For those that weren’t already confused by Warner Bros. and DC’s superhero movie strategy, the studio is turning things up a notch. It’s moving forward with a standalone film based around the Joker, which will star Joaquin Phoenix as the iconic villain. The as-of-yet untitled film will be directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover, War Dogs), and will reportedly start shooting this September.
“But wait,” you may be asking yourself, “wasn’t there recently news that Jared Leto was getting his own Joker movie?” Yes, in fact, there was! But you see, this is a different Joker movie, one that will reportedly be released under a different DC label than the studio’s flagship superhero movies like Justice League and Wonder Woman. Part of the idea here is for filmmakers to be able to experiment with DC’s characters: the budget for Phillips and Phoenix’s Joker film is said to be around $55 million, far below the hundreds of millions of other superhero movies have to work with, with a quick turnaround planned that could put it in theaters as early as next year. An “exploration of a man disregarded by society,” the film is described as “not only a gritty character study but also a broader cautionary tale.” Fun!
Don’t get me wrong — doing fresh and inventive things with characters like this is certainly interesting, and given how uneven the Warner Bros. and DC films have been thus far, some sort of rethink is welcome. Unfortunately, this new film doesn’t sound like a full-fledged pivot as much as it does the beginning of a series of add-ons. Aquaman and Wonder Woman 2 are both arriving over the next 18 months, and the studio seems to ping-pong on whether Matt Reeves’ upcoming Batman film will, or won’t, be part of the broader DC cinematic continuity. All of which points to a situation that could just be downright confusing for moviegoers. Will we see multiple Jokers just years apart? Will audiences be more open to that than they were to seeing a young Han Solo just a few years after watching old Han Solo? When the broader franchise architecture seems this scattershot, do these questions even matter? It looks like audiences may be able to find out the answers for themselves starting next year.