Report: Warner Bros. eyes DCEU future with less darkness, less Affleck, and more Joker

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Jun 13, 2018, 12:53 PM EDT

June isn't even halfway over yet, and it's already been a month of big shake-ups for DC Entertainment. Last week Diane Nelson, the company's president, announced that she would not be returning after a leave of absence earlier this spring, and then just days ago chief creative officer Geoff Johns announced that he's stepping down to take on a writing and producing role. That leaves Walter Hamada, who took over as president of all DC Comics-based film production at Warner Bros. in January, with a new executive structure to work with and a broad slate of announced and developing films to sort through.

So, where does Hamada go from here? According to The Hollywood Reporter, he's spent the past six months sorting through the DC Films slate and evaluating where to take them next, and it's a lot to sort through. Based on THR's report, though, there are several key elements to his approach.

First, there's the issue of simply continuing to take what works in the right direction. Right now there are three looming major DC releases: Aquaman this December and Shazam! and Wonder Woman 2 next April and November, respectively. Warner Bros. has already expressed quite a bit of public confidence in Aquaman, no major issues have been reported with Shazam!, and Wonder Woman is a crown jewel in the DC slate right now, so staying the course with what's already in front of the camera seems approproriate.

Then there's the issue of everything in development.

That slate includes not one but two Joker films, one starring Suicide Squad's Jared Leto as part of the established DC Extended Universe and another, darker take from The Hangover's Todd Phillips, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the Clown Prince of Crime. Both approaches will reportedly move forward, but the latter will likely be released under some kind of new banner distinct from the DCEU, with a name like "DC Dark" or "DC Black," similar to a comics imprint for mature readers. If the Phillips film, which will reportedly attempt a Joker origin story, stays within the $50 million budget range, that shouldn't be a huge issue, and the film could go forward with a possible R rating.

Jared leto Joker gif

The rest of DC's slate, though, will skew lighter in the wake of Wonder Woman's success and Aquaman's reported focus on brighter action fun. Remember that Flash movie that's been bouncing around development for what seems like forever? Well, it's apparently finally gearing up to start production next year, with Spider-Man: Homecoming screenwriters John Francis Daly and Jonathan Goldstein sharing directing duties. That film was reportedly set to tackle some fairly dark material at one point, but now the filmmakers are apparently using Back to the Future as a kind of tonal touchstone.

Then there's the Birds of Prey film, moving forward with Margot Robbie back as Harley Quinn and with Sundance breakout Cathy Yan directing. There are no more specific details on that project, but Robbie's said in the past that she pitched it as an "R-rated girl gang movie," so it's not clear how those two tonal ideas will meet just yet. Plus there's the Batgirl film, still moving forward with Bumblebee writer Christina Hodson. Given the positive reception to that film's recent trailer, it's likely nothing's changing there for now.

Speaking of changing, there is still the ever-looming issue of Batman and where he goes next. Just a few years ago Warner Bros. picked Ben Affleck to play their older, rougher Caped Crusader for Zack Snyder's Dark Knight Returns-inspired take on the character in Batman v Superman, but after an appearance in Justice League and a cameo in Suicide Squad rumors of Affleck leaving the role are still rampant.

Earlier this week there were reports that The Batman director Matt Reeves wants a reboot with a new actor in the role, and now THR's report backs that up with word that Reeves turned in the "first act" of a new script last month that features a younger Batman. Warner Bros. is still not commenting, but it's getting harder and harder to see a future for Ben Affleck in the Bat-cowl any longer.

The most important element of all of this, though, might be Hamada's thinking with regard to release dates. Superhero films, as with most blockbusters, are often working toward a pre-assigned date on a calendar. You announce to the world that you're releasing a superhero movie in two years, you hire a director and a writer, and then the filmmakers work to hit that date come hell or high water. Sometimes release dates move (see Star Wars: The Force Awakens), but more often the studio will do whatever it has to, including reshoots and re-cuts, to shoehorn a film into its calendar.

That presents creative hurdles that other films don't have, and according to THR's report, Hamada wants to end that practice. Under his leadership, DC films will come out when they're ready to come out, and while that doesn't mean release dates will be constantly shifting, it does mean films in the earlier stages of development will have more time to get the right tone rather than force themselves into a designated window.

"Walter has a specific design for the universe," one inside told THR. "He has a plan."

Will Hamada's plan work where others at DC/WB have stumbled? Stay tuned...