Or at least that was the case before superhero cinema went mainstream. In that arena, Marvel has severely outperformed its rival, to the point that for younger generations the likes of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America have become every bit as big as Batman and Superman. DC and Warner Bros. have been attempting to get in the game though, so to speak, and talk of a new Joker film sounds as if it could be a winner. These are a few reasons why.
The Universe Has Failed
We don’t know too many details about this project (which seems to tentatively be titled, simply, Joker). One thing we do know however is that it will apparently exist as a standalone project outside of the DC Extended Universe. This is the best news possible for this film, because at least in some sense the DCEU has failed. It’s too far behind Marvel in popularity and quality to catch up, and there are already some cohesion issues between films. If DC and Warner Bros. were looking to shove a sophisticated new take on the Joker into this “universe” franchise, we wouldn’t have high hopes. This way though, the film seems to have more potential.
The Brand Remains Strong
As much as the DCEU has come up short, the DC Comics brand remains enormously strong. This is visible for one thing in the box office numbers that even the mediocre films have garnered. It’s perhaps even more visible in the extent of DC’s gaming reach though. In this area DC is running ahead of Marvel through the Batman Arkham games (which feature the Joker heavily), the Injustice games, and others. Pop culture themes are commonly used to enhance online casino games these days as well, and here too DC has thrived while Marvel has gotten out of the game. Gaming isn’t everything but it does reflect player interest, and in that sense it’s the closest thing we have to proof that people still want to consume DC content despite some mediocre (at best) films.
Joaquin Phoenix Is Up To The Task
This is the most obvious thing about the project, but it should still be said. Joaquin Phoenix is about as talented as anyone working in Hollywood these days, and as such is more than up to the task. When Jared Leto took on the Joker role for Suicide Squad it came across as a hasty attempt to move past Heath Ledger’s legendary performance, and Warner Bros. simply cast an eccentric method actor in the hopes he would be a natural fit. Phoenix is more of a seasoned pro however, and feels more like something entirely different. This won’t be so much about trying to match Ledger’s performance (this might not be doable), but rather about offering a new take on a character with near-limitless appeal.
The Joker Evolves
We all fall victim to recency bias and personal association when analyzing films and characters. Thus, people who were in their moviegoing prime when Jack Nicholson was the Joker still swear he did it best. Most millennials will opt for Ledger. And if you look at the best Joker performances you’ll even see some you might not typically consider, such as Mark Hamill’s long-lasting voice role (which people adore). This is all to say that as iconic and irreplaceable as Ledger’s Joker is, this is a character that’s always evolved. A new take after 10 years doesn’t have to be better or worse - just new. For that reason, Phoenix and the DC/Warner Bros. team have a lot of freedom in which to operate.