Todd Phillips' Joker is out, and many around the world have finally gotten to see Joaquin Phoenix's take on the Clown Prince of Crime. Phoenix brought an entirely new energy to the character, which was somewhat necessary given it was an origin story. While I haven't had a chance to fully digest my thoughts on Joker and Phoenix's performance, I can say with certainty it has changed my thoughts on Jared Leto's portrayal.
Jared Leto, of course, was the actor to portray Joker ahead of Joaquin Phoenix, through a supporting role in Suicide Squad. The role had its fair share of controversies for several reasons, though I ultimately walked away after viewing Suicide Squad that Leto's portrayal wasn't bad, just different. Now that I've seen Joker, I'm ready to say I was wrong, and can use Phoenix's performance to break down why Leto's performance was the worst live-action Joker we've seen.
My Perception Of Jared Leto's Portrayal Pre-Joker
I can't say I was a big fan of Suicide Squad, but I will say that Jared Leto's Joker was one of the few stand-out moments for me and others. Sure, he looked like the poster boy for Spencer's Gifts, but DC rolled the dice on a radically different Joker in the past and struck gold. Would it really be wise to write off this "different" Joker and risk missing another iconic performance in another film?
Even as the premiere date for Joker loomed, I can honestly say I was still a big fan of Jared Leto's Joker. There was even a hot moment where I pondered the "Three Jokers" theory, and whether DC would have the courage to suggest different criminals have interchangeably taken up the mantle over the years. Hey, there have been some crazy castings in the Arrow-verse, so it didn't seem too out there to suggest Leto's Joker could one day meet the one in Joker.
By the time I'd finished walking Joker, one thing was abundantly clear. A lot of the things I thought were unique about Jared Leto's Joker were better executed with Joaquin Phoenix's Joker. I didn't just like Leto's Joker less, I now actively hate it.
Leto's Joker Had More Style Than Substance
First impressions mean a lot, and that's been especially true regarding when audiences first see the actor playing Joker in makeup. The looks of cinematic Jokers can tell a story and inform the audience on key elements of that Joker's identity. Heath Ledger's Joker had a memorable bit about his facial scars, and Joaquin Phoenix's Joker look is inspired by Arthur's failed comedy career.
Jared Leto's Joker had a very edgy style, but very little of it told a story about the kind of character he was. What could be gathered is that Leto's Joker was a very vain and materialistic person, which seemed to go against his deranged and anarchistic persona. It could've been fine had that been explained or expounded upon, but alas, much of the character's screen time was cut.
Even so, seeing Joaquin Phoenix's Joker showed me that whatever vision Suicide Squad had for its Joker was just too ambitious. Phoenix's Joker looks a lot different than past incarnations, but it works because you have a whole film to explain and establish the transformation that makes him the villain audiences know. Even in the ideal circumstances, Jared Leto's Joker was a supporting character we caught up in the midst of his Joker run. His whole presence was mostly fluff and became a glorified marketing gimmick, and it's hard for me to believe another film with him would've justified his existence.
Joaquin Phoenix Showed Playing Joker Didn't Require Channeling Real Darkness
For all the good one can find in Heath Ledger's Joker, his death definitely brought a stigma to playing the character. To this day, there's still speculation that Ledger's preparation for the role had a part to play in his untimely death, and actors have had a hand in enhancing that mythos with their actions.
Take, for example, Jack Nicholson's reaction upon learning of Ledger's death. The comment, whether it was meant the way some interpret it, seemingly referenced an unspoken understanding amongst actors and the darkness required to play the Joker. It was inevitable, and Jared Leto definitely leaned on that mythos to do things like send dead rats and used condoms (though he later denied doing so) to his Suicide Squad costars.
Leto definitely crossed a line, but seemed to get a pass because of the Joker mythos. Now that Joker is out and Joaquin Phoenix didn't emerge with any deranged stories of him channeling the character, it makes Leto's behind-the-scenes antics all the more unnecessary and unacceptable. Phoenix is getting Oscar buzz and he actively avoided reading comics on the character. Leto sent used condoms for a performance that earned him a Razzie nod in 2016.
Is It Fair To Compare These Two Jokers?
There are arguments that can certainly be made that comparing Jared Leto and Joaquin Phoenix's Joker is unfair. My argument is that comparison is inevitable, and there will always be those who rank and re-rank these live-action Joker portrayals with each new actor who takes up the mantle.
I can't speak for others, but I will say the reason I compare these two Jokers is because they're both similar in the sense that they both set out to present the villain in a wildly different way. One was a raging success, and the other seemed interesting until I saw the correct way to transform a character's persona. Perhaps another film could've justified Jared Leto's performance and actions, but it seems all but certain we'll never know since there's no word on this version of Joker showing up again.
Has Joker changed your thoughts on the character, or how others have played him? Let us know in the comments below, and continue to stick with CinemaBlend this fall season for all the latest in movie and television news.
Mick likes good television, but also reality television. He grew up on Star Wars, DC, Marvel, and pro wrestling and loves to discuss and dissect most of it. He’s been writing online for over a decade and never dreamed he’d be in the position he is today.
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