The new Joker is the darkest, most unsettling superhero flick yet. It rewrote the possibilities of what the genre could be. And it delivered something I had never seen in a movie villain before, from Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) in the 1978 Superman to Thanos (Josh Brolin) in last year’s Avengers: Infinity War — a genuine sense of dread. A feeling that everything was not going to be OK.
Of course we owe that feeling to the fantastic directing, writing, and music. But it was Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as The Joker that sold it. His tortured laugh. His otherworldly interpretive dancing. His schizophrenic mannerisms. And one of the film’s bleakest moments was improvised on the spot by Phoenix, completely taking the crew by surprise.