The DC Comics shared movie universe is approaching the high-stakes junction point of its development. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel left the fanbase very divided, which has put Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice in a similar love/hate bind after just one teaser trailer. Meanwhile, director David Ayer and his high-profile cast of actors are currently working to create a whole new DC Comics villain underworld on the big screen, via the Suicide Squad movie that is currently shooting in Toronto, Canada.
One of the biggest points of interest in Suicide Squad was the announcement that a new Joker (played by Oscar-winner Jared Leto) would be featured in the film. However, as we’ve seen more and more of Leto’s version of The Joker, the outcry from critics has grown louder, inspiring mockery and insults that are by now a standard for DC movie casting news and character reveals.
But despite the very obvious differences in interpretation, we think that Jared Leto’s Joker could be great. Here are 5 Reasons Why.
5. He’s Different, But Honorable (Like Ledger)
This is going to be the biggest point of contention, so let’s just get it out of the way: YES, Jared Leto’s Joker is something different from what we’ve seen before.
With the tattoos and silver teeth and Miami club-kid swagger this Joker is clearly showing influences of LA street culture that is the signature of (most of) David Ayer’s films – and that’s a fact that seems to extend to most of the DC villains being adapted to the screen in Suicide Squad. We’ll have to wait and see if real-world gang culture is a smart way to ground comic book villains in a movie reality, but aside from the urban influences that distinguish Leto’s Joker as different, let’s talk about the ways in which he’s very much drawn from the comics.
Step by step through Jared Leto’s Joker look reveal, it’s been clear that this new onscreen version of Joker would have one main source of inspiration: the mind of Frank Miller. Miller’s famous Dark Knight Returns graphic novel has been a source of inspiration for both Ben Affleck’s Batman and Leto’s Joker – down to the bulkier, bruiser builds both actors have put on to play the hero and his nemesis, respectively. More extensive looks at their costumes have also revealed the Dark Knight Returns influence, with Leto’s Joker stunt-double recently spotted wearing the signature white suit jacket from Miller’s storyline.
Leto’s Joker is not only a product of Miller’s Dark Knight Returns; it’s likely he’s also a product of Miller’s All-Star Batman and Robin redesign of Joker – an influence that may or may not sit well with fans. ASBaR got a fair amount of backlash with its darker and grittier take on Batman and Robin’s first year together (with ill-fitting pristine art by Jim Lee), and that backlash extended to a bulkier and tattooed version of The Joker.
Truth be told, the Miller/Lee ASBaR run fizzled out by issue #10 without ever fully developing their version of The Joker. However, from what little we saw, he was using seduction of women to carry out political assassinations; had a henchman and was a gang boss of sorts; and he had a clear, focused, sociopathic analytical detachment to his inner monologue. It was definitely a new version of the Joker, but (some would say) an intriguing one.
From what we’ve seen in Suicide Squad (or heard rumored), Leto’s Joker will be a composite of TDKR and ASBaR, with the actor no doubt throwing in his own artistic touches. It’s exactly what Heath Ledger did, using sources like Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke for foundation, while building his own psychological profile (that infamous “Joker Diary”) and character features (rot-white face paint instead of bleached skin) to make the character his own.
If Ledger could mix the old and new into something both honorable and fresh, there’s no reason to assume an actor of Leto’s caliber can’t do the same – even with “Damaged” written square across his forehead.
4. He’s The Link Between Criminals & Super Villains
From what we know, in this continuity Batman will be older and semi-retired, existing as an “urban legend” that even government types like Amanda Waller haven’t been able to pin down. Supposedly, Batman’s network of info is key to helping Waller and the government track down other metahumans (i.e., the Justice League members), which (if true) suggests that we’re entering the DCMU at a point where metahumans have been around in secret (Aquaman, Wonder Woman), but Superman and General Zod’s forces were the first to be seen on a public stage.
As the Batman V Superman teaser trailer showed, the next chapter of the DCMU will deal with how the world reacts to the revelation of Superman’s existence – and possibly new super villain threats that arise in response to him (Doomsday?). And when illustrating the the transition from the grounded and believable to the fantastical, the two best bridge characters in the DCMU are Batman and The Joker.
Whether on the comic book page, the small screen or in the movies, there’s one thing that tends to be consistent in different depictions of The Joker: he’s really just a colorful (and terrifying) exaggerated version of a gangster or mobster. Whether that means being the leader of his own Joker gang (like in Golden Age Batman stories or TV shows), or being a mob gun who is larger than life (like in the Burton and Nolan films), Joker and organized crime are tied together like PB&J. And that’s a good thing for the DCMU.
Like Ben Affleck’s Batman, Jared Leto’s Joker has to overcome a challenge that none of his onscreen predecessor’s had to: existing in a reality where there’s also Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and The Flash – a world where there are not just heroes, but SUPERheroes thwarting his schemes. From the look of things, Jared Leto’s Joker will epitomize the shift from a world of traditional organized crime to a more comic book-ish world of super villains – something to be remembered when seeing set photos of flashbacks to Leto’s Joker in a slick mobster suit, driving a sports car. That’s likely Joker from a pre-Superman era.
We have yet to see Joker after years in Arkham /Blackgate prison (as we supposedly find him in the present day time period of Suicide Squad), but something tells me he’ll be fully ready to terrorize a world of super humans. And by taking The Joker from old world to new, the transition from a “grounded” vision like Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and this new DCMU will also be a little more complete.
3. He’ll Be A Twisted Fashion Icon
The Internet has had quite some fun ripping into Jared Leto’s look after Suicide Squad director David Ayer revealed the very first official photo of the new Joker. With his silver teeth, extensive collage of on-the-nose tattoos and single purple glove, fans made an easy target of Leto’s Joker, comparing him to things like a Hot Topic customer, Borderlands game character, or even a member of Lil’ Wayne’s entourage. And while those jabs may be fair, they also miss a point clearly proven by history: this depiction of the Joker is likely to become a fashion icon.
Joker-style attire (whether drawn from comic books, cartoons or live-action) has always had a long fashion shelf life. Just looking at the movie versions of The Joker: both Nicholson and Ledger’s onscreen interpretations have become popular sources of imitation (Halloween costumes, cosplay at conventions) or inspiration for things as real and serious as socio-political statement. Despite some early criticism, there’s no reason to believe that Jared Leto’s version of The Joker won’t (forgive the pun) follow suit, and become a larger icon in the cultural zeitgeist.
The look is distinct enough that it will inspire some fans to mimic it (they’re out there, best believe), and since we’ve yet to see the full-fledged, modern-day Joker onscreen (just flashback sequences so far), there’s every opportunity for Suicide Squad to inspire multiple versions of Joker copycats and iconography (prison outfit version, mob suit version, etc…).
So whether you love or hate the new Joker look, prepare to see it around for quite some time after the Suicide Squad movie is over. Leto’s Joker will soon be a bonafide fashion statement, so don’t say we didn’t tell you so when forehead tattoos suddenly start trending.
2. He’s Going to Be Scary
That may sound like a presumptuous statement this early on, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and call it now: Leto’s Joker will be all things expected of a Joker, which means that in addition to being dementedly funny, he’s also going to be scary. Possibly scarier than we’ve ever seen in live-action.
Rather than try to argue this point with a breakdown of Leto’s acting history and ability – or the fact that Suicide Squad will be a grittier setting for Joker than just about any DCMU flick before it – let’s fall back on the old adage that ‘a picture is worth 1,000 words’:
It’s hard to look at that photo and worry that Leto’s Joker is going to be too “cheesy” or “campy” in depiction. Silver teeth, tattoos and unbuttoned mobster suits don’t seem to stand in the way of the mania and terror that the Oscar-winning actor has in his eyes. In short: beneath the flashier exterior, it seems this Joker is every bit the monster we want him to be.
If Suicide Squad plot rumors are true, then Jared Leto’s Joker won’t just be scary, he’ll be the biggest boogeyman lurking in the shadows of a violent prison riot full of super villains. Dark prison hallways with The Joker on the loose? That could end up being horror movie freaky.
1. He’s A Great DCMU Bridge Piece
As stated before, it’s characters like The Joker (or Batman) that help solidify the transition from a DCMU that’s grounded in things like organized crime, and one filled with monsters and super-powered beings, and Leto’s particular version of The Joker seems poised to have significant impact on the larger DCMU.
The biggest thing the character will do is help to further introduce the character and mythology of Ben Affleck’s Batman, before The Dark Knight gets his own solo reboot film somewhere around 2019. Batman V Superman will have laid groundwork for The Joker via Batman’s flashbacks – and the pair’s shared history will seemingly also get fleshed out in Suicide Squad. That puts Joker at the center of a mythos that could involve multiple iterations of Robin and any number of mob figures that appeared around the DCMU before metahumans ever showed up.
Joker’s presence in Suicide Squad also links him to Amanda Waller, possibly Lex Luthor and Superman, and any number of super villains that could appear as antagonists in later films (Black Manta, Deadshot, Killer Croc). Joker’s history and future with Harley Quinn could also lead to a Gotham City Sirens or Birds of Prey situation, which could re-introduce characters like Catwoman. You see the possibilities.
NEXT: Will Joker Cameo in Batman v Superman?
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters on March 25, 2016; Suicide Squad on August 5, 2016; Wonder Woman – June 23, 2017; Justice League – November 17, 2017; The Flash – March 23, 2018; Aquaman – July 27, 2018; Shazam – April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 – June 14, 2019; Cyborg – April 3, 2020; Green Lantern – June 19, 2020.