Leto Vs Ledger: Who Had The Last Laugh as The Joker?
With the recent release of Suicide Squad, fans of the DC Universe finally got to feast their eyes on a new portrayal of an iconic villain: Jared Leto as the infamous Joker. In the build-up to the movie, trailers had been littered with snippets of his performance, and they’d been just enough to tantalise fans without giving away what we presumed would be all of his scenes. Unfortunately, for anybody who’s seen the latest entry in the DC Movieverse, this wasn’t the case, as the Joker’s actual role in the 2 hour film totalled to just around 10 minutes. Disappointing, sure, but it’s enough to get an idea of his character, and where it might be taken in the future.
Just to let you know, this article will likely SPOIL moments throughout Suicide Squad, so if you haven’t seen it yet, then read on at your own risk. Also, this will not be a review of the film, as a great one already exists on the site, and I agree with most of what is said throughout it.
Now, the whole time you’re witnessing Leto’s Joker prance around on-screen, there’s a rather large elephant in the room; that being, the late Heath Ledger’s masterful take on the character back in 2008’s The Dark Knight. In that film, the Joker played a major antagonistic role, and so his screen time amounted to around 40 minutes – a whole half-hour more than Leto. This being the case, it would be justified to argue that the two cannot be compared. However, I’d say that there’s plenty of content packed into the Joker’s presence in Suicide Squad, and certainly enough to have judgement on. And what’s the consensus? Well, middling.
Some people outright hate the new interpretation of the Joker, and they can’t really be blamed; it’s completely against the other on-screen representations we’ve seen up until this point, and there’s moments throughout the movie that feel cringe-worthy at the very worst. Take the strip club scene near the start of the film, when Leto interacts with Common’s intimidating (yet meaningless) character. Frankly, the Joker seems high on some substance throughout the entire interaction; as he slowly slides around the golden sofas and raises his tattooed hands to cover his mouth. Is it intimidating? Kind of, but if anything, it’s more laughable. Beckoning Harley over, it finally feels like something interesting is going to occur. Lo and behold: it does! After a brief misunderstanding, Leto shoots Common in the head; displaying the frighteningly unpredictable personality that puts everybody at risk around him. Did the scene need the weird, homoerotic undertones and jarring use of “HAUNKAHAUNKA”? No. But it did develop his character, so that’s nice.
Compare this to the opening of The Dark Knight, though, and things seem a little less positive. In the bank scene at the start of that movie, we don’t know the Joker is even present until he removes his mask and sends chills down everybody’s spines. This is a guy that will kill everybody without remorse, but not do it so that he can flaunt how ‘wacky’ or ‘crazy’ he is. This Joker is a brilliant madman who lurks in the shadows, making sure that every move he makes raises the fear people have towards him. He doesn’t own a strip club and a bright pink Lamborghini. But, it’s also important to remember that the Joker of Suicide Squad exists in an entirely different universe to the one in The Dark Knight; he exists alongside Harley Quinn.
Harley Quinn is a vital part of the Joker’s character in the new film. In fact, her incarceration is the sole reason that the Joker even appears throughout the film; he’s trying to reclaim what is his. When you step back and look at how insane Harley is, it’s easier to understand why the Joker is portrayed how he is. If anything, her influence could go towards explaining the extravagance of his lifestyle.
I’m not saying that he’s doing what he is to impress her, but it would certainly make the crocodile skin coats make more sense. However, this extravagance could also be influenced by Frank Miller’s Joker in The Dark Knight Returns, in which he wears slick silver suits and comes across as more of a suave gent than Ledger’s chaotic monster. It seems like this over-the-top nature of Leto is what has put most people off his role, and for the most part, I’d have to agree. It feels much more like somebody trying to cosplay as the Joker than the character himself, and all the extravagance and face-touching just adds to this.
However, there’s a moment about halfway through the film that I absolutely loved. It’s very minor, but in the scene where Harley Quinn is in the process of being rescued by the Joker, I couldn’t take my eyes off Leto, as he cackled in his black tuxedo, and riddled the rooftop the Squad were on with bullets. The beckoning to Harley and Jim Carrey-sounding “C’mon, baby” uttered afterwards took me out of it a little, but in this brief moment, I adored the unbridled insanity that Leto presented. In fact, I’d go as far to say that this moment brought me back on Leto’s side, and made me interested to see where he’d take the character in the future. It’s just a shame that this occurred so far into the movie, and only remained for the 10 seconds that the scene took place in.
When it comes down to it, we need to accept that by this point, nobody is going to beat Heath Ledger’s performance when it comes to the Joker. And, on top of that, it’s going to be tough to surpass Jack Nicholson’s role as the supervillain in the 1989 Tim Burton Batman movie. In terms of ranking, then, Leto currently sits at the bottom of the pile, below Ledger, Nicholson, and even Mark Hamill. This could be due to so much of his performance getting cut from the final product, or simply due to the fact that it’ll take time for audiences to warm to such a stark change in presentation for a character that has become so ingrained in pop culture.
Do I want to see more of Leto’s Joker? Of course. I cannot wait to see what happens with the announced Batman solo movie, and whether Leto will have a much larger role. I can’t wait to see what happens after the final scene of Suicide Squad, and whether Harley will stick with the Joker, or get captured once more. For now, though, I was kind of underwhelmed with what we got, and that’s a real shame.