Among the villains that stand in Batman’s Rogues Gallery, there are none as truly iconic as the hysterically laughing madman that is the Joker.
Everyone has their own favourite version of the Joker. Some like Jack Nicholson’s campy take on the Clown Prince of Crime.
Critics and audiences loved Heath Ledger’s award-winning performance in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
Few may be fond of Jared Leto’s unusual spin on the lunatic, while many fondly remember Mark Hamill’s maniacal laughter from Batman: The Animated Series.
And now, throwing his hat into the ring is Joaquin Phoenix, who can be remembered for many great performances, including as the demented, hate-worthy Commodus in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.
Taking up the mantle of a villain once more, Phoenix lets his talent shine as he is truly the star of Joker, and arguably the best part about the film.
The film, despite being an origin story for the DC Comics villain, is not tied to the ongoing DC Extended Universe and thus, has no connection to Leto’s Joker from Suicide Squad.
It is a standalone movie and it is all the better for it, for other than a few subtle references to the Caped Crusader, Joker is not tied down by the chains of a cinematic universe.
Set in a realistically depressing 1980s Gotham, the titular character has humble beginnings as a clown named Arthur Fleck, who has big dreams of becoming a stage comedian and just making people laugh.
However, life has a way of kicking people who are already down on their luck, and Fleck descends the steps into madness when he does something that will change himself and Gotham for the worse.
Phoenix really does have a way with how he depicts psychopathic villains and the third act when Fleck dies and the Joker is born, has an unnerving climax.
His chilling smile, the madness in his eyes and the uncertainty of his intentions leaves you gripping your seat as the Joker plans his next move.
The sound of his chuckling will make your hair stand, but that’s nothing compared to the diabolical screams emanating from the depths of his being.
As antithetical as it may seem, Phoenix splendidly plays a villain who is as menacing as he is hilarious, sometimes unintentionally!
One can only feel bad for Leto whose performance will get the short end of the stick when compared to the outstanding Ledger and the transcendent Phoenix.
But what makes this film truly great is that you will be able to see that the Joker did not start off as a psychotic villain, but rather as a troubled man with genuine mental health issues.
Despite technically being a comic book movie, Joker actually serves quite well as a commentary on the troubles that people with mental health issues face and how cripplingly lonely it can sometimes be.
Written in Fleck’s joke journal is the line, “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”
The theme of how society tends to treat those with mental health issues is apparent throughout the movie.
At the start of the film, Fleck is a good-natured but socially awkward and severely depressed man who just wants to make people laugh.
His condition, which causes him to laugh uncontrollably, lands him in hot water repeatedly, and he gets physically brutalised and emotionally abused because of it.
For a man about to become Gotham’s worst nightmare, you actually feel sympathy for the unhappy Fleck, whose bitter tears flow through his laughter.
As though his life could not be any worse, reality bites hard in the form of mind-breaking revelations and a terrible split-second decision on one fateful night.
However, despite the pity Fleck may receive from the audience, once he goes down the path of darkness, his atrocities grow increasingly inexcusable.
There are other themes on life’s harsh realities interspersed throughout the film, and it does leave audiences with something to think about.
During a particularly intense scene, a victim does point out that despite Arthur’s negative view of the world, there are genuinely good people out there.
A point that is hammered home by the fact that the Joker would eventually find his match in the noble and just Batman.
Ultimately though, as the newly born Joker leaves Gotham in a state of carnage, it becomes clear the city is in dire need of a Batman to save it.
A comic book film that is certainly different from the standard Marvel or DC fare, Joker is a film not to be missed and offers a darkly intriguing explanation to the Joker’s murderous insanity.