Sometimes Warner Bros. gives us movies we want, even in an incongruent cinematic universe. This is not one of them.
Oh, Warner Bros. You always have such big ambitions for the DC Extended Universe. At least, when it comes to planning a ton of movies that we’re all just going to remain skeptical about until opening day anyway.
To start this article with some kind of negativity against WB’s DC slate would be all too easy when it hasn’t exactly proven itself to be totally sustainable as a franchise. But the theory of the DCEU can be so promising! Yes, even after the polarizing Zack Snyder era culminated to the absolute non-event of Justice League. Even after the studio demonstrated the ability to hit a single home-run with Wonder Woman.
Besides the fact that we’ll finally get to see what James Wan does with Aquaman this year, DC does have some cool stuff in the works. Ava DuVernay directing New Gods, an upcoming Batgirl movie and Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey all sound rife with potential. These are obviously just a small selection of DC projects in the works as well. It’s moments like these that I’m glad to be a perpetual optimist about tentpole movies.
But even I have my limits. Does the fact that Jared Leto is getting his own Joker movie kill the mood a little? In all honesty, yes. Variety reports that Leto will reprise his role as the Clown Prince of Crime in a standalone movie that he will also executive produce. Details about the project are virtually nonexistent at the moment, but Variety notes that the film aims to expand on the world teased out in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. This wouldn’t be the first of Leto’s Joker appearances post-Suicide Squad either, for the character is also slated to appear in Suicide Squad 2, Gotham City Sirens, and an untitled Harley Quinn and Joker movie. There is also no word on when this Joker standalone will go into production, but the search for a writer is underway.
This new as-yet-untitled Joker venture isn’t the first solo outing for the character to be announced in the last year. Todd Phillips, the auteur behind The Hangover films, will put his own spin on a Joker origin story, which will star Joaquin Phoenix. Our own Sarah Foulkes has a great idea for where Phoenix should take his interpretation of the character; the film ought to examine the nuances of mental illness. Mental afflictions or at least the perception of them have long been associated with this off-the-wall villain. To play into that without examining how negative stereotypes of schizophrenia, PTSD, and identity disorders are constantly embodied within the character wouldn’t just be ill-advised — it would be boring at this point after so many portrayals have come and gone.
Where does that leave Leto? If I were to be extremely optimistic about the odds for this movie, the Joker himself has had conflicting origin stories in the past, and if any character could have concurrent interpretations, it would feasibly be him. Unreliable narrators can make for compelling protagonists.
But that makes Leto’s cartoonishly bad glorified cameo in Suicide Squad the worst starting point for such a movie.
On paper, the fact that Leto’s portrayal is so different from other live-action takes of the character works in Leto’s favor. Everything from the Joker’s overall look to his fundamental motivations goes in a new direction in Ayer’s supervillain team-up flick. However, despite going full method (in the grossest way possible), Leto’s version of the Joker ends up being utterly shallow; one of the biggest pitfalls in the messy experience of Suicide Squad. Leto shot more scenes than the film ends up including so we may not have seen the entire scope of what he had to work with. But considering the giant caricature that ended up onscreen, WB can keep the rest of the footage.
Leto’s Joker is just annoying. All the extreme attempts to distance his performance from other memorable and laudable ones — Heath Ledger’s definitively ambiguous version or Jack Nicholson’s outlandish gangster — backfired when Suicide Squad produced an inconsequentially childish take on a character. And no, it wasn’t because of the Hot Topic outfits — Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is immensely popular despite that kind of playful take on her wardrobe. Rather, the dissonance between Leto’s comically absurd (and disgusting) approach to the character and the thinness of his actual portrayal was the lethal combination. It’s a humdrum variant of the Joker, and utterly unsatisfying to watch even in cameo form.
It’s easy to convince oneself about virtually any variation of the Joker in theory; that’s the “beauty” of his horrific malleability. But at least where the Suicide Squad version of the character is concerned, WB has to work extra hard to turn his juvenile nature into something worth watching in a standalone film.