Why Warner Bros. Needs To Recast The Joker
***WARNING MOVIE SPOILERS BELOW***
Those were the words uttered by Michael Keaton’s Batman to Danny DeVito’s Penguin in Tim Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns. Three years prior we’d seen Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance as The Joker. It’s a role that when I think of Jack Nicholson I think of first, even over Jake Gittes in Chinatown or Randle Patrick McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Shortly thereafter Mark Hamill would make the character his own in Batman: The Animated Series. And then in 2008 we got (in my opinion) the best iteration of The Joker we’ve ever seen with Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight.
In fact Ledger’s performance was so pitch perfect that anyone playing the character afterward was bound to be compared to Ledger. Unfair? Maybe. But you can’t blame Ledger for giving a great performance. I’m sure George Lazenby felt the same way when he had to follow Sean Connery as James Bond.
What I’m getting at is an iconic character, whether it be fictional like James Bond or real like Joan of Ark; the actor or actress is going to make it their own. And people are going to respond to it positively, negatively, or indifferently. Once the art is out there, the artist no longer gets to dictate how you feel about it. And opinions, like performances, can change over time.
Like my opinion of Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad*. Originally I thought it was alright. There wasn’t enough of a sample size I thought (at the time) to fully judge. I felt I needed more. In fact my exact words were:
As to Jared Leto’s Joker…I have to see more. It was like getting a very good appetizer in anticipation of a main course that never came.
Up until the other day I’d remained steadfast in that sentiment. Then I watched this and my whole world changed:
James Franco in Spring Breakers crossed with Jim Carrey from Ace Ventura….and a cat??? Not only is that hilarious, it’s eerily accurate. And suddenly I saw Jared Leto’s Joker performance for what it was–a steaming pile of dogshit.
Look I respect the Hell out of Jared Leto’s acting skills. His roles in Requiem for a Dream and Dallas Buyers Club are phenomenal. Along with Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep, and Tom Hardy, he’s one of the best method actors in the industry. However, even a great actor is capable of some duds (Ishtar anyone?) and this is certainly one of them.
Jared Leto takes an iconic villain like The Joker and brings him down to the level of a street pimp and nightclub owner. Literally, with a pimping cane and a personal VIP section. Leto’s interpretation (and to be fair it’s also the script writers’ fault) is over-the-top, bombastic, and garish. He’s tatted up and sports a ridiculous grill. It’s a comicbook millennial hipster’s (who, you know, liked Batman before it was cool) idea of what The Joker should be.
The Joker’s constant modus operandi is to create complex, diabolical, criminal schemes for his victims and also for Batman. He’s obviously a master of chemistry and is far from stupid. Just look at Nicholson’s public Smilex gas trap at the end of Batman or Ledger’s “social experiment” between two boats rigged with explosives in The Dark Knight. You can also add Death in the Family, the spectacular DC comic run that resulted in the elaborate death of Jason Todd, the second Robin, to the list.
Leto’s Joker’s schemes possess about as much subtlety and nuance as Killer Croc in a porcelain doll factory. There’s no well executed and whimsically sinister plots to terrorize Gotham. Wait til they get a load of Joker…trying to get Harley Quinn to sleep with Common? Instead we’re left with such mendacious schemes as, “Hey I’m going to break into Blackgate Penitentiary and get Harley Quinn back by having me and my men masquerade as a S.W.A.T team! Because no one’s ever done that before!” Or “I’ll torture this guy with electricity because that’s innovative! Then I’ll go buy a purple, plastic overcoat from Hot Topic!” Apparently this Joker’s superpower is being a pretentious douche.
And here’s an even bigger problem. LETO. IS. NOT. FUNNY. Nicholson, Ledger, Hamill, shit even Caesar Effing Romero all provided moments of levity during their turns as the Clown Prince of Crime. I can’t recall a single moment in Suicide Squad where Leto made me laugh. Not saying he didn’t ATTEMPT to, but they fell flatter than Boris Karloff’s dome in Frankenstein. Fucking Gallagher and his dumbass watermelon smasher are funnier than Leto. Cricket city. Anyone who possesses even a passing association with The Joker’s history, knows that humor (usually dark humor) stands proud in his psyche. You could have replaced Leto with Carrot Top and gotten the same amount of laughs.
Now what truly befuddles me is that people have this mindset (and Warner Bros. I presume) that’s essentially, “Welp we screwed up with Leto but we’re stuck with him so I guess we gotta deal with it.”
That’s a load of Seabiscuit feces. They think they are married to Jared Leto being the only option, without even considering the possibility of a divorce. Seriously it’s like Warner Bros. has misguided battered wife syndrome saying, “I deserve this.” No you don’t! Cut your losses and get a lawyer Brotein Shake.
As I near the age of forty, something I find myself admiring more and more are people who can admit they made a mistake, especially public figures. It happens so rarely, that when something like Jonah Hill sincerely apologizing for using the homophobic slur “faggot” occurs, it’s refreshing. But this goes double for businesses. I’m looking at you Warner Bros.
“But Darth how do they do this?!” you may be asking. Reveal that he’s actually a different villain masquerading as The Joker? Pull a multiverse situation? No. Nothing so elaborate. It’s simple. Wanna know what it is? Come closer. I’ll whisper it in your ear. Ready? Here it comes…
JUST RECAST HIM.
No frills, no CGI lightning strikes that transform him, no magical doors like in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. You just give Leto his walking papers and start from square one. Not just with the actor but all of it: personality, wardrobe, dental tendencies-EVERYTHING. Now you may think that the audience isn’t going to buy this, that the continuity issues will piss them off. That may be true…for some of them. However, I can guarantee you that fans in general will be exponentially more enraged if you trot out another film featuring The Jared Leto Joker Shit Show Hour.
Warner Bros. needs to understand that it’s not only OK to admit they made a mistake with Jared Leto, it’s necessary.
*Upon further review I’ve reviewed my initial score of Suicide Squad. It’s more a 6/10 rather than an 8/10.
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