Just when we thought that there were no surprises left in superhero cinema, they go and announce that Martin Scorsese is in talks to produce a standalone Joker movie. And not just any Joker movie, but an origin movie for Batman’s nemesis set in the ’80s, with no connection to anything else going on in the shared DC Extended Universe. But what do these plans for “a new banner… in which WB can expand the canon of DC properties and create unique storylines with different actors playing the iconic characters” (in the words of Deadline‘s report) actually mean for the DCEU? What this will inevitably mean is less of a focus on the DCEU as Warner Bros starts developing films outside of that shared universe. Unless they’re planning a Blumhouse-style raft of scrappy, small-budget movies (which could be awesome but feels a very unlikely decision for a big, prestige studio), limited time, money and other resources is likely to mean that the more of these standalone films they make, the fewer DCEU entries will be coming out. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Marvel Studios seems to have peaked at three releases a year, and we’re still trying to decide whether the superhero schedule is beginning to feel a bit overstuffed. Fewer DCEU movies might allow the series to breathe. If they choose to carry on, that is…The end of the DCEU?
It seems too early in the game for Warner to be giving up on its shared universe altogether. They’re fresh off their first incontrovertible hit, Wonder Woman, and Joss Whedon has been polishing the imminent Justice League until you can’t see Zack Snyder fingerprintsunderneath the shine. They have big plans for the future – including a newly announced, DCEU Joker and Harley Quinn movie starring Jared Leto and Margot Robbie – so there’s no sign of the shared universe going away anytime soon. Still, in the words of one (admittedly Marvel) comics villain, Apocalypse, in the long run the standalone movies vs the DCEU may come down to “survival of the fittest”.Non-traditional superhero storytelling
Warner can’t help but have noticed the success that 20th Century Fox has found in its recent Marvel adaptations Deadpool and Logan. While still technically part of the X-Men franchise, they have operated largely outside the restraints of the core series, riffing on different genres and filmmaking styles to great critical acclaim and big box office numbers. But shared superhero universes on the whole don’t lend themselves to artistic diversity (the MCU is many great things, but its tone seldom varies from film to film). Movies completely divorced from continuity offer much more opportunity for creativity than the DCEU – and it’s likely that very thought that attracted Martin Scorsese to the Joker film.
A new Batman?
What is the Joker without a Batman? While Sony’s Tom Hardy-starring Venom movie is set to answer the same thing about Spider-Man and his nemesis, we’re still sceptical of that approach. A story about a villain (and the Joker doesn’t have any of the potential shades of anti-hero-dom that Venom does) needs a contrasting hero, so it would be very weird for Bruce Wayne not to play some sort of role. Jared Leto will not be playing the Clown Prince of Crime in this movie, and we very much doubt that Ben Affleck will be back either. So that would mean another actor getting a chance at the iconic role, and you can bet there will be a lot of people desperate to try on the cape and cowl. Recent rumours that chime with this announcement were that Batman Beyond (old Bruce Wayne mentors a young Batman in the future) and Superman: Red Son (an alternate world where baby Kal-El crash-landed in Soviet Russia) movie adaptations are being planned. Any and all of these projects could open the door to new big screen versions of Superman, Batman and other DC heroes.This isn’t unprecedented
Warner have already been experimenting with multiple versions of the same heroes. And while we’ve only glimpsed Ezra Miller’s movie Flash, compared with three full seasons of Grant Gustin’s TV version, there is another, arguably more high profile case you might have overlooked. Lego Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) is a massively popular and very different version from the DCEU’s Batfleck, even graduating from The Lego Movie to his own solo spin-off. The two versions exist at the same time without stepping on each other’s toes. If Warner are clever enough to pull off that trick again, more separate movie worlds could coexist comfortably with the DCEU. And let’s not forget Tyler Hoechlin’s lovely Superman from Supergirl, worlds away from Henry Cavill’s dour Man of Steel.A multiverse of crossovers
DC Comics is actually already known for creating alternate worlds that allow them to explore stories divorced from their main continuity. This has given us vampire Batman, grim future heroes and the aforementioned Soviet Superman, and that’s just a small taste of what’s out there. These stories fall under the ‘Elseworlds’ banner, and that’s a term that some people are already using as unofficial shorthand for the new DC standalones. Another thing DC is known for is bringing its alternate realities together. This most famously happened in Crisis on Infinite Earths, one of the very first super-mega-crossover events in comics history. These kinds of events have become a staple of DC’s storytelling, and introducing alternate versions of its heroes and villains also opens up the possibility of crossovers featuring these characters. We thought we’d never live to watch Batman punch himself in the face in glorious IMAX. Oh, what a world!A world beyond shared universes
Ultimately, this might be a prescient move on Warner Bros’ part. The shared superhero universes are getting older and more crowded, and in the MCU we’re bound to see sooner or later what happens when your biggest stars retire. Fans might start growing tired of the constant churn. Quality standalones might prove to be the safer bet in the long run. No MCU or DCEU entry has quite found the love and respect afforded to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or Christopher Reeves’ Superman. If we had to bet on which will be remembered, we would go with a Martin Scorsese Joker film over Suicide Squad and the Flashpoint movie that can’t pin down a director. This could prove to be a very smart decision indeed.