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Making Lower-Budget Standalone DC Movies? Good Idea. Making The First One a Joker Origin Story? Bad Idea.

Here’s the (maybe) good news: Warner Bros. is planning a separate batch of lower-budget, standalone DC movies.

Here’s the (definitely) bad news: The first one of these might be a Joker origin story directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover, War Dogs) who will also co-write the script with Scott Silver of 8 Mile and The Fighter fame. Early reports indicating Martin Scorsese was attached to produce appear to have seriously jumped the gun. Jared Leto and his Insane Clown Posse Joker won’t be involved, and the story will apparently take place in the 80s (the go-to period setting these days).

The good here is that with so many cinematic universes suffering early deaths and DeadpoolLogan and Wonder Woman making the case forthe viability of making largely standalone superhero movies WB is rolling with the punches, entertaining the idea of simply trying to efficiently produce quality movies that don’t have to connect to some larger narrative. Of course, they’ll keep making their Justice League-connected movies because, ya know, got to beat Marvel for some reason, but they’ll have a separate group of one-off adventures and oddball narratives.

That, of course, might simply muddy the water even more, especially since Sony has already adopted a two-track model whereby they’ll keep making Spider-Man movies with Marvel while also building up a separate cinematic universe around Venom. Pretty soon, if it doesn’t already, the film universe of comic book movies might be just as challenging to follow as the legendarily complicated continuity of actual comic books. The experience of standing in a comic book store and trying to figure out how all of the books connect (or don’t) and where exactly you can simply find a standalone adventure to enjoy (tip: just pick up Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Harley Quinn; it’s always fun and rarely overtaken by bullshit DC-wide event stories) might now be replicated in movie theater lobbies.

But, frankly, the studios have proved to us that they absolutely suck at trying to be Marvel. They just do. They lack the centralized leadership, streamlined decision-making process and, crucially, patience to truly replicate what Marvel Studios does so well. However, what studios can do is occasionally make a pretty good movie if that’s all they have to worry about. Setting up a line of non-cinematic universe dependent movies plays to that strength.

The Joker, though? Ugh.

Do you know how I got these scars? Oh, you don’t. Well, let me spend two hours telling you how because some people can’t accept the concept of a character’s power being directly tied to their mystery. Todd Phillips and Silver aren’t the first to make that mistake. The comics have occasionally explored a Joker origin story, and Gotham keeps flirting with it. Now they might make a movie out of it. Without Batman. Just like they’re making a Venom movie without Spider-Man. In the immortal words of Vince Lombardi, what the hell is going on out here?

As I previously argued, in the brave new world of franchise-building where you’re constantly playing with pre-made toys when you notice a gap in a familiar story which can be exploited for obvious marketing purposes the true question shouldn’t be “what happened there?” but instead “does anyone care?” Of course, in that case I was wrong because Rogue One’s gap-filling, plot-hole-explaining story proved far more powerful and entertaining than expected. So, maybe I’m wrong again and a Joker origin story will be…nope. I can’t even say it. This whole thing sounds like it fundamentally misunderstands this character.

Hey, it worked with Hannibal. So, there’s that.

Source: THR


  1. Conner and Palmiotti are a great team — their all-too-short Power Girl run several years ago was one of my all-time favorites.

    I guess I’m not too worried about a Joker origin — the character is constructed in such a way that it’s fine if the story is completely contradicted later. The Joker has many origins, and many names, and who knows if any are more true than any other.

    But the Joker as a lead, without a Batman to balance him out — I’m not saying it can’t be done, but the degree of difficulty is pretty massive. We don’t have to like him, but we need to be interested in what he does and why, and the Joker at his best has largely been an agent of chaos eschewing understandable reasons for his behavior. I think a solid “why” would weaken him.

    1. “I guess I’m not too worried about a Joker origin — the character is constructed in such a way that it’s fine if the story is completely contradicted later.”

      Fair point. Whatever origin they do doesn’t have to matter or be considered canon. It’s just a one-off you can choose to ignore or embrace, unlike the Joker origin in the ’89 Batman which was so central to the story that it led an entire generation to believe that’s how the Joker had always come about (i.e., as the killer of Bruce’s parents).

      “But the Joker as a lead, without a Batman to balance him out — I’m not saying it can’t be done, but the degree of difficulty is pretty massive”

      Agreed. Same could be said for the Venom movie, but this…this is going to be even harder to pull off.

    1. I heard THR’s executive editor on a podcast recently say that the studio suits he talks to want the same, but different, meaning they don’t really want to do anything new, they just want to do something slightly different enough to seem new. And that’s how we keep ending up with projects nobody asked for and nobody wanted. It’s because the execs are stuck clinging to formulas and franchises and have nothing to fall back on. So, yeah, a Joker origin movie. Let’s do that. Can’t go wrong with the Joker, right.

  2. Good grief. Scraping the dc barrel already. Didnt they release the cartoon of the killing joke which sucked because they added to the comic story. Doesnt every batman film involving the joker go into his origins. Couldnt they have picked the riddler or something fresh? Joker and catwoman are exhausted and if it fails you wont get to see other standalone ones like Two Face or Egg Head or Alfred Pennyworth. How about batgirl or something NEW and inventive??? Nope?? Another millenia maybe things will change then.

    1. Of course after I wrote this they announced a Joker/Harley Quinn movie with Jared Leto and Margot Robbie meaning there are now 2 Joker movies in development.

      And they wonder why we’re all turning away from movies and over to TV.

      1. Sorry KK I thought you knew about two and were just using Scorsese as the example. I knew while I was reading this. I think the better solution was for TV to have produced either or both of these concepts. A joke TV movie or TV series would work better. Look at Gotham for an idea how it could be done with that very convincing Jerome backstory and budget.

      2. Nope. The Joker-Harley Quinn movie was announed a day and a half after I wrote the article. It was part of an oddly busy and confusing week for the DCEU with two Joker movies suddenly in development and the back-and-forth over whether or not Matt Reeves’ Batman movies will be part of the DCEU or not.

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