Wonder Woman aside, DC has yet to prove themselves capable of making the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) work. The Man of Steel introduced us to a dour, unlikable Superman. Batman v. Superman had potential, but buried it under a mountain of bleakness. Before they’ve even established their cadre of villains as actual villains they made them into heroes in Suicide Squad, which was monetarily successful but creatively bankrupt, rendering almost all of them ineffective as foils in future movies. And whatever it is they’re doing with The Joker doesn’t look very promising either.
It’s too late now to reboot the whole kit and kaboodle. DC will try to make the best of it with the upcoming Justice League film and its subsequent spinoffs as well as a second shot at Suicide Squad. There’s still plenty of time to right the ship with smart directorial choices and better storytelling, as Wonder Woman proved, but audiences are certainly in “we’ll believe it when we see it” mode.
Rumors started swirling a month ago that DC might also decide to take a different tack when it came to the future of its coveted franchises. Instead of putting all their eggs in a continuity basket, they were apparently considering doing standalone movies and franchises that shared characters with those in the DCEU movies but stood outside that timeline or universe. In other words, we might see a different take on The Joker with a different actor at the same time that Jared Leto was portraying the clown prince of crime in the “main” story.
DC confirmed as much on Friday, stating that they plan to introduce a new label that focuses on standalone movies “completely unconnected from its larger universe.” Not only that but they plan on making future films within the shared universe that don’t adhere to the continuity that came before it.
In a nutshell, DC will attempt to outmaneuver Marvel by creating films that are, ultimately, their own stories. Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns cites the upcoming Aquaman movie as an example.
“Some of the movies do connect the characters together, like Justice League. But, like with [2018’s] Aquaman … our goal is not to connect Aquaman to every movie.”
So why would this decision make sense? First and foremost, it’s a convenient way for DC to retcon all the mistakes they’ve made up until now. They can essentially reboot franchises they’ve barely begun or take sequels in directions that don’t feel the need to do fanboy service to everything in the first film. There has been a lot of Sturm und Drang over Leto’s portrayal of The Joker but DC likely has an ironclad contract with him to keep showing up in the white facepaint and tattoos. Now, they can also make a different version of The Joker, one they think will connect more with audiences, and then get their cake and eat it too. Who knows, maybe they could even swap in the “better” Joke into the universe if audiences want it bad enough.
The second reason it makes sense? DC is trying to get ahead of Marvel on an impending problem that hasn’t been dealt with yet. While Marvel has created a massive, intricate, self-contained story that requires you to watch every piece of content to understand everything, they’ve done so around very specific actors who are intrinsically tied to their characters. Can you even imagine anyone as Tony Stark other than Robert Downey, Jr.? If they just plug someone else into the Captain America role, would you accept it? Probably not on both accounts, and that’s a huge unknown that has the potential to torpedo the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Rumors have swirled for months that Ben Affleck wants out of the Batman role that is arguably the lynchpin of their entire cinematic franchise. With this new vision in place, they’ve now given themselves an out if and when they have to replace him with a new actor. They can easily just make a standalone Batman movie with someone else and then plug that new Bruce Wayne into the Justice League mix once he’s been established. The chance they take is that audiences will reject Batman2 because they’ve already seen multiple movies where the old Batman interacted with everyone else. But maybe audiences will be more forgiving if the future films are, you know, really good.
Third, it’s an open invitation to filmmakers from all backgrounds to make their mark on the comic book superhero world. When the rumors of standalone movies started up, it was mentioned that DC wanted to break from the notion that one filmmaker’s vision drove the entire universe and instead make unique versions of each film based on the specific story one filmmaker wanted to tell. That seems to be the case with the official announcement and it does open up some interesting possibilities. While the first film in this new series, a Joker standalone movie directed by The Hangover’s Todd Phillips, doesn’t exactly scream “auteur,” it is perhaps the first step in opening the door to big names like James Cameron, Ridley Scott, or who knows, Darren Aronofsky, to take a DC character and put their own unique spin on them.
Of course, all of this could also blow up in DC’s face. Audiences have been well-trained up until now to respect continuity and reject change. Secondary characters have switched actors but rarely does a new actor take over an established core character and find success. As for competing notions of the same character, that has the potential to be confusing and off-putting to casual moviegoers. And of course, we’re talking about DC here, who still have yet to prove they can sustain success across their movie franchises. It’s a bold strategy and it’s either going to save or destroy the world (which is, in this case, DC’s reputation).