The latest shot to be fired in the DC Comics movie universe, Joker, must be given credit for one thing at least. It’s the first comic book film to center itself around an iconic villain as opposed to what we’re used to seeing, namely good conquering all and so on and so forth. That’s certainly not the case with this one and those looking for a cheerful, feel-good superhero film carrying a positive message certainly won’t find it here. In fact, a more apt description of the film would be that it’s the feel-bad superhero event of its year. At least you’ve been warned.

As a movie going experience, Joker, hits a bullseye on at least one level. That would be in its lead performance by Joaquin Phoenix. Admittedly, those are big shoes to fill when you consider the pedigree of actors who have tackled the Joker role in the past and Phoenix more than amply fills those shoes. He certainly won’t replace fond memories of posthumous Oscar winner Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight but he’s certainly in the ballpark. Add to that the fact that Phoenix brings all of his noted eccentricities as an actor to the part and it proves to be quite a showcase. A scene wherein the Joker character sleeps inside a refrigerator is but one of the examples I could cite along with the character’s inappropriate laughter that crops up at the most inopportune times.

Writer-director Todd Phillips seems more content in making this super hero film a character study of an alienated man who just happens to become something of a legend and for all the wrong reasons. Phillips’ homages to the much superior Taxi Driver, are all over the film, right down to the casting of Robert De Niro in a pivotal role. As a peek inside of a disturbed man’s psyche it admittedly sometimes works. Unfortunately, for everything it achieves in its psychological depictions of a disturbed man it totally misses the mark in terms of offering anything new or inventive in the storytelling department.

The basic story is something we’ve seen before and offers few surprises, much to the overall detriment of the film. Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is a clown by trade, has no significant other and lives at home with his ailing mother (Frances Conroy). His greatest aspiration is to be a celebrated stand up comic and appear as a guest on a late night talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (De Niro). In the interim he becomes a vigilante and finds some disturbing info about his childhood that’s been hidden for most of his life. This all comes together in a finale wherein Arthur finally gets his wish, in a convoluted plot point, to appear on Franklin’s show and that’s where things take a nasty turn.

Phillips stylizes his film nearly to death but it is certainly refreshing to see a director churning out a superhero film who knows the mechanics of film. Joker may not be perfect and goes on at least a good twenty minutes too long but it’s an interesting misfire with a terrific performance at its center.

Joker is playing everywhere.
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