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Joker Movie Early Reviews Praise Joaquin Phoenix's Grim & Gritty Villain Origin

Joaquin Phoenix stars in Joker

The Joker movie early reviews are in - see what the critics are saying about Todd Phillips' R-rated DC comics film starring Joaquin Phoenix. Over the last few years, Warner Bros. and DC Films have established a cinematic universe of superheroes with films like Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, which has come to be known as the DC Extended Universe. However, the studios' next comic book adaptation is Phillips' Joker, which takes place in a separate universe. And instead of bringing back Jared Leto, who played the Clown Prince of Crime in Suicide Squad, the movie cast Phoenix as a different take on the Joker.

Being set outside the DCEU isn't the only difference in Joker, which Phillips has repeatedly said doesn't draw very much inspiration from the DC comics. It's also being positioned as a major awards contender, holding its world premiere screening at the Venice Film Festival this weekend. Phillips Joker movie is also rated R, another rarity in the realm of comic book superhero adaptations - though there have been exceptions like Deadpool and Logan. Now, following its screening in Venice, and after the Joker first reactions dropped earlier today, the early reviews for Phillips and Phoenix's movie are in.

Related: Film Festival 2019 Preview: 12 Biggest Movies With Oscar Chances

You can read through spoiler-free excerpts from the Joker movie early reviews below. For more, click on the corresponding links to check out the reviews in full.

David Rooney, THR

But this is Phoenix's film, and he inhabits it with an insanity by turns pitiful and fearsome in an out-there performance that's no laughing matter. Not to discredit the imaginative vision of the writer-director, his co-scripter and invaluable tech and design teams, but Phoenix is the prime force that makes Joker such a distinctively edgy entry in the Hollywood comics industrial complex.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety

Joaquin Phoenix is astonishing as a mentally ill geek who becomes the killer-clown Joker in Todd Phillips' neo-'Taxi Driver' knockout: the rare comic-book movie that expresses what's happening in the real world.

Stephanie Zacharek, TIME

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. ... Arthur inspires chaos and anarchy, but the movie makes it look like he’s starting a revolution, where the rich are taken down, the poor get everything they need and deserve, and the sad guys who can’t get a date become killer heroes. There’s a sick joke in there somewhere. Unfortunately, it’s on us.

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

The politics of “Joker” are similarly wobbly; web pundits on all sides of the spectrum will no doubt fish out this idea or that line of dialogue to declaim what “Joker” is “really” about, which ultimately means it’s not really about much of anything at all. It will be tempting for some to declare this the first art film based on a DC or Marvel property, but while it certainly represents a bit of a departure and something of a risk, “Joker” is ultimately grim-and-gritty comic book nihilism jacked up to the nth degree, wrapped up in a convincing but ultimately hollow simulacra of better, smarter movies.

Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

In amongst “Joker’s” fire and blood and chaos and its blackest of blackhearted laughter, there is the sense of a grotesque, green-haired genie being let out of a bottle, and whether it wreaks havoc or not, we’re not going to be able to put it back in. At the press conference after the Venice press screening, Phillips asserted his belief that while movies mirror society, they do not mold it. While not usually ones to deny cinema one iota of its power, this time we just have to hope that he’s right because whatever monumentally unfunny funhouse we’re in, we’re barely hanging on in the world “Joker” reflects. I’m not sure we’d survive the one it would build.

David Ehrlich, IndieWire

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.

Terri White, Empire

This could, particularly in the current climate, be viewed as a lament for outsiders and the ignored. That’s too simple and Joker does anything but deliver you easy answers. 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.

Justin Chang, The L.A. Times

A dark realist thriller in comic-book drag — or to put it another way, a Hollywood entertainment willing to take its time as it builds tension and brims with ideas — is nothing to scoff at. Still, there are times when your admiration for the filmmaking may blur into the movie’s own obvious admiration for itself. 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. Perhaps the distinction matters less than we like to think.

Joaquin Phoenix Joker movie makeup

Jenna Busch, Vital Thrills

This standalone film was a brave choice by Warner Bros., and it’s very likely going to pay off. Again, this is a difficult film to watch, and it’s going to take time to process, but ultimately, I think this is going to be a definitive part of Joker canon.

Glen Kenny, Roger Ebert

As social commentary, “Joker” is pernicious garbage. But besides the wacky pleasures of Phoenix’s performance, it also displays some major movie studio core competencies, in a not dissimilar way to what “A Star Is Born” presented last year.

Jim Vejvoda, IGN

Featuring a riveting, fully realized, and Oscar-worthy performance by Joaquin Phoenix, 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. You will likely leave Joker feeling like I did: unsettled and ready to debate the film for years to come.

Dorian Parks, Geeks of Color

I believe this is one of Warner Bros. most ambitious projects thus far when it comes to their comic book-based films. In saying this, I also believe Joker could be a potential game changer for the comic book genre in general. Other examples of this would be both Deadpool and Logan. Both of these films really took risks when it came to heavier material, darker themes, and really looking into the minds of its main characters.

Looking at the Joker early reviews, it's undeniable Phillips' movie has Oscar potential, especially in regards to Phoenix's performance as Arthur Fleck. The majority of reviewers seem to agree that Phoenix will have a shot at the Best Actor award, and may be a serious contender. However, these reviews also preview a divisiveness that's sure to arise from the movie, which has inspired both scorn and excitement since it was announced. It remains to be seen whether casual viewers will have similarly divisive views on Joker once it hits theaters, but that seems a likely outcome considering these early reviews.

Of course, if a movie is as divisive as Joker seems to be, it's unclear if the film will be as financially successful as Warner Bros. may be hoping. Certainly, Joker's R rating cuts down the potential audience, though Deadpool proved R-rated superhero movies can be major box office successes. And Joker being well-known as a Batman villain no doubt ensures the movie has some mainstream appeal. Still, it remains to be seen if general audiences will be as taken with Joker as many early reviewers have been. That said, the early hype for Joker is heartening for those looking forward to Phoenix's turn as the character, and could foretell an incredibly successful run for Phillips' film. Now fans just have to wait and see it for themselves when Joker is released in early October.

Next: Joker Final Trailer Breakdown: 13 Last Minute Story Reveals

Source: Various (see links above)

Key Release Dates
  • Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
  • Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
  • Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
  • The Batman (2021) release date: Jun 25, 2021
  • The Suicide Squad (2021) release date: Aug 06, 2021
  • DC Super Pets (2022) release date: May 20, 2022
  • Aquaman 2 (2022) release date: Dec 16, 2022
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