Jared Leto’s Joker Is No Laughing Matter

There needs to be a balance of admiration, contempt, and maybe even relativity that these anti-heroes emulate in order for the Suicide Squad to be a success.

When it was first announced that Jared Leto would be the next Clown Prince of Crime—the Joker—in DC’s Suicide Squad, a chill rolled out down my spine. I thought, “How could there already be another Joker portrayal only 7 years after the legendary performance Heath Ledger gave in The Dark Knight?” Eventually I acknowledged that one of the most beloved villains in modern society couldn’t be barred from the silver screen because Heath Ledger created such an iconic iteration. I even admired Leto’s determination to take on the character, despite the skeptical reaction to his casting. Ever since he got the part, Leto had been putting out a myriad snippet photos with small previews of his Joker’s wardrobe and makeup, building up the hype for his final unveiling last Friday.

I was a bit shocked when I pulled up the picture, almost certain it was just fan art. But after going through a few articles, I kept seeing the same picture: Jared Leto, covered with tattoos, screaming hysterically, and sporting more than a few silver molars. The general consensus around me was that the tattoos made him look like an emo-punk and that the teeth were ridiculous. Fans seem to be most distraught over the small cursive “Damaged” tattoo on Leto’s forehead.

At first, I mistook my surprise at the new aesthetic for sheer dislike, but a few days later, I began to appreciate the direction that Leto and the Suicide Squad crew are taking the Joker. Just by appearance alone, there is little that Leto and Ledger’s Jokers will have in common and that is one of the essential requirements of Leto’s Joker being a success. It may still be a gritty, eccentric Joker, but at least it looks like Leto’s Joker will have its own distinguishable quality, for better or worse.

The Suicide Squad is an unusual yet marvelous anti-hero coalition comprised of some DC Comics’ most heinous and infamous villains. Suicide Squad members are offered shortened prison sentences by the U.S. government in exchange for their assistance as deniable assets in dangerous black-ops missions. There are several defined Suicide Squads, but the team being assembled for the 2016 Suicide Squad includes Leto’s Joker, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Will Smith’s Deadshot, and Viola Davis’ Amanda Walker as just a few of its notorious members. I won’t go into the backgrounds of all of these characters, but this Suicide Squad is made up of villains with radically different abilities, intentions, and personalities.

This film takes a so far unprecedented angle in the superhero genre. Sure, fantastic villains are what make superhero movies great, but Suicide Squad is entirely eliminating the superhero, or at least the concept suggests it will. The film asks audiences to side with the villains and the villains alone, regardless of their mission. Sure, a lot of comic book readers are aware of the Suicide Squad dynamic or Marvel’s Sinister Six, but moviegoers that don’t keep up with comic book mythos haven’t seen anything like this assembly before. It’s hard for me to imagine what kind of nasty behind-the-scenes operations the government involves the Suicide Squad with or the horrendous means by which the Squad carries out its missions.

Creating a film around such a malicious, devious cast that appeals to a general audience might prove to be difficult. Centering the focus of a two-hour, hundred million dollar film on a group of near-irredeemable criminals is entirely different from developing a 15-20 comic book series. There needs to be a balance of admiration, contempt, and maybe even relativity that these anti-heroes emulate in order for the Suicide Squad to be a success.

And while Leto may be garnering the most publicity for the film as fans continually and prematurely compare his Joker to Ledger’s, Leto’s Joker is only one name on the rather long roster. Sure, anytime the Joker is on screen he’s probably hoarding the audience’s attention, but (especially with this film) his presence needs to be balanced out by the rest of the Squad. Leto might be the figurehead of this project, but he’s got fellow Academy award nominees Will Smith and Viola Davis right next to him too.

Leto’s Joker looks unique and eerie and that’s just about all I think can be said about his approach to the iconic character so far. There’s a lot more to a great Joker than just his look. We haven’t heard him speak or laugh, caught a glimpse of him in his classic coat (hopefully he’s got one), or seen him interact with other Suicide Squad members.

I think fans and critics are generally caught up in a very minor component of a potentially impressive and innovative film. Even I’ll admit that Leto’s tattoos look peculiar, but there’s a lot more of the essence of both the Joker and the Suicide Squad that these new artistic decisions don’t mar or impair at all. Besides, it’s not like Jared Leto will be running around shirtless for the whole movie … hopefully.

Featured Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

About Chris Fuller 166 Articles
Chris is the Arts & Review Editor for The Heights. He is obsessed with 'Star Wars,' The Bee Gees, and funk in general. He tries to live life to its fuller. (Get it?)