Jared Leto’s Joker: Were We Too Harsh?

Jared Leto as "The Joker" in 2016's "Suicide Squad".

                                    Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Jared Leto’s Joker: Were We Too Harsh?

by Cole Albinder

Admit it: Suicide Squad was the most anticipated and promoted film of this past summer. From the trailers to the merchandise, people were gearing up for what looked like the most insane, action-packed, wickedly clever comic book movie, one that would focus on a group of villains forced to do some good. Despite that angle, and the presence of some top notch acting talent (Will Smith, Margot Robbie, and Viola Davis, among others), there was one aspect of the film that audiences were excited for: the inclusion of Batman’s arch-nemesis The Joker, to be played by Oscar-winner Jared Leto.

Heath Ledger’s mesmerizing, psychotically-charged take on the Clown Prince of Crime in 2008’s seminal The Dark Knight left such an imprint on audiences. He was at once captivating, cunning, manipulative, and just the right amount of crazy; he arguably stole the spotlight from Batman. Just a few years ago, when Warner Bros. announced their own DC Comics film universe to rival Marvel’s, few doubted that The Joker wouldn’t return to menace the Batman once again. Flash forward to the first giant casting announcement for Suicide Squad, and Jared Leto was included as The Joker himself. Fans went rabid over how The Joker would fit into the movie; his “lover” Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) was in it, so it would make sense if he figured into the plot somehow. Would he only be in flashbacks to Harley’s past? Or would he be the villain of the movie? People also wondered what what he would look like. That question was answered a few months later, when director David Ayer tweeted out this picture:

"The Joker" (Jared Leto) in "suicide Squad".

                             Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Any fears about this movie were intensified once this image hit the web. I mean, we partly got what we wanted: a Joker interpretation far removed from Heath Ledger’s. But metal teeth (this would later be explained as Batman having knocked his teeth out, which kinda works)? Tattoos?! This went a bit far, and people were understandably upset, confused, or both. But the actual footage of Joker in several trailers and commercials mostly assuaged these critics. Take a look at this one:

                   Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

And then there’s this one focused mostly on him:

                          Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Piqued your interest, right? As long as his trademark insanity was present, it wouldn’t matter what The Joker looked like. Audiences were pumped to see just what crazy shit The Joker would get away with throughout the film. Opening day finally came, and audiences finally got to see Joker….but only for a little bit.

Turns out that the negative feedback Warner Bros. got from Batman vs. Superman‘s dark and dreary tone scared them into re-editing/re-shooting Suicide Squad to be much lighter and fun, like what the trailers promised. Unfortunately, this meant the shelving of a lot of Joker footage, even if it made sense to keep it in, story-wise. We only got to see a few scenes with the Clown Prince of Crime, about 10 minutes worth.

Even with his limited screentime , audiences weren’t completely forgiving with Leto’s take on the villain, with a good portion of internet forum groups, casual fans, and members of the public singling him out as one of the movie’s worst aspects. It’s unlikely we’ve seen the last of this Joker, as Leto has teased his return via posts on social media. With his return imminent, what can we hope for until then?

First, I’ll give my take on Leto’s performance. I can’t say that I’ve seen a large amount of his work as an actor, save for Dallas Buyers Club. I thought he was very good in that movie, showing how much of a chameleon he is when playing different roles. I didn’t doubt that he would bring that same ethic to Joker, and I was excited as many others were. His actual performance divided me, though: while he had presence and came off as chilling in a few scenes, I felt that he was playing it too over-the-top, almost trying too hard to be crazy and unpredictable whenever he showed up. His laugh was also divisive; the maniacal laugh is integral to any actor playing the Joker, whether it be a live actor or a voice actor. Mark Hamill, who has done fantastic voice-over work as The Joker in several animated series and video games, describes the process of finding the right laugh in the video below:

          Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation. 

My first thought after hearing Leto’s laugh was that it sounded like a creepier version of the sloth’s laugh from Zootopia. I didn’t hate it necessarily, but I felt that it would only sound creepy on occasion, which the movie proved correct. There’s a shot of him in both trailers above where he’s lying in the middle of a room and lets out a laugh; that scene was where it worked. It didn’t really work at the end of this scene, though:

                       Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Remember what I said about trying too hard?

However, there is room for improvement. The script for Suicide Squad wasn’t that great  (it was rushed, but that’s another story, as shown in my review of the movie), and the editing was on the wall, so you can’t completely blame Leto for how The Joker was treated. With Warner Bros. undergoing new management for running their DC Comics film division, it’s hopeful that they will give their characters more of the respect and character depth that we know and love from the comics, and The Joker could certainly be one of them. That way, Leto could flesh out his take on the character a little more, and maybe audiences would warm up to his Joker. They might even switch up his design for the next film he pops up in, given how much flak the movie got for the tattoos and metal teeth. Maybe something closer to the comics or animated series.

The Joker's typical design, as seen in "Batman: Hush".

       Courtesy of DC Comics Entertainment. 

 

The Joker in "Batman: The Animated Series".

     Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation.

You never know what Warner Bros. might do. But like any comedian, The Joker knows how to reinvent himself and his material for any occasion, so it would make some deal of sense.

But if it were up to me, I would have gone with someone other than Leto for Joker. Maybe Alan Tudyk, otherwise known as the most underrated actor in Hollywood.

 

Alan Tudyk in "Firefly".

You’ve probably seen him in a few TV series and movies over the years, but fans of Fox’s revered but short-lived show Firefly will recognize him as the pilot of Serenity, Hoban “Wash” Washbourne. In that role, and in several other roles, he’s shown experience in comedy, drama, and action, all of which are necessary for The Joker. You’re more likely to recognize him from his voice work, though. Here’s a clip from Wreck-It Ralph, where he plays a very Joker-like character, King Candy, a.k.a. Turbo.

               Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

In addition, he was the voice of K-2SO in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Tucker in 2010’s Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, as well as the voices of the Duke of Weselton in Frozen, Duke Weaselton in Zootopia, Allistair Krei in Big Hero 6, and Hei-Hei in Moana. I feel that if he were given this role, that he would not only do something unique and interesting with it, but he would also have a lot of fun with it. As long as he doesn’t take it too far of course, like sending people rats and boxes of bullets (which Leto did as part of his method acting for the role).

Thanks for joining me this week on Non-Stop Film Talk. Stay tuned for next week’s post!

 

 

 

Reviewing: Fracture (2007)

 

Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling in 2007's thriller "Fracture".

          Courtesy of Castle Rock Entertainment.

2007’s Fracture is a film that seemingly went under the radar in a year otherwise dominated by franchise installments like Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. And it’s certainly not the first kind of movie to do that; year after year, there are movies that are quietly released and often aren’t as successful at the box office as the movies I previously mentioned. Which is what makes discovering them on television or DVD all the more exciting. A cat-and-mouse-esque thriller, Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling play a wealthy aeronautical engineer and a young hotshot district attorney respectively. Hopkins’s character is being tried for the attempted murder of his wife, and Gosling’s character at first thinks it’s an open-and-shut case: the defendant has admitted to the crime, along with supplying a signed confession. But there’s much more going on under the surface. While I was expecting a somewhat more twisty thrill ride, the film more than suffices, thanks in large part to the equally great performances of both Gosling and Hopkins.

 

 

 

 

Reviewing: Baghead (2008)

The title character of 2008's "Baghead".

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Filmmaker brothers Mark and Jay Duplass have carved out an extensive resume of projects, most notably those in the independent film genre. It’s in this genre that they truly thrive, churning out films that have oddball sensitivities, but are grounded in the real world. Their 2008 feature Baghead is one of them. The film follows four struggling actors, Matt (Ross Partridge of Stranger Things), Chad (frequent Duplass collaborator Steve Zissis), Michelle (a still-unknown Greta Gerwig), and Catherine (Elise Muller), who, after watching a shoddy film at a film festival, believe that they can make a movie that is not only more successful, but can launch their careers as well. They go up to a cabin in the woods and decide on a plot for their newly decided horror film: a group of people are stalked by a man wearing a paper bag over his head. Things become more complicated when a similar individual starts stalking our main characters. The film itself is enjoyable and strikes a clear balance between comedy, drama, and horror, and each of the actors are clearing enjoying themselves. I was hoping for a bit more intrigue in regards to the titular killer, maybe some more inventive ways he could have intimidated the main characters. Overall, it’s a good film: not great, and not terrible, but an enjoyable (albeit not entirely promising) film experience.

Reviewing: Crush (2013)

Crystal Reed (center) and Lucas Till (right) in "Crush".

Courtesy of FilmNation Entertainment.

Crush was a film that I had a degree of hope for: it had an intriguing premise (a high school student is obsessively and violently stalked by a crush) and a few actors I’d been familiar with. I wasn’t crazy about the trailer I saw, but I decided I had nothing to lose and watched the movie nonetheless. While the film is entertaining, it’s only to a degree. This is largely in part because of an almost cringe-worthy script and a predictable storyline, both wasting the talents of a group of very talented actors (Lucas Till, Sarah Bolger, and Crystal Reed, among others). I know it sounds harsh for a film that was released direct-to-DVD, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for those behind the film to not try as hard as they could have, as the premise is ripe for innovation and intrigue.

 

 

Reviewing: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

From left to right: Anna Kendrick, Zac Efron, Adam DeVine, and Aubrey Plaza.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. 

I’ve been noticing a disappointing trend in some recent big-budget comedies, mostly R-rated ones. Now more than ever, they seem to always ride on a constant stream of dirty jokes and droppings of the F-bomb. Now don’t get me wrong: those two factors can make for some funny scenes in movies, but they start becoming more obnoxious than funny when that’s what makes up most of the humor. Not to say that every recent movie that’s done this has been terrible, but in my opinion there should be a way to curse and crack jokes in ways that don’t feel outdated and in your face. What I’m saying is that characters in a film should go a while into their running time without using “fuck” as a noun/verb or going overly dirty with their jokes, even if that film is R-rated. This week’s entry, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, improves a bit on this front but otherwise fails to take advantage of a great premise.

Mike (Adam DeVine) and Dave Stangle (Zac Efron) are brothers who have a reputation in their family for wreaking havoc during family gatherings with their antics (a flashback shows that their fireworks display at one party didn’t go as planned). Not wanting the boys’ sister Jeanie’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding in Hawaii to suffer a similar fate, their father Burt (Stephen Root) demands that the boys find “respectable girls” to be their dates to the wedding, so that they will keep the boys out of trouble. The boys agree, putting an ad out on Craigslist, before appearing live on The Wendy Williams Show. 

The two main couples.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. 

This televised appearance catches the attention of two slacker party girls, Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), who have just been fired from their jobs. After catching the brothers’ attention one night (when Tatiana throws herself in front of a car, with Mike rushing to her aid), they agree to take the girls to Hawaii. Once there, the girls struggle to hide their true identities from the brothers and their family members (Tatiana says she is a schoolteacher, Alice goes with being a hedge fund manager), along with actually growing attached to the boys, all the while leaving just as much mayhem in their wake as the brothers usually would.

All in all, it’s an entertaining, if not quite fulfilling movie. It has its moments, no doubt, but even then, those moments could have been made better with more attention on character development and stronger writing. Fortunately, the cast brings their A-game to the material. Efron has been proving himself to be a talented comedic actor in the past few years, and here he succeeds on giving Dave both humor and pathos. DeVine (already well-known as one of the co-creators and stars of Workaholics) matches him with hilarious intensity, and Plaza proves that she’s one of the best female comedians working today. Then there’s Kendrick: don’t get me wrong, she’s a great actress who’s proven her comedic chops in the past, but I haven’t been as comfortable with her playing overly raunchy, quirky characters like she does here. I watched another movie called Mr. Right where she played a similar type of character, and it almost made me cringe watching her deliver certain lines as that character. To be fair, that movie wasn’t quite a gem either, so it’s possible that she can deliver more as this character when she’s got better material to work with.

The four leads huddle up.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. 

But as I said at the beginning of this review, Mike and Dave doesn’t go full speed ahead into dick jokes and F-bombs until a little into the movie, which I commend it for (if I wrote an R-rated comedy, I’d use the F-bombs and jokes more wisely, just saying), but it still points out a fundamental flaw with big budget comedies: they feel like they can coast by on cursing and making stale dirty jokes, leaving little room for character development or innovation. It could be said that no one sets out to make a bad movie, but I feel like if people in this business could be pushed toward change and originality, then there’s hope for entertainment in the near future.

 

Reviewing: Miss Stevens (2016)

The main characters of "Miss Stevens".

Courtesy of The Orchard. 

Julia Hart’s Miss Stevens was a movie that piqued my interest a while ago. The cast of both well-known and rising actors assembled was top-notch, and the story sounded interesting: a young high school English teacher is tasked with bringing three students to a drama competition, and one of the  more questionably stable students  feels he has a deep connection to her. I was expecting some slightly intense drama, some snippets of dark comedy, and a good deal of warmth from the characters. While it doesn’t quite go to the darker places I thought it would, Miss Stevens succeeds in creating moments that feel authentic, as well as fully fleshed out characters to inhabit them.

Lily Rabe is the titular Miss (Rachel) Stevens, a withdrawn and slightly awkward teacher who acts as chaperone for three of her students attending a state drama competition: Margot (Lili Reinhart), a type-A overachiever; Sam (Anthony Quintal), an openly gay student; and Billy (Timothee Chalamet), a charming yet anti-social student who seems to have a strange fascination with his teacher.

From left to right: Billy (Timothee Chalamet), Rachel Stevens (Lily Rabe), Sam (Anthony Quintal), and Margot (Lili Reinhart).

Courtesy of The Orchard. 

As the weekend goes on, we the audience get to know more about Rachel as a character, as she relates stories about her acting days to her students and has an awkward sexual encounter with another teacher, who happens to be married (Rob Huebel). But the scenes with her and Billy are the ones that pack a good amount of the emotion and the strangeness of their relationship. Chalamet really excels in these scenes, as we’re treated to the many facets of his character’s personality; he truly lights up the screen with a palpable energy. But this isn’t to detract from Rabe, who shines in her own way. She subtly maintains Rachel’s awkward yet caring personality on the outside, though she’s no slouch when it comes to opening up her character and revealing her hurt interior.

As I said, this film wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. But maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.  It’s good to be surprised by a film every once in a while (and it should be the case more often, in my opinion), and this film did just that. A fine cast, an intelligent script, and a competent director at the helm make this an entertaining and thought-provoking watch.

Sam (Anthony Quintal), joining in on a hug between Billy (Timothee Chalamet) and Margot (Lili Reinhart).

Courtesy of The Orchard.

Reviewing: Anastasia (1997)

In honor of its Broadway musical adaptation, I thought I’d sit down and watch what many consider to be a standard of the animated library, 1997’s Anastasia. I was interested in the story, which is loosely based on the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, who was thought to have been executed with her family at the hands of Bolshevik troops, though in reality she managed to escape execution. The film takes a different approach, showing that a vengeful sorcerer named Grigori Rasputin (voiced here by Christopher Lloyd) sold his soul for an unholy reliquary, allowing him to place a curse on Anastasia’s family: this incites the Russian Revolution. Anastasia and her grandmother, the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna manage to escape, though only Marie is able to make it onto a moving train, leaving Anastasia in the crowd. For someone who’s only seen this once, it’s best if you don’t know anything about the plot before going in, as it makes the true events all the more though-provoking. A few pieces of character development aside, Anastasia is a film that shouldn’t be missed.