Few movies have been more eagerly anticipated and more talked about this year than Todd Phillips's Joker, which stars Joaquin Phoenix in the leading role. After an initial rush of positive reviews—"a bravura piece of filmmaking," per Deadline, for example—the movie has spent the past month mired by controversy over claims that it could incite real life violence, with both the FBI and the United States military having issued warnings over potential incel violence. That backlash has prompted staged emotional stunts from Phoenix himself and vocal complaints from Phillips about the effects of "woke culture" on comedy. The lead up to Joker has been intense and, quite frankly, exhausting, but what we can hope for from all of this, at the very least, is a good movie.
To the dismay of everyone who's been keeping up with Joker's twists and turns to date, it seems like that might not be the case. The movie was released nationwide today, and now critics' reviews are in. Overall, they're not looking great—in fact, some of them are downright brutal. As of this writing, the movie holds a 69% percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which is still "certified fresh," but it isn't as nice as one might have expected given the movie's earlier buzz.
Here's what critics have had to say about Joker.
Josh Wilding, ComicBookMovie.com
Joker is definitely influenced by the comic books and there's plenty here for fans to appreciate. At its core, though, while it may not feature the villain battling it out with The Batman, this is just a masterclass in acting and filmmaking.
Kurt Loder, Reason
The prospect of unnecessary sequels is always dismaying; but Joaquin Phoenix is so good here, and the movie's plot structure is so inventive, that you could find yourself actually wondering what might happen next.
John Wenzel, The Denver Post
By the time the film reaches its convulsive, citywide climax, Phillips has done his best to show us how terrible things tend to beget more terrible things—but also how cool they can look when shot against sunsets and flickering lights. Perhaps the bleakest assertion of “Joker” is the one that’s hardest to disprove: That the ghastly world Fleck inhabits, and by extension ours, is the one we deserve.
Richard Brody, The New Yorker
“Joker” is a wannabe movie that also wants to be all things to all viewers, that imitates the notion of adding substance while only subtracting it. “Joker” is a viewing experience of a rare, numbing emptiness.
A.O. Scott, The New York Times
“Joker,” an empty, foggy exercise in second-hand style and second-rate philosophizing, has none of that. Besotted with the notion of its own audacity—as if willful unpleasantness were a form of artistic courage—the film turns out to be afraid of its own shadow, or at least of the faintest shadow of any actual relevance.
Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal
Literal pain can’t be transmitted from screen to audience, but anxiety can, and the production is a nonstop generator of anxiety, a poor substitute for dramatic intricacy. If you’re feeling insufficiently anxious in your life, “Joker” could be just the ticket. If not, look elsewhere to be entertained.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
The year’s biggest disappointment has arrived. It emerges with weirdly grownup self-importance from the tulip fever of festival awards season as an upscale spin on an established pop culture brand.
Dana Stevens, Slate
Joker is a bad movie, yes: It’s predictable, clichéd, deeply derivative of other, better movies, and overwritten to the point of self-parody.
Jake Coyle, Associated Press
“Joker,” though, is a calculatedly combustible concoction, designed, like its chaos-creating character, to cause a stir. To provoke and distort. I wish it was as radical as it thinks it is.
Glen Weldon, NPR
Joker sees Arthur's transformation into a mass murderer as inevitable. It's not a choice; it's something the world does to him. As a result of his passivity, the story becomes little more than Arthur suffering a string of indignities until, one day, heroically (?), he doesn't anymore. It swiftly grows predictable, then repetitive, then dull.
It's worth noting, of course, that the audience reception to Joker thus far has been much, much more positive than the critic response, having earned the movie a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 93%. Ultimately, whether Joker is worth all the discussions and drama will be up to viewers to decide for themselves, and the movie will surely be a contender come awards season regardless. In case you've missed it, you can watch the trailer for Joker here.