Movies & TV Shows

Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker Fails The Character (Despite His Perfect New Origin)

Joker introduces a perfect backstory for the titular villain, but while Phoenix is excellent, his Joker simply isn’t the villain he should have been.

Despite being a near-perfect origin story, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker fails the character fundamentally. Todd Phillips’ Joker is one of the most celebrated comic book movies of all time, largely thanks to Joaquin Phoenix’s excellent portrayal of Arthur Fleck. A standalone origin story, Joker, follows Fleck as he lives with a neurological disorder while navigating the complexities of Gotham’s crime-ridden society and his own misguided aspiration be a stand-up comedian.

Given the nuance and depth woven into its narrative, Todd Phillips’ Joker is one of the most definitive origin stories the character has ever received. While the comics have touched on Joker’s origins numerous times, the character’s very nature makes him an unreliable narrator, with one theory even suggesting that the events of Joker are Arthur’s Arkham Asylum fantasy. The idea that Joker doesn’t need a true origin story has even been explored, as the character’s most important aspects are in his general characterization as the embodiment of chaotic evil.

Related: Evidence ALL Of Joker Is In Arthur Fleck’s Head

However, while Joker might give the character an excellent origin story, it ultimately fails him by making him too human. The Joker fundamentally isn’t a character who works when given sympathetic roots, and Phoenix’s performance as Fleck did just that, making the film feel detached from the character it is based on. Joker also kept its story separate from other DC characters, isolating Phoenix’s Joker even more, which only served to make him more sympathetic and detached from his original, villainous DC comics role. Ultimately, Joker took the best aspects of the character and worked them into a brilliant movie, but it failed the character’s comic book roots in the process.

What Phoenix’s Joker Does Better Than Any Other


Generally speaking, Phoenix’s Joker is often considered the best version of the character to date. This is owed to the realistic origin story Joker paints for Arthur Fleck, which makes the character feel like a more human version of the iconic villain by dialing down his more cartoonish qualities. Phoenix brings his exceptional acting talent to the role to give Fleck a genuine, multi-faceted persona that makes him one of the most complex versions of the character seen on-screen to date.

Phoenix’s quiet intensity lends itself well to Fleck, whose struggles with his own mental health are at the heart of Joker‘s story. In this way, the ideas explored by the film make Phoenix’s Joker more sympathetic and relatable to the audience in a way that other Joker versions rarely are. By challenging the character’s most typical depiction as a murderous sociopath and making Arthur Fleck a more thoughtful, tortured, human character, Phillips and Phoenix created a live-action version of the Joker that was unlike any before him.

Phoenix’s Joker Strengths Are Also His Biggest Weakness

Joker Joaquin Phoenix

However, all of the things that make Phoenix’s Joker great also go against his version of the character when observed from a different point of view. While a more human version of Arthur Fleck makes the Joker more relatable, this isn’t what DC’s original Joker iteration is really about. Joker is at his best when he’s engaging in horrifically violent acts or cartoonishly silly gags, and that’s something that Phoenix’s version of the character appears far too serious for.

Related: Willem Dafoe’s Joker Idea Is Perfect For Joaquin Phoenix’s Sequel

In addition, the sympathetic nature of Arthur Fleck undermines Phoenix’s Joker as a credible villain. By giving Fleck a far more human origin story, Joker sets up its titular character as more of an anti-hero than an outright villain, akin to Heath Ledger’s Joker portrayal in The Dark KnightJoker‘s use of mental illness as a key part of Phoenix’s character and development may have made him more sympathetic, but it also made him much less of a villain than the character was created to be.

Joker Needs Batman To Be A True Villain

Robert Pattinson as The Batman and Joaquin Phoenix as Joker

Another way Phoenix’s Joker fails to live up to the character’s potential is due to his fleeting association with his own universe’s Batman incarnation. Joker sees Fleck briefly interact with a young Bruce Wayne, but the clear age difference between the two characters presents a significant issue for Fleck’s status as a Batman villain. As Joker‘s Bruce Wayne is too young to realistically become a rival to Phoenix’s Joker version, it creates a big problem for Arthur Fleck. As Joker‘s ending sees Joker become a revolutionary symbol in Gotham, the character is effectively an anti-hero instead of a villain. Without a Batman to tip the scales and sway opinion away from this idea, it’s unlikely that the people of Gotham would see Phoenix’s Joker as anything other than the symbol of the revolution that he becomes over the course of Todd Phillips’ seminal origin film.

The relationship between the Clown Prince of Crime and the Caped Crusader is so iconic that they have each come to define the other across DC’s expansive canon. The intrinsic idea that Batman and Joker need each other after spending so long locked in a never-ending battle for Gotham is considered a key part of Batman’s continued narrative. The fact that Joker misses out on giving its titular character his nemesis hurts his status as a villain, and with no Batman to fight against, Joker’s most evil schemes will likely never come to pass.

Related: Why Arthur Fleck Doesn’t Kill Sophie In Joker

Joker Has No Real Villain (So It Doesn’t Feel Like A Comic Book Movie)

Another way Joker‘s humanizing portrayal of the titular villain ultimately betrays the character is how the movie lacks a concrete antagonist. The closest thing to a villain that Joker has is Robert De Niro’s Murray who callously mocks Arthur on his talk show, but even this claim is something of a stretch. This certainly sets Joker apart from other comic book movies and makes Arthur into a sympathetic figure, but it also essentially stops him from achieving his iconic villainous potential.

Related: The Batman Will Regret Not Using Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker

It’s undeniable that Joker‘s huge box office success indicates an appreciation for the creative reimagining of the character. However, in giving one of DC’s most inhumane villains a backstory that highlights his vulnerability and humanity, Joker also undermines everything the character embodies. In this way, the creative drive behind Joker makes for a perfect origin story; it also prevents Phoenix’s character from feeling like a genuine iteration of the Joker – particularly as the film is so different from most other comic book movies. While the result was Phoenix’s Oscar-winning performance, his Joker simply wasn’t the iconic villain that the character deserves to be.

Next: What Every Movie Joker Reveals About Their Batman

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