“Suicide Squad’s” biggest challenge — and biggest promise — was the Joker. Heath Ledger made an indelible mark on the role in “The Dark Knight,” so when Oscar-winner Jared Leto signed up for the job, expectations were high. Could he stand out from Ledger’s shadow?
The answer is no. No, he doesn’t.
Warner Bros.’s advertising campaign went hard to sell Leto’s performance. Leto — in character as the Joker — sent his co-stars gifts of used condoms, dead pigs, and anal beads. He was featured prominently in the trailers. It was supposed to be a transformational performance.
And I was ready for it. I’m a longtime Jared Leto fan. I’m one of those people who really liked “Fight Club” when I was a teenager, I listened to his band 30 Seconds to Mars all the time, and I love him in “American Psycho.” I even sought out his obscure, weird movies like “Mr. Nobody,” one of the most criminally under-seen movies of the last decade. When he won an Oscar for “Dallas Buyers Club,” I saw it as a vindication for an actor who’s otherwise unappreciated in many movies.
Leto was just bad in “Suicide Squad.” The Joker is an over-the-top character. When Jack Nicholson played him in 1989’s “Batman,” he brought his cold voice and untethered, larger-than-life spirit to the role. Heath Ledger transformed into an anarchic, barely human murderous psychopath. Leto’s version is as a gangster who has a clown makeup fetish. He doesn’t have any dastardly plans or even does anything particularly clever. He’s just a really angry dude who probably regrets his tattoos.
But Leto also just isn’t a very good Joker. His gangster shtick isn’t nearly as interesting as Nicholson’s and Ledger’s takes on the character. He tried to pick up Ledger’s slippery way of speaking but just ended up sounding like he was imitating a snake. And then there’s that ridiculous evil laugh, which sounded like he was hiccuping in slow motion.
Other parts were just bizarre and pointless, even for the Joker. In a scene where he’s waiting to hear news from Harley Quinn, his girlfriend, he hangs out in his office with a bunch of knives and guns pointing at him. Why? Because it makes him look evil to anyone who has a bird’s-eye view of his office space?
Speaking of Harley Quinn, her relationship with the Joker isn’t as charming or subversive as the trailers made it seem — it’s just creepy. He brainwashes him and makes her his girlfriend. She went from accomplished doctor to insane stripper. Maybe in the comics it’s handled better, in a less rape-y fashion. But in “Suicide Squad,” Harley Quinn is far from a feminist supervillain — and that’s the Joker’s fault.
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