If reports are to be believed, a Joker origins story is on its way from comic book producers DC – but it comes with a twist and a potential for a whole Universe of ‘Extended’ ramifications.
A spin-off feature for the popular Batman nemesis, most recently portrayed on screen by Jared Leto in David Ayer’s ill-received Suicide Squad, is said to be in early development from Warner Bros. As revealed by Deadline, The Hangover‘s Todd Phillips will direct, co-scripting the film with fellow writer Scott Silver. Veteran filmmaker Martin Scorsese has been lined up to produce.
At first glance, this announcement seems to be little more than the DC Extended Universe gaining further extension, amid the wealth of superhero blockbusters still very much dominating the market. There is, however, a twist; this new Joker origin feature will not in fact be part of DC’s wider franchise. Indeed, insiders are indicating that the film will exist as something of a big budget studio rarity: a genuine stand alone. A new Joker is to be cast for the film, with Leto still set to reprise his iteration of the character for DC’s upcoming Suicide Squad sequel.
The untitled Joker spin-off is to exist under a new DC banner, independent of Man of Steel and Patty Jenkins’ recent Wonder Woman, and will offer a tonal shift from the usual DC-fare, not towards the joviality of Marvel but to the grit of Scorsese’s early work in Mean Streets, Goodfellas and Taxi Driver.
But what does this mean for the DC Extended Universe?
Though highly successful at the Box Office, the DCEU has endured something of a harder time with critics. In spite of the acclaim received by Wonder Woman, both Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman were met with a widespread mauling. This alongside murmurs of an increasing fatigue for the concept of a ‘cinematic universe’. As of this moment, twenty-four superhero projects have been announced by Marvel and DC alone. This is not to mention too J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, also by Warner Bros., and Universal’s attempt at launching their ‘Dark Universe’ with this year’s The Mummy.
Warner Bros. were slow off the mark in launching the DCEU back in 2012, with Man of Steel trailing six blockbuster releases from Marvel. Whilst this new development might sound like a polarisation for the studio, it’s a change in formula not a galaxy far far away from that being driven by Lucasfilm with the Star Wars anthology films and upcoming Han Solo and Obi Wan spin-offs. Rogue One certainly proved mileage in the format, raking in over $1bn worldwide in spite of unanimously original lead characters and tempered box office predictions.
It is hard not to draw the conclusion that the studio haven’t a new route to success, again copied from a ready-made model, in mind.
For DC, the Joker presents an attractive starting place. A hit right from his first appearance, A-listers Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill have both put their names to the part, with Heath Ledger going on to win a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal in Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film: The Dark Knight. The baddie regularly places highly on ‘greatest villain’ lists and has a track record of success at the box office. History proves that Batman films incorporating the character tend to perform better than those without.
Yet, if this spin-off does do well, where will that leave DC’s current roster? Rumours persistently suggest Ben Afflick wants out, whilst Wonder Woman’s success has been attributed to just how unlike the other films in the Extended Universe it is in tone and theme. What if the spin-off winds up as being more successful, both critically and commercially? Surely, it’s not viable for the studio to attempt to run two franchises coexistently, featuring two actors playing the same role?
Perhaps that is the plan? Perhaps this is the beginning of the end for the DCEU in the face of a new direction. Perhaps that’s no bad thing.