‘The Suicide Squad’: Why James Gunn Knew He Didn’t Want Joker Involved

Although its title is perhaps too close to its 2016 predecessor, The Suicide Squad promises to bring a new kind of energy to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). The film sees James Gunn — the filmmaker behind Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies — lend his ensemble flair to the competition. But as Gunn’s vision took shape, he knew there was one DC character he wasn’t interested in bringing back: the Joker. Here’s why.

Jared Leto poses in a suit in front of ‘Suicide Squad’ artwork
Jared Leto | JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP

Jared Leto played the Joker in 2016’s ‘Suicide Squad’

Joaquin Phoenix most recently played the character on the big screen, thanks to his Oscar-winning performance in 2019’s Joker. But within the DCEU continuity, the Clown Prince of Crime was played by another Oscar-winning actor, Jared Leto. The actor debuted his version of the Joker in director David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. And fans didn’t exactly warm to his take, especially after Heath Ledger’s beloved portrayal.

However, Leto continues to have fans both among fans and behind the scenes. In fact, Zack Snyder even brought the actor back to reprise the role in 2021 release Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Still, the absence of Leto from releases such as Birds of Prey has left some speculating that he’s on the verge of getting replaced. While fans still don’t know when or if the Joker will appear again in the DCEU, he’s not in The Suicide Squad.

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James Gunn didn’t want the DC villain in his movie

As far as fans know, Leto’s Joker wasn’t left out of Gunn’s movie because he’s been ejected from the DCEU. As the director himself told The New York Times (via AV Club), the Joker simply didn’t make sense with the story he was trying to tell. More to the point, Gunn said the Joker just “wouldn’t be helpful in that type of war situation.” Given the militaristic style of the Suicide Squad as a team, that actually makes a lot of sense.

In fact, Gunn’s decision underscores a criticism many had with the 2016 film. In that movie, Leto’s Joker appears intermittently via flashbacks and a half-baked subplot to liberate girlfriend Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). But his role has little to do with the main story at hand, leaving him feeling very disconnected. Of course, Robbie returns for Gunn’s film, which might speak more to her popularity than her utility to the story.

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Will Jared Leto return to the DC Extended Universe?

Leto might not have popped up in The Suicide Squad. But his Joker could still pop up elsewhere at some point. At the moment, perhaps the likeliest place is The Flash. That movie — set for release on Nov. 4, 2022 — will explore the multiverse. And fans hope it might even tie into the post-apocalyptic future seen in Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

What is clear is that the DCEU is splitting off into a number of branches. Robert Pattinson’s The Batman could conceivably serve as a reboot of the Dark Knight. And as such, the Twilight alumnus will inevitably confront his own version of the Joker down the line. Will Pattinson’s Joker, Phoenix’s version, and Leto’s all peacefully co-exist on the big screen? Only time will tell.