The upcoming Joker film could, if successful, hurt the MCU's influence on the film industry. The Todd Phillips directed film about the origin of the classic DC villain goes against just about every move the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made in becoming the juggernaut that it is. And if things work out with the thriller, it could further alter the landscape of comic book movies in Hollywood.
The one principle that Marvel Studios have best utilized in cultivating their franchise is the idea that everything is connected. Nothing happens in a bubble in the MCU, and nothing is made without a game-plan in place. Despite some minor road-bumps, this consistency has worked tenfold for the studio, allowing them to essentially revolutionize Hollywood franchising, take long-form filmic storytelling to unforeseen territory and make a lot of money from a lot of satisfied film-goers in the process.
But the ubiquity that Marvel lives by is also what holds them back creatively. Marvel universe films all follow a standard regime in terms of colour, tone and feel. Their stories are feelgood, their humor quippy and their stakes dramatic but easy to understand, and rarely are our heroes seen to be truly defeated. There's some very obvious guidelines in place, and while this rigidity protects them from ever producing a Fantastic Four or an X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it also stops them from ever creating a Logan or a Deadpool. Or a Joker.
For all the problems with Fox's handling of the X-Men license - and there's a lot to be said about their mishaps - they've unarguably produced some of the most interesting feature films to come from the whole comic book movie boom. Logan and the two Deadpools have a lot going on in terms of subverting and poking at the audience's expectations for how these stories are being told on the big screen. And the widespread response was no doubt bolstered by how refreshing these pictures were against the Marvel deluge.
Indeed, one of the biggest concerns about Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox is that we won't get another Logan under the Marvel banner, because Marvel don't need to do something that outlandish to make people see their films. They know how safe their brand is, and until now Warner Bros. has been chasing that security by trying to do what Marvel have done – make a universe with two-or-more releases per year and a big team-up along the way. Even Sony, with their Spider-Man villain universe, got ahead of themselves very early with several projects in the pipeline before Venom came out.
All except Marvel have, in one way or another, failed to build something like the MCU that has such a beloved fanbase. With Joker, DC and Warner Bros. are essentially deciding to go the opposite direction and see what happens. Though the picture is expected to help launch a non-DCEU movie brand, it has zero ties to any other franchise, with very little relationship to any established canon. There isn't even talk of star Joaquin Pheonix having a multi-picture deal or of it leading to a unique take on Batman. Joker is just a movie based on a beloved comic book character. And, so far, it looks good.
Not just good by comic book movie or blockbuster standards, but genuinely good. The rest of the cast is incredible, including Robert DeNiro and Frances Conroy, and bar some controversy surrounding treatment of extras, none of the set photos or reports have shown anything out of the ordinary. It looks like a functional crime film, and that's the interesting part, because if this is a hit, it'll tell the industry that nobody needs to follow the Marvel path to find success, and it'll tell the audience that Marvel's approach is leaving great stories on the table.
Joker wouldn't happen in the MCU because everything has to serve a purpose. Nothing is on its own, and that means that we won't get to see weird spins on iconic roles, or left-field narratives that take an idea and explore it for one movie without an eye towards effecting a half-dozen others. “It's all connected” is the sword Marvel have protected themselves by, and with Joker it might also be the sword the franchise dies by, too.
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
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- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020