We braved the news reports of “non-specific threats” to see Joker on opening day. First, it was a spectacularly well done movie. As “Batman canon,” it’s sort of Cesar Romero doing a Heath Ledger impersonation in Taxi Driver. As its own film, it is an excellent portrayal of a man driven mad by a society unforgiving of his mental illness.

Joaquin Phoenix does an excellent job portraying this descent from illness into madness. The film focuses so much on him that it doesn’t leave much room for the other actors, though the casting is on point. Robert De Niro as a sort of gruff “Late Night” host is good, of course, and fits in well as a sort of background to Joker’s developing mania – better than if he were brought more central or used for his “star power.”

The film is not as overtly violent as other DC films of late. In fact, Joker is made as though it were in its own DC cinematic universe. The Wayne family factors in, of course – it is set in Gotham City, after all. But, there is no hint that this is a world with meta-humans and alien invasions. This film is more human. The (much touted) violence of the film is also that — personal and human. The violence is at first against the main character, then around him, and ultimately by him.

There are a lot of ways this film could have gone very very wrong. It seems to flirt with some of those ideas. Thankfully, the film makers abandoned the worst impulses of telling an origin story in Gotham City. The result is almost “hanging a lantern” on the awful tropes it did not use, and the complete plot of the film could be recounted without giving away a meaningful spoiler. Even the use of flashback within the narrative advances the story instead of reminding us that some part was important.

The point of the film isn’t any of its moments. Joker is about the story building to that moment when he takes that final step, donning the titular mantle. Even that “moment” is a metamorphosis over the three final scenes.

I’ve long said that Batman is a study in psychology. Stories set in Gotham are essays on the subject. Joker is no exception. While no one condones his actions, nor excuses them, the film explores the systemic failures that resulted in the Clown-Prince of Crime. It does so without apology and with a realism that is almost a cautionary tale about the state of mental healthcare.

Go see Joker if you are a fan of the character and want to see a plausible origin story. Go see Joker if you don’t really know anything about Batman but enjoy tales of un-redeemed protagonists. Don’t see Joker if you are the sort of DCU fan who develops theories about the scribbling on the corner of a page that you have to pause the movie to see – Joker is clear enough as is.