Joker is now a juggernaut worldwide. Praised for its dark, disturbing and twisted take on the character, the film has taken a $55 million budget and flipped it into Avengers: Infinity War level profit. DC is at its best when it embraces its dark side. DC’s track record for darker storytelling has been a defining point of their legacy. For that, we need to credit 2004’s Batman Begins. Christopher Nolan’s realistic Batman was grounded and rooted in our dark reality.
The Dark Knight trilogy started with building Batman and Bruce Wayne from the ground up. The Clown Prince of Crime appears in The Dark Knight to deconstruct and break him down mentally. The Dark Knight Rises brings Bane into the equation, forcing Batman to come out of the shadows for one last war. The dark tone of The Dark Knight trilogy made it unique. The critical and economic success of Christopher Nolan’s masterful trilogy inspired a darker retelling of Superman’s origin with Man of Steel.
Man of Steel was similar to Batman Begins as it looked to build the character we all know and love in a darker and more grounded world. The world Superman resides in is darker than what he has been known for in pop culture. The divisiveness of the film came from certain decisions Zack Snyder made in comparison to the decisions made by his predecessor Richard Donner for Christopher Reeves’s Superman. Yet, they are more similar than one may think. Critical reception was decisive but the fans definitely came out and like any Zack Snyder film, it aged beautifully. The second in Zack Snyder’s era was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. A character study of Superman and Batman, audiences get to see these characters deconstructed to their core. Regardless of how you feel about the film, its uniqueness in tone and take set it apart from everything at the time. From an economic point of view, the film was successful and ingrained itself in pop-culture.
Warner Bros started to be concerned about the reaction to their darker films and it led to studio interference. Compare the first trailer of Suicide Squad to the last and there is a world of difference between tone, lighting, and marketing. Justice League saw studio give in to the fear of critical reception to where the final film was a shell of itself. After the debacle of Justice League, it seems Warner Brothers is starting to see the value of their directors, with James Wan and David Sandberg delivering high-quality films in Aquaman and Shazam. While both films are much lighter than the darker films mentioned above, a balance was struck of light and dark films existing simultaneously. For that, we need to give credit to Joker.
The Joker brought something new and groundbreaking as it presented itself as a film before a comic book movie. A character study before a spectacle. The film’s commercial and critical success speaks for itself as it is owning the box office worldwide week after week. Birds of Prey looks like it will take a similar approach with Harley Quinn, focusing on character and smaller budget action. The best part about taking the characters and comic book material seriously is the bump in quality. The hard reality is that success is usually measured by the bottom line but films like Joker show there is hope for more content like it.
Art isn’t about the bottom line, it’s about challenging the audience and making something unique. One can hope that with the success Joker receives & future promising projects like Birds of Prey and Black Adam, there will still be darker films for DC fans to dive into. As the track record shows, they are at their best when they embrace their dark side.