Remember how Jared Leto’s Joker had the word “damaged” tattooed on his forehead? Remember when Health Ledger’s Joker gleefully made a pencil “disappear”? Yeah, well, nothing like that happens in the upcoming Joker — and that’s sort of the point.
Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the character doesn’t fully shed his everyday stand-up comedian persona, Arthur Fleck, until the explosive final act. Before that moment, there is nothing celebratory or calculated or even particularly absurd about this Joker’s incremental acts of violence. Unlike the other versions before, Fleck has no preternatural evil inside of him, just frustrated longing and mental illness.
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In other words, Joker doesn’t feel like any of the superhero movies that came before it. It drips with arthouse seriousness and unabashed provocation. Except it’s packaged as part of the extended Batman mythology, and will certainly reach a much wider audience than any traditional indie movie of its type would. But is this a good thing?
The real question is, will the Joker change the fate of superhero movies?