This summer's Suicide Squad quickly became one of 2016's most anticipated films in large part due to the colorful collection of villains and antiheroes that make up the team's ensemble. And while he isn't part of Task Force X, one character that's been heavily featured in marketing is the Joker (Jared Leto), one of the most iconic creations in all of pop culture. Leto has gone to great lengths to ensure his take on the Clown Prince of Crime is a terrifying and compelling figure, giving the term "method acting" a whole new definition in the process.
That Leto went all-out to prepare for the role isn't surprising, given that he has quite a legacy to live up to. The last time audiences saw the Joker on the big screen, it was the late Heath Ledger's Oscar winning turn in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. Ledger's anarchic version is widely considered one of the best villains in movie history, with many viewing his performance as the definitive iteration. It won't be easy following those footsteps, and now Leto has shared his thoughts on being the next in line.
During an interview with Rolling Stone, the actor praised Ledger's performance in Nolan's Batman sequel and explained why he felt comfortable accepting the part in David Ayer's DC Extended Universe installment:
"Heath did an impeccable, perfect performance as the Joker. It's one of the best performances ever in cinema. I had met Heath before. I didn't know him well, but he was a beautiful person... I think had it only been portrayed by Heath and it was never a comic book, maybe I would have felt that would be inappropriate. But I thought that given the history, it was OK. The good thing about other people having done this is that you know what direction not to head in."
Warner Bros. rebooting the Batman film franchise so soon after Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy concluded definitely made some feel uneasy, but that is the nature of the source material. The Joker has been around for more than seven decades and has been portrayed by a number of actors across various mediums, including Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Hamill. Each one has brought something unique to the table, showcasing the flexibility of the adaptations. The circumstances surrounding Ledger were certainly tragic, but it was expected the studio would eventually bring the character back into the fold. As Leto says, it would be one thing if the Joker was a character created specifically for The Dark Knight and only Ledger was associated with it, but history illustrates that Batman's nemesis can exist in several forms.
Based on all the Suicide Squad footage shown so far, Leto has certainly put his own spin on the character. From his physical appearance to his status as one of Gotham City's alpha dog crime bosses, Ayer and his team have done their part in ensuring the new Joker stands out from the rest of the bunch. In addition, the DCEU's Joker is going to have a chance to interact with several individuals fans haven't seen in a film yet, including his one true love Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). There are plenty of directions Leto can take the antagonist moving forward, and it will be fascinating to see how he evolves as time goes on.
Comparisons between Leto and Ledger will be inevitable, given the close proximity between their versions. However, moviegoers would be wise to go into Suicide Squad with an open mind and let the Academy Award winner stand on his own merits. Christian Bale was Batman for an entire generation, but then Ben Affleck won heavy praise for his debut in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Leto may never be able to "top" Ledger, and whether or not he does is moot. As long as he can deliver a terrifying performance that's true to the spirit of the character, fans will be in for a treat come August.
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.
Source: Rolling Stone