Hear me out. Also, here be spoilers!
The Joker was meant to be a much bigger character, as Jared Leto keeps reminding us in all of his interviews. Scenes were cut and edited out, leading to the sloppy style of most of Joker’s screen time. But what I never understood was why he was really there.
What purpose did he have towards the plot? He felt like he was just being used to heighten the romance between Harley and himself, which was not integral to the main plot. As a lady, this is a trope I know all too well. So I applied the basic tests that all feminist movie goers know:
The Bechdel Test
Two named female characters spend one scene NOT talking about a man. Considering that the Joker is portrayed as a criminal mastermind, I’d think he’d have something more to talk about, like money, guns, his toys, something! But I don’t think the Joker has any scene that’s not about Harley.
His scene with Common or with the prison guard or even his lead henchmen: all to do with Harley. So if we apply the rules of the Bechdel, (and remember that we’re talking about a male supervillian) he doesn’t have a single scene that’s unrelated to his love interest. Therefore: failed.
Mako Mori Test
A) named female character B) gets her own narrative arc C) that is not about supporting a man’s story. The Joker, named, tries to save Harley Quinn. That’s a thin arc at best, and it’s directly associated with another character. He’s only in this movie because Harley is in this movie, and frankly, her arc doesn’t need him. (If you’re thinking “But he keeps trying to save her,” just wait. I get there.) So Mr. J didn’t pass the Mako Mori Test.
Sexy Lamp Test
Can you replace the character with a sexy lamp and not change the plot? The Joker mostly exists in Harley’s flashbacks. So let’s break those down one by one. Harley’s initial flashbacks as presented by Amanda Waller:
- She talks to the Joker in a session at Arkham Asylum (could be a lamp in a straight-jacket).
- The Joker escapes and threatens her with his toys (could be a mean sexy lamp).
- They get mad at Common in a bar, flee in a Purple Lamborghini, and crash into the water. He’s a lamp that drives!
Later on, she has a flashback on a staircase where he asks if she would live or die for him (this scene made no sense to me). Sure, he’s the one asking the questions and jumping around. But honest to God, they didn’t need this scene. Unnecessary Lamp Scene.
In fact, in most of her flashbacks, the director could just have Harley obsessing over Joker without ever seeing his face on camera or you could have just had her committing her own crimes all by her crazy self, using her own agency.
Yes, her relationship with the Joker is what literally created her character. But no one else gets that special treatment. There’s never a sequence of Deadshot getting his first gun or Killer Croc being shunned by society at large. How much better would it have been to have Harley doing bad-guy stuff, driving away in that sexy purple Lamborghini, and fighting Batman, all by herself?
Even in the present tense part of the movie, Joker is the Sexy Lamp. Because every time Harley gets saved, he really doesn’t need to be there. In fact, her getting saved has nothing to do with the plot. Right after her failed attempt to escape in the helicopter, she immediately joins the Squad again. And no one bats an eye.
If the point was to show the band of thieves becoming a crime fighting team, they could have actually, oh I don’t know, maybe continued to fight the bad guy instead of a tertiary villain from someone’s flashbacks! And Harley doesn’t need to get saved in the end, except to promote the yet-to-be made sequel that no one asked for. (And just my opinion, I don’t need to see a movie with another 40 year old male actor hits on a 26 year old actress. Yes, that includes Vampire Jared Leto.)
But maybe my biggest problem with Harley and the Joker is that Harley is such a cool female character, all on her own. And to continually remind the audience that the Joker is her boo just takes away from Harley’s power.
The scenes with Harley kicking butt all on her own were her strongest by far. That elevator scene: great! Her pep talking Diablo in the bar: yes! Once she gets all Team-Suicide-Squad happy, then more the merry! She owns her crazy; the Joker doesn’t own it for her.
If Warner Brothers wants a Harley-Joker movie, then please by all means make that! But please stop trying to smash that movie into my ensemble buddy-comics-anti-hero flick.