Joker dominates the box office, but fails to deliver

Colleen Secaur , Managing Editor

Within the opening scene of Joker, the film’s protagonist delivers what many consider to be the thesis statement of the entire affair, “Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there?” This idea, of a lone vigilante amidst a world of chaos and cruel uncertainty has certainly seen its fair share of media portrayal, most notably from films such as Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. However, the groundbreaking element that has led Joker to become such a cultural phenomenon is that this film template is being applied to a superhero universe, with the villain cast as the antihero, no less. This gritty and pessimistic tone in a genre dominated by the often formulaic MCU movies has yielded both strongly negative and positive reviews from critics and audiences alike.

For a film that has both won one of the cinema’s highest awards (The Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival) and inspired police departments in cities such as New York and Los Angeles to increase their presence outside of theaters, Joker is honestly just… meh. Joaquin Phoenix, arguably one of the best method actors working today, does an extraordinary job doing what he does best, which is bringing a sense of humanity to even the most unhinged and diabolical of characters. The score meshes perfectly with each half-baked twist and turns of the plot, and ultimately as our protagonist, who goes by Arthur Fleck for the majority of the film, inevitably puts on that Joker makeup, the audience can’t help but feel some degree of elation.

That said, the references mentioned above practically swallow the movie whole. In Taxi Driver, the audience is also viewing a crime-ridden urban scene from the 1970s through a mentally ill loner’s point of view, who ultimately resorts to murder and violence. To top it all off, the lead actor in that movie, played by Robert de Niro, also has a pivotal role in Joker. Drawing such strong parallels to a movie as well-regarded as Taxi Driver only seems to show the predictable plot points and clunky dialogue in an even more of glaring light. Whereas the former crosses boundaries with abandon and completely submerges the audience in its protagonist’s dangerous and unstable worldview, pushing the viewer’s beliefs as to who they can sympathize within a thoughtful and stylistic manner, Joker goes right up to these boundaries and refusing to cross them, leaving a bitter taste of disappointment.

If Joker was as half as edgy and exciting as it thought it was, the film may have been enjoyable and worth all the excitement surrounding it. However, despite an electrifying lead performance and score, this faux-grimy character study falls flat.