They say that change is inevitable, but in the world of Hollywood properties and franchises, it’s the most reliable truth. The superhero blockbuster genre alone is one in which three different actors have played Spider- Man in a single decade, and Christian Bale’s rendition of The Dark Knight had barely faded from memory when Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment delivered a new and different Batman in Ben Affleck. But as much as some fans questioned the decision to reboot the caped crusader so quickly, the end result proved worthwhile, delivering what some fans consider the most faithful take on Batman yet. His most iconic nemesis being re-imagined in a Suicide Squad movie… was a different story.
For as strange as it may have been to replace Bale’s Batman with Affleck’s, it was doable (and inevitable). Yet the unforgettable performance of The Joker put forward by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight was only made more untouchable by it being his last, passing away before it hit theaters (or earned him an Oscar). Which meant the moment word broke that a new Joker was on its way – from another Oscar winner – fans were torn. Thankfully, we had the chance to ask Suicide Squad’s director about the shadow cast by Ledger, and the decision to deliver a new take on the villain so soon.
It truly is a unique case: the announcement of a new Joker while the role was still so clearly tied to tragedy was undeniably softened by the fact that a recent Oscar winner had accepted it – at the height of his acclaim, no less. And on a purely cosmetic level, Jared Leto’s decision to sign on didn’t just mean big things for Suicide Squad, but the comic book movie genre as a whole.
And just days after the world got its first look at Jared Leto in action as the Clown Prince of Crime, we visited the set of the film to ask Ayer firsthand about his decision to include Joker, knowing what reactions the casting would bring, and how anyone could avoid comparisons to what’s still considered to be the most accomplished comic book movie yet made:
“Yeah, I mean, you want to talk about the third rail of comic book movies. You know, when you have someone as talented as Jared, and then I think when you just accept that… Heath happened. Dark Knight happened. And you just move forward. It’s one of the oldest, most well-known villains in modern culture, and to leave him fallow, I think, would be a shame.
“I don’t know how to say it, he’s so… we instantly know who he is. We know how he makes us feel. We know how he’s going to behave. Just one little drawn picture of him, and a character that fantastically iconic and powerful almost emerges himself. And once you start touching that character, and playing with that character, he really does reveal himself in a lot of ways. And he’s so defined.”
It’s hard for even casual movie fans to disagree, since it’s nearly impossible to not know who the Joker is, or the dread and terror he brings with him. Take one look at a smiling image of a green-haired, red- lipped face, and the sound of Joker’s laughter – in whatever form the viewer may hear it – comes wafting in. Still, this isn’t a case of one actor trying to copy, emulate, or surpass the actor who came before: on the surface alone, Leto’s Joker is every bit the product of the heightened, almost surreal world of Ayer’s Squad that Ledger’s was of Nolan’s grounded logic.
But the marketing and trailer previews of Leto’s performance show he’s doing more than “playing with the character,” having taken a tormented approach to a villain he’s described as downright Shakepearean. Unsurprisingly, his director believes that the energy that’s brought to the production can’t help but translate to audiences when the movie releases – and not a moment too soon:
“Jared’s done nothing short of just utterly transforming himself and has done an incredible amount of work. The mannerisms, his voice, everything. And when he steps on set, you feel it, you feel the energy. The crew feels it. It’s going to be… I believe, nothing short of a revelation.
“He’s in character. When he shows up here, he’s in character. He’s in his trailer, he’s in character. He emails me, he’s in character, it’s like…’whoa.’ He’s a little f***ing scary to be honest. It’d be nice to see Jared again. It’s been a while.”
Thankfully, Leto has since returned from the character (or so we hope), meaning audiences only have a few more weeks to wait to discover if his take on Joker is the “revelation” his director believes it to be – and whether the villain is powerful enough to draw unforgettable performances from two actors in so different a fashion.
Suicide Squad is scheduled to arrive in theaters on August 5, 2016; Wonder Woman is slated for release on June 2, 2017; followed by Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash is currently without a release date.