Joker was not one of the 100 greatest movies to review on our list, but TheBloke (TM) wanted to watch it for his birthday. So I thought I may as well tell you my thoughts, as I expect the world has been waiting on tenterhooks.
I don’t like superhero movies. At all. I know they’re very fashionable and everything at the moment, but I just don’t get it. I quite liked Kickass, and I didn’t hate Deadpool, but basically action sequences sort of make me switch off, and before I’ve realised it, I’ve planned dinner for the next three nights and completely lost track of the plot, or who has punched whom.
So, at first, I was pleasantly surprised by Joker. The film passed swiftly, and I enjoyed it well enough at the time. Joaquin Phoenix is clearly a strong actor. I particularly liked the fact that – had you not known this was taking part in the Batman universe – it wasn’t really a superhero movie at all. It could absolutely be viewed as one man’s descent into madness, and all the things that led him there: childhood abuse, budget cuts to mental health services, bloody women. etc. etc.
And here’s the crux. Bloody women. Whilst the movie didn’t blame Joker‘s murdery spree on women, and, indeed, he was let down by men and women alike, it was just so navel-gazey. We were encouraged, as an audience, to think about what is it about society that lets down our most vulnerable people. Oh – no, wait a minute, we weren’t. We were encouraged to think about what society it is that lets down our most vulnerable men.
As I’m not a follower of the superhero genre, I asked a friend earlier this week if she could imagine a female villain in the superhero world being given such a thoughtful “explanatory” backstory for their evil. She said not, and pointed me towards a movie out this week (one which I hadn’t even heard of) called Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. I asked if this was an equally dark, introspective look at mental illness, and was the lead actor up for an Oscar?
Apparently not. The film has been panned and – apparently – is a standard superhero action-type movie. Women’s motives aren’t so important apparently. They are either pissed off, or just born evil. They don’t get an Oscar-nominated long look at themselves and their mental illness. Even if they’re evil, they have to be hot. I don’t think many people would argue that Phoenix’s rendition of Joker was supposed to be attractive.
So whilst Joker passed the time well enough, if you ignore the Batman universe, it was just another dark movie about descent into mental illness, but done with less panache than others I could mention (Girl, Interrupted, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Alternatively, watching it in the context of the Batman movies, using it to underscore why villains become villains, it just underlines how differently men and women are treated by Hollywood.