Joaquin Phoenix, Jared Leto's standalone Joker movies will invariably be compared to Heath Ledger's rendition

Gautam Chintamani

August 19, 2018 11:28:37 IST

There is a scene in Christopher Nolan’s seminal The Dark Knight (2008) where the Joker (Heath Ledger) giggles when Batman (Christian Bale) enquires why he wanted to kill him and says, “I don't want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You… you… complete me.” With the announcement of yet another production featuring the Joker sans the Batman, it now seems like the character has come a long way from feeling complete thanks to caped crusader  The latest to join the Joker bandwagon, Joaquin Phoenix would be directed by Todd Phillips (yes, of The Hangover fame) and as he prepares to play the Joker, the audiences — perhaps for the first time in recent memory in mainstream Hollywood — would also be treated to a battle between him and Jared Leto to see who manages a better on-screen portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime.

Heath Ledger as Joker in The Dark Knight. Image via Twitter

Heath Ledger as Joker in The Dark Knight. Image via Twitter

The last time the Joker was portrayed on the screen by Jared Leto in Suicide Squad (2016), both fans as well as the critics were far from impressed. In fact, some went to the extent of singling out Leto while talking about the disappointment the film turned out to be despite an impressive all-star line-up including Margot Robbie and Will Smith as Harley Quinn and Deadshot respectively. One of the main reasons for the lacklustre response to Leto’s Joker was pinned on the manner some of his best scenes got left out in the cutting room and as a result, Leto joined the fans in a public outcry against the studio, Warner Bros. The actor also asked for a stand-alone Joker film from the studios to honour the character. While there were murmurs about this film going ahead, the studio also announced the Joaquin Phoenix version with a release date — 4 October, 2019.

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It appears that suddenly every actor who can make a pitch is now keen to play a commercially viable dark character with a chance of getting an Oscar nod, ergo Joker, which seems the ideal fit. How else can you explain that the same studio, Warner Bros., going ahead with two simultaneous Joker projects? The Joaquin Phoenix version would supposedly have a dark tone and would be an “exploration of a man disregarded by society that is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale.” What makes the prospect more intriguing than a stand-alone Leto ‘Joker’ project, for one we have already been disappointed, is the propping up of the ancillary characters.  Todd Phillips has lined up Robert De Niro as a talk show host who drives the Joker to become the Clown Prince of Crime. The manner in which this sub-point could rekindle the memories of De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin from The King of Comedy (1982), where he kidnaps a famous talk show host (Jerry Lewis) because he wants to be like him, simply adds a veneer of going beyond yet another superhero film.

Jared Leto in Suicide Squad. Image via Twitter

Jared Leto in Suicide Squad. Image via Twitter

Irrespective of what the Todd Phillips-directed version ultimately turns out to be, the bigger question is — do we need one more Joker role where everything would be invariably compared to what we have seen? It’s not like any other remake or reboot would not throw up the same questions but how can anyone possibly bring anything new to the party in the case of the Joker? Besides the obvious comparisons between how both Phoenix and Leto would play the Joker, the multiple Joker projects would also inspire comparisons between the way Jack Nicholson reignited the character in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and of course, the peerless manner in which Heath Ledger liberated it from the cult of Nicholson in The Dark Knight.  

It’s been a decade since we saw Ledger elevate the Joker to an iconic status; he also posthumously won the Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actor for it. And it wouldn’t be totally incorrect to say that no matter how hard Phoenix tries, the chances of falling short of Ledger's Joker would always remain high. The darkness that Ledger discovered within the Joker and the way he interpreted it on the screen is leaps and bounds ahead of the drivel that Leto’s performance turned out to be and this includes the brilliance that got left behind. In 2016, when music composer Hans Zimmer, who did the background scored for the Nolan trilogy and Man of Steel (2013), was trying to come up with the sound of Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, he found the process of finding a new language very difficult. As a result, Zimmer announced that he was retiring from the “superhero business.” Perhaps sooner or later, the Joker might reach that stage, if not for the studio or actors, then surely for the audiences.

Updated Date: Aug 19, 2018 11:28 AM