That becomes of a prophet of mayhem in a world that has already fallen apart?
Maybe he just lurks among the other nightmares in their blighted landscape. Maybe he has indulged all of his most bloodthirsty impulses to the point of boredom. Maybe he hunts down those striving for order until he finds someone still capable of being hurt.
This is the Joker as he appears in Zack Snyder’s new Justice League, an entirely new element the filmmaker decided to add as he completed his original vision of the the DC Comics team-up.
When he first began working on DC films a decade ago, Snyder thought he would eventually bring the villain into conflict with Batman in a later project, but after his falling out with the studio, he realized that probably would never happen. Instead, when given the opportunity to finally finish Justice League his way for HBO Max, he asked for additional photography to fit Joker into the four-hour event, debuting March 18th.
The only real rule about depicting Joker onscreen is that you have to put your own twist on the monster. Variation is not just allowed, but expected. In this case, Snyder chose to cast his Joker as Leto, who played the part (in an entirely different form) in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad in 2016.
Leto is wearing a hospital gown and surgical mask in the photos Snyder released exclusively to Vanity Fair, which the director says is probably a remnant of his escape into the wild when the world fell. In some of his Justice League scenes, Leto’s Joker also sports a bulletproof vest festooned with grimy law enforcement badges. “He has tons of badges,” Snyder said. “Those are his trophies.”
(Spoiler warning) Joker appears in the new film during a sequence set on a ruined Earth after the alien tyrant Darkseid invades and decimates the planet. It’s a dream sequence, a psychic vision, experienced by Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne that reveals what will happen if the superheroes fail to stop the onslaught. Joker is sort of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, supplying motivation through terror.
“The cool thing about the scene is that it’s Joker talking directly to Batman about Batman,” Snyder said. “It’s Joker analyzing Batman about who he is and what he is. That’s the thing I also felt like fans deserved from the DC Universe. That is to say, the Jared Leto Joker and the Ben Affleck Batman, they never really got together. It seemed uncool to me that we would make it all the way through this incarnation of Batman and Joker without seeing them come together.”
Snyder already had a history devised in his head. “The scene explains why Bruce had the Joker card taped to his gun that you see in Batman v Superman,” the director says of his 2016 film, which also hinted that that Joker murdered the Caped Crusader’s sidekick by showing the absent Robin’s armor, spray-painted with “Ha Ha, Joke’s On You, Batman.”
“I’d always wanted to explore the death of Robin,” Snyder said. “And if there ever was going to be a next movie, which, of course, there probably won’t be, I wanted to do a thing where in flashbacks we learn how Robin died, how Joker killed him and burned down Wayne Manor, and that whole thing that happened between he and Bruce.”
The director’s plan was to show “how they became like this … how he hurt him in a way that no one has, really. Other than losing his parents, it was probably the most significant personal injury to his life.”
That’s the role this new Joker sequence will fulfill in Justice League. But those seeking continuity may have questions: What happened since we last saw this Joker in Ayers’ film? Is there tattoo removal in the apocalypse? “I would say that there’s been some water under the bridge. Who knows what’s happened,” Snyder said. “I don’t know if he’s wearing makeup, I don’t know what’s happening. It’s hard to say exactly.”
You can interpret that to mean: Snyder just liked it better this way. His version of Justice League will exist on its own, making use of some material from other DC movies, but standing alone as a kind of “Elseworlds” tale.
As Joker might advise, just roll with the chaos.