Todd Phillips' Joker is expected to smash records at the box office this weekend, but the film arrives on a wave of controversy. The press tour has been plagued with issues, from interviewers being dis-invited to the premiere, to Jimmy Kimmel confronting Joaquin Phoenix about his rumoured on-set tantrums, to the studio having to issue a statement clarifying that the film is not "an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind."
Despite its rocky start, the film seems to have won over critics – mostly. It currently has a fresh rating of 69% on RottenTomatoes.com. Though some critics question the timing of a film about a man who feels wronged by society and reacts with mass murder, nearly all seem to agree that Phoenix delivers an outstanding performance.
Check out what some critics are saying about Joker, in theatres Oct 4:
"Built around a credible spiral from lonely outsider to deranged killer, it's as much a neo-noir psychological character study grounded in urban alienation and styled after Taxi Driver as a rise-of-the-supervillain portrait. It's arguably the best Batman-adjacent movie since The Dark Knight, and Warner Bros. should see mighty box office numbers to reflect that. The must-see factor of Phoenix's riveting performance alone — it's both unsettling and weirdly affecting — will be significant." David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
"In America, there's a mass shooting or attempted act of violence by a guy like Arthur practically every other week. And yet we're supposed to feel some sympathy for Arthur, the troubled lamb; he just hasn't had enough love." -Stephanie Zacharek, Time
"What a gloriously daring and explosive film Joker is. It's a tale that's almost as twisted as the man at its centre, bulging with ideas and pitching towards anarchy." -Xan Brooks, The Guardian
"Will the film resonate with the 'wrong' crowd? Very likely. But Taxi Driver has been doing that for decades, and this bastard offspring deserves to be judged outside of the culture war that's sprung up around it, even if that conversation has only fueled the fires of anticipation, making it a must-see event in Toronto and beyond. Joker, in the end, is stylish and reasonably involving and a bit one-note; once you acclimate to its claustrophobic portraiture, it becomes clear that Phillips has little in store for us but one miniature Phoenix freak-out after another. Still, I can't quite bring myself to entirely dismiss a multiplex entertainment, hurdling toward thousands of screens, that's this interested in performance and disinterested in hitting the usual blockbuster marks. Joker may cop its values, aesthetic and philosophical, from other films, but at least it has values. And its thrills, such as they are, may be secondhand—a faint echo of a bygone Hollywood—but not since Nolan has someone made a take on this particular world that feels so comfortable in its insulation. In the cape-and-cowl-dominated film culture of our now, aiming to do something different with the genre counts for something, even if your aim is off." -A.A. Dowd, AV Club
"Along the way, Phillips, drawing loose inspiration from the 1988 graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, takes his time nudging various pieces of the Batman mythology into position: a mention of Arkham Asylum here, a glimpse of the billionaire Thomas Wayne there. (He is played, with lofty patrician indifference, by Brett Cullen.) But the director also clearly has an eye on America circa 2019; among other things, “Joker” morphs into a panorama of urban decay and human chaos: It's got class warfare, unspoken racial animus and a protagonist who could be either an indictment or a mascot of the incel movement. The movie allows these rich ideas and associations to swirl around Phoenix, who just keeps laughing and seething and dancing and laughing and falling apart and laughing some more."
-Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times
"I won't go so far to say that it's garbage, because it looks and sounds too good, but this is not a narrative that works. Besides cravenly scapegoating the mentally ill, Joker has no perspective on anything except that Joaquin Phoenix is a really good actor. The movie so lacks focus that, despite all protestations to the contrary, the final shot IS celebratory, showing a Joker embodied, embraced, and exulted. There is no counterpoint, no contrast to the Joker's actions, which means that while the movie may not endorse real-world violence, it certainly endorses the violence of its fictional world. That would be fine if Joker had anything to say about that (fictional) violence, but it does not." -Sarah Marrs, LaineyGossip
"In Joker, Joaquin Phoenix digs into the title role, kicks out the jams, and stamps the character with a danger all his own. 'Phenomenal' is a puny word to describe his gut-punch performance. Over-the-top? Maybe. But if you want to trade Hollywood pablum for bug-fuck intensity, do it with an actor who knows how to humanize a guy destined for hell. Laughing maniacally, dancing on a stairway to Gary Glitter's Rock and Roll Part 2, and twisting his face and body into contortions that defy physics, Phoenix is a virtuoso of unleashed id. You don't dare look away from him." -Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
"Phoenix's performance is undoubtedly compelling—like so much of the actor's best work, it's a physical marvel, unsettling from the second the camera lands on him. Still, even the not-yet-villainous Arthur of the film's first act is tough to sympathize with because he's such a caricature. His weakly sketched portrayal of mental illness doesn't extend much beyond his creepy cackle and a diary he's filled with demented, abstract scribblings." -David Sims, The Atlantic
"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." -Owen Gleiberman, Variety
"Is Joker art, or is it ugly, empty nihilism? Maybe that question shouldn't matter; it might honestly be both. But the truth is that entertainment doesn't exist in a vacuum, and a movie with the message this one hammers home again and again — that life is nasty and short; that no one cares; that you might as well burn it all down — feels too volatile, and frankly too scary, to separate from the very real violence committed by young men like Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck in America almost every day." -Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
"Who better than crazy-eyed Joaquin Phoenix? The actor's physicality here is something to behold. It's never quite clear why Arthur's so emaciated, but the way he contorts his spindly frame, and occasionally stretches it out into a joyful, Kabuki-esque dance, is mesmerizing." -Sara Stewart, New York Post
"Joker is so monotonously grandiose and full of its own pretensions that it winds up feeling puny and predictable. Like the anti-hero at its center, it's a movie trying so hard to be capital-b Big that it can't help looking small." -Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
"In Joker, Joaquin Phoenix and writer/director Todd Phillips summon their darkest mojo for a descent into madness, making the supervillain origin story to beat all origin stories. Forget comic books — this is disturbingly too close to modern alienation to be dismissed as mere fantasy. This doesn't mean the film condones and incites violence, as some fear. If you feel anything for Phoenix's damaged title character, it's because of the actor's superb performance, which graphically expresses the toll that untreated mental illness exacts upon individuals and society." - Peter Howell, Toronto Star