WARNING: Full spoilers for Suicide Squad ahead. If you feel like that may ruin your film viewing experience, please bookmark this page and come back later.
For me as a fan, Leto’s depiction of The Joker was the low point of the film. Not because he didn’t do a good job, but because he barely had anything to do. He was barely in the film, despite his heavy appearances in ALL marketing leading up to the film’s release. As a fan of method acting, I was immediately intrigued when I heard the macabre tales leak out from the set, of him threatening cast members, and sending sick, personalized gifts to Will Smith and Margot Robbie. bullets, dead pigs, and live rats were all we heard about for a good while. I let my mind wander to what he could have possibly done to warrant a threat of tasing via Viola Davis. From the outside, Leto’s method acting seemed to be producing the most depraved, dark depiction of the character yet, one that was sure to rival the legendary Heath Ledger. Sadly this is not the case.
The depiction itself isn’t the problem. Suicide Squad’s Joker is more or less a decent depiction, diverting from the usual “serial killer” persona to show us a more sadistic Joker inspired by real life monsters. In doing research, I learned that the look was based off of pimps and drug lords.The inspiration makes sense on multiple levels, giving an excuse for the Joker’s lavish lifestyle, as well as a relatable analogue in the real world. In comics and games, Joker is one of the few villains who is rarely seen running any kind of illicit operations. Penguin, Two-Face, Black Mask and the rest all have their crews and territory. It only makes sense to show the Joker operating his. While many still dislike the more “gangsta” aesthetic Leto brings with him, I think it worked fairly well. In finding real-life inspiration in murderous psychopaths, Suicide Squad set up a solid and unique depiction of the character, it just doesn’t go anywhere interesting.
Despite all the marketing push behind him, The Joker is firmly placed in side character territory in Suicide Squad. While he is cleverly weaved into Harley Quinn’s backstory (as he should be), his appearances outside of that are shockingly short, culminating in a failed attempt to free Harley from Task Force X, disappearing, and then popping back in for the final frames of the film. This, more than anything is why The Joker is a disappointment: there is nothing for him to do. We get to see him running his club, we get to see a flash of his androgynous side during a backroom interrogation, but we never get to really have any specific moment to sink our teeth into. Jared Leto does his best, incinerating each scene he’s in with psychopathic flair, but its never enough.
There are strong images to be sure. Joker reclining into a meticulously organized spiral of assorted cutlery, roses, and even baby clothing is probably the best of the bunch, offering a vague look inside the mind of the insane clown. But it’s hard to care about The Joker or his motivations when his sole purpose in the film was to give backstory to Harley, and serve in her side plot. You get the implications of their “love” fairly clearly, but outside of that there’s not a lot of meat to dig into. Jared Leto’s Joker is missing his big moment. The moment where he really gets to blast the character wide open onscreen, and using the opportunity to get under the audience’s skin. Ledger had moments like The Disappearing Pencil. Nicholson had the art gallery. Hamill has certainly had his fair share across the Arkham Series and films like The Killing Joke. But Leto can’t hope to live up to these titanic performances, because he’s never given a chance.
It’s a shame too, because his performance itself is sound. Leto perfected a laugh that is unique to his interpretation, while crafting a cool exterior that manages to be as mysterious as it is foreboding. Unfortunately, it sounds like a good deal of his performance was cut from the final edit of the film. According to Leto, roughly ten minutes of footage featuring him is missing in the theatrical cut, including a section after the helicopter crash where he throws a grenade and yells “Bye-bye!”, a scene itself that was featured in trailers. Even the way he is regarded by others is well done, with Amanda Waller bringing up his name as if he were the boogeyman. It just turns out to all be in service of nothing.
Like many things nowadays, I can’t help but feel that Jared Leto’s Joker is a victim of hype. Months of rampant speculation and rumors have congealed into a performance that isn’t anywhere near as notable as it should be, for multiple reasons. Even still, I have hope for this character in the future. We know at some point in this universe he killed Robin, so it would only make sense that he gets to show up with in the upcoming Affleck-directed Batman film. I just hope he eventually gets the chance he needs to really flesh out this rendition of Gotham’s most notorious villain. I have a strong feeling that Jared Leto’s Joker could really be something special; just not in this film.
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