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Joker: A First Review

Joker came out on Friday, and I met a fellow fan for an 11pm show Thursday evening. I was certain of one thing: that I would feel strongly by the end. When the film was announced I loudly rejected the concept, asserting that the Joker should have no definitive origin. He is chaos, and is stronger and more terrifying without the clarity and certainty a documented history allows.

I needn't have worried.

Then I saw the stills of Joaquin Phoenix, and I was intrigued. There was variance, and a surreality borne of too much reality that made me hopeful. It didn't "fit," so to speak, so maybe it could work.

It was styled as beautifully as I'd hoped.

As the release grew closer social media buzzed with dissent, as people proclaimed the film dangerous. Most specifically, people feared the consequences of humanizing and romanticizing a violent and dangerous white man, especially at this time. I tried my hardest to avoid all media before the release, wanting to walk into my viewing cold and see for myself, but I know my Twitter feed is split, and it sounds like the director (unknown to me) is a bit of a dick.

I'd say they don't have much reason to worry, but there's a great deal to worry about. But nothing in particular from Joker that isn't already problematic in a parade of touted media.

It simply isn't a very good movie.

That I walked out saying "meh" is pretty telling, on reflection. I am neck-deep in my dissertation chapter on the Joker, and so it should have me feeling fiery, one way or the other. But it's not actually a Joker movie; take off the title and mute the incredibly ham-fisted allusions to the Wayne family, and few would put two and two together. Actually, it would probably be a far better, more impactful film.

Instead, it is a poorly-shot film trying far too hard to be esoteric and artistic. As I said to my friend, it's a hipster missing the forest because trees have become too mainstream. Even Phonix's fantastic and arresting portrayal of mad violence cannot save the film from its inability to establish its own goals.

Because the film is called Joker, and no audience member is walking in without some expectation and experience with a Joker from the past. Sympathy for Arthur is impossible because we are waiting through the entirety for the man to violently lose his shit, and becomes the villain we all know he's going to be. And in the pantheon of Jokers, this one is a lonely child with his nose pressed against the glass, watching the others. He lacks some of the most significant characteristics that run through all of the varied representations in Joker's 81 years: agency, drive, and intelligence. The Joker's motives and logic may be difficult to discern - he may or may not be crazy - but he knows what he's doing, and remains two steps ahead. Arthur has no grand plan; he is a sick and violent man to whom things happen, and who finally lashes out. He's a lackey, and not the Clown Prince. The consequences of his actions are too large for the diminutive size of the character - later Joker could incite that chaos, but this Joker cannot, and so the action feels lazy and forced.

It tries too hard, and mistook the sugar for salt.

Is there more to say? Sure, we could go on for awhile. But ... meh.

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