What is going on with the DCEU!
You’d think with the K2/Cape Horn/Scylla/Charybdis/Bermuda Triangle of Wonder Woman not only survived but survived as a game changing triumph, everything would be smooth sailing at the Water Tower. But no. A rash of stories about multiple Jokers, Batmans and sequels has everyone scratching their head.
Let’s take this whole Joker fiasco first. How many Joker movies can there be? Many. As it stands now these movies are all in development:
- A Suicide Squad sequel, which just found its latest director in Gavin O’Connor, after Mel Gibson was considered.
- A movie about the wonderful, role model relationship between Joker and Harley Quinn to be written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love). Free advice; call it Toxic Puddin’.
- A Joker origin story to be directed by Todd Phillips starring a DIFFERENT ACTOR as the Joker.
The essential reading for this is a piece by the always stellar Kim Masters and Borys Kit about WB’s wild scheme to get Leonardo Di Caprio to play the Joker. It seems the announcement of a Todd Phillips-directed, Martin Scorsese-produced Joker standalone was all a desperate ploy to get Leonardo to think about maybe, possibly, someday returning their calls about this film:
The answer involves a plan worthy of The Joker himself. Sources say Warners will make an ambitious attempt to use Scorsese to bring Leonardo DiCaprio into the world of comic-book movies. Certainly, Scorsese’s involvement in The Joker film, which The Hangover filmmaker Todd Phillips would direct, could elevate and diversify the studio’s contributions to the genre, creating the potential to make awards-worthy films such as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy.
There’s no offer for DiCaprio, and sources say Scorsese’s deal to produce isn’t even done yet. The chances of landing DiCaprio could be slim to none. But the attempt in itself sends a signal to talent that Warners wants to hire serious filmmakers to make serious films.
News of this has upset Leto, and while it’s hard to sympathize with a guy who
once purchased a green coat sends his co-stars live rats as a friendly gesture, he does seem to be the wronged party in the Leonardo wooing.
However, for this long time WB/DC watcher, all of this raised even more troubling alarm bells, and indeed, Master and Kit confirm: this is all part of a plan to make the DC superhero movies more classy.
Now, however, Warners wants to branch off with stand-alone movies that are unconnected to that version of the DC world. The new movies will have non-traditional takes on the heroes and villains of DC, and hopefully, attract actors and filmmakers who don’t typically toil in the comic-book movie world. War for the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves is developing a Batman stand-alone that, according to sources, will not star Ben Affleck, who plays the caped crusader in the DC Universe movies (Warners and Affleck have denied he is being replaced). The plan is to launch a separate label for these projects to distinguish them from the rest of the DC films. (Warners executives are acutely aware of the risks of audience confusion.)
For Joker, which could be the initial entry for the label, sources say the studio and Phillips would want DiCaprio or another A-lister to play the character as a gritty crime boss in a Scorsese-esque Gotham underworld.
So yeah, WB wants to start its own “Elseworlds” line of movies as Oscar bait. Despite being “Acutely Aware” of audience confusion. In case you are not comics savvy, Elseworlds is a line of comics that is totally outside continuity and canon, and allows creators to do any “What if” story they like, usually involving Batman. It sounds a little silly but it’s enabled most of the great superhero stories of the last 20 years: Kingdom Come, Red Son, Gotham by Gaslight. Even Dark Knight and Watchman are kind of Elseworlds, Although Batman peeking at Rorschach’s journal means maybe not.
So why go Elseworlds? While everyone in Hollywood wants to be the next Kevin Feige, masterfully constructing a 10 year plan of interconnected $1 billion blockbusters, cooler heads may think that There Can Be Only One Kevin Feige and want to develop their own schemes for expanding their cinematic universes.
Well, my opinion, as a movie goer is DON’T DO IT!!! To me this seems like the comeback of a faction within WB that just doesn’t like superhero movies and thinks they are silly and embarrassing unless directed by Christopher Nolan. To be fair, watching Batman V Superman or Suicide Squad would back that idea up. (I rewatched Suicide Squad on cable the other day and it’s even worse than I remembered, and not in a fun “Martha?” way.)
But its this anti-comic book faction that led to so many stops, starts and rewinds over the years with the DCEU – Nicholas Cage Batman, George Miller JLA, Joss Whedon Wonder Woman – and this new “prestige Elseworlds line” doesn’t seem any better.
While my own interpretation has a conspiracy theory ring to it, David Sims in the Atlantic piece linked to above has a simpler explanation: people are desperate.
The prospect of multiple Joker films coming out in the new few years is maddening from both a creative and a business perspective. But it’s exactly the kind of moneymaking gamble studios are willing to take as they try to eke out new revenue streams from the same pieces of intellectual property. This summer was officially Hollywood’s lowest-grossing in 10 years ($3.8 billion), with the worst ticket sales in 25 years ($428 million). That’s because big weekends in 2017 were devoted to sequels to films audiences clearly hated (such as the fifth Transformers and the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean); vain attempts to launch entire franchises within one movie (Universal’s The Mummy); and weak cash-ins on ’90s nostalgia (Baywatch, Ghost in the Shell, Power Rangers).
And some analysts see it as a good move:
“‘Wonder Woman’ catapulted the brand,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore. “Why not change the rules a little bit in an effort not only to create their own identity but to have even greater success in the marketplace?” While Marvel has arguably set the gold standard, there’s a case to be made in going your own way rather than imitating the competition. By granting directors more control, DC is signaling that it’s less focused on creating an all-encompassing universe where films have to fit together like puzzle pieces and more concerned with keeping the genre fresh for audiences.
I like the sound of a more director-focused line of films, but this scattershot approach seems like a dangerous way to go about it.
Meanwhile, Batman, usually the one sure thing DC has in its arsenal, is also in a tumult at the moment. I usually don’t link to slideshows, but trust me, clicking through Jeff Grantz’s Everything We Know About Ben Affleck’s Future As Batman is well worth it, for every up and down in Ben Affleck’s hate/love/hate relationship with the Bat. And the Standalone Batman film originally to be written and directed by Oscar winner Affleck himself, is now in the hands of Matt Reeves – and might also be part of this Elseworlds line:
Earlier this week, we reported on a KCRW interview with Matt Reeves from last month in which the director stated that when he was first approached to helm The Batman, Warner Bros. told him that the standalone film would not be part of the DCEU. The director said:
“Well, I have a vision for a way to do something with that character [Batman] that feels like it resonates with me personally, and a perspective that can grow out into other things. When they [Warner Bros.] approached me, what they said was ‘look, it’s a standalone, it’s not part of the extended universe.’”
All of this leaves the DCEU in just as confused shape as it was before the creation of DC Films and the supposedly triumphal success of Wonder Woman. With Joss Whedon taking over for Zack Snyder on JLA, and Batman’s future in doubt, and Superman not even on the table, and the ATT takeover of the company still up in the air, possibly to be scotched by a vengeful CNN hating president, one can hardly blame them but still.
My solution? Just let Patty Jenkins make everything.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.