demi adejuyigbe’s review published on Letterboxd:
This movie means nothing. They just went “what’s big right now? incels and antifa? those are the same” and rolled it all into an existing character that could use politically and socially relevant anxieties as developing characteristics... but to make absolutely no “message.” and no, films don’t have to have a message (lemme just preempt that dumb comment someone always wants to make) but it’s so clear that this movie wants you to think it has one. it doesn’t. joker insists on telling you he’s not political multiple times in the same way people tell you they’re “sick of politics,” only to ignore the influence of politics in literally everything that led to where he is— and you’re never given a clear sense of what Phillips wants you to believe from that point on, because the chaos is so much more intriguing to him than anything of substance. whatever.
i generally like superhero movies and think they’re fun, and despite this having a stellar performance from Joaquin Phoenix and generally enticing production design (whoda thunk a Taxi Driver-inspired film looks nice in 35mm!) , this might be the kind of superhero movie that upsets me the most, because it insists on masquerading as something smarter and more important than the “average superhero flick.”
also, a huge fuck you to Todd Phillips for casting a dwarf actor pretty much solely for the purpose of a horrifying gag.
EDIT: i’m docking it half a star because in thinking about it, the dwarf gag literally undermines the closest thing this movie has to a message, which is in the importance of civility and kindness, especially to the marginalized. to throw a misplaced, laughing-at-and-not-with gag where the audience laughs at a dwarf’s misfortune into all of that? absolutely fucking bite me, War Dogs
EDIT: the comments are predictably a mess but one part of this "review" keeps getting poorly interpreted. i don't think Joker is an incel. i don't think the movie is about antifa. the full sentence i use those words in is pretty important to what i am trying to say but it feels like people keep insisting that i think this movie involves either one.
I think this movie uses the social and political contexts of two big modern "movements" (for lack of a better term) as a sort of set dressing for its story. I don't think Joker is an incel, but his "rise to madness" is set about by a provocation in the same way that incels very publicly enact violent acts against women. It's this idea that they've been pushed to violence because a sect of society ('society' in a post about Joker, finish your drink) has unjustly acted against them and this is their rebellion. I think Joker uses the same sort of justification and refusal to feel remorse for his violent actions as Elliot Rodger does, but without the misogyny. (Well, at least, moving the misogyny to being a passive act in the film and not any actual actions or beliefs– $10 to anyone who can tell me definitively what happens to Zazie Beetz, because I don't think Todd Phillips cared.)
It also uses Antifa in the same way– the imagery of political violent unrest and masks, all literally and declaratively set in a large city and staged to be demonstrative against wealth and facism? Both his inspiration and the images he wants to conjure in your mind– yes, despite being set in 1981– is what he knows the audience will recognize to be closely associated with Antifa.
The thing is, he uses these ideas and images and characterizations in a way that don't really... make any clear comment on the things themselves. Which feels weird. To make an extreme comparison, it's like writing a road trip buddy comedy that pulls heavily from the recognizable imagery and characterizations of slavery, but doesn't... seem to have any particular stance on slavery. In fact, I think I agree with everyone who told me this movie has "nothing to do with incels or antifa!" i think that's the problem! why make a movie that will feel like it's got something to say, drawing from recognizable, current political and social events and identities, and not say anything about them?
Alternatively, I can just agree with whatever you guys think if it means you'll stop yelling at me. Who cares.