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From the time we first heard about it to the trailers and now to the reactions coming out of film festivals, it’s been clear that Todd Phillips’ Joker is not like other comic book movies. This is a different type of movie from what we are used to seeing in this comic book movie age, and that’s by design. In a marketplace dominated by Disney, Joker is a movie that Marvel couldn’t make, as Phillips explained:
You can’t beat Marvel – it’s a giant behemoth. Let’s do something they can’t do.
As Todd Phillips told The New York Times, the way he sees it, Marvel is unbeatable. It’s a massive and hugely successful machine that is simply too big to conquer, and therefore DC can’t really compete with Marvel on its terms by trying to replicate what the MCU does. But rather than take its ball and go home, the director thinks that DC should do something different, something that Marvel can’t do. Something like Joker.
In Todd Phillips’ opinion, his film, a dark, violent, controversial, R-rated character study that chronicles the origins of Batman’s greatest villain, is something that the Disney-owned Marvel Studios simply can’t do. Marvel became the behemoth it is by making PG-13-rated, four-quadrant films for everyone. It's blockbuster entertainment that is all part of a shared cinematic universe. Pretty much everything that Joker is not.
Sure, in theory Marvel could make an R-rated movie in the vein of Joker for a character like the Punisher or Doctor Doom, but it wouldn’t because such a film wouldn’t fit within Marvel’s business model. Marvel, and parent company and beacon of family-friendly entertainment Disney, have a very specific brand and type of films they make, and while there are variations within those boundaries, there are still boundaries.
So for all intents and purposes, Todd Phillips is absolutely right, Marvel can’t make a movie like Joker.
That’s in no way a qualitative judgment, just a statement of fact. What Marvel can and can’t make, or will and won’t, is part of what makes the future of Deadpool at Marvel Studios so intriguing. Even more so than Deadpool, Joker represents something different, something that Marvel couldn’t do even if it bleeped out all the curse words.
Todd Phillips sees making movies like Joker, movies Marvel can’t make, as a way, if not to beat Marvel (which seems impossible), but to differentiate DC from Marvel. It’s a way for DC to give audiences something different that they won’t get elsewhere, and thus DC may not beat Marvel, but it can succeed on its own terms. Todd Phillips may be on to something and Joker’s success may embolden DC to try to make more movies Marvel can’t in the future.
Joker opens in theaters on October 4. Check out our 2019 Release Schedule to keep track of all this fall’s biggest movies.