Superhero movies are more popular than they’ve ever been before, with Marvel being on top. DC has tried to catch up, but after failures like Suicide Squad and Justice League, they started a new approach. Since Justice League they’ve made three movies: Aquaman, Shazam!, and now, Joker.
These three movies are deliberately not connected, the opposite of Marvel’s connected universe of movies. DC’s new strategy is being shown especially with Joker, a self-contained dark origin story of the crown prince of crime.
However, the lead up and release of the movie has been controversial, and many theaters have even started bag checks for those trying to watch Joker. Yet while watching Joker, the movie itself isn’t nearly as traumatic as it was positioned to be, and was an enjoyable dark film. The real root of why people thought the movie would be problematic comes from the news coverage and advertising before its release.
It’s no secret that the Joker is a messed up character, as he’s Batman’s most well known and insane villain. The idea of making a movie about a mentally insane protagonist was an interesting choice, but that wasn’t the root of the problem nor why media coverage drastically inflated the fear of the movie. It partially stems from the use of the Joker on the internet as a mascot for trolls with political agendas who harass people.
Talk show chatter theorized that Joker would inspire those people to act out, perhaps resulting in injuries or worse. In fact, there were many theaters that deployed undercover cops in theaters on release day in case of threats. The movie itself does portray Joker similar to those who have adopted his moniker and give him a similar ideology, but it still portrays his killings negatively, not trying to justify why he murders.
While the media may have overreacted towards the problematic nature of Joker, it wasn’t necessarily unfounded. The movie does a great job showing Arthur Fleck’s life go in a downward spiral into his eventual turn to being the Joker, and Joaquin Phoenix is incredible in the role, but the trailer didn’t do as great a job at setting up that spiral. Trailers for Joker made it seem as if he was a mentally ill man that would become the psychotic killer clown after being rejected by a woman, a complication that fed into the controversy early. There are many other factors in the movie that make it well done, but the majority of the controversy came before anyone was able to see how the events actually played out.
No matter how Joker would have been portrayed, it was going to be met with controversy. However, a mix of poorly made trailers and media fear-mongering led to people fearing Joker, pointing out how problematic it is. In reality, it told a tale of a mentally ill man becoming upset with society and trying to change his place in it, not unlike other movies including Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Not everything in Joker is comfortable, but it’s meant to be that way. Joker isn’t any more problematic than other movies focused on the human psyche, but the character’s history worked against the movie for its perception before release.