Back in August, there were surprising reports that Warner Bros. was working with Martin Scorsese on a standalone Joker movie. In an even more incredible twist, we learned that this wouldn't even be part of the shared cinematic universe that DC Film has been building since 2011's Man of Steel. The news launched intense debate among superhero fans, with many arguing that your average moviegoer is already confused by the sheer volume of superhero universes hitting the box office right now. So how would Warner Bros. handle this new Joker project?
DC Film's own Geoff Johns has just openly acknowledged the project for the first time, and hinted at what we can expect from it. Speaking to Vulture, he noted that the movie will actually be helmed by Todd Phillips (A Star Is Born, War Dogs), and explained:
"They’re outside the mainstream film universe and they feature different actors and worlds and takes on the characters. They’re most likely all going to be one-offs. We’ll be announcing the name of it soon-ish, but those films and the approach to those films is going to be a very different approach. The Joker is the only picture to date that is under the banner — it’s a very different take on the character, it’s a very different type of movie, and it’s unconstrained by continuity."
What Does This Mean For The Joker Movie?
Johns's comment strongly implies that Warner Bros. see the solo Joker movie as a bold, experimental film. It's an origin story for the Clown Prince of Crime that's completely divorced from the #DCEU, and he insists that it stands alone in tone and style as well as in sense of continuity.
It's hard not to suspect Warner Bros. has noticed the success that Fox is having with its 'looser' sense of continuity. As much as fans may complain that the X-Men timeline doesn't make sense, the reality is that the last two years have shown how a studio can develop side-franchises that are very different to the tentpole films in tone and style. That approach has essentially allowed Fox to create a whole new R-rated corner of the X-Men universe, populated by creative (and hopefully even Oscar-winning) concepts like Deadpool and Logan. Cinematic universes have been in vogue since Marvel launched the MCU in 2008, but the way in which they're approached seems to be changing subtly, and Warner Bros. intend to be ahead of the curve this time round.
You'll notice a key difference between Johns's comments and Fox's approach though. Whereas Fox has used Deadpool to launch a whole new franchise, Johns suggests that these 'Elseworlds' movies are more likely to be one-and-done. Warner Bros. has always tended to focus on allowing directors to tell their own stories, to speak with their own distinctive voices, and this approach will give directors absolute freedom. They won't even be bound by the need for a sequel.
A New Banner Is Coming
Meanwhile, it looks as though Warner Bros. is well aware that this could become confusing for your average moviegoer. Johns refers to this as a "new banner," something clearly distinctive from regular #DCEU movies. That suggests DC designed the intro banner for their films (seen in Wonder Woman) in part as a branding exercise, to help differentiate between the ranges of movies they're hoping to produce. It's a smart approach, ensuring that visually the films would feel distinctive right from the opening credits.
It's too soon to say whether or not the existence of two cinematic Jokers at the same time will prove too much for your average viewer. That said, comic book fans have effortlessly navigated 'Elseworlds' and 'What If?' tales for decades without a hint of confusion, largely because these stories have been carefully branded so as to differentiate them from the mainstream comic book universes. So there's precedent for this kind of approach to work, and if done well, there's no reason why this couldn't prove very effective indeed.
Whatever your views on this experiment may be, #DC Film seem increasingly confident and willing to try things out. If this standalone Joker movie proves to be a success, it will no doubt launch a whole new range of 'Elseworlds' movies, ones that explore DC's heroes and villains in fresh and creative ways that aren't bound by continuity. You can understand why they're willing to take the gamble.
Do you think 'Elseworlds' movies are a good idea?