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‘Joker’ Reviews: What the Critics Are Saying

Critics are raving for Warner Bros. latest comic book installment.

Todd Phillip’s “Joker” opened Saturday at the Venice Film Festival to effervescent reviews, with many critics highlighting an Oscar-worthy appearance from star Joaquin Phoenix. Variety‘s own Owen Gleiberman praised Phoenix’s performance, emphasizing his physical acting and emotional control:

“He appears to have lost weight for the role, so that his ribs and shoulder blades protrude, and the leanness burns his face down to its expressive essence: black eyebrows, sallow cheeks sunk in gloom, a mouth so rubbery it seems to be snarking at the very notion of expression, all set off by a greasy mop of hair,” he wrote. “Phoenix is playing a geek with an unhinged mind, yet he’s so controlled that he’s mesmerizing. He stays true to the desperate logic of Arthur’s unhappiness.”

Other critics are praising the film’s reinvention of the superhero genre while others are pointing to the film’s allegorical connection to modern day issues.

See what else the critics are saying:

Popular on Variety

Variety’s Owen Gleiberman:

“Many have asked, and with good reason: Do we need another Joker movie? Yet what we do need — badly — are comic-book films that have a verité gravitas, that unfold in the real world, so that there’s something more dramatic at stake than whether the film in question is going to rack up a billion-and-a-half dollars worldwide. “Joker” manages the nimble feat of telling the Joker’s origin story as if it were unprecedented. We feel a tingle when Bruce Wayne comes into the picture; he’s there less as a force than an omen. And we feel a deeply deranged thrill when Arthur, having come out the other side of his rage, emerges wearing smeary make-up, green hair, an orange vest and a rust-colored suit.”

Empire Online’s Terri White:

“It’s a sad, chaotic, slow-burn study of someone who isn’t visible; who doesn’t even exist to the world around them. But your empathy, sympathy even, isn’t guaranteed, and it begins to dissolve as Arthur somehow moves even further to the edges. This is, we mustn’t forget, the story of how a villain was made. But what writer/director Todd Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver (8 MileThe Fighter) have written into life is the Joker as a character. What they and the film is interested in is the mental, moral, emotional, physical make-up of the man who became the Joker.”

IndieWire’s David Ehrlich:

Todd Phillips’ “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. It’s also a toxic rallying cry for self-pitying incels, and a hyper-familiar origin story so indebted to “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy” that Martin Scorsese probably deserves an executive producer credit. It’s possessed by the kind of provocative spirit that’s seldom found in any sort of mainstream entertainment, but also 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.”

IGN’s Jim Vejvoda

“This Gotham is a place of grimy despair, extreme wealth disparity, and festering lawlessness, teetering on the brink of collapse. While this realistic depiction makes a place that’s typically fantastical seem familiar, it’s not just the recognizable setting that gives Joker its hyper-realism; it’s what it’s allegorically about that makes the movie so believable, timely, and worth talking about long after the credits roll. Joker is a period piece but it is undeniably about our own troubled, relentlessly violent time.”

Vital Thrills’s Jenna Busch:

“Phoenix absolutely transforms himself as Arthur Fleck. The physical moment of the character alone could convey what is going on with him, even if there had been no dialogue… He’s awkward and twisted (particularly his arms and the position of his head) when he’s trying to be “normal.” The little dances he does as he tries to act sexy or confident are the sort that make you embarrassed for someone at a party. As he becomes who he really is, the movements are powerful.”

Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson: 

“The movie is, for a good stretch, a troubling and arresting character study, one done with nervy conviction. Eventually, though, Phillips has to more tightly attach this downward spiral to the larger Gotham mythology, which is where the provocative ambivalence of the film gives way to veneration. The climax is a gnarly triumph for the man who has now turned into the Joker, a baptism of blood and fire which brings to mind the political protests that have swept the world this decade, and the far more discrete, unknowable incident of Christine Chubbuck’s death. (There’s some Bernie Kerik in there, too.)”

Collider’s Steve Weintraub: 

“If you’re going into Todd Phillips’ Joker movie expecting to see a number of costumed heroes joking around between massive action set pieces, you need to adjust your settings. That’s because Phillips has crafted an intimate, standalone character study that’s extremely influenced by another era of filmmaking. From the way the opening credits play, to the final frames of the movie, Phillips has taken the colorful comic book movie to the dirty, gritty streets of the late 1970s with fantastic results. Trust me, you have never seen a comic book movie like Joker and I’m not sure we will ever get one like this again.”

Time’s Stephanie Zacharek:

“The movie’s cracks — and it’s practically all cracks — are stuffed with phony philosophy. Joker is dark only in a stupidly adolescent way, but it wants us to think it’s imparting subtle political or cultural wisdom. Just before one of his more violent tirades, Arthur muses, “Everybody just screams at each other. Nobody’s civil anymore.” Who doesn’t feel that way in our terrible modern times? But Arthur’s observation is one of those truisms that’s so true it just slides off the wall, a message that both the left and the right can get behind and use for their own aims. It means nothing”

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