‘Joker’ reviews: Is comic book Oscar contender ‘astonishing’ or just ‘bad’? It may be the most divisive movie of the year

Joker” opened on Friday, October 4, but even if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about it, or seen someone on the internet who’s angry about it, whether they hated it or hate that someone else hated it. But what’s the actual verdict from critics? It’s not necessarily much clearer.

As of this writing the film has a MetaCritic score of 58 based on 51 reviews, but those reviews are all over the map: 26 of them are positive (including seven rated a perfect 100), 15 are mixed, and 10 are outright negative. Over on Rotten Tomatoes, where reviews are classified on a much simpler pass/fail scale, “Joker” is 70% fresh based on 299 reviews: 208 thumbs up, 91 thumbs down. The RT critics’ consensus says, “‘Joker’ gives its infamous central character a chillingly plausible origin story that serves as a brilliant showcase for its star — and a dark evolution for comics-inspired cinema.”

Indeed, comic book movies have come along way — from Christopher Reeve‘s comforting “Superman” to Christopher Nolan‘s gritty “The Dark Knight,” to Ryan Coogler‘s Oscar breakthroughBlack Panther.” With “Joker,” the genre wades into its darkest waters yet. Directed by Todd Phillips (“Old School,” “The Hangover”), it veers away from the mass market appeal of previous PG-13 action-adventures and into “Taxi Driver” territory, with Joaquin Phoenix inhabiting a new origin story for the villain previously played by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger.

Phoenix’s performance is being described as “astonishing,” captivating,” “extraordinarily unsettling” and “killer.” The film as a whole is “so disturbing it feels almost dangerous” and so “unwavering” in its “unwholesomeness” that theaters might want to consider “background checks” at the box office. But naysayers claim it’s “all smoke and mirrors” with “nothing to say”; it’s “predictable, cliched, deeply derivative” and “over-written.”

So it doesn’t sound like the internet chatter will die down just yet. You might want to stay off Twitter for a while whether or not you check out the film on opening weekend. Check out some of the reviews below, and join the discussion on this and more with your fellow movie fans here in our forums.

Terri White (Empire): “As Arthur/Joker, Joaquin Phoenix is astonishing … Phoenix inhabits Arthur: having lost weight for the role, he looks thin, frail, hungry. Shadows carve out his exposed bones. His physicality is precise — the way he moves, shuffles, runs, sits, smokes, shrinks. His usual intensity is on full display and it’s captivating, even overwhelming in moments.”

Jessica Kiang (The Playlist): “A film so disturbing it feels almost dangerous: whatever about its hard-R rating, they should maybe think about background checks and a mandatory three-day waiting period at theaters … But if the unwavering unwholesomeness of the mood is set a little too steadily, that’s only to give a baseline for Phoenix’s extraordinarily unsettling performance.”

Alissa Wilkinson (Vox): “‘Joker’ was designed to be darker, even meaner, than Christopher Nolan’s Batman classic … Turns out that was all smoke and mirrors. ‘Joker’ is a well-made movie, with a killer performance from Joaquin Phoenix, who seems born to play the role. But there’s nothing ‘bonkers’ about it. It has nothing to say about the Joker himself or what he represents.”

Dana Stevens (Slate): “The grimy and relentlessly downbeat fable that finally unfolded on screen seemed too slight, aesthetically and morally, to bear the weight of all those months of debate. ‘Joker’ is a bad movie, yes: It’s predictable, clichéd, deeply derivative of other, better movies, and overwritten to the point of self-parody.”

Be sure to make your Oscar nominee predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominees are announced on January 13. And join in the fun debate over the 2020 Academy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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