With the release of the Suicide Squad, there has been the inevitable debate raging online that we always knew was coming. Heath Ledger or Jared Leto?
Ever since Jared Leto was announced as playing the Joker in Suicide Squad he was immediately placed in the shadow of Heath Ledger. Many bashed the choice, others were wary about Warner Bros selection (us included) and there were some others perhaps silently confident about the Oscar-winning actor’s acting chops in the role as the Clown Prince of Crime. Heath Ledger after all put in the performance of a life time in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and one (unfortunately for Leto) is engraved in the minds of filmgoers everywhere.
This means that Leto vs Ledger was always going to be on people’s lips when Suicide Squad was released and is perhaps a bigger question than Batman vs Superman, Christian Bale vs Ben Affleck or Tobey Maguire vs Andrew Garfield vs Tom Holland.
However, here at Nerd Lowdown we feel that despite the fact that both Jared Leto & Heath Ledger played the same character in name, they did not REALLY play the same character in reality. This may sound confusing, yes they both played Batman’s arch-nemesis the Joker, but do bear with us as we explain.
NOTE: Minor Spoilers To Suicide Squad Lay Ahead
The characters were portrayed so differently that they are completely incomparable. Unlike the likes Spider-Man who has been portrayed by three actors yet is still the same core character, these two iterations of The Joker have been so different that it’s hard to even call them the same character.
Ledger’s Joker was more the brain child of Christopher Nolan & Heath Ledgers talent than it was comic book accurate. He was more a terrorist and anarchist than a deranged psycho with more issues than the rest of Arkham Asylum put together. That’s not to say he wasn’t a few drill bits short of a full set, but he was more organised and calculated than truly maniacal and utterly chaotic. He had all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. He had grander plans than kidnapping Robins & shooting Batgirls in the spine. A brilliant villain, truly unforgettable, but one pretty much unrecognisable in many aspects from the comic books and not just in looks.
Cut to Leto’s iteration of the Clown Prince of Crime and we can truly see that’s what he has made of himself. But gangster-esque criminal kingpin aside, what we see in Leto’s performance is a true to form comic book Joker in his behaviours and manner. It’s not just the Alex Ross suit, or slicked back green hair or even the fact we know that Death in the Family has already happened. It’s more than that. Despite us only getting a taster of the character through sub-plot (this is good, save him for The Batman) we get to see a Joker that is not just beyond the point of sanity, he smashed that thin line with a crowbar. There’s something truly terrifying about this iteration of the character and a real sense of unpredictability to his methods. While Ledger’s Joker showed some true genius in his plans, you get the feeling that Leto’s would be a bit more half cocked and gruesome – improvising and maybe even losing control.
It is perhaps thanks to the inclusion of Harley Quinn this time around that we really see the difference in the two. In many regards throughout the years, the Clown Prince of Crime is nothing without his Harlequin of Crime. While it’s fair to say that Suicide Squad did not really show the pair’s relationship in its true disturbed and abusive form. In the comics there has been many, let’s be honest – fucked up moments of abuse against Harley by The Joker. But at the same time he cannot live without her and vice versa. We see this in Leto’s Joker in its truest form within Harley’s origin scene. After manipulating Dr. Harleen Quinzel into breaking him out of Arkham, he brings her to ACE Chemicals and menacingly convinced her to jump into a vat of chemicals (thus mirroring his own origin & Harley’s New 52 origin to a degree) but as much as this pleases him…. he cannot leave Harley behind and jumps in after her. Harley Quinn is that small sense of humanity within the Joker that we see in Leto yet did not see in Ledger, despite the fact that both were monstrous in their own way. We will see more of this as the pair are together more on-screen & if we get a Director’s/Extended Cut.
So while both iterations of the character are truly brilliant, this is why they are not really comparable. They were such very different yet menacing characters that it’s nigh on impossible to put them side by side other than they both played The Joker.
Instead of pitting two amazing performances against each other, why not celebrate both for how varied and wonderful that they were? After all, it’s not often you get two vastly different actors put into the same role and both of them making it their own in such contrasting methods. Here at Nerdlowdown HQ – We’re not Ledger vs Leto, we’re Ledger & Leto.