Why It’s Time to Stop Complaining About Jared Leto’s Joker

Chill out, geeks, and stop complaining about Jared Leto’s Joker.

I am a geek. I have read more Star Wars books than I care to admit. I constantly watch sci-fi. I know my comic book lore and the character histories. In other words — geeks out there — I am one of you. So you have to believe me when I say, shut the hell up about Leto as the Joker. Stop comparing him to Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson. Stop complaining about how he looks. Stop worrying. It’ll be alright. And I’m here to tell you why.

There are characters out there that every great actor should get a shot at to show their acting chops. A classic one is Hamlet. There are numerous versions, variations, and renditions of Hamlet out there. On film or on stage. Hamlet as a character is so rich and so deep that each actor that has attempted to bring him to stage or screen has but scratched the surface of possibilities with their performance. Because the character is so intriguing, and the source material so profound, it does not make sense to compare one actors performance to another’s. It only makes sense to discuss whether each actor did justice to the character and source.

The Joker is very much like Hamlet. Only the Joker has hundreds of times more source material. There are dozens of variations of the Joker in comics and cartoons. Granted, some of those variations aren’t that great (did you know he is currently an immortal? Bleech!!). But of the ones that are excellent there is enough material for a dozen more actors to try their interpretation of the Joker without having a repeated attempt. Cesar Romero was the clown prince. Jack Nicholson was the clown gang boss. Heath Ledger was the clown chaos. Mark Hamill is the clown crazy. We have yet to see which clown Jared Leto will be — my hope is the clown psychopath.

Heath Ledger as The Joker , The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger as The Joker | Source: Warner Bros

There is a variation of the Joker that is a homicidal murderer. Killing, torturing, and engaging in pandemonium all for his own entertainment and laughter. He is having conversations in his own head and laughing hysterically at his own jokes. Trying his hardest to get the Batman to crack a smile. I am reminded of a chapter in Batman’s “No Man’s Land” storyline in which the Joker is single-handedly killing and maiming a gang in a baseball park with a spiked baseball bat. All the while in his head he is playing a baseball game, complete with commentators, peanuts, and cracker jacks. He is laughing uncontrollably while crunching bones and tenderizing flesh. It’s a crazy scene. And it’s a Joker we have yet to see on on film. I think this is what Leto might give us. He certainly has the acting chops to do so.

Whether we love or hate Leto’s performance, obviously, we need to see it before we can complain. I remember when people hated that Ledger was cast as the Joker. And he proved us all wrong. But we should not compare Leto to Ledger. Nor Leto to Nicholson. Nor Ledger to Nicholson, for that matter. Instead, compare them to the source material that they are attempting to bring to life. And for what it’s worth, Suicide Squad director David Ayer recently told USA Today that the Joker played by Jared Leto is “the king of Planet Joker” (whatever that means).[Update, 1/12/16: Quote from David Ayer added.]

The Joker, as a character stands, on his own. These actors are attempting to live up to that character, not each other. They are not creating a character out of nothing and presenting it to us for the first time. They are attempting to show us someone we already know. Some crazy, surreal character we love and to whom we want them to do justice. That is a much more monumental task. We’ve seen this go bad with other characters when the actors and writers try to re-imagine something iconic and fail miserably.

So, relax, and go see Suicide Squad this fall with an open mind about Leto’s Joker. I bet he knocks it out of the park, laughing hysterically along the way.

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