Joker: Critically Acclaimed or Critically Confused?

Aidan Altmirano and Jacob Dorsey

Varietyreports that director Todd Philips’ Jokerwas applauded for eight minutes at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. This is quite the feat for any film. But lately, critics have begun to question the film’s quality. This begs the question, is Jokeras great as people were led to believe?

The earliest reviews gave an excited “Yes!” to this question. As far back as August, Rotten Tomatoes, the popular review-aggregation website, had posted early reviews gleaming with praise. “What a gloriously daring and explosive film,” said one reviewer. “Joker isn’t just an awesome comic book movie; it’s an awesome movie, period,” said another. And on and on they went. Thus, viewers around the nation turned with anticipation to the silver screen. According to Rotten Tomatoes, Joker is officially the highest grossing October-released film earning $93.7 million opening weekend.

Opinions have changed since then. The first hints of displeasure emerged with the initial reviews. Film critic Glen Kennedy from RogerEbert.comopened his review with a scathing rebuke, saying,“Which is not to go so far as to say that if you buy into ‘Joker,’ the joke’s on you. (Except in the long run it really is.)”Peter Bradshaw of The Guardiansaid, “This Joker has just one act in him: the first act. The film somehow manages to be desperately serious and very shallow.”

Negative reviews continue to pour in as shown by the ever-decreasing Rotten Tomatoesratings. Some critics have called the film “undeniably bleak,” “bleak and juvenile,” and “heavy-handed and derivative.” There are still many positive reviews, especially with regards to Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, hailed as “nothing short of extraordinary.” Another reviewer says, “Phoenix was the secret weapon required to make us understand the human pain behind Joker’s wickedness.”

In my honest opinion Jokeris just “okay”. It should be utterly amazing – Joaquin Phoenix is fantastic as Arthur Fleck (the man who eventually becomes the Joker), the film’s visuals are captivating, and the first act filled me with an uncomfortable dread. However, as the film continued, I was conflicted with the message the film stumbles to convey. Am I supposed to empathize and agree with the Joker? He’s an unremorseful serial murderer that inspires violence in his name. I agree that mental health should be handled better in our society, but is framing the Joker as the underdog of this story the best way to get that message across? I don’t believe so. It feels almost irresponsible.

The film is reminiscent of Taxi Driverand The King of Comedy almost to the point that you can argue that director Todd Phillips is just outright copying elements from Martin Scorsese’s filmography and slapping a comic book supervillain’s name on it. The director hardly uses the source material for reference, which isn’t inherently a bad choice, but it conveys the feeling that perhaps, this film was not initially related to the character. Perhaps, Joker became a “comic book movie” simply to boost revenue.

Jokeris not a bad film. I just don’t think it deserves eight minutes of applause. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance alone is reason enough to see the movie, but maybe consider watching Taxi Driveror The King of Comedy instead. As some people like to say, “The originals are always better.”