Tony Black on the DC Extended Universe…
Another day, another reshuffle at DC Comics in terms of their burgeoning DC Films department (or the DCU). Not a fortnight after Geoff Johns was drafted in on the creative side, alongside Jeff Berg working the corporate end, now it appears Warner Bros are taking more steps to shore up the DCU by making “wider management changes” in the next six months which will directly impact the general direction of the cinematic universe as it goes into 2017, further attempting to make its mark. By then we’ll have had David Ayer’s Suicide Squad this August, the reaction to which at this stage could go either way, and we’ll be gearing up for Patty Jenkins’ much anticipated Wonder Woman movie, before Zack Snyder’s contentious Justice League Part One at the end of the year. 2017 in many respects is the make or break year for DC Films, but the simple truth is that for all the reshuffles and appointments and changes behind the scenes, the DCU train has very much already left the station. DC Films would be much better off accepting this fact, consolidating what they have, and frankly sticking with their convictions in the face of massive public opinion both for, and against, what they’ve delivered so far.
Look, I want to embrace the DCU, just as I already embrace the MCU. I’ve been quite vocal in my writing and on my podcasts about how I thought Man of Steel was noisy rubbish for the most part, and how Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was as loud, dour and obnoxious as honestly I expected it to be, but I *wanted* to feel differently, I really did. I love Batman. I like Superman. Indeed if you made me choose a comic book universe between the big hitters, I’d pick DC. I think it has more interesting worlds and characters on the whole than Marvel, and the potential for much more depth. Heck I’ve recently even started a blog where I’m charting my way through discovering the comic book world for the very first time, being a novice really in terms of the lore, and a major reason I’m doing that is so I *can* talk with more authority about what the movie (and TV) adaptations should be doing with these characters.
Even I however, with my limited comic book knowledge, felt BvS was the wrong approach to what should have been the movie event of the decade, and how retroactively fitting Man of Steel into the incumbent universe forced DC Films to start essentially on the back foot. Marvel certainly had a run of luck, and it’d be silly to believe Kevin Feige produced Iron Man with his ten year plan all fully mapped out (they’ve admitted the whole thing was made or broken on that first film), but they quickly earned our trust, our respect and our love in the approach they took to creating their universe.
Let’s face it, Warner Bros. decided they wanted a piece of the franchise pie and went in all guns blazing with the reverse approach – throwing all their major DC characters at the screen in Dawn of Justice so they could then ripple out and kickstart their own version of what Marvel did the other way. It was greed that motivated them largely, otherwise they would have layered their universe in as Marvel did. Admittedly they had the biggest heavyweights in comics to play with; if there are two superheroes everyone in the world knows of, even if they don’t like or read comics, it’s Bats & Supes. They’re probably the two most iconic fictional creations of the 20th century. Warner Bros. gambled, not just hoping but expecting a Jurassic World-style box office haul, only to not make a billion for various reasons that remain hotly debated. Did people spread negative word of mouth? Was it too dark for the masses to enjoy? Did people avoid it for Zack Snyder?
If I was to place blame as to why BvS went wrong, it’d be aimed a lot at Snyder, as I’ve discussed at length before, and now a lot of the countermeasures put in place as he films Justice League are designed to keep him in check, rein him in, and ensure their next major blockbuster entry in the franchise works for audiences generally in a way Captain America: Civil War, almost universally praised, did. That’s the golden egg they’re out to hatch. The only problem is that making sweeping, sudden changes and talking about “lightening the tone” and so forth, is trying to course correct a speeding bullet. Justice League started filming just weeks after Batman v Superman premiered. If there’s damage in that movie, believe me it’s already been done.
What I want to see is DC Films stick to its convictions, and not suddenly change direction or massively retrofit and retcon to either please a large proportion of its unhappy fanbase, or worse to essentially just copy Marvel’s trick in that desperate race for the magic billion. Suicide Squad & Wonder Woman probably won’t be expected to topple that financial yardstick, but Justice League–essentially The Avengers of the DCU–absolutely will. Anything else, especially after BvS‘s disappointing haul (at nearly $900 million!), simply won’t do. Massive alterations won’t necessarily spell the equation however that leads to glowing financial returns. Geoff Johns & co need to consolidate what they have, consider the films on the table to film which hold plenty of promise–such as James Wan’s Aquaman or the recently announced Rick Famuyiwa’s The Flash–and stay the course.
If they utilise strong filmmakers with a singular vision, who craft good scripts with solid casts, the DCU will begin to fashion its own style, identity and form, even out of these less than auspicious beginnings. If it tries to do too much too soon, or involve too many people in too many places, they might as well not bother; it’ll just end up an expensive failure, the lesser shadow of what Marvel already did better. And I think we can all agree, that would be such a crying shame.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.