The “Joker” is quite possibly the definitive comic book movie/TV villain. Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger, and Jared Leto all brought a distinctive quality to the iconic character. When it was announced Joaquin Phoenix was to portray Joker it was an intriguing prospect as he was also sure to bring a uniqueness to the iconic character. However, it was less encouraging that it was to be a seemingly needless origin story; how wrong was that assumption.

This reviewer over the past few years has become very jaded and unenthused by the over-saturation of comic book movies and TV shows, most following a similar uninspiring and predictable template. Surprisingly Joker has restored a little of my faith that the mainstream comic book genre can do something different. While far from perfect Joker is still among one of the best films of 2019, redefining the expectations of a comic book movie like no other in recent years.

An almost character study depicting psychologically troubled Arthur Fleck as he is disregarded and mistreated by his peers, the system, and society. This leads him to developing an alter-ego.

The focus and style gives the feel of the character driven films of the 1970s, most noticeably “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy”, and Buddy Giovinazzi‘s lesser known 1984 film “Combat Shock“. The other inspiration being Alan Moore‘s influential and ground-breaking comic book “Batman: The Killing Joke“.

A film that can be viewed as either the origin story of Batman’s most famous nemesis or as a psychological character study. As with the aforementioned Joker depicts the realistic, ugly, and brutal side of life.

However, while not comparable with its inspirations “Joker” is elevated by a superb lead performance. Joaquin Phoenix drives the narrative of the film, bringing to mind the commitment and intensity of Robert DeNiro at his very best. He takes the audience through myriad emotions and feelings as the film progresses to a subjective ambiguous ending. Make no mistake this is his film, and without his performance it really would not have been as impressive a film as it is.

While sporadically disturbing and shocking it is never exploitative. At times it is purposefully uncomfortable viewing, especially in the latter parts of the film. It is understandable that it is problematic feeling empathy at certain points for Arthur Fleck. Nevertheless, it depicts realistically how mental illness can push some to a very extreme breaking point. It is refreshing in this day and age of soulless blockbusters for a studio film to attempt do something different with a comic book film, and more so with some depth.

Joker” is intelligent, thought provoking, provocative, and daring. It is among one of the bleakest, most disturbing, and shocking mainstream comic book films ever made.

Quite simply one of the best comic book movies in recent years.

Check also: 10 definitive stills – Joker (2019), Director: Todd Phillips

Karl Franks