On Tuesday, Variety reported that Jared Leto will reprise his role as the Joker from 2016's Suicide Squad in a standalone film about the Batman villain/emo icon. When the news broke, the collective groans of Batman fans and critics was deafening. "Sorry, folks. I wished too hard for comic book movies when I was 13 years old. This one's on me," quipped New York Times culture reporter Dave Itzkoff. "Wouldn't it be easier to take all the money, put it in a garbage can and set it on fire??" mused a Drag Race contestant. "This is a hate crime," more than one Twitter user joked.
The negative response to the currently untitled Joker movie is predictable. Leto's performance in Suicide Squad was critically panned, and so was the film, which has a 27 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (It did make a lot of money, however.) Leto didn't have much screen time in Suicide Squad, and when he did appear, his rendition of the Joker was comically campy, like a suburban Hot Topic manager's idea of edginess.
Unlike Heath Ledger, who performed the role with seemingly effortless grit, Leto's Joker is trying extremely hard to let you know what a twisted badass he is. Leto's performance was as hammy as his costume—neon-green hair, an excess of "HAHA" tattoos, and rosy red lips. In one flashback scene, where the Joker is torturing his psychiatrist-turned-paramour Harley Quinn after she helps him escape from Arkham Asylum, he half-whispers, his big smile showing off the metal grills affixed to his teeth that look like braces, "Oh, I'm not gonna kill ya, I'm just gonna hurt ya really, really bad." As the New Yorker's Anthony Lane wrote in his review, "[Leto's] attempt at pure evil is roughly as frightening as 'Goodnight Moon.'"
In one scene, the Joker lies on the floor surrounded by carefully placed knives, laughing, basking in his ridiculousness. It doesn't make you wonder, How did this scary guy get so many knives? Instead, you have to ask yourself, Did the Joker carefully set up these weapons himself? Or did he get one of his minions to do it for him? And why did he do it? The Ledger version of the Joker, in Nolan's The Dark Knight, always had a plan behind his absurd antics. Leto's Joker, on the other hand, is just fucking around.
Leto, like Ledger, went method for the role. Rumors of his twisted antics on set, like gifting cast members with used condoms and dildos—rumors that Leto has since denied—added an extra level of buffoonery to the whole thing. Giving someone a used condom isn't scary, it's annoying, and that's the best word to describe Jared Leto's Joker.
"What Leto offers as the Joker is pure Ledger-lite, a heavy dose of antic wickedness ungrounded by anything deeper or more intriguing," the Atlantic's Christopher Orr wrote.
Leto's Joker, like the rest of Suicide Squad, was a candy-coated trainwreck, but it was also disastrously entertaining in the same way perusing the local mall's Spencer's Gifts can be provide you with some good laughs and an overarching sense of late capitalist doom. Leto's performance was so void of nuance and subtlety, it made any subtext supertext, and turned the character into an agonizingly uncool failure of a villain.
If this Joker movie is going to be overwrought and lame and reviled, it will at least be holding a mirror up to reality, which is also overwrought and lame and reviled. The president of the United States is an erratic TV star who holds ceremonies honoring patriotic songs he can't sing and spends most of his time watching television shows about himself. Just this morning, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway accidentally referred to the president as "the commander of cheese." Administration officials, for the most part, aren't using their positions for complicated, supervillain-esque plots; they're attempting to get their wives fast-food franchises. It'd be cartoonish, except most cartoons are less predictable. In this day and age, a Batman antagonist oozing menace and intelligence just doesn't make sense. An impotent buffoon who does dumb evil shit, and somehow gets away with it is far more fitting. There's even a real life connection between the Joker and Trump—Suicide Squad executive producer Steve Mnuchin is secretary of the treasury.
The Trump era demands a Joker film that's so bad it's scary. And that's what we'll get.
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