Joker (2019): Can More Batman Rogues Get This Treatment?

Image result for joker poster

        “Joker” is a film that has received both a lot of hate and love. I can understand both perspectives but find myself on the liking side. I’m a huge fan of the Batman Rogues gallery and how different they all are psychologically is what makes them so compelling. Hell, they are more compelling than Batman. It is one reason Warner Brothers always casts big name celebrities in the roles. There is so much to do, even if we only get a glimpse into their psyche. This film is a deep dive into the Joker and it works.

The film was directed and written by Todd Phillips who co-wrote it with Scott Silver.

The story follows Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill clown for hire in Gotham City. As his life falls further apart he aspires to be a stand up comedian. Secrets tied to his past combined with social collapse in Gotham forever change him.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Gotham – Gotham is so wonderfully portrayed in this film. The city is dark and grimy and you see the build up of trash (from the garbage men strike going on at the beginning of the film) contrasted with the Wayne’s version of Gotham where you have fundraisers at beautiful hotels and Wayne Manor, which is so far away from the city that they feel barely connected. You also get taste of the everyday life from the comedy clubs to Robert De Niro’s talk show host Murray. This is a version of Gotham I hope we see more of as it makes that it is a city where unless you are wealthy you will get eaten up and spit out. Which does help explain the rise of Joker and all the Batman rogues to come.

Isolation – One thing the film portrays will is isolation. Arthur Fleck doesn’t have any friends and the film follows his point of view. We see how alone he is with his mother, when he’s working and any large social event he is invisible, except for at the end when he’s embraced his new identity as the Joker.

Joker / Arthur Fleck – This is a story told from the perspective of Arthur Fleck. We don’t really see any of Gotham besides what we see from his point of view. This is great as we come to see how isolated, alone and ill he is. He’s medicated, has a tick where he laughs uncontrollably, lives with his mom who is also mentally unstable and is in a job he hates where he has no job protection or security. I wish there’d been more of a push for him to become a killer. This version of Joker is already broken and unstable and when he does kill for the first time in self-defense has no regret, but loves the attention it is getting him in the revolution taking place in Gotham. Joaquin Phoenix portrays this sociopath really well. From his dancing when he feels freedom and his lost within himself and delusions that we see through the film. This is a character completely alone and that combined with everything else just makes this character’s already unstable mind, so much worse to the point that he adopts the Joker identity.

Dreams, Delusions and the Unreliable Narrator – One of the reasons I think this film works as a Joker film is because it still gives us the unreliable mind of the Joker. Throughout the film Arthur has visions of being with his neighbor and to him they are real until reality comes crashing down on him. This brings up the possibility of this being all a lie told by the Joker at the hospital, as the final scene is him being interviewed before he kills the person interviewing him. This film is his justification, his life where he abused and bullied, the inequalities in Gotham and self-defense, in the case of his first murders. The versions of the Joker from the comic would tell some version of this, as the Joker is never responsible for anything. It is how he gaslit Harley Quinn. For me this is what works even though the writing had a lot of tell when it needed more show.

The Cons:

Themes Needed to go Deeper – There are a few themes the film touches upon, but isn’t willing to go deeper. We see wealth inequality and the detachment of the wealthy like Thomas Wayne and how insulated the rich are from the poor even as they cut their resources. Again, it is touched upon but there was so much they could have done with this. How was Arthur and his mother affording their apartment? What were some of the policies that Thomas Wayne wanted to enact? What is the history of the Waynes to Gotham? Who are the people protesting? These are all questions that would have enriched this theme. Same with lack of mental health care, Arthur loses his social worker but we never see him interact with others in his state or hear about her other clients. These are all great ideas that exist and the film briefly touches, but it needed so much more to elevate the film and better flesh out the world.

Too Much Tell, Needed More Show – This film has some dialogue that isn’t great. Joker literally blames “society” on the talk show, which is a living meme at this point given how Disney and other studios have used the vagueness of society to try and make their films appear more progressive, without actually addressing any issues. The dialogue at times feels unnatural, which is one reason why the best scenes are simply Joaquin Phoenix quietly acting. The guy truly deserves an Oscar for this role as he elevated a film with his performance. The telling rather than showing was easily my biggest issue with this film and I wish we had gotten more show.

This was a controversial film and I have friends who loved it and hated it. I really liked it and it was a film I’d highly recommend to any Scorsese fan (Phillips clearly takes inspiration from a lot of his work in how he frames Gotham and presents characters). I hope more of Batman’s rogues get this treatment as Scarecrow, Riddler, Penguin, Bane and countless others have stories worthy of the big screen. They are much more compelling than Batman (as Batman’s rogues usually are) and I hope this film inspires more of their stories to be told. This film didn’t achieve its full potential, but I appreciate what it did accomplish.

9.3 / 10. I really enjoyed this flawed film and I hope more Batman rogues get this treatment.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2011) – A Film That Grew My Respect for the Flash

Justice League Flashpoint Paradox

    As far as “The New 52” stories go, I actually enjoyed “The Flashpoint Paradox.” I wouldn’t call it a favorite but the Flash is one of the most likeable characters in a world populated by “New 52” versions of characters, where there is only tragedy and isn’t hope. This one also takes the grittyness to a whole new level with another timeline, that for what it is worth is fun exploring and establishes the strengths of the Nations our heroes represent.

     “The Flashpoint Paradox” was directed by Jay Oliva and written by James Krieg. While being produced by James Tucker and Alan Burnett and based off of the story of the same name written by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert.

     The story involves the Justice League and the Flash fighting off the Flash’s Rogues as it is all a trap set by the Reverse-Flash to force the Flash to make a choice that throws everyone into another timeline where the Justice League no longer exists.

The Pros: The Opening Fight – The opening fight against the Flash’s rogues is awesome. Especially when the Justice League has to disarm the bombs that Reverse-Flash put on them so that they can save the city. This was really well done.

The Justice League Voice Actors – Michael B. Jordan as Cyborg is perfect, the best Batman (Kevin Conroy) is voicing him again!, Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan and Vanessa Marshall as Wonder Woman make a great team.

Atlantis vs. The Amazons – I like how this war as presented as we have the Amazons taking over Britain to have a new home while Atlantis continues to strike with super weapons to wipe them out. Each side clearly has their own strengths.

Alternate Cyborg – Cyborg is trying to form a League to hold off both forces and save humanity. He’s the only really good character in this as everyone else is being used or manipulated.

Alternate Superman – He’s a child who was experimented on and doesn’t have much intelligence or strength but comes through in the end and is able to see the good in people again. His arc, for what it was was handled really well.

Thomas Wayne – Thomas Wayne and Martha Wayne went crazy when Bruce was shot as a child. Thomas Wayne kills and is more akin to the Punisher while Martha Wayne became the Joker. You see how haunted he is and he always has a drink in his hand. He is also the first to help the Flash get his powers back when there is even the chance he can bring back the old timeline and in turn his son Bruce. He even writers a letter for Bruce too.

The Flash – The Flash is both the protagonist and antagonist of this as it was prompting from Reverse-Flash that lead him to go back in time to save his mother, which created the timeline where he doesn’t have powers and the world is ending in war. His arc is learning to let go and in doing so realize the truth of his mother’s statement about how each person matters in ways we can’t understand.

Okay: Reverse-Flash – We get he’s a sociopath, but he doesn’t seem to have any motivation beyond that that we are shown. This was a missed opportunity on the part of the writers. He could have been so much more.

The Cons: Not Enough Time Before the Time Change – I wanted more time with Kevin Conroy’s Batman in the main timeline! We never get how he and Barry are friends before the change happens. The new timeline is sudden and causes a bit of a whiplash to the viewer.

Why the War Started – The reasons are never fully explained as to why the war started…it seems that Wonder Woman killed Aquaman’s wife after her and Aquaman had an affair but it is implied the wife struck first…and why are both sides targeting humanity? Humans are innocent in all of this.

This was a film that could have become a favorite if they’d taken more time establish motivations. I didn’t get Reverse-Flash’s motivations or fully understand the reasons for the war as Aquaman was cheating with Wonder Woman, he had his chance to be with her now after his wife tried to kill her. It all came from a twisted sense of honor. There were some things I liked but the plot holes were big enough to bring it down from great and keep it merely at good. If characters we are know are willing to kill civilians and use super weapons…their reasons for doing so need more explanation. I’d still recommend this though, this is a story that shows why the Flash has fans.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10