Coming off of David Ayer's Suicide Squad Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn was the hottest character DC had going. Jared Leto's Joker was...not. Still, because these two characters are pretty inseparable in other media, it seemed likely that we'd see them both again. Harley had a bright future, and Joker is still one of the most popular characters in comic book history.
And yet, with Birds of Prey, we're getting a movie that stars Harley Quinn, and Jared Leto's Joker is nowhere to be seen. It's been explained in the trailer that the pair have broken up, and director Cathy Yan explained to CinemaBlend's own Sean O'Connell recently that there was never really any attempt to bring Leto into Birds of Prey. The break up portion of the story meant that there was really no place for the actor to appear in the new film. If Harley Quinn doesn't need Joker, then why would the movie need the actor? According to Yan...
I don't think we need Jared. Right? ... Just like [Harley] doesn't need The Joker.
We've seen seen many comic book movies try to differentiate themselves by fitting themselves into additional genres as well. We have superhero heist movies and superhero comedies, and even superhero horror films. Birds of Prey is apparently the superhero break up movie, the story of how a super villain dealt with the end of her relationship and was able to learn how to stand on her own two feet.
We've all been there, a long time relationship comes to an end, you mourn it, you get emotional, you shut yourself off. But eventually, the only way to get yourself over the thing is to get back out in the world, surround yourself with friends, and act like things are back to normal until they are. It's just that in this case, back to normal involves committing crimes.
The new Birds of Prey isn't the only upcoming movie that doesn't need Joker. The new Suicide Squad sequel doesn't need him either.
If Birds of Prey was really about Joker and Harley Quinn's relationship, then you would have really needed Jared Leto to be in the movie. However, it's not about that, it's about the moving on phase, and when you get there, seeing the other person is exactly not what you want, so the movie as Cathy Yan says, really didn't need Jared Leto to appear.
Of course, it does ask the question, what exactly is the future of Jared Leto's Joker? With the new Batman movie seemingly going in a different direction as well, and Harley Quinn having moved on, a different Joker movie that was much better received, and Leto himself having added a new comic book character to his filmography with Morbius, it feels quite likely that we're just never going to see that Joker again. Of course, sometimes, after you've come to terms with the end of relationship, you randomly run into your ex and it's always interesting to see how that works out.