Joker ★★

Joker is neither the masterpiece nor travesty it’s been hyped as, and is an appropriate film to see after Jojo Rabbit since both are works that suffer from little courage of their muddy convictions. Each are tepid, punch-pullers that surprise only in that how anyone could truly love (or hate) them as much the critical discussion and box office returns seem to indicate.

If anything, Joker is a case study in how external context can warp cultural perceptions. It’s real accomplishment is the cynical stoking of our already polarized socio-political climate. In any other age Joker would be received as a fairly well-executed comic book origin story and nothing more. Doesn’t anyone remember that the character was conceived from the beginning as an anarchic psychopath? Where was all this hand-wringing over Heath Ledger’s Joker performance in Christopher Nolan’s (also highly overrated) The Dark Knight?

I blame Nolan most for conflating comic book fantasy and real life in his Batman films, so it’s no surprise that Todd Phillips thought he might graduate from the purile juvenilia of his earlier work with a *serious* take on a character that has always been the most comical of comic book characters. I’m no Marvel universe enthusiast but at least these films don’t pretend to be anything more than super-CGI-charged adolescent entertainment. It’s ironic that Joker pushes white male incel fanboy-ism to an extreme since it’s this contingent that, arguably, has wrought the wholesale devouring of movie houses by superhero dreck. (If only that irony were intentional, too.)

Phoenix’s performance is certainly accomplished—when is he ever not good?—but he’s stranded by Phillips’ indecision around if Joker is a revisionist Taxi Driver or just another episode of the Gotham TV series. So of course he’ll still win the Oscar on Sunday. Adam Sandler should be seething.

Speaking of the snubbed Uncut Gems, if its Daniel Lopatin soundtrack is going to get passed over by Academy voters, too, at least Hildur Guðnadóttir’s for Joker is a shoe-in to win. It’s the best thing about the film.

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