In one of the stranger and more unpredictable bits of film news to break in recent years, we found out yesterday that Martin Scorsese will produce a Joker origin story for DC. It won’t be directly tied to their struggling extended universe, and it will be a gritty street-level origin story set in the 80s. If that weren’t weird enough, Hangover auteur Todd Phillips is on board to direct.
The news is strange, sure, but it’s exactly the sort of off center film DC Films should wholly embrace moving forward. Personally, I have always preferred the world of the DC superheroes. They’re weird and dark and often times more threatening that the Marvel bunch, and the opportunities for idiosyncratic storytelling is more of a possibility with such wildly differentiating heroes and villains. Which is why I have been more critical and disappointed in what they have accomplished so far in the DCEU.
Without dragging their failures back through the mud, let’s just say the DCEU has been, up to this point, polarizing. Because the model has felt forced from the beginning. Marvel changed franchise filmmaking with their assembly-line shared universe that churns along with the help of strict formula and the power of Disney. It then made sense that DC should follow suit. But that isn’t DC, it doesn’t need to be DC, it should have never been DC. The attempts of Geoff Johns, Zack Snyder and Co. to fit their square peg into the round hole of continuity and strong narrative threads in between films just doesn’t feel right with these characters and the tone they are trying to set.
Bring in Martin Scorsese to oversee a Taxi Driver-esque Joker origin film. Call Darren Aronofsky and see if he’s still interested in making that insane Batman movie idea he had a few years ago. Call Ana Lily Amirpour and see if she would be interested in telling us the origins of Poison Ivy or Catwoman. There are wonderfully creative minds in Hollywood interested in telling these dark fringe comic stories, allow them to do just that and don’t try and shoehorn some tie in to the Justice League or Aquaman just to make superfans giggle in anticipation.
And speaking of those Justice League and Aquaman movies, they’re obviously still happening. Let them. Let the Justice League have their time, but don’t stake your claim to the tenuous prospect that Justice League will turn out good (again, I am beyond hopeful it turns out good, but I am also a realist) and anchor a barrage of tied together movies. Aquaman has James Wan on board – which is the kind of directorial hiring I am talking about here – so it should be solid. Patty Jenkins has the Wonder Woman timeline nailed down, let her go do her thing. But stop trying to force this Flash movie or this Cyborg standalone if you can’t nail down the right story. Unless, of course, you could lure James Cameron away from his Avatar madness to direct cyborg…
DC Comics have made course correction a whole thing in the comic world over the last half dozen years with their New 52 and Rebirth launches. Why not try the same thing with their films? Go dark, get mean sometimes, but don’t try and force characters like Superman or The Flash into this grim existence. Have them exist in their own worlds, with unique filmmakers who aren’t interested in being squeezed into a tonally formulaic universe.
Hell, make a few of these movies R-rated, like this Joker film. The prospect of a Martin Scorsese-produced, R-rated Joker story set in the grimy urban decay of the 80s is infinitely more exciting to me than Infinity War or Ant Man and The Wasp. Save that stuff for the kids. You do you.