When it comes to comic book films, the stories always revolve around the heroes. Rarely is a film ever about the villain. In fact, origin stories are almost exclusively dedicated to heroes. The only origin films I can think of that don't tell the story of a hero's humble beginnings are Deadpool and Venom, but they aren't really "villains" either, they're more in between, more anti-hero than villain. But the Joker? He's a straight up villain. If Batman and Spider-Man are pop culture's go-to superheroes, each with numerous films, TV shows, and video games to their names, the Joker is the equivalent on the villainous side of the comic book world. Other than Thanos in recent years, I don't think any comic book villain has enjoyed as much of the spotlight as Joker, and rightfully so. As a character that has evolved and changed tremendously over decades, the Joker is a real enigma. Without a "true" origin and motivations that seem at best, completely random and unpredictable, the Joker is possibly the most versatile, adaptable, and flexible comic book character in existence. A fact that director Todd Phillips uses to his advantage in the film. Together with Joaquin Phoenix's incredible portrayal of the character, Joker is easily one of the best films of the year. I'll avoid any major spoilers in this review, but if you want to go into the cinema completely spoiler-free, I suggest you watch the movie first then come back and share your thoughts.
The Joker has had various "origins" over the years, with a fall into a vat of acid being the common link between most of them. Sometimes, he just doesn't have an origin, like Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. He doesn't even have a real name like every other comic book character. This is one reason why the film is so good. The Joker has never been given such a complex and sophisticated origin story, with layers upon layers of character development. The film explores how someone like the Joker could possibly come into existence in a more grounded and believable way. Arthur Fleck (Joker's real name in the film) is continually abused, both physically and emotionally until one day he just snaps. In fact, his snap isn't instantaneous. His first steps into the character that is "The Joker" take place somewhat by accident. They were unintentional. But once he took those first steps, his descent into madness started to gain momentum as he continued to suffer more personal trauma until he begins to accept that his life isn't a tragedy, but a comedy, and he fully embraces his "true" self. The birth of the Joker in this film isn't something intentional. A man didn't wake up one morning and decide to be a criminal in clown makeup. It wasn't accidental either. He didn't suffer a mental and psychiatric breakdown as a result of falling into acid. It just sort of, happened. As the Joker said in The Killing Joke, all it took, was one bad day. Or in the case of Arthur Fleck, several bad days.
Heath Ledger's Joker had a similar point of view.
Speaking of Heath Ledger, comparisons between his portrayal and Joaquin Phoenix's are unavoidable. Ledger's version of the Joker has been my ultimate favourite. His character was sophisticated, deeply philosophical, remarkably aware of societal issues, and his Oscar winning performance was simply incredible. The thing is, I can say the exact same things about Phoenix's performance as well (talk of an Oscar is picking up steam). Some people think they have to choose a favourite, but I won't. The Joker as I said earlier, is incredibly versatile as a character, and as such his portrayals by different actors are just as versatile. At one end of the scale you have Jared Leo's Joker, which we should all try our best to forget. At the other end, the Joker of both Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix. One character, two incredible actors, two incredible performances.
The movie was just crazy good. That's how I'll end my post. Excellent cinematography, amazing writing and character development, and an astounding performance by Joaquin Phoenix. And by the way, there's a pretty exciting twist at the end involving another DC Comics character. I think you can guess who it is.
A truly epic comic book film that will go down in history as one of the all-time greats.