Joker Rising stars Dylan Hobbes as Cyrus, a new mob enforcer partnered up with the more experienced and loyal Croc (Manuel Eduardo Ramirez) as they operate the day-to-day operations of Gotham’s most established drug king, Oswald (Bob Burhl). Cyrus keeps a straight face. He harbors no ill ambitions; he just wants to make money. But, when he falls for Harley (Katie Young), a beautiful prostitute owned by the pimp Riddles (Dominique Marsell), he begins to dream big for their future together. Oswald’s days are numbered. The new faces rising in the underworld are darker, scarier, and they have no respect for cheap thugs like Cyrus.
“Sometimes to get somewhere, you gotta pretend you’re someone else for a while,” Harley advises him. “Just remember who you really are.”
Riddles tries to kill Cyrus for shacking up with one of his girls. Cyrus kills his attackers, but now Croc must eliminate both Cyrus and Harley to keep the peace. In a dark warehouse, after witnessing the execution of the woman he loves, Cyrus finally starts laughing and never stops. As he assumes control of Gotham’s underworld, Cyrus knows he has lost himself under the make-up. The Joker rises.
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT
As the movie opens, don’t be surprised if you think to yourself, “Am I watching Drive?” Hobbes’ Cyrus is monosyllabic and “way too serious,” much like Ryan Gosling’s Driver. The movie also borrows style from Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. The unnamed narrator (presumably a present-day Joker, perhaps speaking from inside Arkham Asylum) tells the story as Cyrus and Croc deal drugs and bust heads to the soundtrack of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).” These are some of the most entertaining montages of the movie.
The actors have a lot of freedom in their roles. Some lack any similarities between their comic book counterparts. You could criticize the filmmakers for simply slapping a Batman villain’s name on an otherwise regular gangster, such as Oswald. He doesn’t look anything like The Penguin. Cyrus compares him to a penguin in the loosest of analogies.
Croc, however, is a very interesting interpretation because of a strong performance from Ramirez: an Iraq vet who wears an alligator jacket and sports a nasty scar over a dead eye (just one of the examples of great make-up). Tough but loyal, he represents the kind of dead end life Cyrus could inherit if he doesn’t make a change. Katie Young also plays a good Harley. This comes from someone who has heard a lot of actresses torture their tongues while attempting that iconic accent. Young is more subtle, like Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, another Scorsese influence.
The action is very realistic but not necessarily reminiscent of Batman. The costumes and locations were pre-existing, which minimizes atmosphere. Many moments don’t look like they take place in Gotham City, especially during the day when the palm trees line the background. (The guerrilla filmmakers shot scenes in San Bernardino, CA); however, they have their own Kickstarter and Indiegogo in place to fund two more films and complete a trilogy.
Don’t let the slower scenes at the beginning stop you from watching the entire hour and twenty-minute film. Early throwaway moments get major pay-off in the end, like Cyrus’ ability to pick a lock. That’s good storytelling. Major props to the music supervisor for putting together an emotional score during the final moments as Joker gathers homeless junkies and wages war against his traitorous bosses. The film equals more than the sum of its parts. The final images will break your heart.
WHERE YOU CAN SEE IT
Joker Rising is available for a limited time as a rough cut on YouTube. The filmmakers welcome feedback before they finish the final version. They can cut at least ten minutes of Harley putting on make up.
Joker Rising gets Three Gunshots to the Head out of Five.
Rated R for language and violence.