‘Joker’ Refused to Be Part of the DCEU, Even in the Script Phase

In some ways, 2019 was the year of Joker. In politics and entertainment alike, the world feels as divisive as ever. And Todd Phillips’ film certainly captures that sentiment, both within the film itself and the polarized reaction to it.

Nevertheless, Joker has shocked the world not with its realistic violence but with its cultural impact. The film has already earned more than $1 billion worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing R-rated film ever made. Likely, a big reason behind its success is its disconnection from the DC Extended Universe.

Joaquin Phoenix at the premiere of 'Joker'
Joaquin Phoenix at the premiere of ‘Joker’ | Rich Fury/Getty Images

‘Joker’ is absolutely a standalone

In his original pitch, Phillips always envisioned Joker as part of a very different take on the DC Comics mythos. The director has repeatedly said he has little interest in more conventional comic book films. It’s this distinctive vision which ultimately convinced Joaquin Phoenix to star in the film.

Joker takes place in a world that feels very different from grander DCEU projects like Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. Part of that is owed to Phoenix’s acclaimed performance as a mentally ill loner struggling to cling to his last vestiges of sanity. But from top to bottom, the film’s production is designed to feel bleak and hopeless.

Lawrence Sher’s cinematography creates a mood that lets viewers into Arthur Fleck’s (Phoenix) world and keeps them at a distance. Meanwhile, Hildur Guðnadóttir’s haunting score helped inform Joker‘s lead performance as much as it draws audiences in. As it turns out, Phillips and co-writer Scott Silvers made this stark difference plain even in the script stage.

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The script makes its setting clear

Warner Bros. is campaigning hard for Joker to get some Oscar nominations — an effort that is paying off — and recently released the screenplay. Thanks to Deadline, fans can now dig into the film’s script for themselves. Doing so may not solve any additional mysteries in the process. But it does reveal the extent to which Phillips and Silver were committed to making Joker stand alone.

The director has discussed how he opted for a period setting to give Joker the space to do its own thing. But the film’s screenplay goes one step further by opening with a note from the writers clarifying its place in the larger DCEU.

This story takes place in its own universe. It has no connection to any of the DC films that have come before it.

We see it as a classic Warner Bros. movie. Gritty, intimate and oddly funny, the characters live in the real world and the stakes are personal.

Although it is never mentioned in the film, this story takes place in the past. Let’s call it 1981.

It’s a troubled time. The crime rate in Gotham is at record highs. A garbage strike has crippled the city for the past six weeks. And the divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘havenots’ is palpable. Dreams are beyond reach, slipping into delusions.

From there, the 102-page screenplay continues. Whether you love or hate Joker, Phillips and Silver’s devotion to the story they wanted to tell is admirable. However, the success of Joker just might undermine it.

The ironic effects of its success

Phillips might have imagined Joker as a one-off, but its $1 billion gross makes that unlikely now. Warner Bros. is reportedly already working to bring the director and Phoenix back for a sequel. Although nothing official is in the cards just yet, Joker 2 feels like an inevitability at this point.

We have no indication just yet that Joker might tie back into the greater DCEU, including Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman. But it could kickstart its new string of R-rated DC origin stories. Warner Bros. is already planning on focusing on darker content, having recently given Birds of Prey an R rating.

So it seems the Clown Prince of Crime, once again, gets the last laugh.