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!

 

 

 

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