What do you get when you combine a comedy movie director, a three-time Oscar nominee and one of the most iconic supervillains in history?

The answer is Joker, an origin story starring the Batman villain as the titular character.

The movie follows Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill man who dreams of being a stand-up comedian. Unfortunately, he’s stuck working as a clown for a seedy-looking agency. He is pitiful. He is constantly beaten up. And he is about to become the infamous criminal that terrorizes Gotham City.

Thanks to a friend, I was able to attend a pre-screening of the film despite not being too invested in the DC universe (probably because I spend all of my time on Marvel, oops). After two intense, nail biting-inducing hours in the cinema, I can confidently say that it was well worth it.

If I had to describe the film in one word, it would be different.

Unlike his predecessors, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker has an elaborate backstory that centers on his mental illness, making his motives seem much more human. With a laugh that is strangely reminiscent of crying, Phoenix’s Joker left me feeling electrified, but also terrified.

As I watched Arthur Fleck’s emaciated body dance through his descent into the Joker, I was thoroughly impressed by the duality Phoenix was able to bring out of his character. He was able to show the loneliness of a man abandoned by society and the complete remorselessness of a criminal who has lost faith in the good. Although Heath Ledger’s Joker will always be the golden standard, Phoenix’s portrayal brought a refreshing twist to a well-known character.

Much darker and more thematically disturbing than any comic book-related movie I’ve ever seen, Joker fully embraces nihilism as a response to the bleakness of society. Although I knew that the film wouldn’t be all unicorns and rainbows, I was unprepared for its display of a society without redeeming qualities. I’m not going to lie, I walked out of the cinema a little gloomy at the state of the world.

It’s no surprise that Joker hit theaters amidst controversy, with its dark undertones, copious amounts of violence (especially gun violence) and sympathetic portrayal of the Joker. On top of that, a previous franchise release occurred in conjunction with a shooting that left 12 dead.

While I can see why the movie caused such polarized reactions upon its release, a part of me believes that the criticism towards it is too harsh. Movies like John Wick 3 have main characters that are arguably just as violent, yet don’t receive such negative attention. The whole premise of  Joker is ambiguity. Most superhero stories draw a clear line between hero and villain, but this version of the Joker was never meant to be either; he’s an antihero. Yes, the morals are twisted in the movie, but they fill a purpose.

Controversial or not, Joker brings something new to the table of conventional, comedic superhero movies. The emotional acting and well-written character development alone make it worth a watch. And the better Joker aesthetic than the mob boss look from Suicide Squad just clinches the deal.

Thumbnail courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.