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Warner Bros.’ Joker movie opens the door to far more interesting opportunities

The Joker is boring. What happens next is interesting.

Joker in Suicide Squad. Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. will team up with Martin Scorsese and director Todd Phillips to work on a new, stand-alone Joker movie, according to reports, but that’s the least interesting aspect of the deal.

Buried in the lede was the announcement that Warner Bros. is readying itself to open a new banner of films set in the DC Universe. This branch will have little or nothing to do with the main series of films like Justice League or Wonder Woman. Instead, different actors could play various characters that also appear in the main franchise films. Using the Joker as an example, Jared Leto can continue playing the deranged clown in the Suicide Squad sequel and Harley Quinn spinoff, but a younger actor will be brought in to play the iconic villain in the stand-alone movie.

A Joker movie may be headline grabbing, but this behind-the-scenes development is far more fascinating. What could it mean?

The most important detail is the lack of commitment this series of films could require of actors. Instead of asking for actors to belong to a franchise, starring in three movies minimum, they’ll only need to commit to a standard, eight-month work period. That means they’re not contractually obligated to promote the movie beyond the movie’s release, they don’t have to worry about spoiling something Warner Bros. doesn’t want people to know and if the movie tanks, they’re done with it.

It’s an easier sell for Warner Bros. to make different kind of one-off superhero movies they can’t create within the main DCEU and work with talent who wouldn’t be interested otherwise. The Joker, for example, will reportedly be more like Taxi Driver or Raging Bull then it will The Dark Knight or Suicide Squad. It’s been described as a gritty, early ‘80s crime drama set in a New York City-like location, not the fictional Gotham setting we’re used to. Scorsese and director Todd Phillips will use the Joker as a vehicle to tell the story they’re most interested in, but they don’t have to worry about the Batman or his comic book counterparts.

Warner Bros. is going to try and do what Lucasfilm did with its Star Wars stand-alone anthology movies, but it has one major advantage: the lack of continuity. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the untitled Han Solo movie have to abide by the canonical longevity Lucasfilm created over the past 40 years. While Lucasfilm’s Story Group can alter certain details, there are rules the anthology movies have to abide by.

The Joker, which is what we’ll call the movie for now, doesn’t have that issue. The movie has nothing to do with other DC films. Ben Affleck’s version of the character might never be addressed and neither will the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Batman or Justice League. This new branch of DC films Warner Bros. is working on could be ripe for storytelling. It could change the way we envision what superhero movies are and how they exist — or don’t exist — inside a cinematic universe. They might not warrant sequels — and that would be for the best.

Some of DC’s more interesting stories have existed outside of the core comic book universe. The publisher’s long-running Elseworlds imprint has explored wild variations on its iconic characters. Stories like Gotham By Gaslight re-imagined Batman as a Victorian era vigilante, while Red Son explored what would happen if Superman’s Kryptonian escape pod crash landed in the U.S.S.R., not Kansas. These non-cinematic universe stories could stand on their own, and open Warner Bros. up to more interesting storytelling opportunities.

If Warner Bros. lets its main DC film division handle the cinematic universe that wants to compete with Marvel, the stand-alone anthology movies could be where Warner Bros. has its competitor beat. Warner Bros. could make movies based on lesser known DC characters that the studio doesn’t have to worry about developing into a franchise. If it succeeds, great. If it fails, at least the studio tried something different.

I’m excited to see what DC and Warner Bros. does with this new arm. The potential for talent to come on board — and storytellers like Martin Scorsese to attach their names to projects — is exhilarating. What often times ruins a movie is the need for it to continue after the credits are finished rolling — just look at what Universal Pictures did to The Mummy and its monsters universe. Getting rid of that pressure and just focusing on creating the best movie the studio can make will be beneficial for everyone.

The Joker is just the beginning and, to be blunt, the least interesting part of this entire ordeal. Who knows, maybe we’ll someday get a Kite Man origin movie directed by the Coen brothers. How cool would that be?

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