Welcome BACK to Breaking Geek — the second of the week — a column where uber-geek Nick Doll offers commentary and reactions to the most interesting news of the week, using his expansive knowledge of all things geek!
DC continued making moves this week, announcing a Supergirl film and revealing new details about The Batman, in addition to the large slate of films we’ve been hearing about for years, but will likely never see the light of day. Now, I could spend this issue of Breaking Geek discussing whether or not Supergirl will actually happen, who I’d like to see play the character, etc… But I don’t wanna do that!
Instead, I’ll be looking at two other DC projects that have been making big news these past few weeks, films that actually look like they will be happening, and are likely coming next. I’m of course referring to the Joker film starring Joaquin Phoenix and Birds of Prey. That’s what I wanna talk about!
To start, let me say I am a huge DC comics fan, most notably an avid follower of any book with Batman or John Constantine in it. I have, however, felt mostly let down by the DCEU, or “Worlds of DC” films. I enjoy Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – the Ultimate Cut, mind you – and got a kick out of Justice League and Wonder Woman. Still, as an equally big Marvel comics fan, I can’t help but compare the two, casting current DC films in a very negative light. That is my outlook on DC films coming into this piece, I’m not paid by Disney (I wish!) or a DC hater. I just can’t stand how the films dishonor the original characters in the DC Extended Universe/Worlds of DC films, which will become part of this conversation.
Okay, I love some of the casting moves on this project. Joaquin Phoenix as Joker? Better than Jared Leto! But also a definite, intentional step in the Heath Ledger direction. Marc Maron in a comic book movie? I never dreamed of such a delight. Zazie Beetz? She was amazing in Deadpool 2. And Robert DeNiro paired with a King of Comedy-esque plot, produced by Martin Scorsese? Top notch. But, is this the Joker film I’ve always wanted to see? Absolutely not. Is it one I want to see now?
Honestly, I’m tired of solo-villain-based-films before they’ve even really started. Venom without Spider-Man? Forget it. A Joker origin story? Even worse. Especially when I bring in the last bit of “talent,” director Todd Phillips who adeptly directed The Hangover and Old School, but does not seem suited for Joker. Though his co-writer Scott Silver did write The Fighter, more recently he wrote the forgettable The Finest Hours starring Chris Pine. Forgot about that movie? I thought so…
The real problem with a Joker origin movie is the very idea of a Joker origin movie. When this project was first announced, I figured we’d get a mobster-style Joker film, possibly completely without Batman, but with Joker as a fully established clown prince of crime. I don’t want to see his origin in any form. For God’s Sake, I don’t want to see DC Entertainment’s version of Joker’s origin!
To be fair, I was a fan of comic book films before the actual comic books. I became an avid comic book film fan in 2002 when Spider-Man was released only 16 years ago. I did not get into comics fully until 2011. But, here is one thing I learned from the films that holds (mostly) true in the comics…The Dark Knight is the first comic book movie that stands out to me, as far as leaving the main villain’s origin completely ambiguous. In the popular Spider-Man trilogy I grew up on, all the villain’s origins were explained. Iron Man, which came out a few months earlier than Dark Knight in 2008, had the complete development of a villain in response to Tony Stark becoming Iron Man. Even the first attempt at truly bringing Joker to the big screen, 1989’s Batman, gave Joker an origin in Jack Napier. Christopher Nolan saw the true vision of the comics all along; Joker is better left an unexplained force to be reckoned with.
Is Heath Ledger’s Joker the performance to end all Jokers? No, the character can be improved, but this does not look like the film that will do it.
One of the other greatest film villains of the millennium is Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. Like Nolan’s Joker, he is mysterious, yet has a very strict moral code we don’t understand. But that’s really all we need to understand to fear him. I know we’ve already seen enough poor versions of Joker on the big and small screen, but I feel this Joker film could negate the overall good image and widespread popularity that came with The Dark Knight, a decade ago.
Yes, one of the most popular graphic novels ever is Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke, giving a fairly straightforward origin to Joker. But, that book is not all it seems, as Joker is a very unreliable narrator, and even the creators have questioned how much of the story is true. Either way, it is not canon. And remember the last time they tried to adapt it, into an R-Rated animated film? Terrible.
Would Joaquin Phoenix be a better Joker than Jared Leto? Almost defiantly. Does Joker have a killer cast I’d love to see in almost any other film? Sure. But do I need a solo Joker movie, let alone an origin film? No. No, I do not.
BIRDS OF PREY
While already quite different than the comics version, again, Birds of Prey holds far more promise to me than the Joker film. While it features a wildly different cast of Batman characters than earlier versions of Birds of Prey comic, this is not all a bad thing. In fact, having less knowledge about the franchise, and some of the characters, may allow me to enjoy the film more as I won’t have comic book expectations to be crushed by DC Entertainment. So, let’s judge this film by looking at which characters will be included…
One of the original Birds of Prey, yeah? I really don’t know a lot about this character, but is it her and her alone that justifies the “Birds” in the title?
She’s a Bird of Prey in the comics too, right? Even though she has no bird connections? Isn’t she the daughter of an alternate dimension’s Batman and Catwoman or something? See. Very few expectations to be crushed on my end, and the more characters we can get into this film that haven’t already been done on the big screen is a plus. So, I like these two.
As a current reader of Detective Comics and Batman, boy, do I know Cassandra Cain! Nearly mute, more of a murderous ninja trying to become a better member of the Bat Family than a traditional Bat family member, Cain is one of the freshest characters added to the Batman universe in quite a long while. I’m super excited DC was forward-thinking enough to look at more recent characters, especially one that continues to grow in importance in the comics.
I just don’t know how she will function in this film. How much of an origin will she have? Will her connection to Batman be fleshed out or mentioned, or is this another “Venom without Spider-Man” origin deal? Either way, if her demeanor is kept close to the comics, I could see Black Canary and Huntress seeing her as a bit of a liability, but still an essential part of their team.
An added bonus, Cain and Harley’s relationship could be very similar to that of Deadpool and Cable, which could be fun to watch.
Most known for working closely with Jim Gordon in Batman: The Animated Series (where she and Harley were created), the comics, and even The Dark Knight. In the comics, she eventually becomes the second person to be The Question. But, usually, she works for GCPD and has even been Harvey Bullock’s partner.
Montoya is an interesting inclusion. It could be really cool if they left her a cop, either the Jim Gordon of this film, or better, someone without a mask fighting alongside the heroines. I’d kill for a Harvey Bullock on the big screen, and another cameo of J.K. Simmons as Gordon would be a welcome addition. Though at first an odd choice, Montoya could be a very interesting team member, indeed.
I get it DC, you want to push your strongest asset as much as you can, and that’s Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, as much as I hate to admit it. But she doesn’t feel right in this film unless she is a villain, but we all know that’s…
Ok, cool Batman villain to include. Black Mask is a character I often think of when considering Batman villains we have yet to see on the big screen. And he’s really a mob boss, so maybe this whole film will be more grounded like The Dark Knight.
The only real question is… “where Batgirl at?” Is she being saved for the solo movie? Is Cain her replacement? It does feel weird to not include such a popular and common character, especially with Birds of Prey being re-branded as Batgirl and the Birds of Prey recently in the comics.
Obviously, I think Birds of Prey holds the most promise of these quickly developing films from DC. Joker has been done to death, and this could be the final nail in the coffin. I want to see as many new properties and characters brought to the big screen as possible, past those we already know and expect to see.