Jared Leto's Joker in 2016 Suicide Squad proved controversial from the first image. With tattoos and "gangster" imagery, the take was unlike any on the Clown Prince of Crime before.
A recent Hollywood Reporter poll shows Leto's Joker is far less liked than the versions played by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. However, Leto's Joker still had a lot going for him. Though some of the firsts his performance involved may have been a bit much, Leto's Joker also gave fans a chance to see other classic Joker elements for the first time in live action. He doesn't deserve the hate he gets.
Joker was Overhyped
For as much as he is considered a low point of the film, The Joker wasn't featured much in Suicide Squad. This was in spite of the hype surrounding this new version and the amount the film's advertisements showcased his inclusion. When the actual movie rolled around, he didn't have as many scenes as the trailers would have led one to believe. This doesn't make Leto a bad Joker; it's a marketing problem.
From what of we saw of him, Leto did get Joker's mannerisms down. From the wackiest, kookiest elements of Joker’s personality, to the downright disturbing ones, Leto acted exactly like what viewers have come to expect of the Clown Prince of Crime. Although his appearance was different than previous iterations, none of Joker’s actions were out of character.
Mad, Bad Love
Suicide Squad marked the first live action appearance of the Joker/Harley Quinn relationship, which is itself one of the most famous (or infamous) romances in comics.
Originating in the 1990's Batman: The Animated Series, this criminal clown couple's relationship has been full of ups and downs. Although the film may have featured the relationship less than some had hoped, it did prove interesting to see the two interact, and it's a dimension of Joker that's been absent from other takes on the character. This ended up extending to his costume, as, although initially off-putting, his look matches that of Harley Quinn perfectly.
As for what was shot, many Joker scenes, namely those developing his relationship with Harley Quinn, were completely left out of the film's theatrical release and have never seen the light of day.
The Comparisons Aren't Exactly Fair
Judging this new Joker against past versions of the character was inevitable, and Jared Leto couldn't have had worse luck. Not only were the Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger versions of The Joker beloved by fans and critics alike, but the latter portrayal was especially legendary due to the actor's untimely death.
In fact, part of the reason why this Joker was so physically different compared to the others was to hopefully lessen any comparison to them. Though this plan obviously failed, there's some question as to how the reception of Joker would have been different if he'd not had such legendary immediate predecessors.
Also working against Leto's Joker was his relative lack of screen time. Suicide Squad was rife with production issues, with many of its rushed changes affecting future DC Extended Universe movie Justice League. Steppenwolf was originally intended to be a much more major part of the film, and director David Ayer himself expressed his wish to go back and make The Joker the main villain in a far more grounded Suicide Squad movie. Instead Joker was a supporting character in the film, whereas Ledger’s version was the chief antagonist (and stealer) of the proverbial show.
As Warner Bros. prepares to release a self-titled Joker film, the future of Jared Leto's Joker remains uncertain. However, his performance in Suicide Squad gets more flack than it deserves. Fans were promised a Joker-centric film, and they didn't get it, which absolutely impacted how he was received. Time might end up being kinder to Leto's controversial portrayal, revealing it to have been damaged more by marketing and script changes than acting.