Joker is the best movie of the year and I never want to watch it again
It has been a long time since a blockbuster movie has felt this... volatile.
One of the biggest reasons why fans love the character of The Joker so much is because, in his original version, nobody really knows where he came from or how he came to be who he is.
Heath Ledger's version definitely alluded to that (his constantly changing version of "You wanna know how I got these scars?"), but the Jack Nicholson edition was quite explicit about his origins: he fell into a vat of chemicals and went a bit mad. Or mad-der, at least.
It was one of the biggest early criticisms of this take on Joker, but it is one that should also be put to rest immediately, as a character like this can and should be portrayed in a myriad of ways.
In 1980s Gotham, we met Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a part-time professional clown and full-time wannabe comedian. He has a crush on his neighbour Sophie (Zazie Beatz), and takes care of his frail mother Penny (Frances Conroy), who has an odd obsession with her former boss, Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen).
Fleck idolises late-night talk-show host Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro), and dreams of one day being a guest on the show, but between his own personal psychological afflictions, and a city on the verge of tearing itself apart due to an ever-expanding wealth gap, galvanized by Wayne's newly announced and elitism-fuelled run for Mayor, it is more likely that Fleck will end up in Arkham Asylum than on TV.
From the get-go, it is clear that director and co-writer Todd Phillips (The Hangover Trilogy) is not concerned with giving us a "comic book movie", as the obvious nods are towards Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy, and some less obvious nods for American Psycho and Requiem For A Dream.
It is hugely ballsy to plant the audience in the position to have us supporting the Joker as the protagonist (sort of), and painting a member of the Wayne family as the villain, and not only because it goes against the eight decades of lore we've all consumed about the Batman mythos.
There is also the fact that Fleck - who is on several strong medications for a series of unconfirmed mental diagnosis - is made an accidental figurehead for an entire uprising of the lower classes in Gotham. They see him as a good guy who has had enough of what society has been constantly shovelling on him, but not as the clearly dangerous man that he obviously is.
And the movie does an incredible job of walking that tightrope, too. Our sympathies lie with Fleck, even as he continuously does horrible things, mostly because a normal person will want to automatically side with the underdog, even if that underdog is actively stalking his neighbour or bringing weapons into a children's hospitals.
Phoenix makes the role his own, absolutely spellbinding in every scene, pinballing from sympathetic to terrifying in a heartbeat, and he is surrounded by an incredible supporting cast, especially De Niro, who hasn't felt this alive since Silver Linings Playbook.
Director Phillips brings in a low-key, successfully filthy visual style, the camera always trained to whatever Phoenix's performance may fancy at the moment, and it is tied in with an incredible score by Hildur Guðnadóttir (Chernobyl), who perfectly mixes classical and industrial styles throughout.
Combined, it is almost staggering that Warner Brothers allowed them all to make this movie, when it could have been so easy to make it all style and over-acting (see: Jared Leto in Suicide Squad). It is a bleak, powerful, incendiary take on one of the fiction's greatest creations, but you'll still need a chemical shower and a whole season of Parks & Rec afterwards just to feel right again.
Joker is released in Irish cinemas on Friday 4 October.
Clip via Warner Bros. Pictures