Joker ★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

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Is it just me, or is it getting more reasonable out there? Temperatures are falling, Trump is being impeached, and Todd Phillips’ “Joker” — which was a Category 5 cinematic shitstorm even before it won the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival, and had been touted as a potential Oscar heavyweight until some bad PR and a plummeting Rotten Tomatoes score helped slow its momentum on opening week — has packed multiplexes across the country without any sign of the mass shootings that certain people feared it might inspire.

But if it’s already starting to seem absurd that anyone was legitimately worried about “Joker,” perhaps that says less about the world we live in than does it about the fecklessness of the film itself? For all of the pearl-clutching that preceded its release (much of which traces back to critics who tried to reconcile the size of the movie’s predicted impact with the smallness of its ideas), “Joker” will likely be remembered as a paper-thin provocation; as a cultural lightning rod that lacked the courage to do anything more than draw attention to itself. I know this because — 20 years ago this month — a movie called “Fight Club” punched its way into the public consciousness in a way that still continues to bruise. I know this, because Tyler knows this.

“The King of Comedy” provides the template for so much of what “Joker” does well, but “Fight Club” clarifies all of its failures. Not only was David Fincher’s roman candle of a movie the last major studio release to burn with the kind of ingrown, anarchic, “are men okay?” energy that fuels Joaquin Phoenix across the screen, but the reasons people still talk about “Fight Club” today are the same reasons why people won’t be talking about “Joker” tomorrow.


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