Suicide Squad's Joker - No Joker of Mine
The Joker has been a lot of things over the years. He started as a planned one-note villain for Batman based off of the film The Man Who Laughs. He slowly grew into being a trickster and comedian, with wacky weapons themed around his permanent grin. By the late 70’s, he was more of a clowning gangster with delusions of grandeur. Then, in the 1980’s, he became a truly violent psychopath with a penchant for viewing the world as a joke. This Joker translated on screen with Jack Nicholson and then Heath Ledger. Two very different actors with two very different portrayals of one character that both just seemed to fit.
For me, the Joker is the animated version voiced by Mark Hamill. He is violent and at times crazy, but his schemes all seem to make some kind of twisted sense. This is the Joker that feels at home stealing a nuclear weapon or trying to trademark fish. He’s nutty, weird, criminally insane, and manic. If that’s the ideal Joker – a manic, violent trickster – then Jared Leto is some version of the Joker I know and loved ground up and sold at Hot Topic. He is no Joker of mine.
Leto’s Joker is creepy but not in the way that Ledger managed to create a brooding, evil presence with a delightful smile. No, this is more of a weird sexual predator feel. He’s far too quiet and unwilling to spring out in laughter or song or really any emotion for the Joker. The comic book Joker has always been a man of extreme personality. Here, in Suicide Squad, Leto really falls flat. He comes across as creepy without an air or madness or danger.
Part of the problem, too, is Leto’s look in the Suicide Squad. There are a couple of fan service moments that give you glimpses of greatness. We find Joker in a tuxedo and his goons in weird outfits, including a panda suit. That is the Joker. Now I know that the Joker has had tattoos in the comics but for the most part, the Joker would never sit still for a tattoo. He’d never want one. And if he did get a tattoo it would be for the purpose of comedy, not to look like a billboard for ICP. I could certainly see the Joker with a Jason Todd tattoo, but never a bunch of smiley faces and laughs. It comes across as DC trying too hard to be hip and cool. Then we find him trying to look, well, I guess sexy in his outfits. The Joker isn’t driven by money or sex in the comics, but rather he is sort of a force of nature. The very point of the Joker has always been that he isn’t a reasonable man. Here, Leto seems like a perfectly reasonable gangster pretending to dress up as the Joker.
Oh, and that laugh. I seem to recall two moments when the Joker laughed but he never let loose. Look at Nicholson and Hamill as the Joker. Look at Caesar Romero. Those are Joker’s who could ruin their plans because they bust out in maniacal laughter, falling over and laughing themselves nearly to death. This is the Joker that appears in The Killing Joker and most of the other comics. SPOILER ALERT: There were a few great moments that cried out for Joker to just burst out laughing. There was a scene on a helicopter that demanded the Joker just straight up lose his shit. But, no, Leto was calm, cool, and collected. Where’s the fun in that? That isn’t the Joker, that’s… Boring.
If the Suicide Squad’s Leto Joker sticks around, maybe they can fix these problems. Within the framework of the movie he was certainly ok, but looked simply boring and out of place in comparison to Margot Robbie’s fantastic Harley Quinn or Will Smith’s intelligent Deadshot. Leto’s Joker committed the one sin that I never thought I would see a live action or animated Joker commit, and that was being forgettable and boring. The Joker is something special, a perfect foil for the Batman, and a mirror to hold society up to. In the 1960’s, he was counterculture. In the 1970’s, he was a corrupt gangster. In the 1980’s, he was a violent madman seeking the end to a sane society. In the 1990’s, he was a violent trickster he eschewed money and sex for something more visceral. In the 2000’s, he was the embodiment of chaos. And now, as Leto plays him? Well, I guess he’s a kid from the suburbs who grew up to live the Juggalo lifestyle full time?
I don’t know. He was not my Joker.