The Snyder Cut of the Justice League is Jared Leto’s Joker’s best chance of redemption after David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Long considered finished in the DCEU, despite initial plans to bring the controversial figure back for subsequent movies, nothing materialized, but now that HBO Max’s project is in the works, Leto has an opportunity to make a far more positive impression.
Thanks to now notorious studio intervention and the unfortunate impact of one of the greatest – but least representative movie trailers ever – the theatrical cut of Ayer’s Suicide Squad, was unrecognizable from the director’s vision. Just as details of Snyder’s cut of Justice League were revealed in the wake of his departure from the movie (and the DCEU as a whole), Ayer took the opportunity to talk more about his own abandoned vision. Those revelations mostly focused on what Warner Bros. had changed – primarily the tone, with Snyder’s contemplative focus steam-rolled by the need for more levity – but even before there was mention of a fabled “Ayer Cut” of Suicide Squad, there was significant talk of how different Leto’s role as the Joker had been.
Unfortunately for fans of the performance or of Leto’s potential as the Joker – particularly based on what Ayer has revealed about his vision and what Leto has revealed about what he shot – the likelihood of seeing a true version of this Joker elsewhere is increasingly slim. Now that Snyder has rescued Leto’s Joker from the cutting room floor and has added him to the reshooting schedule, the opportunity to see more of what Ayer intended his Joker to be comes along with him. And given previous talk of Ayer’s Suicide Squad cut far closer matching Snyder’s tone, it could well be that the closest thing fans get to an Ayer Cut Joker actually comes courtesy of Justice League.
In Ayer’s original vision for the Joker – most of which was cut, according to the director himself – he would have teamed up with Enchantress for the finale, leveraging his offer of help against a request to be able to take Harley as his prize (as well as being crowned king of Gotham). There was, by Ayer’s hinted accounts, much more to the performance, and indeed some of it was used in Suicide Squad’s phenomenally successful trailer, but by the time the film had been through its edit, Joker had become a glorified cameo and an annoying distraction to the main plot. Had he been cut entirely, it wouldn’t have impacted the plot even remotely.
For all of the talk of Leto’s problematic method behavior on-set (some of which was inflated as a conscious marketing ploy), his take on the Joker was bold and different, which is exactly what was needed in the wake of Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight. There were, admittedly, lots of idiosyncrasies in the performance, but from the point of view of a modern comic book fan, it wasn’t as alien an adaptation as some cynics may have believed. And now that Leto’s Joker will return and presumably has the benefit of Snyder’s carte blanche creative freedom, his shackles will be off and he can make a real impact.
Even more importantly, Joker’s rumored involvement in Snyder’s full version of the Knightmare scene in Justice League gives him something Suicide Squad largely failed to: direct interaction with Batman. In a meaningful way. Joker is, after all, defined by that relationship more than he is by his dynamic with Harley Quinn and the best counterpoint for him was never his perversely skewed “romantic partner” but the other Gotham freak at the opposite end of the moral spectrum. That’s where Leto’s opportunity really exists: he is the negative space to Ben Affleck’s stoic, hulking Batman, and hopefully, that may be where he makes the most sense. Now that Justice League is giving him the chance, his redemption is as close as it will ever be.