Over the last 40 years, I have really become very weary of one superhero movie after another.
I have lost track of just how many times Superman has been reimagined since portrayed by the late Christopher Reeves. Truth be known, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with his incarnation of the Man of Steel, but I suppose I was content to be bored by a mediocre movie rather than insulted by an evening’s worth of broadcast television programming.
I must confess that before I had air conditioning, I spent quite a few evenings watching cinematic dreck for no other reason than to find refuge from the oppressive heat and humidity of summer evenings in Perry. With but a few exceptions, I’ve found superhero movies to be rather lame, unimaginative and quite predictable.
Occasionally, someone will say this movie or that movie isn’t so bad but when I go see for myself, I usually walk out, regretting the waste of my money. For Heaven’s sake, it’s Superman this, Superman that, Spiderman this, Spiderman that, Batman this, Batman that and so on and so on.
There are the Marvel Comics heroes and DC Comics heroes, but they all depend upon special effects, cliches and screenplays simple enough for a fourth grader to comprehend and follow. Of course, the producers and directors simply can’t put anything on screen that is too violent or dark for family viewing either. It’s at the point now that even the newer Star Wars and Star Trek movies have become too entirely tedious. But I digress.
Despite all my complaints about the film incarnations of comic characters, Jaoquin Phoenix’s Joker gets my high praise. This is not the goofy Joker of the ’60s farcical “Batman.” This is not the Joker as portrayed by Jack Nicholson. Nicholson’s Joker looked and acted like Jack Nicholson and carried over too many goofy cliches from the TV series as well as the sanitized DC comics of the 1960s.
Heath Ledger’s Joker was a great improvement but was no where near as impetuous and unpredictable a Joker as I conceive the character should be. Ledger’s Joker was entirely too cerebral anyway. You never knew what the Ledger Joker was thinking, but you knew he was thinking.
The latest Joker is nothing like any seen before. You’re not only left to wonder what he is thinking, but you can easily tell he doesn’t know what to think from one moment to the next himself.
Stated simply, Phoenix’s Joker is totally bonkers. He is a victim of heredity and extreme emotional and mental turmoil. Granted, being a victim from birth does not justify asinine and violent behavior later, but the man named Arthur Fleck and his gradual transformation into the Joker is quite understandable.
Fleck is a very disturbed person capable of hideous violence, yet one is not totally unsympathetic toward the man. That being said, while I encourage interested adults to see “Joker,” the movie is quite inappropriate for preteens and all others with relatively weak psyches.
Most of my generation are not only familiar with the off-the-wall, goofy “Batman” TV series. We were also quite acquainted with dark themes as well as Gothic tones and stylings on a daily basis. Yes, I’m talking about “Dark Shadows.” That program was a hybrid of Gothic horror and soap opera that worked well for hundreds of episodes and several seasons.
There was also what I would call the Dark Hippie, a direct ancestor of those who would call themselves Goths decades later. As for myself, I was listening to Gothic music before it was even called that. Not all Goths or even that many Hippies will agree with what I say here: A Goth is often none other than a Hippie with a broken heart.
No one is completely this or that. There are few Flower Children without a darker nature hidden just under the surface. There is no Goth who doesn’t tuck away a little brightness and color inside somewhere.
Regardless, I speak of these things in order to let you know I have a little expertise in the subject of darkness. There are Gothic stylings, as in architecture, wardrobe, audio-visual arts and such, but these are just external things. As regards Batman in cinema, every movie until now has been Gothic on the surface only, with Devito’s Penguin being the only real exception.
Except for the latter, there were no tortured souls really on display. In order to catch the family and teen audience, no anguish could be displayed beyond a certain level. No backstory could be horrid enough to unduly disturb the relatively sensitive viewers.
Such is not the case with this portrayal of the Joker. This movie is not just done in a dark tone with dark themes. Mental and emotional darkness run rampant within this movie. It paints the picture of the Joker as he should really be seen. This Joker is certifiably insane.
Another change in the Bat Universe is quite dark and disturbing as well. By the looks of the fashions, cars and judging by the movie titles placed on the theater marqees of Gotham, I’d say the events dramatized in “Joker” occurred around 1979 or 1980. While Joker is a grown man, Bruce Wayne is depicted as being a young boy of 8 or 10. What’s different here is the Wayne family isn’t cast in a sympathetic light at all. Far from it.
I won’t go into any details other than the family butler, Alfred Pennyworth, is fairly bad tempered and an absolute snob. Suffice to say, he’s not a pleasant fellow at all.
In this reimagined Gotham City, the tables are turned. Instead of Gotham having an exclusive criminal underclass, the underclass citizens of Gotham are all construed as being active or potential criminals. They are a mere nuisance to the aristocrats of Gotham, including the Waynes. Gotham isn’t dysfunctional because of crime. Crime runs rampant because Gotham is dysfunctional.
I will repeat: this is not the Joker of your grandparents’ youth. This is not the Gotham you might be already familiar with. This is not the Wayne family you have seen before. “Joker,” starring Jaoquin Phoenix, is a different animal entirely. As far as I’m concerned, this is exactly what the Bat Universe needed.