How Zack Snyder's Justice League Does Right By Jared Leto's Joker

Jared Leto as the Joker in Zack Snyder's Justice League

I consider myself, not necessarily a supporter of Jared Leto’s Joker, but a bit of an apologist for him, despite being neither for 2016’s Suicide Squad, to be honest. In fact, I am less bothered by the Oscar winner’s polarizing performance in the DC villains crossover movie than I am by the film’s disservice to Leto by not giving him enough time to shine or the right material to justify his portrayal. That being said, I believe if the Joker we saw in Zack Snyder’s Justice League was the same Joker we saw then, fans may have reacted more favorably.

As many would agree, HBO Max’s Snyder Cut delivers many improvements on the 2017 theatrical version of Justice League, but I would go as far to say that it improves on the DCEU movies as a whole. The added footage of Jared Leto as the Joker is a most essential factor to that “correction,” because nearly every aspect about this interpretation of the Clown Prince of Crime improves on the 2016 depiction, if you ask me. Allow me to break down the five reasons why I would have loved to see more of this Joker in more superhero movies, starting with the very nature of the performance.

Joker pulls his card in Zack Snyder's Justice League

Jared Leto Shows Joker’s Ominously Reserved Side In Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Subtlety is not a definitive characteristic of the Joker, who typically projects a manic, animated energy that can fall at risk of being zealously cartoonish. If Suicide Squad director David Ayer wanted that, I might call Jared Leto’s 2016 performance a success, but, to most audiences today, the Joker is no laughing matter. If you ask me (and you can likely credit Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance in The Dark Knight for this), they want to be afraid of him.

Was I afraid of Jared Leto in Zack Snyder’s Justice League? Hell yes, I was, with every delicately placed inflection of lunacy over his, otherwise, ominously soft-spoken demeanor. The performance's atmosphere was not only essential to the Snyder Cut's Knightmare scene's hopelessly grim tone, but also to a creepier Joker portrayal than we have seen in years. Actually, I think the character design deserves credit for that, too.

Joker's creepy grin in Zack Snyder's Justice League

No Tattoos Needed To Prove This Joker Is “Damaged”

Remember how everyone lost their minds (not in the best way) over the first image of Jared Leto’s Joker with his heavily tattooed body and grills? I empathized with those concerns, but more so with criticism over Suicide Squad’s costume design, which combined the purple and green color scheme with a modernized, clean cut mob boss aesthetic. In my opinion, the otherwise unique attempt, again, fails to match the villain’s chaotic and psychologically imbalanced aura.

Thankfully, the character’s head-to-toe redesign for Zack Snyder’s Justice League nails it, as far as I am concerned. Instead, Joker sports long, limp hair, indelicately applied makeup that barely covers his facial scarring, rotten teeth, and what I am pretty sure is an unbuckled straitjacket under that Kevlar vest. While it could be taken as another Heath Ledger retread, it makes for a genuinely unsettling appearance nonetheless, especially by the look in his eyes when he shoots that mirror-cracking grin at Batman.

Ben Affleck as Batman in Zack Snyder's Justice League

Zack Snyder’s Justice League Finally Brings Batman And Joker Together

The mere fact that I can say Jared Leto’s Joker and Ben Affleck’s Batman share a scene in a movie is extremely satisfying. Even some with lukewarm reactions to Suicide Squad, manywere curious to see this interpretation of one of the greatest comic book rivalries (aside from the Marvel vs. DC debate) come full circle. Likely, in part, because a lack of shared screen time added to their disappointment in the 2016 movie. I cannot think of a better way to make up for it than how Zack Snyder’s Justice League brings them together in Bruce Wayne’s Knightmare.

Instead of your typical cat-and-mouse game, Batman and Joker have become reluctant allies against a Mad Max-style dystopia, courtesy of Superman and Darkseid’s unholy alliance. However, Joker still has no qualms about reminding Bats how his apparent failure to save Lois Lane makes him responsible. That is the tip of the iceberg of how well the scene encapsulates their turbulent relationship.

Jared Leto in Zack Snyder's Justice League

Jared Leto’s Snyder Cut Dialogue Actually Reflects How Joker Speaks

Few have successfully bypassed Joker’s manipulative ways, but, as seen in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, he rarely fails to get under Batman’s skin. During Jared Leto’s battle of wits with Ben Affleck, he is "not very careful" when taunting the Dark Knight over deaths that weigh heavy on his conscience (namely his "adoptive son," Robin) and calling a mourning Mera (Amber Heard) a "fish stick."

The Zack Snyder-penned Joker dialogue in the Snyder Cut - filled with boldly unsympathetic reproaches and inarguable points over Batman’s past mistakes and the enemies’ mutual reliance - reminds me of my favorite Joker quotes from comics like The Killing Joke. Unfortunately, I cannot say I feel the same about Jared Leto’s lines in Suicide Squad, which resort mostly to childish mimicry, more uninspired gangster movie cliches, or shallow, meandering "poetry.”

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Jared Leto as Joker in Suicide Squuad

Zack Snyder’s Justice League Does Not Sugarcoat Joker And Harley Quinn’s Abusive Relationship

I may sound a bit harsh on Suicide Squad, but I have only covered personal peeves of mine and not even my one, most concerning, issue: the movie's depiction of Joker’s “romance” with Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). Historically, the DC Villains are more emblematic of an abusive crime boss and his delusional slave, yet the movie still inspired “relationship goals” memes somehow.

Batman’s startling retort to Joker’s morbid taunts rightfully puts that gross misinterpretation to bed as he assures Joker that he intends to fulfill a promise he made to Harley Quinn as she died in his arms to “fucking kill” him. This implies a future in which Joker has killed Harley and her dying wish for Batman to break his one rule on her former beau is also a good indication that she came to her senses about how he treated her. I do not see a future in which Zack Snyder’s Justice League inspires anymore “Joker and Harley relationship goals” memes any time soon.

I should give some credit, however, to 2020’s Birds of Prey, in which Joker and Harley Quinn break-up, for shedding light on their unhealthy relationship (to put it lightly). Yet, by implying their tragically permanent split, on top of his terrifying appearance and chilling speech, I believe the DCEU’s definitive depiction of the Joker exists in the Snyder Cut... I could have done with a better laugh, though.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.