Joker (4K UHD Blu-Ray Review)

Warner Bros. has delivered a 4K disc that might be the best comic book movie home release of all time in terms of visual and audio clarity. Fans of Todd Phillips’ anti-superhero one-off (well, for now) can rejoice as the $1 billion grosser is finally ready for its 4K close-up. Dolby Vision showcases amazing HDR, from the streets of Gotham to Anytown U.S.A. For newcomers, now is the time to check out Joaquin Phoenix’s Golden Globe-winning performance. As for myself, I was curious to see if this Joker would hold up a second time. I was a fan when it opened last October but haven’t thought about it since. Should Arthur start booking gigs at The Improv and The Comedy Store? Did he finally get the last laugh?



Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) lives with his mother (Frances Conroy) in a run-down apartment complex in the heart of downtown Gotham circa 1981. Garbage litters the streets, crime is up, and the lower class like Arthur and his mom can’t catch his break. The best this crappy world has to offer is unfulfilling part-time work as a street clown. What Arthur really wants is to be on TV as a stand-up like his mom’s favorite, Murray (Robert De Niro), who hosts a Johnny Carson-like late show. But is he any good as a comedian?

The bulk of the film’s two-hour running time is spent witnessing just how terrible and pathetic Arthur’s life is. He tries and tries not to give up hope, but at nearly every corner, there are Wall Street jerks, and others bound to make Arthur miserable. At the top of the food chain is a smug, Trump-like billionaire, Thomas Wayne, who is eyeing a run for the Mayor of Gotham. Wayne will not help someone like Arthur.

The tragedy of Joker is all surface. However, writer/director Todd Phillps has a fantastic performer in Phoenix. Moreover, the look and feel of the film scream peak-Scorsese, like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Yet, as much as I was engrossed when I saw the film in theaters, this time, I was very aware of how empty the screenplay ends up being. Clearly, Phillips is going for the grimy feel of Travis Bickle’s life or even the rampant nihilism of David Fincher’s Se7en. Still, with all due respect to Phillips (best known for directing The Hangover trilogy), I don’t think there’s a lot ‘there’ there.

I remember back in 2003, thinking the remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was a hoot. Jessica Beil delivered a strong, stunning, no-holds-barred performance. The look of the film was excellent. In fact, it was the same DP as the original ’74 masterpiece. And yet… Marcus Nispel’s fun B-movie slasher had zero on its mind. It wasn’t really saying anything about the current war or politics of the era, like how Tobe Hooper’s film felt impacted by Vietnam.

At the end of the day, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just making a fun slasher pic or, in the case of Joker, a fun “origin of a master villain” movie. That in mind, Joker revels in its ugliness on the surface with heavy subject matter like economic inequality or the systemic abuse of the mentally ill that it’s disappointing the people populating Gotham (including a young Bruce Wayne) have no private lives. Arthur can be pitied, and by the end, you can rally behind him, but he’s not very complicated.

For one thing, there’s a strange insistence by way of the story to not let Arthur do anything too questionable. He might don a colorful and iconic outfit by the film’s last act, but a true antagonist has to be allowed to be well, morally grey. Think of those great monologues delivered by Heath Ledger’s Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight. He might be crazy, but in your mind, you think, “Hmmm.. he has a point, right?” Phoenix’s clown never gets that chance.

Still, Joker is rarely dull. I may have cooled on this refreshingly different DC flick, but it’s pretty darn watchable. And ya know what? I would totally see a follow-up.



  • Encoding: HEVC/H.265
  • Resolution: Native 4K (2160p)
  • HDR: Dolby Vision + HDR10
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Clarity/Detail: Grain is miraculously absent, especially at night, even though the aesthetics of the late 70s cinema could have warranted it. (This was shot digitally at 5.1K)
  • Depth: At times, the art direction really makes you think you’re watching a lost and restored Scorsese film.
  • Black Levels: Black levels deep. The shadows and fog the pepper the night is thankfully not overly grey or washed out.
  • Color Reproduction: Considering how muted the color palate can be (intentionally), I was shocked at how striking light sources and textures were. Murray’s Carson-like set pops with color.
  • Flesh Tones: Flesh tones are real when needed and heightened as we reach the big finale.
  • Noise/Artifacts: Nope.



  • Audio Format(s): English: Dolby Atmos, English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit), English: Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps)
    Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps)
    French: Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps)
  • Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
  • Dynamics: Every cackle Arthur makes is crisp and clean.
  • Low-Frequency Extension: The subways and other dreary Gotham haunts feel natural.
  • Surround Sound Presentation: The music by composer Hildur Guðnadóttir (who is the first woman ever to win a Globe Globes for a film’s score) is full, vibrant. There’s a subtle but not overdone use of multiple channels whenever Arthur ventures into the city, which makes the world of this early Reagan era city come to life.
  • Height: The big last act riot is massive with clowns in charge.
  • Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is loud and clear.



Joker puts on a show in stunning 4K housed in the typical slipcover with two discs and a Movies Anywhere digital redeem code. Sadly, the extras are pretty paltry. I would be bet a more robust carnival-sized edition will be released in the next few years. Or perhaps WB will wait for some Origins of Evil set where Arthur’s tale is sandwiched between Selina Kyle and Dr. Victor Fries…

  • Becoming Joker (1:23) – A super short montage of the evolution of Phoenix from grim-looking city dude to Clown Prince.
  • Joker: Vision & Fury (22:25) – Writer/director Todd Phillips, Joaquin Phoenix, composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, and others start from the film’s pitch on to casting, editing, etc. In other words, a pretty standard featurette.
  • Please Welcome… Joker! (2:44) – A short look at different takes from Arthur’s big television debut.
  • Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos (3:04) – Still images are shown as a slideshow.
  • Note: if you have iTunes the Movies Anywhere code will supply a full Director’s Commentary of the film, not on the discs.


On the big screen, I was a fan of Todd Phillips’ take on Batman’s arch-nemesis. Regardless of my thoughts on the script, Joaquin Phoenix delivers a riveting, vulnerable performance as the man who would become Joker. The 4K transfer is a superb way to take in all the marvelous colors while wallowing in the grime of the city, even if the story itself wasn’t as thrilling the second time around. The pasted white make-up has definitely begun to fade.


The Joker 4K

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