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Joker First Reviews: Give Joaquin Phoenix the Oscar, Already

Critics say Todd Phillips' origin story is a game-changer for the genre that's dominated by Phoenix's magnetic performance.

by | August 31, 2019 | Comments

What Are Critics Saying About Joker?

“Dark, thrilling, and chilling” – comparisons to Heath Ledger and more, this is what critics are saying about Joker Movie.

Posted by The Rotten Tomatoes Channel on Thursday, September 5, 2019

Joaquin Phoenix could very well become the second actor in history to win an Oscar for playing Batman’s greatest foe. That’s the immediate critical consensus, anyway. Joker, a gritty, Scorsese-inspired take on the titular DC Comics villain debuted to rave reactions at the Venice Film Festival this weekend, especially for Phoenix’s lead performance. Not everyone is buying the elevated comic book movie, but many are surprised at how good the standalone feature turned out.

Here’s what critics are saying about Joker:


Does the movie live up to expectations?

What a gloriously daring and explosive film.
– Xan Brooks, Guardian

I am pleased to report that this movie is really, really good.
– Dan Casey, Nerdist

It’s going to turn the world upside down and make us all hysterical in the process. For better or worse, it’s exactly the movie the Joker would want.
– David Ehrlich, IndieWire

It’s definitely a game changer for comic book films.
– John Nguyen, Nerd Reactor


Will it appeal to those who don’t care for the genre?

Joker isn’t just an awesome comic book movie, it’s an awesome movie, period.
– Jim Vejvoda, IGN Movies

It’s different in every other imaginable way — from all comic book movies before it… There has never been a movie like this in the genre.
Brandon Davis, ComicBook.com

On multiple levels, it’s the most challenging, subversive and nihilistic comic book movie ever made.
Jordan Farley, Total Film

Joker is unquestionably the boldest reinvention of ‘superhero’ cinema since The Dark Knight; a true original that’s sure to be remembered as one of the most transgressive studio blockbusters of the 21st century.
David Ehrlich, IndieWire

Joker is hardly the first movie inspired by comic-book characters to make a bid for high seriousness.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times


Niko Tavernise/© 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
(Photo by Niko Tavernise/© 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

What about DC Fans?

Joker would work just as well as an engrossing character study without any of its DC Comics trappings; that it just so happens to be a brilliant Batman-universe movie is icing on the Batfan cake.
Jim Vejvoda, IGN Movies

Joker is the human-sized and adult-oriented comic book movie that Marvel critics have been clamoring for… DCEU fanboys will feel as if they’ve died and seen the Snyder Cut.
David Ehrlich, IndieWire

If the result of the DCEU’s failure to hit on a successful, consistent tone in its films is radical standalones of this quality, it may be the once-struggling studio’s smartest move yet.” .
Jordan Farley, Total Film

It ends up resembling nothing more than a Suicide Squad spin-off movie. Yet it’s ambitions are certainly more lofty.
David Jenkins, Little White Lies


How does this Joker compare to previous portrayals?

Joaquin Phoenix is throwing his hat in the ring for the title of “The Greatest Joker of All Time,” and he is a serious contender.
Dan Casey, Nerdist

[Phoenix has] crafted a layered, terror-inducing antagonist, and earned his rightful place alongside Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson in the pantheon of all-time-great Jokers.
Marlow Stern, The Daily Beast

Nobody who sees this new film will ever need any other version.
David Sexton, London Evening Standard


Niko Tavernise/© 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
(Photo by Niko Tavernise/© 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

So Phoenix is good, then?

Joaquin Phoenix is astounding… [he] will be nominated for his work here, and rightly so.
Jenna Busch, VitalThrills.com

Phoenix’s performance is astonishing… playing a geek with an unhinged mind, yet he’s so controlled that he’s mesmerizing.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

Phoenix takes what might have been a turn filled with over-swings, and makes it all feel disturbingly natural… the actor never ceases to give each moment just the right amount of gas.
Eric Eisenberg, CinemaBlend

It’s a raw, festering wound of a performance that flirts with virtuosity and redundancy alike.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

If you live to see Joaquin Phoenix go to performing extremes like nobody’s business, this movie really is the apotheosis of that.
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com

It’s hard to tell whether this is a poor performance, or if he just has precious little to work with.
David Jenkins, Little White Lies

Phoenix is acting so hard you can feel the desperation throbbing in his veins.
Stephanie Zacharek, Time


How disturbing is the movie?

Joker offers up terrifying levels of tension. In fact, it’s scarier than most horror films of the year with its gritty, scary levels of realism.
Brandon Davis, ComicBook.com

There are moments of intense violence, but the dread is really the thing that will make you squirm, rather than gore.
Jenna Busch, VitalThrills.com

The mounting violence is intensely unpleasant, shocking if not particularly surprising; in scene after scene, the buildup is so agonizingly drawn out that you’re unsure whether the movie is depicting or embracing its protagonist’s cruelty.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

The violence in this movie means to shock, and it does.
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com

Joker is dark only in a stupidly adolescent way.
Stephanie Zacharek, Time


Niko Tavernise/© 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
(Photo by Niko Tavernise/© 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

What are we made to feel for Arthur Fleck?

What’s so compelling about the title role, both as written and in Phoenix’s full-throttle, raw performance, is that we’re encouraged to feel sympathy for the Joker even as he’s clearly turning into a homicidal maniac.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Even as we’re drinking in his screw-loose antics with shock and dismay, there’s no denying that we feel something for him — a twinge of sympathy, or at least understanding.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

Joker the film may ask viewers to empathize with its central protagonist but it doesn’t ask us to forgive him for his increasingly evil choices…the film still knows he’s deranged and not to be romanticized – merely understood.
Jim Vejvoda, IGN Movies

It may be irresponsible propaganda for the very men it pathologizes.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair


How is Todd Phillips’ directing?

Phillips and the Ace of Knaves have turned out to be the perfect marriage of filmmaker and material.
Jordan Farley, Total Film

Phillips is a long way from the Hangover trilogy…he keeps the pacing steady and satisfying over two hours, fueling the suspense and modulating the peaks and climactic builds with assurance.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Phillips, utilizing clever tracking shots, tight close-ups and lost-in-the-crowd framing to convey Arthur’s existential angst, has made us forget about those agonizing Hangover sequels.
Marlow Stern, The Daily Beast

[It’s] directed by a glorified edgelord who lacks the discipline or nuance to responsibly handle such hazardous material, and who reliably takes the coward’s way out of the narrative’s most critical moments.
David Ehrlich, IndieWire

[His] lack of dramatic experience shows.
Germain Lussier, io9


© 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
(Photo by © 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

Are there any major problems?

Unfortunately, the film errs in its on-the-nose depiction of politics and class warfare.
Marlow Stern, The Daily Beast

As social commentary, Joker is pernicious garbage.
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com

Phillips may want us to think he’s giving us a movie all about the emptiness of our culture, but really, he’s just offering a prime example of it.
Stephanie Zacharek, Time

Joker poses as a movie worthy of serious thought, but lacks the courage to behave like one.
David Ehrlich, IndieWire

The movie is chock full of so many themes at so many different times it’ll leave your head spinning.
Germain Lussier, io9

If there’s a shortcoming it’s that, in taking inspiration so transparently from Scorsese’s late ’70s/early ’80s output, Joker is a film that exists squarely in Marty’s shadow.
Jordan Farley, Total Film


Will the film spark discussion?

There is going to be a lot of talk about how what we see in the film reflects the world we live in right now, and how monsters come to be.
Jenna Busch, VitalThrills.com

What I did not expect was for Joker to be a shockingly relevant (oftentimes on-the-nose) rumination on privilege, wealth disparity, and mental health stigmatization.
Dan Casey, Nerdist

[It] shoots for the moon in its attempt to deliver a lapel-shaking statement on the malign tenor of Our Times, yet ends up settling for feeble posturing, asinine pop psychology and political analysis charged with all the cynicism of a mollycoddled teen dropout in fake Oakleys and a home customized Linkin Park tee.
David Jenkins, Little White Lies

You’ll definitely feel like you’ll need a shower after seeing it, but once you’ve dried off and changed clothes, you’ll want to do nothing else but parse and dissect it.
Eric Eisenberg, CinemaBlend


Joker premiered at the Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2019. It will open around the world on October 3 and 4.

#1

Joker (2019)
75%

#1
Adjusted Score: 79.54%
Critics Consensus: Joker gives its infamous central character a chillingly plausible origin story that serves as a brilliant showcase for its star -- and a dark evolution for comics-inspired cinema.
Synopsis: "Joker" centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big... [More]
Directed By: Todd Phillips

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