This is no laughing matter: The first reviews of Todd Phillips’ Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix are here.

The movie, the first film dedicated to the Clown Prince of Crime without Batman, doesn’t open in theaters until October. But the movie just made its world premiere at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, where critics got their first look at it and filed their reviews. Overall, critics are split. There’s lots of praise for Phoenix’s peformance, and the seriousness of the film. But some critics were left cold by its depiction of Gotham City, and of a terrifying psychopath we’re made to feel sympathy for.

Here’s a sampling of the early Joker reviews so far:

Germain, Lussier, GIzmodo:

“ It’s a solid, well-made film that, ultimately, has a bit of an identity crisis.”

Terri White, Empire:

“ It’s a sad, chaotic, slow-burn study of someone who isn’t visible; who doesn’t even exist to the world around them.”

Tim Grierson, Screen Daily:

“An iconic comic-book villain gets an appropriately epic origin story.”

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

“The rare comic-book movie that expresses what's happening in the real world.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter:

“What's so compelling about the title role, both as written and in Phoenix's full-throttle, raw performance, is that we're encouraged to feel sympathy for the Joker even as he's clearly turning into a homicidal maniac.”

Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair:

“The movie is, for a good stretch, a troubling and arresting character study, one done with nervy conviction. Eventually, though, Phillips has to more tightly attach this downward spiral to the larger Gotham mythology, which is where the provocative ambivalence of the film gives way to veneration.”

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune:

“Many will find Joker compellingly morbid. A first encounter left me not chilled, or rattled, but cold.”

Robbie Collin, The Telegraph:

“A part of me found Todd Phillips’s radical rethinking of the Batman villain Joker thrillingly uncompromising and hair-raisingly timely. Another thinks it should be locked in a strongbox then dropped in the ocean and never released.”

David Ehrlich, Indiewire:

“Unquestionably the boldest reinvention of superhero cinema since The Dark Knight; a true original that’s sure to be remembered as one of the most transgressive studio blockbusters of the 21st Century.”

Here’s the movie’s official synopsis:

Director Todd Phillips “Joker” centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big screen. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. A clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night…but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this gritty character study.

Joker opens in theaters on October 4.

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