In the dark and crime ridden streets of Gotham, Batman may be fighting for justice, but the Joker is waging his own war. The way he sees it, the Joker considers himself the hero of his story; a world that is naturally prone to violence and chaos and he's the only one who finds the joke of it. Also unlike Batman who dresses in black to use the darkness to his advantage, the Joker is bright and colorful to not only be seen, but to be the star of his crime show. This is what makes the dynamic of these two the ultimate hero versus villain setup.
Most people know Batman's story of his parents slain which makes him want to stop others from having the same tragic events, but what about the Joker? When you really think about it, the movies have not tackled the backstory of the clown prince of crime. Batman and The Dark Knight certainly gives you an idea of their psychopathic characters, but not their roots. The closest we got was The Killing Joke graphic novel, which is still a critically phrased story. With Joker, we now see if film can deliver a worthy background.
In the early eighties in Gotham, a lonely man Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is trying his hardest to "bring joy and laughter to the people of Gotham" by working as a clown for hire and aspires to be a stand up comedian. He also suffers a neurological condition that causes him to laugh at random moments. Though he's told to "put on a happy face" by his mother Penny (played by Frances Conroy), the city's high crime and decay from graffiti and rats only make things worse for him. In fact, he finds that due to budget cuts, he won't be able to get any more medication to treat his problems.
While dressed as a clown, he gets into an incident where three people that work for Thomas Wayne get killed, several people in Gotham see him as a symbol to go after the wealthy establishment. Since nobody knows it was Arthur, he carries on with his standup. A botched performance ends up on the TV show of Murray Franklin (played by Robert De Niro), who invites the latter to explain. As the city seems to be hitting a boiling point of anger, combined with more problems for Arthur, he starts to realize just what kind of clown he is.
Joker is inspired by a lot of Martin Scorsese movies like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. While I don't know if it reaches the same heights, I still enjoyed Joker a lot…or as much as you can get out of this kind of story. The first half of the movie really stands on it's own about a guy whose already broken and is getting worse by a world that doesn't seem to be listening. Despite some reports, I don't think were supposed to sympathize with this guy, even though we do see everything that happens to him, and can imagine why a guy like this would end up doing the things he does.
It works well thanks to Joaquin Phoenix who pulls off one of his great performances. A lot like De Niro in The King of Comedy, he starts off as a bit off, but not dangerous until he's pushed to his limit. But as I said, the movie does have him as the main character, but not one your supposed to side with. His evil deeds have merit within his mind and you understand why, especially after his scenes with his mother, other clowns, Thomas Wayne, and even De Niro.
The first half before he transforms is phenomenal. The second half is where things start to slip. It's not because it isn't good, but the tone does start to shift back into comic book territory. A lot of it comes when it makes it's connections to the Wayne family that the movie didn't need. It's easy to ignore a large chunk of that as the final movie was still satisfying. If I had any other problems, it would be that there are several spots where things could have ended upon. I won't spoil it, but get ready to think that the movie is going to end only to go on another ten minutes.
I'll give this four and a half clown noses out of five. In terms of it's story, Joker does make for a good psychological look at the famous Batman villain.