DC Just announced a new “standalone joker movie.”
It’s produced by Martin Scorsese (“produced” can mean anything from main puppet-master to glorified consultant) and “The Hangover” director Todd Phillips is slated to direct, which is a really odd decision since nothing about The Hangover screams gritty villain movie, but whatever. To me, the interesting part of this announcement is the potential this new approach represents.
I already highlighted in one of my earlier blog posts about the big problem the Marvel connected universe presents to storytelling. Since writers and directors are handcuffed by multi-movie actor contracts and predetermined plot points several movies in the future. It makes for weak, plot driven storytelling and drama that’s completely undercut since important characters must remain static for the next film.
What made “Logan” so great was that it was completely unbeholden to any future continuity. The movie could take creative risks and evolve the characters with reckless abandon. The dramatic tension is somewhat undercut with the audience’s knowledge Wolverine and Professor X must certainly die in this movie since it’s their last one, but it’s still a masterclass of film making and storytelling. Wonder Woman worked for a similar reason. As an origin story set decades before the rest of the DC Cinematic Universe, it was creatively free to do anything sans kill off Wonder Woman.
DC could create a whole fleet of movies completely disconnected from their DC cinematic universe like the standalone joker is currently slated to be. Imagine a postmodern deconstruction of the notoriously difficult to write superman character. Perhaps it explores the great “illegal alien” idea presented in the first Batman vs Superman trailer that was never properly explored due to the need to shoehorn in all the Justice League connected universe bullshit. You could take the same character and give him a “One Punch Man” like comedic treatment. The possibilities are endless.
“Injustice: Gods Among Us” and its sequel are so successful from a storytelling standpoint despite its storytelling limitations as a fighting video game because it’s completely unafraid to completely ignore traditional interpretations of its characters and has a sense of permanence and consequence. Superman is a bad guy. Harley Quinn is a good guy. Several major characters die and stay dead. It’s a story that’s completely unique to Injustice’s self-contained universe.
More importantly, it would give DC a unique brand to contrast directly with Marvel’s. DC was never going to properly rival Marvel’s cinematic universe. DC’s original plan was to make to contrast with it’s darker tone, but the Marvel problems I highlighted are exacerbated when a worse quality movie has the same issues and also wants to be taken seriously.
Imitation can certainly work, but there’s a ceiling, especially when the original is as dominant in the box office as Marvel. By breaking free of the Cinematic Universe mold, DC can prove can tap into all the untapped potential of the superhero genre. “The Dark Knight” and “Logan” have barely scratched the surface.