'Joker' Review: A Gritty Origin Story With As Many Flaws As Arthur Fleck
Before any of us see a single frame of Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’ we’re already well aware of the film’s many plaudits and long-standing critical acclaim. Even our own prior articles have covered the fact that ‘Joker’ received an eight minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, or that it also took home the Golden Lion, the festival’s award for best film.
Depending on the competition, such illustrious awards may very well be warranted. But over time, Joker’s general reception seemed to falter, starting with the movie losing out to Taika Waititi’s 'Jojo Rabbit' at the Toronto International Film Festival. Even now, ‘Joker’ is only garnering a 69% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 58 on Metacritic. Frankly, we don’t disagree.
For as much as we appreciate the grittiness and stripped-down nature of the film, which represents a welcomed departure from the typical superhero/supervillain genre (or action genre in general), the movie simply has too many flaws to earn our outright acclaim.
For example, a lot of the gratuitous violence just doesn’t feel organic. Instead, it feels like Phillips knew he needed to show some gruesomeness—or perhaps he just wanted to ramp up the shock factor—so he wedged a few bloody scenes into the script. Worse, a lot of the scenes were shot using a distinct color filter, making it feel as though we were watching a movie-within-a-movie, which itself provided an emotional filter distancing us from the story unfolding on screen.
Lastly, leading up to this weekend, more than a handful of people have made comparisons between ‘Joker’ and Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver.’ Sure, Todd Phillips borrows a lot of imagery from the classic, especially the handgun gesture Arthur Fleck uses all too often. But if the same people are comparing the two in terms of quality and merit, they are severely overselling ‘Joker,’ severely underselling ‘Taxi Driver,’ or both.