Invincible is an Amazon Original series based on the groundbreaking comic book from Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead. The story revolves around 17-year-old Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), who’s just like every other guy his age — except his father is the most powerful superhero on the planet, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons).
The hour-per-episode series also stars Sandra Oh, Zazie Beetz, Gillian Jacobs, Zachary Quinto, Jason Mantzoukas, Melise, Mark Hamill, Mahershala Ali, Seth Rogen, and more. The first three episodes are coming to Prime Video on March 26, with weekly releases through April 30 after that.
So honestly I did not know what to expect when I purchased my Joker ticket. I had heard that it was great and earth-shattering. I had also heard it was pretty terrible. So you see why I had to go see it for myself, right?
The first thing that made me nervous was pulling up to the theater and seeing parked police cars. And when you think of why they had to be there, it made the whole experience even more surreal. My safety, as well as other moviegoers, were at risk. Because not everyone going to this movie would be sound of mind. And when you think about the public shootings…well… you can appreciate my growing concern.
Did I find this movie to be amazing? A masterpiece? No. Joaquin Phoenix did an AMAZING job in portraying arguably the most iconic comic book villain ever. Soooo creepy with those glassy, intense eyes set underneath those dark eyebrows, and he was so painfully skinny. His ribcage was a sight. He clearly lost weight for the role and it showed! Now, there were times when you sympathized with him. Clearly suffering from mental illness, and bullied by an unforgiving world, would certainly mess you up. That is not in question. It is what he does later on that doesn’t quite have you cheering him on. Deep down, you were glad he, I dunno, found himself?
I can’t and won’t pretend to know what if feels like to have one’s mind brimming and seething like a cauldron of negative thoughts. I can’t. And won’t allow myself to sink that low when it would be so easy to reach the bottom as Joker did. He had a mind of eels, a basket of drowned kittens. And all of what I said would have made him laugh. And can we talk about his laugh? Maybe we shouldn’t. I would hate to have nightmares….
He disturbed me. I would flinch and gasp with each outburst, as they increasingly grew more and more violent. The children’s hospital scene made me gasp then laugh then I had to cover my mouth. I wanted to hug him, but then he would have slit my throat… so no. He NEEDED to be institutionalized.
I felt uneasy whenever he had to interact with people but especially the black women in this movie. Example such as his social worker and the effervescent Sophie Dumond played by Zazie Beetz. I didn’t want the love story to blossom. I didn’t want her to even look at him and catch his crazy eye. But every good story needs conflict, right? Especially when you already know the horrible ending… I just wasn’t here for this poor unfortunate black women dealing with the white tears of a clown.
There’s a scene, in particular, that gave me chills. The Joker is standing on the curb and a car drives by with a man wearing a clown mask. They make eye contact. And Joker widens his eyes with the most disturbing smile on his face. I don’t know if I can look at Phoenix in the same way again.
Seeing Robert DeNiro was a treat. I loved him as the late night talk show host role as Murray Franklin. There’s something about the outro song that reminded me of SNL. It’s very jazzy and bluesy. And one of my other personal faves, Frances Conroy as Joker’s mom Penny, was a treat. She has such range as an actress. I’ve seen her as mortician’s widow, the angel of death, and now as the mother of the most insane criminal in the literary world.
Anyway, I am not going to make this into a thinkpiece. As
always, I wanted to share how I felt when seeing this. It was visceral,
intense, and a proper origin story to one of my favorite characters. To borrow
a phrase from a song:
“Everybody loves a winner so nobody loved me”
I can’t help but feel that is applicable to the sad, twisted, loveless tale of the Joker. He said life was a comedy. But most comedies are tragic. He needed help and no one cared enough to do so. He snapped while still smiling so hard his muscles ached and strained until his eyes watered. Still he smiled. This is not the tale of an underdog. This a tale of a man who laughed last.
Joker is a schizophrenic film. I’m loathe to use that term because it’s both a bit too on the nose (because of mental health issues explored in the film) and the term schizophrenia is largely misunderstood. However, it’s the best description (literally “split head”) of what is a gripping and gritty but at the same time somehow both banal, disturbing and irresponsible film.
In that way it is very much like its protagonist and the comics character he is based on. But the film also tries to draw from such a deep well of other films (better films) that it’s really hard to fully recommend to people when they’re probably better off just going back to the original source material.
Let’s start with the good. Joker is trying to present a complex character of someone who has been largely marginalized by society and essentially indicts the system that led to his emergence as a supervillain. I get that, and I really respect it, but I also wish it had just been done better. It’s also hard to feel bad for someone who is at their core a sociopath as we see someone falling down into that rabbit hole through escalating acts of violence. Some of them are warranted but most of them not.
Joaquin Phoenix does a great job here in presenting the multiple different layers of this character. The physicality alone he brings here is astounding and part of what makes this film so visceral and so (intentionally) unpleasant. The film also makes him a great classic unreliable narrator, so you’re left wondering how much of the film is real and how much might be delusional. However, you have to ask yourself, how much sympathy do we really need to give to a psychopath? This film doesn’t offer any good conclusions to that question.
To the extent this film inspires conversations about mental health care and the systemic ways in which we fail people on the margins of society, that is a good thing. To the extent that it inspires us to discuss growing income inequality and the marginalization of the poor and the true class warfare — the 1% beating down the disadvantaged — then those are good conversations.
The problem is that the film will also inspire other conversations that will be far less nuanced and will take all of the wrong messages from this film. These messages will inspire violence, creating more heat than light. That is ultimately this film’s downfall is that it has no sense of responsibility for what it is unleashing into the culture.
WARNING: The following contains very minorSPOILERS. They are not major plot points but includes a single line of dialogue, a discussion of songs used in the film, and how Joker draws from other films. If you’re familiar with those films, knowing their plots may be considered “spoilers” for how this film lays out its plot. However, I maintain none of these will actually spoil your enjoyment of the film. If anything, hopefully, it inspires some critical conversations. BUT if you don’t want to know these, skip to the final 2 paragraphs. Ok, minor “spoilers”:
In this same way, Joker as a character tries to absolve himself of all responsibility for the effects his actions have on society, eg, that he has inspired others to engage in violence. He doesn’t see himself as the leader of any sort of movement, even going so far as to say “I’m not political.” That statement is the Rosetta Stone for understanding why this film is flawed. In its heart of hearts, it probably believes this.
Furthermore, this is likely writer and director Todd Phillips giving himself an out and abrogating any personal responsibility for how others might interpret his film– in essence re-enacting the final act of the film where Joker goes on tv and uses the power of the media to spread his gospel of violence and nihilism.
Joker doesn’t care whether he’s inspiring people in the streets or not. He’s not a savior or a leader. But angry, disaffected people will listen to his message and go out and commit atrocities.
So, no, you don’t get to just say, “This isn’t political.” That is the mantra of privilege because you know that the effects of what you are putting out there into the culture is never going to personally affect you.
This film is political in the same way all the best art is political. Its best pieces and moments indict entire systems and ways of thinking. It exposes the corruption and indifference of a society who turns its back on the people who most need help. So saying it’s not political is both a cop-out and completely negates all the positive you’ve created.
Needless to say, this very specific moment in October of 2019, this film feels wholly irresponsible to put into the cultural zeitgeist. I have never worried about widespread mass shootings happening at screenings of any other film, even given the crowds Star Wars and Avengers were always going to attract. But I really worry about this weekend. Todd Phillips would have been far better to simply crank out another tired Hangover sequel and give us all a few laughs, even if they weren’t politically correct ones.
Which brings us to Phillips saying he stopped making comedy because he’s tired of “woke” culture. Bad news, Todd, there’s plenty of woke takes on dramas and comic book movies as well. Joker deserves all of the woke takes it can get, and I’m especially interested in hearing from black female critics about the treatment of Zazie Beetz‘s character in the film. By the way, Beetz’s performance is astounding, and every bit as good and layered as Phoenix’s, even though she gets 1/15th the screen time and 1/20th of the lines and character development.
The treatments and marginalization of other women of color in this film is also a great topic for discussion. We also see 0 representation and therefore a complete erasure of Latinx and Asian characters of any kind.
And because one good woke take deserves another, much ado has also been made about the inclusion of a song by Gary Glitter in a scene later in the film where Joker is dancing on a stairway, which can be seen in the trailer.
In so many ways, the inclusion of Gary Glitter on the soundtrack is incredibly on-brand for the film. It represents either complete ignorance of the fact that Glitter has been a known pedophile for decades, or a complete apathy to that fact.
Perhaps this is an attempt to be knowingly edgy and push people’s buttons in an attempt to troll “cancel culture.” But most likely it is that Phillips is just totally indifferent.
The entire film reeks of a practiced indifference and air of privilege that, ironically, the subject of the film is trying to skewer. Joker falls all over itself in its subtext and talking about how it doesn’t care too much. It, therefore, can’t possibly have the edge and satire it needs to actually say something coherent about an indifferent society that steps over and marginalizes people who have been hurt by the system or forgotten. You literally can’t be both.
The film also begs, borrows and steals from so many other films it becomes tiresome. This is a bad bar band covering hits from the 70s, but instead of singing Journey and Fleetwood Mac, it’s a remake of Scorsese’s King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. Both of those films would fit in many critics’ and organizations’ top 25 list of the greatest films of all time. It’s doubtful Joker will even make it into my top 25 of this year.
You know how most of the Die Hard sequels weren’t actually originally written to be Die Hard? They were just action scripts floating around Hollywood and then someone said, “Take that script for WW3.com, and put John McClane in it. Now it’s Die Hard with a Vengeance.” This movie feels like someone’s script that tried to remake King of Comedy and then someone came along and said: “Let’s make this main character the Joker.”
The other film that gets most name-checked in Joker but has been perhaps the least discussed (the parallels to Scorsese were apparent from the trailers alone, so much so that it’s almost too easy a comparison) is the parallels to Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Joker uses both a scene from the film at a pivotal point in the movie, and also uses its signature song “Smile” as a sort of theme song– so much so that it’s in the trailer.
On the surface, there are some real similarities. Both films are about the marginalization of regular people due to growing inequality. Both films deal with mental health and police brutality as well as crackdowns on organizing/protest movements. The main difference is their endings.
In Modern Times, after 90 minutes of factory work, abuse, a mental breakdown, being arrested, beaten up by the police, losing more jobs, having their dreams taken away from them by the rich and powerful on a couple of different occasions, Chaplain and his gamin girlfriend literally walk into the sunset after saying they can’t give up and never should no matter how many times they’ve been beaten down. They still need to work hard and will eventually come out on top.
Joker conveys the exact opposite message of that, so it feels like such a disservice to such classic a film as Modern Times to so explicitly reference it. It feels more like if Todd Phillips were standing in a movie line talking about Modern Times and Joker, Woody Allen would pull Charlie Chaplin out from behind a sign to say “I heard what you were saying. You know nothing of my work.” (That’s an Annie Hall reference, folks, since we’re talking 1970’s movies. And yes I’m still talking about Woody Allen even though he’s #cancelled.)
Given the ersatz quality of the filmmaking here, would you rather hear the classics played by the crappy bar band, or just pull out your records and listen to the originals? Don’t go see Joker if you haven’t seen King of Comedy. Or Taxi Driver. Or Modern Times. Your time will be better spent on the originals and classics rather than these pale imitations.
All of this is to say that Joker is a complicated and often contradictory mess. But it isn’t wholly bad. The tragedy of it all is that there are moments of sheer brilliance. Despite all my problems with it, I hope the film does incredibly well at the box office to send the signal that DC can/should abandon–for now– the pretext of a shared universe and simply churn out character-driven individual films. And sometimes they can be R-rated and gritty and complex.
And sometimes they can be whatever it is they’re doing in that new Birds of Prey trailer, which is everywhere I want to be. And sometimes it can be James Gunn making a Suicide Squad movie. But my hope is that next time they try to swing for the fences like this with something like Joker, they’ll bring someone more talented than Todd Phillips on to make sure we don’t get a self-contradicting warmed-over-King of Comedy remake with the clown prince of crime somehow shoehorned in.
Director Todd Phillips‘ Joker centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big screen. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. A clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night…but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this gritty character study.
Three-time Oscar nominee Phoenix stars in the titular role alongside Oscar winner Robert De Niro as Franklin. The film also stars Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Marc Maron, Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler, Shea Whigham, Brett Cullen, Douglas Hodge, and Josh Pais.
Oscar nominee Phillips directs from a screenplay he co-wrote with Oscar-nominated writer Scott Silver, based on characters from DC.
Joker comes to theaters nationwide October 4, 2019.
Robert Kirkman‘s Invincible is picking up a hell of a voice cast. The animated Amazon series, the first for Kirkman, has added an impressive amount of talent not just behind the mic but on the screen period.
Steven Yeun, who played Glenn Rhee on Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, will topline the voice cast.
The star packed casst includes J.K. Simmons, Sandra Oh, Seth Rogen (who is attached to the feature film take on Invincible), Gillian Jacobs, Andrew Rannells, Zazie Beetz, Mark Hamill, Walton Goggins, Jason Mantzoukas, Mae Whitman, Chris Diamantopoulos, Melise, Kevin Michael Richardson, Grey Griffin, and Max Burkholder.
The series will launch with either hour long episodes. It’s based on Kirkman’s comic series of the same name which recently ended its run and launched in 2003 running 144 issues. Kirkman created the series with Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley took over on art with the eighth issue.
The story is about Mark Grayson (Yeun) whose father is the most power superhero on the planet, Omni-Man (Simmons). Mark develops powers of his own and learns his father might not be as super as it seems.
Deadpool 2 is a triumph of the genre of R-rated action comedy whose only peers are its predecessor and a few Shane Black movies. The major problem with this is the very obvious comparison to the first, which it doesn’t quite live up to, despite patented “Maximum Effort.”
The first was such a breath of fresh air and countered so many expectations. This is another bloated summer blockbuster sandwiched between Infinity War and Solo, and maybe we’re having a bit of remorse at eating at the all-you-can-geek-buffet of the Summer of 2018. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, after Infinity War’s dour ending, Deadpool 2 is the palate cleanser many of us need.
Enter our anti-hero, Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), who has become a worldwide assassin. But when he reaps the whirlwind from a hit gone wrong, he takes up with his frenemies the X-Men as a trainee. They begin tracking a troubled teenage mutant, who is also being hunted by time travelling mutant Cable (Josh Brolin). To keep up, Deadpool founds his own team called X-Force, and. . . wackiness ensues.
Anyone who owns a trade of Deadpool and Cable knows where this movie is heading, so there shouldn’t be too many shocking plot twists. However, the movie sure takes its time getting there. It starts with an absolutely gonzo bonkers opening, culminating with a James-Bond-style opening credits scene while Celine Dion sings.
Aside — Can we please make sure this is nominated for Best Song for the Oscars?
And then. . . it sure takes its time before getting going again. The middle half of the film is packed full of jokes and even a few cool action setpieces here and there, but it doesn’t ever get back to that place of greatness until its last half hour or so. And then it’s sheer perfection. It tops it all off with the single greatest post credits sequence of all time—worth the price of admission itself.
This begs the question, why pad the middle so much? One of the best parts of the first Deadpool was its all-killer-no-filler pace and leanness. This film felt like it was waiting for something (its sudden but inevitable twist!) to take that next step.
This is also surprising for director David Leitch, whom the credits refer to as “One of the guys who killed John Wick’s dog.” Leitch’s previous work on the John Wick movies and Atomic Blonde show not only a great sense of pace, but also a visual style and flair that is missing from this film. This film felt workmanlike and studio-approved-as-safe, but never pushed any boundaries. And that’s what Deadpool is great at.
Also what Deadpool is great at is understanding he is in a movie. That has never been more clear until Deadpool 2. That humor is front and center in the movie, as Deadpool kills not only every bad guy he comes across, but also mourns the death of Logan, kills himself (multiple times), kills different versions of hmself, kills Ryan Reynolds, and on and on and on. It’s so self-aware, and pushes home that if a Fox-Disney merger goes through, Deadpool will be the king of franchise-skewering and post credits scene massacres and cameos.
And while the film lies pretty squarely on the shoulders of Reynolds and Brolin, the supporting performances are really what make the film. Julian Dennison (who was also in Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople¸which is quickly becoming a major geek nexus) is Russell, our young mutant in need. Like his counterpart in Wilderpeople, he’s more likely to flip you the bird than say thank you, so he’s perfect for Deadpool.
Also pitch perfect is Zazie Beetz, who plays Domino. While Deadpool derides her mutant power of “luck” as being stupid and “not cinematic enough,” it is, in fact, her performance and powers that give the film what visual brilliance and fun it has. Unfortunately, too much of it comes too late in the film, leaving us wondering why we couldn’t have more Domino earlier.
And finally, a moment to talk about Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who it is revealed in this movie, has a girlfriend named Yukio.
Bravo to Fox, who is the first studio to reveal any sort of LGBTQIA superhero on screen in a major superhero franchise. You’d think it wouldn’t have taken this long, but it somehow did. And? It’s treated with such a non-plussed attitude, it’s refreshing. Yes she has a girlfriend. No, it’s not a big deal. At all. And isn’t that how it should be?
So this is a really fun film. It starts strong, then takes a nap for about 45 minutes while it churns through all of the plot, and then gets really great again. Deadpool fans will get everything they want and more. And it makes you even more amped for sequels featuring Cable, Domino, and everyone else.