What makes a Joker? While some (myself included) would probably argue that one of the things that makes the Joker great is actually his lack of a backstory, it’s no less interesting a question to contemplate. Is it nature? Is it nurture? Is it timing? Is it fate? Is it choice? Todd Phillips’ Joker is one of the few movies I’ve seen that attempts to wrestle with this, while providing the answer that it’s all of those things, that actually seems to do a mostly really good job of SHOWING that it’s all of those things and not undercutting one or another in favor of leaning more towards a certain direction. The Joker isn’t born of pure happenstance, nor is he just a homicidal lunatic that should have been locked up as a child. He's not entirely in control of himself, but he's definitely to blame for that and freely chooses to abandon the laws of morality as we understand them. He’s the perfect storm.
While it misses the mark on being a “perfect” movie, some of that is because it’s not a perfect JOKER movie…it’s not a perfect COMIC BOOK movie, and that’s something that needs to be wrestled with on kind of each person’s individual level. This isn’t THE Joker, this is A Joker. It’s not the birth of the version of the Joker we all know, it’s just a possible background for how a person like the Joker can come into existence. The extent to which that bothers you will color your opinion of most of the movie, I think. For me, that holds it back from being a perfect 5/5, but its many strengths more than make up for that shortcoming, and its other faults border on nitpicks. As a character piece about a man becoming a monster, a transformation from a person into a creature (just not with the special effects associate with a thing like The Fly or something), Joker is spectacular.
PS: I guess you can't really review or talk about Joker without addressing the "glorification of violence" supposedly found therein....it's plainly and simply bullshit. Is the movie dark? Yes. Disturbing? Absolutely? Uncomfortable? You know it. Is Arthur a grimy sleezy protagonist? Yep. Does the movie have our protagonist ultimately become a sinister monster, a complete sociopath and a villain? SURE DOES. Does it condone, or even worse, applaud that violence, that sleeze, that darkness, and that sociopathic villain? What the hell movie were people watching? While some of Arthur's early moments seem at least somewhat justified by the circumstances in which he finds himself, by the end, when he's fully formed as The Joker, there's no reasoning or rationale behind his actions. He tells horrible jokes that only he thinks are funny. He tells non-jokes about death and violence that he finds hilarious and everyone else finds sick. He murders with a casual flare that only a true monster could possess and he doesn't even see why it's a big deal. To argue that the movie is extolling any kind of virtue behind this behavior is to misunderstand it completely. I could see taking issue with making the Joker somewhat sympathetic, but I don't get any sort of applauding and inciting violence. He's the VILLAIN. This is the villain's origin. As for the Joker being sympathetic, I think he's made more pitiful...which again, might not be everyone's cup of tea when it comes to The Joker, but I think there's a difference between "You should empathize with this person and their plight," and "Look at this piece of sh**. It's a real piece of sh**, isn't it? You should feel bad that it exists."