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By Eyeing Cathy Yan to Direct a Harley Quinn Spinoff, DC Is Taking a Page Out of Marvel’s Playbook

A young director might be able to revitalize the DC Extended Universe

Warner Bros.

After languishing through the underwhelming Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn might be getting her own movie. As revealed by The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday, Warner Bros. is in talks with filmmaker Cathy Yan to direct a Harley Quinn–led spinoff, with a screenplay written by Christina Hodson, who’s also working on a Batgirl script.

Hodson’s story will reportedly be based on the Birds of Prey comic series, which was essentially a Justice League–esque team of female heroes that featured Katana (played by Karen Fukuhara in Suicide Squad), Batgirl, and Catwoman (presumably Quinn will be shoehorned into the group). Thus, the movie could work as a lead-in to Hodson’s stand-alone Batgirl movie, or vice versa. Also, if we do get a fresh take on Catwoman, we can all forget the Halle Berry movie, which included the worst basketball scene of all time.

Here is that scene.

The Quinn movie has some potential, if only through actress Margot Robbie. For all of Suicide Squad’s issues, Robbie as Quinn was a charismatic force. Robbie returning as Quinn and leading her own film is a no-brainer. The biggest question for most DC Comics enthusiasts is probably: Who is Cathy Yan?

Yan is a fresh new filmmaker, who made her feature-length debut with the dark comedy Dead Pigs, which drew rave reviews at Sundance in January. It might seem like a risky proposition for Warners to put their trust in an inexperienced filmmaker to helm what’s almost certainly a multimillion-dollar blockbuster, but the gambit is right out of Marvel’s playbook.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is three “phases” and 18 movies deep, which makes it [extremely British voice] an absolute unit of a franchise. Most of the MCU films received positive critical reception (apologies to Thor: The Dark World), and it is impressive that these movies rarely feel repetitive. Some of that is by design—Thor as a hero puts out a different vibe than Ant-Man does—but Marvel’s also been shaking up the people that work behind the camera.

Marvel hasn’t been afraid to hands the keys to its multimillion-dollar castle to young, acclaimed indie directors. In the past 12 months, Taika Waititi, Jon Watts, and Ryan Coogler have helmed Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Black Panther, respectively. Waititi was an established director in his native New Zealand but wasn’t widely known stateside, while Watts and Coogler had four feature films directed between them before tackling their Marvel movies. This strategy is somewhat risky, but the payoffs have been considerable: All three of the aforementioned movies have been good, and Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther in particular showed auteurist visions that felt slightly removed from the Marvel Industrial Complex.

The experiments haven’t always worked out—just ask Edgar Wright about his experience with Ant-Man—but the risks Marvel’s taken have reaped considerable critical and commercial awards. Its success in building a cinematic universe has looked all the more impressive when contrasted with DC’s failure to hit the ground running.

Of the five DC Extended Universe films thus far, three were directed by Zack Snyder (though Joss Whedon took over Justice League from Snyder), one was from David Ayer (Suicide Squad), and one from Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman). That Snyder’s imprint was on three of the five films—and his style is all about slo-mo and shrouding everything with darkness and biblical undertones—was to the DCEU’s detriment. Only one of these movies, Wonder Woman, is on par with Marvel’s finest. It was also the most anti-Snyderian.

If the DCEU is expanding as much as Warners is making it seem, the team will need a bullpen of filmmakers not named Zack Snyder to take over their films. Scooping up indie directors like Yan is a good start; the worst that can happen is she won’t meet DC’s standards or will clash with the studio’s vision a la Edgar Wright, and executives will replace her with a more tenable and experienced director. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery—and for the DCEU, copying from Marvel’s directorial playbook might be the best bet to save its cinematic universe before it implodes from mundanity.

An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the director DC is reportedly in talks with. She is Cathy Yan, not Carly Yan.