Comic book movies, for the most part, play to a specific formula. There’s the classic origin, a fairly stereotypical bad guy, maybe a love interest, an action-packed finale and, of course, a happy ending with the hero riding off into the sunset.
As time goes on, however, the medium has adapted and changed to continue to draw in audiences. From the gut-wrenching cliff-hanger ending of Avengers: Endgame to the more down-to-Earth, gritty tone of Logan, the films are trying to push boundaries a little.
Joker puts every single one to shame. It throws all the rules out the window. It knows viewers expected something different and yet still defies any expectations one can have going into the theatre. It takes a comic book villain, not even a hero, and crafts a cinematic piece of art that has the capability to contend with any movie that may be at the next Academy Awards.
The most amazing aspect of the whole movie is that, if you didn’t know about the Joker or anything about Batman before seeing it, you wouldn’t know it was a comic book film at all. It’s presented as this gritty, edge of your seat, character study of a man and his struggles with mental illness. You get to watch his fall while falling in love with him. You feel his pain, his struggles and almost root for his descent into madness and the chaos it brings, because it feels deserved.
The cinematography? Stunning. The plot? Phenomenally intricate and carefully written. The actors? Amazing performances all around. But Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is the best of the best, even compared to Robert De Niro’s acting in the film.
Not since Heath Ledger has an actor committed to a role like Phoenix did for this film. No, not even Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise in It. Phoenix becomes Arthur Fleck and, in turn, becomes the Joker. From the drastic weight loss, to the laugh, to the tortured, yet somehow innocent personality that comes out of him in every scene, he’s this fantastic mix of horrifying and stunning. He isn’t just acting, he’s putting everything he has in him into this character.
It’s impossible to even compare his Joker to any other Joker before him. He has a laugh inspired by Mark Hamill, yet it’s distinctly his own and worked as an actual condition Arthur Fleck has. He has the darkness of Heath Ledger, but draws back considerably in terms of the maniacal comedy, at least before the conclusion. He crafts a realistic and unique interpretation of Joker never before seen, and most likely never to be seen again. His comic book part ends up becoming a breathtaking look into the mind of a man tortured by mental illness and society’s rejection.
While it’s great that references to Gotham or Bruce Wayne’s origins are mixed into the movie, it’s even better that you almost don’t notice them. Joker takes the comic book genre and flips it upside down. The film is something that’s never been done before, opening the doors to countless possibilities and experimentations when it comes to interpretations of comic book heroes and villains moving forward.
It really is a masterpiece in filmmaking, through and through. It’s a film that needs to be experienced, as everyone can walk away with their own version of what they got from the movie. And it’s a film that needs to be seen to show the lengths that comic book movies can be taken to, and how they can be so much more than just billion-dollar blockbusters.
Jackson Horvat is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Jackson by tweeting him at @horvatjackson.