There have been many depictions of The Joker, the classic Batman Rogues Gallery Villain who has earned almost as much recognition from fans and normies alike as his do-gooding counter-part, The Batman. Debuting in Batman #1 and created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane (ugh), The Joker has graced both the silver and small screen featuring as many different actors portraying him as he has different origin stories.
Having so many depictions of the Joker must be pretty awesome, huh? Variety is the spice of life, and all that. I’m honestly looking forward to Joaquin Phoenix’ portrayal in the upcoming The Joker film. Phoenix is in a long line of actors that have added depth and vibrancy to the character that transcends what one can experience with a four-color comic. Cesar Romero was festive. Jack Nicholson was scary. Mark Hamill was equal parts funny and frightening. Heath Ledger was chaotic with a tinge of sadness. Jared Leto was… also the Joker.
Seriously, the problem with Leto’s Joker isn’t the man’s acting skills. He’s an amazing actor. He stole every scene in Dallas Buyer’s Club. He was excellent in American Psycho, and really put on a good performance in Fight Club. Bottom line: he’s a talented actor. The problem with Leto’s Joker are the terrible choices in character development that Leto, and by extension Director David Ayer, put into the role.
To them, the clown prince of crime looks like a cross between a DoodleBear (the nineties toy that you could decorate with a special, washable marker) and an exploded Hot Topic. The walking embodiment of chaos that Heath ledger had so carefully constructed in The Dark Knight has been reduced to an edgy joke of a gangbanger. He looks like the kid you went to high school with that is still holding on to that rap dream even though he’s well into his thirties. He might’ve been cool a few years ago, but now it’s just getting sad. There are a lot of bold choices with the Joker character in this film, and unfortunately they’re all wrong. The tattoos look like a fourteen year old’s idea of edgy. The grill…I mean, does anyone even do that anymore? Did they bring Paul wall out of retirement to make this grill!?! (Anyone remember grill-maker turned Houston rap star Paul Wall? No? Ok.) Add to all of this to the fact that if you remove Joker from the film it doesn’t change the story one bit. He’s so boring that he doesn’t even register as an important aspect of the film. He’s just a minor plot point, and that alone is pretty damning. He exists to introduce the world to Harley, and that’s it. After… it’s her movie.
So, to wrap this up: if you’re looking for an iconic portrayal of the Joker, this ain’t it. You’ve got several really great examples to choose from, and they’re all wildly different. And while I do have some concerns about the new Joker film (namely the adoption of the character by 8-Chan, reddit’s incel groups, and their merry band of unfuckables), my faith in the upcoming film is bolstered by the acting talents of Phoenix and the direction of Todd Phillips (who is starting to sound like a serious douchebag, but that’s another story entirely). Long story short, bring it on Phoenix! We’ve seen the worst Joker already. It can only get better from here.