Joker

2019

Dir. Todd Phillips

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy

Joker is a movie. Is it a good movie? Is it a great movie? I don’t know. Do I like it? No. No, I don’t like this movie, and it has taken me awhile to try and figure out why. I sat in the cinema, glued to the screen, and felt… empty?  The film looked like a film I would like, Joaquin Phoenix puts in one hell of a performance, it’s based on an IP that I am a fan of, and yet… empty. The answer to my plight is simple, I felt empty because the film is empty. I have no other way to describe it. I feel like it’s hard to be critical of the film, it’s well made, and in terms of craftsmanship it’s top notch, so you have to scratch deeper, go beyond the celluloid, see whats under the surface…
Nothing. There is nothing here. You’re left falling through darkness, a vast vacuum of nothingness. What is Todd Phillips trying to say with this movie? Nothing. Why does Joker do certain things? No reason. Is what we’re seeing real or a fantasy? It doesn’t matter. It’s empty. It’s an empty shell of a film that just happens to look good, and have a fantastic performance at its centre. It may seem harsh to judge a comic book movie this deeply, but this is not a comic book movie. Whether you agree with Martin Scorsese’s comments about Marvel movies not being cinema, and just being theme park rides doesn’t matter. What’s cinema and what’s not cinema is a debate for another day. I know personally, I have to look at Marvel movies with a different critical eye than I do other movies. I judge them on pure enjoyment, and don’t really mind if they reflect society, or tell me something about the human condition. I go into them with different expectations. Joker, though asks you to go in with different expectations, higher expectations. It’s not a comic book movie, there are no superheroes. There are references to the comics, but that’s it. There’s even debate raging over whether he actually is the character from the comics, or more of a proto-joker. Joker places itself next to cinematic greats such as Taxi Driver, King Of Comedy, and even Requiem For A Dream. It’s taken their style, but none of their substance.
The world of Joker is a cruel world. Gotham is designed to look like New York in the 70’s/80’s, invoking the films of Scorsese. Arthur Fleck, played by Phoenix, is an outsider. He lives in small dank flat with his ill mother. He has mental disabilities of his own. A head injury which has left him with a nervous tick, an annoying laugh whenever he is upset or nervous. The world just keeps beating him down. No one offers a helping hand, and after an attack on Arthur ends violently, Arthur finds that he is empowered by these acts of violence. I don’t want to spoil anymore for those who haven’t seen it, but what follows is a mixture of rich vs poor, mental illnesses, cuts to social departments, riots, bullying and murders. This all comes to culmination when Arthur is invited onto his favourite talk show, after he is mocked by the presenter, played by Robert De Niro, after one of Arthur’s stand up routines went viral. 
What does director Todd Phillips whats me to take away from this movie? I don’t know, and to be honest, judging by the interviews he has given around the movie, I don’t think he knows. He has undoubtedly put together a well made movie. The cinematography and set design are stunning, and the casting of Joaquin Phoenix is a masterstroke. This is one of the best performances I have ever seen on screen. The problem all lies in story. The story is not strong enough, there is not enough deeper meaning or subtext to it. Take the final speech as an example, it offers nothing, no profound statement, just a way to bludgeon the audience over the head with points which should be obvious to anyone who has just watched the last 2 hours. It could be that Phillips sees his Joker as the ultimate vision of insanity and anarchy, forged by a cruel society that doesn’t care about him, but to what end is never made clear.
The Joker works so well as a Batman villain as they are both two sides of the same coin. The problem here is we only get one side. It means that we are forced to try and feel sympathy, or at least pity for someone we don’t want to relate to. We see the film through his eyes, and through that viewpoint his actions are seen as almost heroic. In an almost Death Wish kind of way we are supposed to feel like his victims deserve what comes to them. I personally don’t think films should have to be responsible for the way that people react to them, but this film feels like its provocative for the sake of provocation. Like everything else on screen its just set dressing, all hiding the fact that the emperor is wearing no clothes. 

Justice League

2017, Uncategorized

Dir. Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams

It’s a bit of a mess. There’s no getting around that fact. It reportedly cost $300 million dollars, had extensive reshoots, two different directors, and, following a poor response for Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice, a huge amount of course correction. The fact that it kind of works is probably the best compliment I can give it.

After the events of BVS:DOJ, and the death of Superman, Ben Affleck’s Batman/Bruce Wayne senses a coming threat and decides to unite a team of Superheroes. This team includes Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman/Diana Prince, Ezra Miller’s The Flash/Barry Allen, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman/Arthur Curry, and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg/Victor Stone. If that list of characters seems long, that’s because it is, and the film feels like it has 4 different openings, and we are introduced to all of the Superheroes and their alter-egos. The coming danger soon reveals itself to be Steppenwolf, a new god, who is hell bent on uniting 3 motherboxes. Three boxes which when united will turn the world into a living hell. These three boxes have been entrusted with Woner Woman’s Amazons, Aquaman’s Atlantians, and humans.

Saying anything more may be seen as a spoiler, so I’ll try to sum up what I thought worked in the movie. The best parts about Justice League are when it’s just the main characters being themselves and interacting with each other. Gal Gadot again proves her worth as Wonder Woman, a real shining light in the darkness which has been the DC movie universe. Both Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller make strong impressions as Aquaman and The Flash, riffing off each other and their other team mates, and providing moments of levity which has been missing is this universe. The film is also pretty short for a superhero movie, clocking in at just 2 hours, it never feels like it drags. The change of tone from BVS is welcome, it works with the new characters, but I feel it was a mistake with Ben Afflecks Batman, who doesn’t feel as strong here as he did in BVS. The change of tone also refers to the colour palette, which makes his costume look pretty awful.

There is a lot in this movie. Packed into the two hour run time we have the introduction of three new heroes, including the introduction of a whole new underwater world, there classic character cameos, such as Commisioner Gordon, a bad guy whose history needs to be explained and then be taken down, and of course the team up of the Justice League. It’s a lot to take in, and with that there is a lot that doesn’t work. Cyborg for one thing is never fully explained, and the character barely registers in the movie. The CGI on this half human, half machine face, meant that I couldn’t tell when it was the actual actor and when it was fully CG. In fact the CGI throughout the film is all over the place. You have superman’s CGI upper lip which becomes extremely off putting, whole CGI towns and armies which mean that the action scenes lose any sense of weight. This is especially apparent in the required climatic battle which could be substituted with any other climatic battle you’ve seen this year, just with worse graphics. It’s also clear that DC and Warner Bros. haven’t figured out how to portray Atlantis yet, with the brief scene set their being majorly underwhelming.

The biggest problem with this film though is the villain. Steppenwolf is the worst villain in any superhero movie. He has the characterisation of a PlayStation One villain, with the graphics to match. Most the time he is just standing their, spouting off vaguely threatening remarks, and any interaction he has with our heroes come across as though they were taken directly out of a video game. He is there to drive the plot forwars and this plot is flimsy at best.

It’s hard not to compare this with the first Avengers film. That film was the culmination of a six film plan from Marvel, finally uniting their separate franchises. Justice League should have felt like an event movie, but instead felt more like the pilot episode. This is the fifth film in to the DC universe, and we should expect better. If they want their audience to continue to follow these connected movies they need to show us that they have a plan, because at the moment it feels like they are making it up as they go along, and it’s not quite working.

4/10

On a side note, one thing that I found funny was the janitor at the beginning. There’s a close up of him, a black haired clean shaven guy, where we can see his photo identification pass. The guy on the pass is clearly not him, as it’s a white haired guy with a beard. Cut to a scene later and the pass has changed to the correct one. Only minor, but I found it funny, especially when this pass popped up in a later scene.