Did Joker Live Up To The Iconic Character’s Standards? 

How has this portrayal of the Joker character compared to past versions? Has Joaquin Phoenix become the new crowd favorite “Joker” actor?

When an iconic character has had numerous appearances in movies, television shows, and even cartoons, it can be difficult for yet another movie to satisfy the public’s standards. The new Joker movie had some big shoes to fill, trying to live up to other Joker performances such as Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight, and Jared Leto from Suicide Squad. So how did the new movie, starring Joaquin Phoenix, stack up compared to the other movies containing the Joker character?

Overall, the reviews have been mostly positive, but the new movie definitely has its critics. Ranking at 68% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.9/10 on IMDb, the movie was liked, but not loved. The movie was perceived as very dark, a psychic thriller, and bloodily violent. Despite that, Emily Skroch (‘21) said the new movie was “a new approach to the character and was well put together. It was slow, but it kept you engaged. It was also very emotional; I like how they kept a sad, serious tone throughout the whole movie. There was little to no comedy which made it seem more real.” When asked about the composition and overall execution of the movie itself (not just the story), she gushed about how it was “very artistically put together. The art and set designs were amazing and so was the music.” Devyne Adejobi (‘23) also adds that the movie itself was “interesting and easy to follow. It definitely made sense and was a good explanation for the Joker character.” The movie had some symbolism as well, that only a few people caught on to. One person, Brandon Midgette (‘20), comments on how there is “a lot of hidden story that is overlooked. There was a lot of symbolism to society in general, what’s wrong with it, and some instances of the class difference between the poor and the rich and how they are treated.” 


Despite the mixed reviews, one thing has been agreed on: Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as this version of the Joker was outstanding. Midgette mentions how “he did a good job [ playing the Joker.] It was definitely a lot different from every other Joker, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role.” Adejobi commented on how “the point was to make the audience uncomfortable, and Phoenix did just that.” 

The Joker character has been played by many different actors, including Heath Ledger, Jared Leto, and Jack Nicholson. In a poll asking the Cape Henry community about their favorite Joker actor, only a fourth of the respondents answered Joaquin Phoenix after seeing the movie. Two responded Jared Leto from Suicide Squad, including Adejobi, who commented that she loved his performance because “he was the only Joker to jump into the acid- which is iconic.” Half of the respondents answered Heath Ledger as their favorite, including Zach Earl (‘21) and Berk Alptekin (‘21) who mentioned that his performance just can’t be topped. A source outside of the community who also responded to the survey commented that Ledger “hit it out of the park with that performance.” It can be concluded that, although Phoenix did a great job, Ledger’s iconic Dark Knight Joker will still be one of the best performances in cinema history.


Some speculation and criticism about the movie revolved around the idea that the movie was making audiences sympathize with the Joker- a crazy, mentally ill murderer. There were mixed responses about this issue. Skroch mentioned that the “main purpose was that they didn’t want you to sympathize with him,” but Adejobi disagreed and said that “after seeing the movie, you understand why he is a crazy murderer and you sort of sympathize with him.” Another problem people seem to have with the movie is the extreme violence. There are multiple bloody and violent scenes, such as Phoenix, playing his character Arthur Fleck, brutally stabbing to death an ex-coworker of his with scissors, and uncontrollably shooting three young men who bullied him on the subway. Some of these scenes are quite graphic, but they do get the message across. Whether the audience wanted to see that much blood is up to their personal opinion, and it is fairly rated R because of it. Another issue critics and the general public had was with the plot. In the movie, the Joker was a full-grown man between the ages of 30 and 40, whereas Bruce Wayne, later to become Batman, was only 8 years old. This was a hole in the plot, as Joker and Batman are roughly the same age in the comics and all the other movies, and this bothered some hardcore fans. 


Overall, the movie did well in front of audiences, provided a new perspective to the character, and certainly entertained Joker fans. However, the movie, despite having a fresh take on the iconic character, did not wow the public enough to allow the new Joker (Arthur Fleck) to take Heath Ledger’s place as the public’s favorite portrayal of the Joker.