Why Jared Leto’s Joker deserved better in ‘Suicide Squad’

While no one can blame Warner Bros. for having so much of Suicide Squad‘s marketing campaign focus on The Joker, it’s fair to say that they misled fans when it comes to just how big a role the Clown Prince of Crime has in the movie. The iconic villain has been a big part of almost every trailer and TV spot, while he’s also adorned almost countless magazine covers and posters to boot. Now, as someone correctly pointed out to me on Twitter a few days ago, Suicide Squad is supposed to be about Task Force X and not The Joker, but it’s become clear that Warner Bros. has done both the character and Oscar winner Jared Leto a disservice with this movie.

The actor hasn’t shied away from making his disappointment known recently, and the more we hear from Leto, the easier it is to feel sorry for someone who for all intents and purposes devoted just as much of himself to this character as Heath Ledger did for The Dark Knight back in 2008. For well over a year now, we’ve been hearing about Leto staying in character on set and sending his co-stars some bizarre “gifts” as a way of becoming this character, but his performance ended up being butchered in the editing room. Even if we didn’t know about scenes like The Joker striking Harleen Quinzel after she threatens him with a gun and the villain confronting Task Force X after that helicopter crash (both of which were revealed via set photos and trailers), you really don’t need to be all that perceptive to figure out that Leto’s role has been trimmed down to the bare minimum in Suicide Squad.

Looking back at past interviews, rumors, and officially released material, it’s pretty obvious that The Joker’s relationship with Harley Quinn was going to be a lot more abusive. Details from the recently released official novelization confirmed that as the villain performed electroshock therapy on Harleen as a method of revenge rather than just to make her as crazy as he is. He even considers letting her drown in that vat at A.C.E. Chemicals before diving in after her, so things between them in earlier drafts of director David Ayer’s screenplay were clearly much more complex and no doubt a lot closer to the comic books. Why did all of this disappear? Well, that can probably be blamed on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. After being criticized for how dark and serious that movie was, Warner Bros. were clearly worried about Suicide Squad receiving similar complaints. That’s not speculation either; bear in mind that there have been rumblings for months now of reshoots taking place to make the movie more fun, while The Hollywood Reporter recently revealed some serious behind the scenes issues stemming from the fact that the studio wanted a much different version of the movie to the one David Ayer delivered to them. Still, say what you will about the movie, but there’s no denying that it can now be called “fun.” Truly delving into the relationship between these two would not have fitted into that category, hence why it ended up being so heavily edited.

That’s just one example though, and it’s clear that much of Leto’s performance was trimmed down to almost nothing. Throughout Suicide Squad, it almost feels like The Joker’s scenes have been inserted form another movie, and the studio obviously ditched any which were too dark or nasty because they wouldn’t have been in keeping with the tone they clearly believed critics and fans wanted from this release. As a result, both the fans and Leto have suffered, and Suicide Squad has done The Joker a disservice.

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For all intents and purposes, The Joker should have stolen the show, but he instead barely registers. There’s no denying that Leto’s performance is excellent, but we simply don’t get anywhere near enough of him here. A counter argument could be made that Suicide Squad simply whets our appetites for more Joker, and while that’s true, the fact that the actor is talking about there being an entire movie’s worth of material left on the cutting room floor is heartbreaking to say the least. Leto has said that he’ll reprise the role if he believes there’s a demand, but the actor seems so disheartened by the whole experience that whether or not he would now agree to come back is hard to say. Honestly, the only person with a remote chance of convincing him to do so is Ben Affleck, but there’s no guarantee, and if this is the first and last time we’ll see Leto’s Joker, then Warner Bros. simply can’t be forgiven.

I’m not sure that I’ll ever love Suicide Squad, but I liked it a lot. Amid all of the messiness were moments of greatness, and that’s a category that Jared Leto and his Clown Prince of Crime fit perfectly into. Now, some fans are now hoping for a “Joker Cut” of Suicide Squad, but it’s completely unacceptable that Warner Bros. is butchering these DC Comics adaptations and then attempting to make up for their mistakes by getting us to fork out for new versions which fix their wrong decisions (just look at how much more coherent the story was in Batman v Superman‘s Ultimate Edition). The ramifications of this could be a lot more serious than a lack of screen time for a great actor and villain though. Will Wonder Woman gloss over the horrors of World War I to find the same breezy tone as a Marvel movie? Will Justice League treat Darkseid’s mythology as little more than background noise so the team can focus on witty banter? The fact is that the way The Joker has been treated here could be a worrying sign of things to come for the DC Films Universe, and for all our sakes, we should hope that this is a mistake Warner Bros. won’t repeat.

For now though, all we can do is keep our fingers crossed that Leto’s comments and hashtags like #MoreJokerLeto will show the studio just how let down everyone feels that decisions made in the editing room have robbed us and a talented actor of a performance which we’ll now likely never see beyond maybe one or two deleted scenes on the Blu-ray. While it would be easy to scoff at something like that that Twitter movement after the ridiculous Rotten Tomatoes petition, the way The Joker was let down by a studio scrambling to make critics happy is no laughing matter.