Graphic by Dalan Overstreet
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the problems DC has had with its shared Universe. Well, the studio is never short on news, so I guess I’ll talk about the DC Extended Universe again. I’ll try to write something sports related next time, really, I will. This one, though, is about DC, but it’s slightly less critical. This is a idea I feel DC should explore.
The Untitled Joker Origin movie has begun production and has even released several set photos of Joaquin Phoenix, starring as the Clown Prince of Crime himself. The cast and crew attached to the project is great, but some, including myself, are still not completely sold. The Joker is a mysterious character by design, with the intention of never being understood on a personal level. Giving him an origin may serve to humanize a character that was never meant to be seen as human, more of an idea or force of nature, much like Batman.
Still, you have to admit it is an intriguing idea and will be interesting to see play out on screen. A one-off reimagining of a popular character will be a nice change of pace from the forced universe building all studios have done since Marvel’s success. It is not only a concept DC should do more often, but a concept DC should do exclusively.
Yes, I am suggesting that DC, in stark contrast (no pun intended) to the universe built by Marvel Studios, should create an anthology series. No universe. No sequels. Just one-time narratives. The writers, directors and producers should in no way be held to canon or previous materials. It would be an ambitious project with far more artistic freedom than any shared universe could offer. Even if some films stumble, fans have shown to appreciate risks.
DC desperately needs to differentiate itself from the MCU, which has had far greater success to this point. Marvel created something truly ambitious in the MCU, but it hasn’t exactly proven to be a blueprint. Other studios have built universes, but have not given the material the necessary care or detail to make them work. Marvel Studios hit the ground running with Iron Man and the elements that made it great, including a layered protagonist, clever Easter eggs and well-placed humor, have been applied to all MCU films to some degree since.
DC on the other hand has dealt with the burden that comes with creating one of the best films ever, The Dark Knight, and trying to apply it to a completely different set of movies. The studio seems to think the gritty realism made the movie great instead of literally everything else. It is actually bizarre to think a specific tone inherently makes a film better, but tone is the only element from The Dark Knight DC can recreate consistently.
This is why an anthology series should be appealing to DC: Trial and Error. The Dark Knight can’t be replicated, so why not take risks and try something different? With this, you have to give yourself the room to experiment with different stories, tones, characters and creators. Find something else that fits your properties.
I don’t think finding willing collaborators would be difficult. This model would attract creative types that have been hesitant to jump into the comic book adaptation arena in the past. A notable problem with the MCU are the guidelines and commitments required. Edgar Wright was set to direct Ant-Man, but had creative differences with the studio, quoted as saying “ I wanted to make a Marvel movie, but they didn’t want to make an Edgar Wright movie”. Chris Evans famously turned down the role of Steve Rogers several times due to the intimidating contract, before eventually accepting the part. DC anthologies would offer directors and actors freedom and flexibility that only Kevin Feige enjoys at Marvel.
There’s also pragmatic points of note here. The DCEU has not met financial expectations. Considering there have been three team-up movies to this point, they have underperformed. It really comes down to how these movies have been received. Other than Wonder Woman, the DCEU has been divisive at best and atrocious at worst. DC hasn’t developed characters in a way that connects with fans, nor have they created a narrative that grips them.
With a shared universe, your next film is reliant on the previous films, like episodes on a television show. When done well, it is a formula for printing money. For DC, though, an increasing number of people have just lost interest in the show. This would not be an issue for isolated films. The financial upside may not be as high, but for a studio that has experienced more valleys than hills, it seems like the better, more forgiving option.