4K Blu-ray Review: Joker

It’s not surprising at all that Joaquin Phoenix became the second actor to take home a Golden Globe for his portrayal of DC supervillain The Joker. This time out it’s a bit different though, as the film wasn’t your usual comic book hero versus villain showdown, and instead saw Phoenix deliver a tour de force performance in a dramatic take on the origins of the character – or at least the origins of the man which lead to the origin of The Joker, depending on how you view it.

Joker is a fantastic film, and while it may not win Best Picture at the Oscars this year (though I do believe Phoenix will match Ledger once again and take it for Best Actor), it’ll definitely be nominated. It’s a film that was met with mixed reactions by critics but adored by audiences and became one of the highest grossing films of the year, as well as the highest grossing R-rated film of all-time. It’s a movie that speaks on various levels when it comes to mental health, the direction society is headed, the impact the world around you can have on your well-being along with just being an intriguing film that dissects a popular character in a way that nobody has done on the silver-screen before.

One of the loudest heard complaints about the film is that it puts its lead character, Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) on a pedestal, making him the protagonist and thus creating a film where the audience is supposed to cheer and root for a murderous psychopath. I feel that’s a short-sighted complaint, much like many of the things people get all flustered about these days when something is popular, only to move on to the next headline-grabbing issue without care as to whether their previous complaint had any ground to stand on in the first place.

There are definitely things that deserve attention and that people should be bothered and be up-in-arms about, but the lead character being portrayed as a hero in Joker isn’t one of them – especially since that’s not even true. The character of Arthur is a disturbed individual, and he does try to get help, but society just constantly fails him. That’s not an excuse for any of the terrible things he does, and sure, there may be some sympathy felt with how well the character was written by director Todd Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver, but it’s the kind of sympathy one may feel for someone with PTSD who may do something terrible and it’s unforgivable; however, it should make you look deeper into why what happened to that person happened, and what can be done in the future to hopefully stop it from happening again.

So with that aside, let’s just talk about the film itself. Joker is a gritty, visceral movie that earns its spot as one of the year’s best. Phillips delivers a beautifully shot character study that’s superbly acted on all fronts, though Phoenix obviously does most of the heavy lifting. The story centers around Arthur trying to find his place in the world as doors quickly begin closing all around him with nobody taking his cries for help seriously.

While this is an origin story set in Gotham City, don’t expect to see any other characters from Batman’s rogue gallery, nor The Bat himself, as he’s just a child at the point where this tale takes place. This is a more realistic take on Gotham, which feels more like New York City than some of the more elaborate interpretations we’ve seen previously. It all works though, as this is Arthur’s story, so him being front and center with little to no distractions is exactly why this film works as well as it does.

Where does Phoenix land in the world of on-screen Jokers? Well, that’ll vary from person to person, as someone like Heath Ledger was eccentric and incredibly memorable, playing him as more of a sociopath who just wanted to see the world burn, while Jack Nicholson was vibrant and the king of crime! He embodied a wonderful Joker that fit the film he was in and will definitely top the list of some. Phoenix on the other hand is less Joker and more Arthur for the majority of the film. Much like Christian Bale played Bruce Wayne more than Batman in Batman Begins, Arthur Fleck is front and center for most of the movie here, with Joker coming into play heading into the third act.

So where Phoenix will end up in terms of favourite Jokers is up for interpretation, much like this movie itself. There’s a lot that Phillips and Silver have left up to the viewer to decide for themselves here, but not in a frustrating way. If you want to take everything at face value, that option is there too and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Heck, according to the writers taking things at face value may be the right way to take them!

There’s no specific answer and that’s what makes multiple viewings of Joker so enticing. Not only is Phoenix absolutely phenomenal, but the movie itself can be seen in new ways each time – or simply verify your initial thoughts on what you believe to be true, should your opinion not change. One thing that is certain is that no matter how many more times we see new portrayals of this villain in the future, Joker will go down as one of the most intriguing, daring and unique takes on the character ever.

The 4K transfer of this film is masterful, as is the look and style of the film in general. The picture is flawless, sharp, clear at all times and just gorgeous to look at. This movie is darker more often than not, both visually and thematically; however, visuals are all that matter here and the shadows and contrasts are handled wonderfully. There’s never a muddy moment, and everything is incredibly detailed and easy to take in at all times. The same goes for the audio mix, which also has a tremendous transfer, with the magnificent score blasting out beautifully, and the dialogue and sound effects all working in harmony throughout.

Special features:

Becoming Joker – This is a quick 90-second featurette that sees a musical transformation of Phoenix going from Arthur to Joker.

Joker: Vision & Fury – This is the meaty feature for viewers, coming in at just under 23-minutes in length and it’s a solid one at that. While I would’ve loved to have had more behind-the-scenes features or a commentary on top of it all, this feature sees Phillips, Phoenix and other cast and crew cover things from the idea of the film coming to light, to creating a 1980s Gotham City, to the score and so on. It covers a lot and since it’s all we’re really getting here, it’ll have to do.

Please Welcome…Joker! – This featurette is just under three minutes in length and gives the viewer an idea of the different takes and performances given in just one of the film’s pivotal scenes. Again, it’s something you kind of want more of, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos – This featurette is three minutes in length and is simply still shots from the film and behind-the-scenes moments.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Presents Joker. Directed by: Todd Phillips. Written by: Todd Phillips & Scott Silver. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen. Running time: 122 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Jan. 7, 2020.

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