Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker performance is receiving incredible reviews. In fact, the crazed response by critics led to an 8 minute standing ovation during the Venice Film Festival screening of the much anticipated movie.

This intense origin story of what may be one of the most significant and mysterious comic book villains certainly appears to have all the markings of a great film: passion, tension, and dilemma. But it’s that last one I think audiences truly will face when viewing Todd Phillips’s dark drama.

In the most significant appearance of the Painted Menace since The Dark Knight, Joker sheds some light on Gotham’s Just Reward. Yet, unlike origin stories of the past, Phoenix’s character seems more a result of his surroundings than of his choices. He comes off as a slighted victim rather than a psychotic killer. Of course that was the goal.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am excited to see this film and appreciate the effort that has gone into creating something noteworthy (Joaquin Phoenix actually lost 52lbs for the role). However, I worry that in this case, politics and agendas may have gotten in the way of something that could have been truly powerful.

In this rendition, it’s as if taking one of the world’s most grisly and murderous villains and making him the unwilling victim of his circumstances, his later actions are clearly justifiable. It quickly leads to a case of “well he can’t be responsible for his actions, because he was bullied”.

False.

The Joker is not an anti-hero as some have suggested. He’s not a good guy and he is not a role model. He is the very representation of evil and chaos and he wouldn’t want to be praised, he’d want to be feared. So here lies the dilemma: when you make the villain the good guy, who is left to play the villain?

Granted, this is just a made up story about a fictional character, but still. Have some respect. Part of the reason The Dark Knight‘s Joker was so exceptional was that his mystery made him unable to reason with. Even he (the Joker) provided multiple accounts of his infamous “Wanna know how I got these scars?”.

Why?

Because at the end of the day, the reason didn’t matter. His scars didn’t make him a villain. He was simply, “an agent of chaos”. He only told the story because the audience wanted to hear one.

Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008)
Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008)

So will I see Todd Phillips Joker? Probably. Will I enjoy it? Most likely. Do I see it as the Joker’s origin story? Well…I think it’s just another story, somebody wanted to hear.