The Joker is one of the most recognizable and idealized characters in the comic villain franchise. Apart from the ghastly looks and eerie mannerisms, the villain is known for his questioning of social systems and the want to change order. His goals are also devoid of the standard villainous motives of money or power.
These ideals were perfectly brought about by Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight. So when a new Joker was announced in the DCEU, fans were hyped to know what was in store from the next “Clown Prince of Crime”.
The Search for the Next Face
In April of 2015, the Suicide Squad set photos of Leto’s Joker were released. Being the next rendition of the character since the iconic performance by Heath Ledger, fans were excited and the photos went viral.
Prior to production, Ryan Ghosling was the one approached to play the role. Leto himself was looking to be the titular character in Doctor Strange, but was waved off for want of a bigger star. This was what encouraged Leto to approach Warner Bros., who immediately cast him to take up the mantle of the aspired villain.
The Next Generation Villain
The photos showed a much younger and funky looking Joker, with shorter green hair and a wide grin. But he also sported metal grills on the top and bottom rows of teeth, along with an array of tattoos. This was a considerable shift from the traditional Joker attire, and it received mixed reviews.
The tattoos themselves were the subject of much buzz. The Joker’s “HA HA HA” tattoos were taken to be a nod at the glimpse of a defaced Robin costume in the batcave in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This was supposedly a hint at the backstory of the death of Robin, which would have been in Zack Snyder’s take on the DCEU.
Few other tattoos which make the cut are the word “Damaged” on his forehead, grins spread across his forearms and hand, and a skull on his chest.
The Many Frolics of Leto On-set
There were few rumours adrift of Leto’s weird antics on the set. He apparently sent gifts to the entire cast, which included dead hogs, among other strange stuff. He even sent Margot Robbie a love letter, along with a live rat. These acts gave Leto a rather curious reputation.
Although fans can digest this as a comically seeming effect of donning the Joker’s colors, it turned out to be a confusing amusement to fans. Even when Heath Ledger followed a strange routine while preparing for the role, which included locked rooms at a stretch and penning the joker diary, it was backed by an iconic performance. But this was not so when it came to the reception met to Leto.
The Struggle to Keep Up
Much to the dissatisfaction of fans and critics alike, Leto’s Joker could not keep up to the hype of the character. Rather than Leto’s performance, there was serious distaste with the development of the newer version of the villain. Critics pointed out how the Joker simply resembled a crazy gangster rather than a psychopath. He does not have a clever plan and is just angry all the time.
They even criticized the onscreen portrayal of his relationship with Harley Quinn, as a “facile romanticization of abuse”.
This dissatisfaction with the development of the Joker is pointed out as one of the failures of the DCEU. Although the trial was to build something unique, it resulted in becoming something not intended to be.
Leto’s Concern with Role Reduction
Jared Leto himself was quite upset with the screentime allocated to him in Suicide Squad. He barely had any real spotlight. Leto reported that the majority of his shots were not included in the film.
This concern is upended by the director David Ayer, who commented that he wished he had another chance to build a much more joker centric film.
Strained Possibility of a Standalone Project
There were apparent discussions in 2018 of the possibility of a solo Joker film. While the DCEU would continue one set of films as it is, there were also plans for solo focus on certain characters. This would have given directors a chance to amplify their own unique take on the roles.
But an irritant was the development of Todd Philips Joker. Although it was to not be a part of the DCEU franchise, Leto was unhappy with this prospect and even tried pulling some strings in hopes of ending Philips Joker.
As it eventually turned out, the Joaquin Phoenix starrer appealed to the fans and was well received. The film gave a successful backstory to the Joker, with its narrative concentrating on the character’s mental health issues, a subject which has been seldom mentioned in any of the films where the villain has strided.
Even then, the possibility of a solo project featuring Leto gathered dust and stared at limbo, much to the annoyance of the academy award winning actor.
A Fair Chance at Redemption
Following the shallow performance of 2017’s Justice League, there was an outcry from fans for a re-release of the film as director Zack Snyder had envisioned to do. The director had changed due to Snyder exiting the film following a family tragedy. The call was backed even by few of the main cast and this resulted in Warner Bros. announcing the release of the now infamous Snyder cut.
The director had to convince a hesitant Leto to join the project, which was a chance at redeeming the villain. Among the many changes made to the film is a post-apocalyptic vision of earth where the traditional heroes are forced to work alongside certain villains, such as Leto’s Joker.
The scene further gave fans a brand new version of the Joker, who now seems more mature and menacing. Gone are the flashy neon colours and tattoos, with the villain seemingly battle weary with multiple scars. The laugh is also painful.
Although there are unpopular opinions giving Leto credit for rendering a fresh, unique look to the seasoned psychopath, the directing of the villain with a better story arc and ample screen time would have probably given him a better reception. Rather than Leto’s performance, it was the Joker’s motivation and execution that played the downfall.
As the Snyder cut changes have had a positive reception from fans, one can eagerly look forward to future projects. It could cite the evolution of Leto’s Joker in a way that will be more appealing to the crazed villain’s larger fan base.