For as long as I’ve been given the privilege of being able to ramble about the things I love on the internet, I’ve argued that Joker is just as responsible for the success of Batman as the Dark Knight himself.
The ying to Batman’s yang, the effect of the Caped Crusader’s cause, the villainy of Joker is unmatched by any of his comic book contemporaries through his sheer simplicity: his evil is innate and impartial, anyone and everyone succumb to his terror. He has no political message, guiding ideology, or moral compass (which is something that the likes of Mr. Freeze possess, he just chooses to routinely and actively ignore it). His only mission is chaos and his only passion is crime. And with that, Joker becomes perfect antithetical concoction to all forms of do-gooding as his brand of evil can only be permanently solved with the ultimate evil itself: murder. His existence propels and perpetuates the philosophical Catch-22 that Bruce Wayne finds himself permanently trapped in, simultaneously making the Batman both necessary and guilty: if there were no Batman, would Joker even exist? And if Joker existed without Batman, then what?
Due to this diametric importance, casting the correct Joker is equally as critical as choosing the right Batman, as the balance between the two defines the inherent success of the very characters. With that in mind, hopefully, Warner Bros. listens to us.
Hot take, I know. I can feel your anger emanating through the fiber optic cosmos, my faceless internet friend. Trust me, I will be the first to scream from the mountaintops, even if no one is listening, that Jared Leto’s portrayal of Joker is an utter abomination from head-to-toe. It’s been four full-ass-years since Suicide Squad was released and I’m still clowning on Leto bi-weekly (literally, just last week I wrote an article titled ‘Suicide Squad’ Director Is Still Defending Jared Leto’s Joker, Further Stoking The Flames Of Our Rivalry.)
gonna tell my kids this was Jared Leto in Suicide Squad pic.twitter.com/qOotGUzdcZ
— Eric (@eric_ital) November 21, 2019
— Eric (@eric_ital) February 9, 2020
But who doesn’t love a redemption story? Jared Leto is, after all, an Academy Award-winning actor, and if Suicide Squad director David Ayer is to be believed, then Warner Bros. hacksawed the film, and Leto’s performance, into an unrecognizable Frankenstein monster. To his credit, Leto’s performance was not as wretched as the aesthetic, so if director Matt Reeves — who’s renowned for his sense of realism in grandiose action films — can figure out a way to tweak the dials, toning back elements of Leto’s portrayal and ramping up others, then maybe the legacy of his Jester of Genocide can be salvaged.
In the land that supposedly stands for second chances, it would only be fair to give Leto his. So long as they laser that preposterous “DAMAGED” tattoo off of his forehead — that was simply too much to bear and I’ll never forgive Warner Bros. for it. The Hot Topicifying of Joker went too far.
First, some housekeeping: to those who have some ludicrous take about Stanfield not being able to play Joker because he’s black, kindly escort yourself back to 1953 via the nearest time machine. Or, if you can’t find your own personal Doc Brown/DeLorean combo, just walk up to the nearest wall and swiftly bash your head in. People, we are talking about an imaginary sadistic comic book clown whose skin is bleached after he jumps into a vat of chemicals. (If Stanfield was cast, would the studio still go the chemical route, though? That’s another discussion for a different article)
To give myself a modicum of credit, the Stanfield-Joker thing was certainly buried somewhere in my subconscious, as I instantly remembered the interview he gave earlier this year where he detailed why the idea of playing the Clown Prince of Crime appeals to him so much:
Stanfield has the ability, unlike any of his peers, to send a chill down the spine, with Get Out being the primary example. But more so than his performances is his actual nature: he’s reserved, withdrawn, quietly and intently calculating his every word. Conversely and equally as crucial, he’s got scene-stealing charisma, which is key to crafting a compelling Joker. Think back to the days of The Dark Knight, where we hung on every word that slithered out of Heath Ledger’s mouth. If there’s one superlative that Stanfield’s young career is synonymous with thus far, it’s scene-stealing.
Plus, more so than any other name on this list, he fits the age profile of what I’m looking for in this portrayal. The Batman is set to follow the early years of the Dark Knight, and with Robert Pattinson being 34-years-old, casting someone of similar age would allow the two characters to “mature” together over the arc of the franchise.
If you know me personally or have followed my writing, then you likely know I think Jake Gyllenhaal is the best actor of his generation. Before Ben Affleck was cast as Bruce Wayne for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gyllenhaal was coming off an all-time heater that saw him star in Source Code, End of Watch, Prisoners, Enemy, and Nightcrawler.
Off the back of this five-film tear, Gyllenhaal displayed everything you need from a Batman Actor: leading man charm (as evidenced by Source Code, where he carries the entire movie), action hero believability (End of Watch), and psychological complexity (Prisoners, Enemy, and Nightcrawler). Plus, he got unbelievably yolked for Southpaw and was still just 35-years-old. If I was in charge of Warner Bros., he would have been my guy.
Alas, Warner eventual went the grizzled veteran route with Affleck before turning to tried-and-true British route with Robert Pattinson, leaving Gyllenhaal out of the running for the Caped Crusader. At this stage, given that Pattinson will likely occupy the role for close to a decade, my Gyllenhaal-as-Batman ship has permanently sailed.
But then I got to thinking about Gyllenhaal’s overall career path, and the more you delve into the choices he’s made and the roles he’s taken, the more you realize that he’s more of a weirdo than a hero. While he’s a bonafide A-lister — he’d be able to sell any theoretical spin-off on his own — he still has a proven track record of playing nutjobs and taking risks.
That balancing act of being able to teeter between the most deranged and charming man in the room is exactly what propelled Ledger’s portrayal to icon status. Not to mention the full-circle nature of Gyllenhaal, who starred alongside Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, taking over the mantle.
Eric is a New York City-based writer who still isn’t quite sure how he’s allowed to have this much fun for a living and will tell anyone who listens that Gotham City is canonically in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter @eric_ital for movie and soccer takes or contact him firstname.lastname@example.org