Why Jared Leto’s Joker Works for ‘Suicide Squad’

Drew Dietsch
Batman DC
Batman DC Movies

The Joker is the most iconic villain in all of comic history and easily one of the most enduring nemeses in all of pop culture. We’ll be getting another big-screen interpretation of the character in Suicide Squad — the fifth one for those of you counting Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (which you should) — and ever since Jared Leto‘s take on the character was revealed, opinions have been sharply divided. Even though the movie hasn’t been released yet, I can tell you right now that this version of the Clown Prince of Crime works. Well, he works for the film that he’s a part of. Let’s take a closer look at why.

It’s David Ayer’s World, We Just Live In It

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The most important factor in this iteration of the Harlequin of Hate has to do with the man who is helping to bring him to the screen, writer/director David Ayer. Warner Bros. has made a point with the DC Extended Universe to give the filmmakers a wide amount of creative control. No matter what your opinions are on Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, they are undeniably Zack Snyder films. While Snyder comes from a school of thought that values the operatic and melodramatic qualities of superhero stories, David Ayer’s body of work showcases a guy who loves the insanity of the criminal world. Training DayEnd of WatchSabotage, and even The Fast and the Furious revel in hypercharged characters and the allure of the illegal activities they engage in.

This is why Ayer is such a perfect fit for Suicide Squad and a new take on the Joker; he appreciates the special kind of crazy these characters need to be. And there’s possibly no other character in all of fiction that enjoys craziness like the Joker does. Ayer has made the decision to create an aesthetic around these characters that will reinforce how disturbingly zany they actually are. Which brings me to my next point…

Just Looking At This Guy Makes Me Nervous

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I will admit that when the above first look at Leto’s Joker hit the web, I was filled with revulsion. This looked like a bad joke. Then, as time went on and I saw more and more footage from Suicide Squad, I began to understand exactly what David Ayer was going for. Not only did this visually jive with the rest of the world he was creating, but Ayer made the Joker a character that garnered the same reaction certain folks have to Marilyn Manson‘s ghoulish appearance. I believe it was Max Landis who said, “I wouldn’t want to sit next to this guy on the bus.”

That’s kind of fantastic when you stop and think about it. Is it being judgmental based solely on looks? Of course, but as much as we’d like to pretend otherwise, we all make judgments about others based on what we deem to be “socially acceptable.” This version of the Joker will make plenty of people uncomfortable just by looking at him. While The Dark Knight‘s Joker achieved this with some facial scars and slathered makeup, Suicide Squad‘s Joker does the same by looking like a nightmare version of James Franco’s character in Spring Breakers. If Suicide Squad is as good as I hope it will be, I may end up really loving this Joker.

A Joker for All Seasons

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Malleability is an important factor in crafting long-lasting characters. It’s why I get so confused when people get mad at some change that a character undergoes. The fact that a character can survive countless interpretations proves their viability. The Joker is a shining example of this. What matters most is that a character is true to their self and the story they are participating in. Anything outside of that is up for grabs. Jared Leto’s Joker expands upon the diverse history that the character has molded over the last century. I’m certain he’ll be drawing inspiration from previous incarnations — one of his costumes that we’ve seen is an obvious pull from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s New 52 version — but those influences will meld together to create something new.

Granted, we don’t know if Jared Leto’s performance or the film itself will be a success. However, the approach to the character works. He makes sense, even if this variant isn’t to your particular liking. It doesn’t have to be. I’m sure there are those out there who disapprove of Cesar Romero’s Joker and they are more than entitled to their opinion. But, he is an appropriate take on the character given the tone and aesthetic of the Batman television series. The same can be said of the Joker in Suicide Squad. You may not dig him, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t do him right.

Drew Dietsch
Drew Dietsch has written for CHUD.com, the News-Press, WhatCulture, and releases a weekly film review podcast at his website, The Drew Reviews. He'll yak your ear off about horror movies, Jaws, RoboCop, and/or Batman if you let him.
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