Things continue to look grim for the DC cinematic universe. The media franchise is in a severe state of flux at the moment. The studio has struggled to find its footing, often overshadowed by the success of its rival, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the MCU has thrived under the leadership of Kevin Feige, the DC films have cycled through various executives and approaches, resulting in a fragmented and often inconsistent cinematic experience. Whether or not James Gunn is able to save the franchise remains to be seen. But is it possible that there was someone better suited to running the DCU, like Todd Phillips, for instance?
The departure of Zack Snyder caused a lot of upheaval for the DCEU. Snyder’s Man of Steel, Batman vs Superman and Justice League were divisive but garnered respectable box office returns. The controversial director also had a large and devoted fanbase that supported the DCEU. His departure meant that the superhero franchise had no clear vision and was stranded in uncertain waters.
The lack of cohesion and direction affected the success of The Flash, Blue Beetle and Black Adam, of course. Amidst Zack Snyder’s departure, Warner Bros. and its present company, Discovery, appointed James Gunn and Peter Safran to lead the film franchise, now relabeled as the DCU. However, some argue that Todd Phillips, the director of the critically acclaimed Jokerfilm, would probably have been a better choice to head up the DCEU.
Phillips rose to prominence in Hollywood as a successful comedy writer and director. Some of his best work besides Joker were Old School, Roadtrip,Starsky and Hutch, and the mega-hit Hangover franchise. It seemed odd to place a comedy director like Phillips in charge of a dark, gritty psychological drama like Joker. However, he knew how to direct films with solid characters, and Joker was a perfect vehicle for him to tell a character-based story.
Phillips’ success with Joker demonstrates his ability to craft dark, gritty, and mature superhero stories that resonate with audiences. His understanding of the human condition and his ability to create complex and compelling characters would have been invaluable in steering the DCEU away from its sometimes formulaic and derivative approach.
In addition to his creative sensibilities, Phillips also has a strong understanding of the business side of filmmaking. His involvement and experience in producing several successful films, including The Hangover trilogy and Old School, would have been essential in navigating the complex financial landscape of the DCU and ensuring that the films were both critically and commercially successful.
Todd Phillips took a risk stepping outside the comedy genre when he directed Joker. Perhaps he was forced to leave comedy behind. The director said in a Vanity Fair interview:
“Go try to be funny nowadays with this woke culture, there were articles written about why comedies don’t work anymore — I’ll tell you why, because all the funny guys are like, ‘F**k this shit, because I don’t want to offend you.”
Phillips mentions how this woke culture pushed him away from making comedy films, saying:
“It’s hard to argue with 30 million people on Twitter. You just can’t do it, right? So you just go, ‘I’m out.’ I’m out, and you know what? With all my comedies — I think that what comedies, in general, all have in common — is they’re irreverent. So I go, ‘How do I do something irreverent, but f**k comedy? Oh I know, let’s take the comic book movie universe and turn it on its head with this.’ And so that’s really where that came from.”
In all honesty, Todd Phillips took a gamble with Joker, and it worked. This risk-taking could have been a better option for the DCU. It could have meant that more superhero films got proper characters and that each comic book film could have a unique vision, not a slave to an overarching narrative or visual template like the MCU.
Joker showed that directors could craft unique stories within comic book films. Matt Reeves did the same withThe Batman. Together, these directors show that comic book films could work as escapist fantasy but not fall into the trap of being formulaic and derivative.
Joker and The Batman’s dark tone does not need to be applied to all DCEU films, but the philosophy of these films should be that they seek to tell a unique and exciting story using characters that have depth to them.
James Gunn is very talented and will undoubtedly do interesting and exciting things at DC, but Phillips could have been the better choice.
While most DC fans are probably excited by what James Gunn might bring to the new and revamped DCU, there’s still something bothering jaded MCU fans: Gunn’s characteristic style. There’s nothing wrong with how Gunn approached humour in films like Guardians of the Galaxy or The Suicide Squad, but he’s not exactly well-known for his nuanced character arcs.
For all intents and purposes, James Gunn is a comedy director. He’s at his best when he’s writing the sort of quip-happy characters the MCU has been known for, but he’s not exactly the filmmaker you’d pick for a Batman flick. This identity crisis could bring the new DCU to a similar position as the DCEU: constantly lagging behind the MCU.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and one such measure would be giving the DCU a vastly different personality to contrast with the struggling MCU. There lies an issue: Gunn has already worked extensively on the MCU, so comparisons between his Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and the DCU.
That’s why Todd Phillps would be such a better option to lead the DCU into a new era. When you think of outstanding comic book films, you immediately think of Joker. Phillips gave the Clown Prince of Crime a stellar makeover, turning him into one of the most beloved (and recognizable) live-action comic book characters of the past decade.
Similar to James Gunn, Todd Phillips also has a comedic background. His work on The Hangover trilogy proves that Phillips knows precisely how to balance comedy with drama effectively, delivering a unique blend that would work perfectly as the tone for the new DCU. Nothing against Gunn, but Phillips just gets the characters better.
Just a look at how he handled Arthur Fleck’s character contrasted to how Gunn directed Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Phillips’ direction expands on the character’s portrayal by focusing more on their internal struggles – in other words, he’s making these ink and paper characters feel like real, flawed human beings. On the other hand, Gunn still relies on the tried and true approach of just having his characters be these larger-than-life caricatures we’d usually come across in most superhero flicks. There’s nothing wrong with that approach – it worked with Guardians – but that might not be precisely what DC fans are looking for in the upcoming reboot.
Lastly, there’s the matter of the overall presentation the two directors bring to their projects. The Suicide Squad looked – for lack of a better term – like a Marvel flick. Someone not as versed in comic books might even wonder where the Avengers are during Starro’s attack. However, just one glance at Joker is all you need to differentiate it from any other comic book film. The movie just oozes that DC trademark presentation we’ve seen in comics like The Man Who Laughs and Batman: Noël.
At the moment, the DCU has a golden chance to finally overtake the MCU. As superhero fatigue sets in, audiences everywhere claim a new take on the same old tired tropes. While James Gunn might be up to the task, there’s no denying that most fans would love to see Todd Phillips leading the charge in the new DCU – especially if every new film turns out as exceptionally great as Joker.
The DCEU is in flux, constantly lagging behind the MCU.
The studio needed a clearer vision and direction.
James Gunn and Peter Safran are the new co-heads of the DCEU, but Todd Phillips is better suited as Head of the DCU.
What do you think? Is Todd Phillips better suited to run the DCEU? Share your thoughts below.