The Oscar winner is getting another bite at the cherry, taking on one of the comic book world’s most iconic characters, but things need to change.
Suicide Squad was the most disappointing movie of 2016 for myriad reasons. The choppy editing, contrary plot, incessant soundtrack and Adam Beach’s portrayal of Slipknot were bad for starters, but few things disappointed as much as the Jared Leto Joker. Teased in most of the film’s promos as the one to watch, in the end Leto’s performance was reduced to something approaching a 15-minute cameo, and upon reflection it was mercifully short.
Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of The Joker was a darker interpretation of Cesar Romero’s manic turn as the character from the 1960s Batman TV show, while Heath Ledger took many of his cues from Alan Moore’s chilling Batman graphic novel Killing Joke. By comparison, it’s difficult to know quite what Leto looked to for his muddled, showy performance as arguably one of the comic book world’s most iconic foes.
Screen Junkies, in its hugely popular Honest Trailer series, recently savaged Suicide Squad, noting that Leto did something with The Joker that no one had done before: “made him suck.”
But with Suicide Squad 2 already moving ahead following a fine return at the box office, Leto is already hinting at a return. So what does he need to do to make his Joker work this time around?
Ditching the gimmicks that dogged his performance on the film would be a good start. During filming, rumours regularly surfaced of Leto sending weird stuff to his co-stars. He sent Margot Robbie a rat. He sent someone else a pig’s head, and one unfortunate co-star even received a used condom. Let’s have Leto spend more time preparing for the part and less time sending his fellow actors unwanted gifts.
Leto could also benefit from improving his relationship with the director of Suicide Squad 2. Ayer has gone on record as saying he found Leto’s interpretation as somewhat creepy, but the pair could definitely have benefitted from more open dialogue. Given Leto’s negative reaction to the fact that much of his performance was left on the cutting room floor, we can assume this communication wasn’t there. The Joker is the ace in the pack – no pun intended- when it comes to Suicide Squad, and needs to be central to events in the film, not sidelined. This needs to be agreed from the off.
More screen time should come with another caveat though – Leto must tone down his version of the character, starting with fewer tattoos with little to no meaning other than to “look cool”. The word “Damaged” on his forehead, for instance? Yeah, let’s get some of that ink off, because sometimes less is more in the world of film. That goes for the “grills” too.
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That’s not to say we want to see less of everything Jared Leto offered up in the first film. As anyone who saw the extended cut of Suicide Squad will recall, this particular version of the movie benefited from extended scenes of the Joker alongside Margor Robbie’s Harley Quinn. While Suicide Squad was patchy at best, Leto and Robbie did enjoy notable on-screen chemistry that needs to take centre stage next time out and be further explored. Rumours continue to circle suggesting there was more to this relationship in the very first cut of the film, but much of it was removed amid concerns over the ratings, and the controversy it could stir.
Leto also needs to find a way to ground his Joker in some version of reality. Both Ledger and Nicholson may have been over-the-top and larger than life in their performances, but they both at least felt real, rather than some amalgamation of a million different pop culture references.
Leto needs to get back to basics and seek advice from the guy who has been playing the Joker longer than anybody: Mark Hamill. Voice acting may be dismissed by some, but you need only listen to the way the Star Wars veteran speaks about the character to realise he is the authority, in the absence of Ledger and the notoriously difficult Nicholson.
If Leto does all of the above, Suicide Squad 2 could yet surprise. Well, provided they fix all of the other problems the first film had, that is. I mean, we’ve not even started on Katana.
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Jack has written for Lad Bible, loaded and Sick Chirpse among others. A lover of any and all films, big and small, Jack's tastes range from the sublime to the ridiculous. That said, his perfect night in remains a Nicolas Cage double bill of Con Air and Face/Off.