Following its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, the first Joker reviews have made their way online. Todd Phillips made a Joker movie without Batman. However, it sounds like any skeptics of Phillips’ plans should prepare to eat crow. You can check out a few highlights below.
IGN’s Jim Vejvoda scored the film with a perfect “10” and hailed it as a “masterpiece.” In addition to singling out Phoenix’s performance as “riveting,” he also praised the movie’s depiction of Gotham City. He wrote, “While this realistic depiction makes a place that’s typically fantastical seem familiar, it’s not just the recognizable setting that gives Joker its hyper-realism; it’s what it’s allegorically about that makes the movie so believable, timely, and worth talking about long after the credits roll. Joker is a period piece but it is undeniably about our own troubled, relentlessly violent time.”
Phillips has spoken candidly about how the film doesn’t pay much attention to the Batman mythos. But according to The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney, Joker is “very much tethered to the superhero universe and intersects in ways both familiar and not with canonical Batman lore.” Still, he suggested that it could also resonate with casual moviegoers who don’t usually partake in the superhero genre. Rooney went on to describe the film as “a neo-noir psychological character study grounded in urban alienation.” Additionally, he called it “the best Batman-adjacent movie since The Dark Knight.”
Deadline’s Pete Hammond was arguably the most plainspoken of the bunch. He found Phoenix’s performance “so dazzling risky and original you might as well start engraving his name on the Oscar right now.” Although he called the film “uncomfortable to watch,” he conceded that it “says much about our treatment of the mentally ill.”
IndieWire’s David Ehrlich also compared Joker to The Dark Knight and suggested that “superhero movies will never be the same.” Furthermore, he observed that it’s so indebted to Martin Scorcese’s work that he “probably deserves an executive producer credit.” In contrast with Warner Brothers’ chiefest rival, “Joker is the human-sized and adult-oriented comic book movie that Marvel critics have been clamoring for.” Despite Ehrlich’s praise for Phillips and company’s inventiveness, he felt the film only warranted a C+ grade. He also considered it to be derivative of Phoenix’s previous roles.
Variety’s Owen Gleiberman also took note of Joker’s real-world parallels. He labeled Arthur Fleck as “a pathetic specimen of raw human damage,” but one we’re meant to feel sympathy for. Phoenix’s character is “at the dark heart of every scene” and “stays true to the desperate logic of Arthur’s unhappiness.” Gleiberman also chimed in with his belief that Joker solves a major problem with the comic book movie landscape. “What we do need — badly — are comic-book films that have a verité gravitas, that unfold in the real world. So that there’s something more dramatic at stake than whether the film in question is going to rack up a billion-and-a-half dollars worldwide.”
Going against the consensus, TIME’s Stephanie Zacharek wasn’t as impressed with Phoenix’s portrayal. She commented, “He has often been, and generally remains, a superb actor. Just not here.”
Zacharek also criticized the movie’s apparent lack of a plot. “It’s more like a bunch of reaction GIFs strung together…The movie’s cracks — and it’s practically all cracks — are stuffed with phony philosophy.”
“Joker is dark only in a stupidly adolescent way,” added Zacharek. “But it wants us to think it’s imparting subtle political or cultural wisdom.”
RELATED: Joker Has Officially Been Rated R
Writing for The Guardian, Xan Jones gave the film five stars. He compared Arthur Fleck with Scorcese protagonists like Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) and Rupert Pupkin (The King of Comedy). Robert DeNiro portrayed both roles, and he has a supporting part in Joker. Jones suggests that Phillips’ may have “brazenly plundered” Scorcese’s filmography. Regardless, the director “fashions stolen ingredients into something new. So that what began as a gleeful cosplay session turns progressively more dangerous – and somehow more relevant, too.”
In another five-star review, Empire’s Terri White highlighted Phoenix’s physical transformation for the role. She wrote, “His physicality is precise — the way he moves, shuffles, runs, sits, smokes, shrinks. His usual intensity is on full display and it’s captivating, even overwhelming in moments.”
White also declared that “comparing him to Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson feels like a nonsense…It’s a character and a movie that’s liberated, entirely. Free to be whatever and whomever it choose.”
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