I was very ambivalent as to whether or not to watch Todd Phillips’ Joker (2019) at first; I was very initially apprehensive about it being made to begin with, for the simple reason that I find that giving a definite origin to the character – who is not a favorite of mine in the comics for a lot of reasons, but I do like – takes away from the character.
I was wrong.
Well, not COMPLETELY wrong. I liked the movie – it definitely shows that it is an entirely different animal than the rest of the DCEU, and Joaquin Phoenix brings something unique to the character – a very much ambiguous entity as a whole, much in stride to what he has been written in the comics for years. I loved the entire production design – a truly unique Gotham, one which births Batman by necessity….but this also creates a problem.
This “origin” – although, much in true Joker fashion, is left ambiguous – robs a bit from both Batman and the Joker inasmuch as giving the latter the role of a possible villain in that he is maintaining the status quo in Gotham rather than making an effective difference (although it does raise the question why he does not pump more cash in the right channels to reduce the chances of criminality rather than jump around in a Batsuit but whatever) which simultaneously creates the latter problem.
This does not feel like the Joker.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the movie and I love Joaquin, but giving the Joker an origin kind of “solves” my problem with the character as he is mythologised in the comics (i.e. ambiguous spark of chaos just for the sake of it or personal thrill) but at the same time removes the mystique of the character – he is not meant to be understood. Much like Batman, he has dehumanised himself, divested himself of his civilian identity and made himself an entity, chaos incarnate even. Unlike, say, Magneto or Sinestro, Joker’s lack of humanity is what makes him attractive as a character for a reader to gravitate towards.
Having said that, the movie is excellent, technically, aesthetically and most especially in each performance. I am absolutely on board if DC plan to make more of this sort of movie and focus what they probably do much better than Marvel: