Can TV’s New Favorite Producers Save Warner Bros.’ Most Maligned Franchise? – Vanity Fair
Warner Bros. is tripling down on Joker fare. On Tuesday, the studio announced that an origin story for the Joker is on the way from The Hangover director Todd Phillips and Martin Scorsese. One day later, it started touting yet another Joker movie in the works: “a criminal love story,” the logline promises, between Jared Leto’s clown prince of crime and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn.
Given how much criticism David Ayer’s Suicide Squad drew for its sugar-coated interpretation of the Joker and Harley Quinn’s extremely abusive relationship, a film centered squarely on that romance is a fraught prospect at best. But the film may have found a way to stave off criticism: This Is Us writer-executive-producers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are reportedly in final negotiations to direct it. Could they save this much-maligned franchise from itself?
Suicide Squad largely bungled the Joker and Harley Quinn’s relationship—a twisted, obsessive, complicated bond, both gripping and horrible—by romanticizing it. (In recent issues of the Harley Quinn comics, she’s actually left the Joker to start a life on her own.) As BuzzFeed’s Alison Willmore noted at the time, Suicide Squad was “just as infatuated with Leto’s tiresomely tic-laden Joker . . . as Harley is supposed to be.” The absence of any greater perspective left audiences with little choice but to assume that Ayer and his film both found Harley and the Joker’s troubling dynamic simply adorable, rather than complex and layered—and that they hoped their audience would do the same.
True, Ficarra and Requa have also made light of unsavory behavior in their past work: in their rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love, for instance, 14-year-old Robbie relentlessly pursues his babysitter, insisting, “I won’t stop sending Jessica texts that make her uncomfortable.” In the end, Jessica decides that his obnoxious and occasionally humiliating behavior is actually endearing, and she gives him some nude photos of her as a consolation prize. Still, their most recent project—This Is Us, which the two produce and have also directed—has been a critically successful, impressively nuanced character study. Their work on the NBC weepy indicates that these two might have what it takes to chisel some nuance out of the frustratingly over-simplified picture Warner Bros. has painted of Harley Quinn and the Joker.
So far, Warner Bros.’ efforts to launch a cinematic universe have been shaky. Wonder Woman was a wildly successful step in the right direction that hopefully signals changing tides, but the three films that preceded it—Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad—all fell flat with critics. (To be fair, they’ve all been successes at the box office despite the reviews.) Hopefully these upcoming Joker films, particularly Ficarra and Requa’s, will lean into what made Wonder Woman great—and show a complex understanding of female characters that Suicide Squad sorely lacked.
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