped all references to the Batman mythos and remained almost unchanged. As an outlier Batman Film, it is notable for re-imagining Bruce Wayne's father Thomas Wayne (Cullen) as a sneering oligarch who deserves everything he gets. Like The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Joker depicts an undifferentiated mass of urban rioters as a threat to the social order. Unlike the 2012 movie, Joker suggests those rioters might be in the right.
Moments in Joker have a real sense of transgressive danger and the film triggered something of a moral panic, which no doubt helped it become the most financially successful R-rated film in American history. Joker as a whole paints its themes with broad strokes, but is elevated by Joaquin Phoenix, who won an Oscar for his balletic performance. Gone is the elegant supervillain of most previous incarnations, replaced with a resentful spree-killer who gives a stumbling monologue about social inequality before declaring, "there's no punchline. It's not a joke." [JN]