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The Real Reason The Joker Isn't In The Suicide Squad

In the seemingly unending back catalogue of superhero movies slowly making their way to the screen after the Great Hollywood Bottleneck of 2020, few entries are as highly anticipated as "The Suicide Squad." The behind-the-scenes story behind the franchise do-over is dramatic enough to warrant its own blockbuster — after a tactical trolling at the hands the less delightful corners of social media, "Guardians of the Galaxy's" James Gunn was briefly let go by Disney, only to have Warner Bros. snatch him up a few months later.

As a result, the DC Universe gets its own Gunn-brand crew of misfits. Using David Ayer's critically unspectacular, hyper-lucrative 2016 picture as a jumping off point, the film is set to introduce the likes of King Shark, The Thinker, Starro, and Polka-Dot Man to the DCEU, while expanding on the stories of familiar names like Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, Joel Kinnamen's Rick Flag, and Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang.

Is it a colorful cast of characters? Certainly, but in spite of near-universal faith in Gunn's ability to turn "The Suicide Squad" into a bankable property, fans have been vocally curious about the absence of a big league star, introduced in the 2016 movie but nowhere to be found here. Just why aren't we getting more of Jared Leto's ... let's say "bold" take on the Joker?

Jared Leto's Joker had a rocky start

Jared Leto's Joker was a shot heard 'round the nerd world when he first appeared in promotional images for David Ayer's "Suicide Squad." A lot of expectations were piled on his milky white shoulders — this would be a fresh new Joker, more unhinged than ever before, and at long last paired with his main squeeze, Harley Quinn, on the big screen. Hot Topic shirts and "Damaged" tattoos saw a sharp uptick in sales (probably) in the months leading up to the release of the picture, and Leto only added fuel to the fire, describing the part in interviews as a chance to "strike new ground" with a beloved villain.

The results were mixed. Diehard fans of this decidedly edgier take on the Joker will still happily refer to him as the best incarnation of the Clown Prince of Crime to date, but a truncated edit and, by Ayer's own admission, less-than-grounded story left Leto's Joker largely undeveloped and underutilized. Leto would only grace the screen for about 10 minutes of the two-hour movie, and didn't do much while he was around. In fairness, there's an argument to be made that there wasn't a lot that he could have done. To the eyes of many viewers, it just didn't feel like he had much to do in a story about extorted pyrokinetics and boomerang guys fighting an eons-old extradimensional sorceress — or anybody, really.

James Gunn, as it turns out, agreed with that assessment, and said as much in a recent interview with the New York Times. Asked about whether he considered bringing Leto's Joker back into the fray, the filmmaker didn't mince words.

James Gunn didn't see a place for the Joker on his Suicide Squad

"The previous film had a few big stars who aren't returning," the New York Times pointed out to James Gunn. "Did you explore bringing back Jared Leto as Joker(...)?"

"Joker, no," Gunn replied, and his reasoning will either make perfect sense or raise your eyebrows right off of your face. He continued: "I just don't know why Joker would be in the Suicide Squad. He wouldn't be helpful in that type of war situation."

Gunn has a point. Despite the implications of the Snyder Cut of "Justice League's" sepia tone epilogue, it's a little difficult to imagine trying to keep a madcap, homicidal clown on the straight and narrow during a fight. Harley Quinn seems like enough of a handful on her own, and her sense of morality at least puts her in the "antihero" camp, as opposed to Joker's steadfast chaotic evil approach to life.

Additionally, with a pool of more than a dozen new characters already in play, adding Leto's Joker to "The Suicide Squad" probably felt like a trap. Overreaching to include one of the world's most recognizable villains in the series' first installment was likely a "once bitten" scenario for the studio. Toss Margot Robbie's having distanced herself from the portrayal of Joker and Harley's relationship in the years since "Suicide Squad," as relayed by ComicBook.com, and shoehorning Leto into the new story becomes even more complicated.

On the up side, Mister J's absence doesn't mean that there won't be plenty of big-budget blockbuster slaughter to go around. Gunn has been nothing if not clear about his willingness to happily murder as many of his characters as he wanted at the drop of a hat. The body count will be firmed up when "The Suicide Squad" hits theaters and HBO Max on August 5, 2021.