You can do it, guys
DC/Warner Brothers sold Suicide Squad, their hit 2016 movie, on two fan-favourite characters: Margot Robbie’s psychotic Harley Quinn and Jared Leto’s neon demon take on The Joker. Yet when fans went to see the movie, they were surprised/saddened/angry to find the latter wasn’t actually in it very much at all. Equally baffled was Leto, who told NME he was surprised how many of his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. Even the director confirmed he’d made a mistake by under-using the clown-like villain.
Robbie’s Harley Quinn was soon announced for her own film, and today, and not before time, The Joker was confirmed for a spin-off too. As the ailing DC Universe movies fail to set the box office alike, these two characters could be the ones that steady the ship, because if Marvel’s Deadpool taught us anything, it’s that it’s good to be bad, and these two villains are as fun as evil gets. But DC should be careful not to fluff it like they did with Justice League and Batman Versus Superman and Man Of Steel and Green Lantern and, well, you get the picture. Here’s what we reckon they need to do.
Let Leto be Leto
The part of The Joker has become an acting Everest, a role only the bravest actors take on. Jack Nicholson – no fake smile required – brought menace and mania to 1990’s Tim Burton-directed Batman. Heath Ledger added shades of grim brutality in 2008’s The Dark Knight. And Leto, in even his small amount of Suicide Squad screen time, showed that he had vision for The Joker too, adding an element of childlike mania and fragility. Leto is a great choice for the part, a method actor who did his best to scare the shit out of his Suicide Squad co-stars on set, reportedly sending them gifts of bullets, a dead hog and a live rat and insisting on being called Mr J. He’s an unknowable quantity, whether playing the gnomic rock star in his band, 30 Seconds To Mars, or reinventing himself physically for roles such as that of John Lennon’s killer Mark Chapman in Chapter 27. Plus, he dresses a bit like The Joker in real life.
Don’t do the dark and brooding thing – it’s tired
One of the joys of Leto’s take on The Joker was the neon cartoonishness of his version. We’ve had dark, brooding superheroes up to our eyeballs. More of the madcap man, please.
Adapt The Killing Joke
Though he’s long since fallen out with them, DC were once lucky enough to count Northampton-based comics titan Alan Moore as a key writer. Moore – who wrote Watchmen and V For Vendetta among countless game-changing works – contributed to a number of the publisher’s biggest titles during the ‘80s, employing his revisionist genius and coming up with some of their best-ever storylines. Right up there with his best is the one-shot Batman: The Killing Joke, which added a depth never seen before to the character of The Joker. In Moore’s hands, we saw The Joker in two simultaneous storylines, one in which he’s attempting to drive Commissioner Gordon mad in the present day, another in which he’s a downtrodden former chemical engineer and stand-up comic who, following the death of his wife, a stint as a criminal The Red Hood and hideous face-first-into-a-vat-of-nasty-chemicals incident, becomes the twisted clown we know and love. It was Moore doing the unthinkable: giving The Joker an origin story. But there was no suggestion that this was necessarily true or canonical or a figment of The Joker’s imagination – another maddening trick, perhaps. In The Killing Joke, DC have the ready-made plot for a killer Joker movie, even if they have already produced a version of it in their animated movie series in 2016. Kids stuff it is not.
Don’t attempt an origin story outside of that one
A major problem with any given superhero film is this: origin stories are bloody boring. That’s why Moore’s postmodern takes on them work, and why superhero films often give increasing terms: the Iron Man movies got better once you didn’t have to explain why a man has a futuristic robo-suit in his closet. With The Joker, DC have an ace up their sleeve: he’s a character that neither requires an origin story, due to his familiarity, nor officially has one. The mystery of how The Joker became The Joker is one of comics’ longest-held enigmas: never has one been revealed as being the official in-universe truth. Hopefully DC realise that’s part of the fun.
Don’t let Zack Snyder anywhere near it, for god’s sake
It’s fair to say DC has had a bumpy ride trying to launch a film universe to rival that of Marvel’s, with some notable successes (Wonder Woman), some interesting films to come (Aquaman) and some absolute stinkers (Batman Versus Superman). Much of the responsibility for this must fall on director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), who was placed in charge of the franchise and who makes up for an almost total inability to unfold a plot with endless scenes of super humans being tediously flung through buildings. Recent reports suggest he and DC have parted ways, which can only be a good thing.
Ditch the other Joker film, or combine them
Confusingly, there is reportedly another Joker film in the making, directed by Todd Phillips and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, with Joaquin Phoenix tipped to play the title role, and with reports suggesting it’s influenced by the aforementioned graphic novel The Killing Joke. Yeah, The Joker is meant to be mad; this seems madder.