The most renowned adversary of Batman has seen multiple live action portrayals on the big screen, with Jack Nicholson setting standards back in 1989, the late Heath Ledger remarkably earning a posthumous Academy Award for his twisted performance in 2008, and Jared Leto being met with fairly mediocre reception despite initial hype back in 2016. Now Joaquin Phoenix brings his take on the character with a surprisingly dark R rated depiction; one that's yielded mixed results with a fair few audiences, especially the politically correct.
Joker sees failing standup comedian Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) living within the ruined hellhole that is Gotham City, himself suffering from both physical and mental illnesses which crucially rely on medication to tame. When his already miserable life soon reaches an all time low, Fleck slowly drifts toward one of crime and disorder, adopting the iconic persona as he does.
Phoenix brings fans a powerful and unique performance that certainly doesn't attempt to mimic other live action depictions; it's one that perfectly captures the most disturbing psychological problems that fester within the character's mind. Acting as an origin story, Joker naturally focuses more on the character's transformation into his villainous self rather than his numerous actions once he dons the suit and makeup. It's this that makes him relatable despite his dismal characteristics; audiences can sympathize rather than simply viewing him as a merciless criminal as the story progresses. This exploration of mental health is handled with care, and sequences displaying the most prominent and twisted symptoms make for some of the film's freakiest yet most insightful moments.
While the plot can sometimes be a bit of a tonal jumble, with most supporting characters not quite leaving the same impact despite a strong cast, it still remains an engaging tale from start to finish. Those expecting a traditional superhero story will certainly be surprised with the film's menacing approach; one that doesn't attempt to sugarcoat the character's most disturbing attributes. This brave and thoughtful development, coupled with Phoenix's dedicated performance, makes for a thrilling if imperfect experience for those interested. It's not without some repetitive moments, nor graphic visuals that occasionally feel rather abrupt, but it'll still leave a lasting impression for many; one that's both gripping and frightening in the process.