This review is of the edited TV-14 version of the film below. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version may be more negative
Making a movie with the villain as the main character is always a rather tricky thing to try and accomplish. You either go the route of trying to make the villain sympathetic so you can root for him or you go all in on just making him evil. It’s such a tough balance that it’s usually not even worth making the attempt. With the Joker of all characters you already know him as one of the most evil villains in the Batman series so this is certainly a very different portrayal. Ultimately it doesn’t work as the film just seems to be a never ending story of bad things happening to everyone.
The movie starts by introducing us to the Joker who is an aspiring comedian. Currently he works as a clowns but it’s a rough city and things don’t work out from the start. His sign is stolen and then he’s beaten up in an alley. The job threatens to fire him for losing the sign and then Joker makes the big mistake of taking a gun to a children’s hospital by mistake. It does come in handy when he is attacked on the subway as he murders the three attackers but now his life is in a tailspin. He begins to learn things about his origin that he never knew and funding is cut off for social services so he no longer has pills to keep his laughing condition in check. Now it’s time for him to become a full villain and take down the city.
Right away I can tell you the film’s biggest weakness is how hopeless it all is. The movie is really just about how bad a place Gotham is. Bad things happen to Joker and everyone else at pretty much all moments in the film. Joker, Thomas Wayne, Murray, Randall, Penny, two random detectives, everyone gets a bad hand in the film. There’s no one who walks away from this with a really happy ending except for Sophie and even then I wouldn’t say it’s super happy either since she’s probably going to have to move or may just feel terrified for a while assuming she made it out of the film.
Joker starts off as a sympathetic character since he is trying hard to be a comedian but it never works out for him. People mock him and his laughing condition makes it hard to hold a conversation at times since it can get triggered at any time. The first two people he murdered were certainly in self defense so I wouldn’t hold those against him at all. You definitely need to fight back in such a scenario and if anything it would have been nice if he had gotten up to defend the lady rather than the situation ultimately happening because he stayed back. The third guy who ran away is definitely more on the iffy side since he was no longer a threat and was running away. It makes sense to bump him off in case he could ID Joker later on but at that point it’s more to protect his own skin.
The rest of the murders in this film are completely on Joker and show how deranged he is. Joker definitely had a complete decent into being a psychotic villain by the end. You know it’s coming the whole time since this is a film about the Joker but the issue with having a villain who is so unrelentingly evil as the lead is that there is nobody to root for. If you look at some of the best villains out there like Eren Yeager, Light Yagami, Venom, or Thanos, they worked well as leads or co-leads because their goals at least made a lot of sense. In a way Light and Thanos even had good goals of saving people in a broad sense but went the wrong way about trying to improve the world and as such became complete villains.
You’re rooting for them to be stopped but at least you understand why they are doing all of this. With Joker he pretty much admits that he is just seeking out revenge against everyone who has wronged him and is just enjoys the insanity of it all. You’re not rooting for him to win at all here and his scenes can just be painful to watch. Ultimately while he blames all of the other characters for everything, some moments are his fault as well like bringing the gun to the hospital and letting Murray rile him up. The guy was clearly mocking him so Joker could have either decided not to go or to use that opportunity to prove himself anyway rather than trying to become a symbol and start a movement even if he claimed that is not what he wanted to do.
Joker was just an awful lead here and I don’t see this Joker being one of the better versions even down the road. I much prefer the classic Joker origin where he was a random bank robber who fell into the acid and became Joker. He just went from villain to super villain rather than it being Gotham which broke him down and sped up his descent into madness. As for the other characters, well Randall is a mean colleague who makes fun of his co-workers height and is generally a rather toxic person. He is quick to lie and manipulate others. You know he’s not going to make it out of this the instant that he appears.
Then you have Murray who loves making jokes at other people’s expense. He has created a whole career out of it. Joker was even a big fan of his until the jokes began to be about him. Again this is where Joker loses more sympathy points because of course he doesn’t mind others getting mocked but when it’s about him then it’s a whole lot different. Next on the list of characters is Thomas Wayne who wants to be mayor but has a complete disconnect with the people of Gotham.
I have to assume that he is planning to buy the election because otherwise he is doing absolutely nothing to win new votes. He makes fun of these guys and calls them clowns as well as goes out of his way to antagonize them at every corner. The movie presents him as a rather arrogant man who is so full of himself that he doesn’t see what’s right in front of him. I forgot we were going to squeeze in the origin here so that was unexpected. This version of Thomas appears quite unsympathetic compared to most but of course as we’re only seeing some instances from Joker’s perspective here, it’s likely not the full story.
Joker’s mother Penny also gets a decent sized role. Like Joker she has her own issues which seem to due with memory loss at first but later on we see that she is also quite crazy. Joker doesn’t see the complete irony of trying to get revenge on her later on since she likely doesn’t even remember the past and seems to believe her own delusions here. Also, she is completely powerless when they have their final confrontation and it’s got to be the worst scene in the movie. Her backstory is really gritty of course as the film continues to pile on.
The only decent character in the whole movie outside of quick cameos is Sophie. She’s Joker’s neighbor and they have a brief meeting in the elevator where she tries to be friendly but Joker doesn’t talk back at all. I guess he was worried about the laughing starting up so he kept his distance but she gave him the benefit of the doubt on a second occasion when she noticed him following her. Considering we’re in Gotham that’s a scary feeling but she didn’t immediately call the cops or get people to beat him up. She really did her best and so I’m glad she at least made it out of this. I would have interpreted her as losing her life to be honest but I remember it was a huge deal when the film came out and the director or writer had to come out and confirm she was okay. I don’t see the point of having the ambulance whizz by after the scene though. It’s only purpose is to hint at that but I’m guessing they may want her around for the sequel if we get one.
Either way it’s a good decision because the film is mainly about Joker getting revenge on everyone and she would not be deserving of that considering that she was in his corner. Not as often as he thought given how his delusions work but in her real scenes she was on point. There’s not much to say about effects as this is a more down to Earth film but I did enjoy the jingle from the game show that Murray’s on. It had a catchy beat and the happy tone really made for a great contrast to the rest of the depressing scenes.
Otherwise, prepare for the film to really drag on. There’s no real happy scenes here as the film sets the tone early. From the kids beating Joker up in the intro to the asylum in the end, there is never a scene for you to smile. There’s always something bad happening or about to happen. It’s almost impressive how unrelenting the film is with this approach as you would expect things to start working out even for a little while before the next fall but that’s really never the case. The closest is when Joker’s act starts to succeed and then this is taken away in the next scene.
The film keeps trying to balance whether it’s Gotham that turned an innocent person into the world’s greatest criminal or if he was just unstable and psychotic from the start. It’s hard to say since we’ve just got a small picture into his life but by the end it seems to be leaning towards the latter. His excessive punishment towards everyone who wronged him backs that up at least even if the crime was a long time ago. The city didn’t help of course as Gotham will be Gotham and keeps on sinking. I don’t even see how the custody angle would have worked out after everything in the file to be honest. If there is a Metropolis in this continuity then you should definitely try to get out. Being homeless in Metropolis is likely better than trying to survive in Gotham.
Overall, Joker is really an awful movie that’s extremely mean spirited. This is exactly the kind of scenario you try to avoid when doing a film based on a villain. In fact, this can be the poster film for what I’m talking about when I say how risky it is. You end up having a main character you can’t root for and so you’re rooting for him to be taken down already but since the film is about this villain, you know that’s not happening until the very end if you’re lucky. We see that the Joker is evil throughout but with no real goals or big ideas. He has an awful speech at the end where he blames society and this and that, but at the end of the day it’s all excuses on his part. This was just the origin for Batman’s villain but unfortunately in a world where they are unlikely to do battle. There were no silver linings I could find in this film so I’d definitely say to skip this one.