The DC Cinematic Universe. Try as they might, Warner Brothers/DC keep falling on their face. From resoundingly negative reviews to constant delays, they just can’t win. (Unless it’s on television, where they are remarkably successful.) This week, it was announced that Ben Affleck dropped out of directing the solo Batman film. (That’s what you get for berating him during the Live By Night press tour, every interviewer.) But this news is bigger and more problematic than a movie simply losing a director. Many of us believed that a major draw for Affleck to don the cowl was the opportunity to do his own Batman movie, so what changed? And without an Affleck-directed Batman movie, what is there really to look forward to in the DC Cinematic Universe?
The past couple of weeks have been rife with news about the DCCU. They revealed plans to make movies of both Shazam and his archnemesis Black Adam (to be played by the world’s most beloved actor, Dwayne Johnson); two incredible niche characters who have little-to-no public recognition. Why go into this planning to do both? Why not just try Black Adam, and use villain movies as a way to differentiate itself from Marvel? It worked for Suicide Squad, which was a massive financial success despite being terrible. And if Shazam is popular enough as a supporting character, maybe then he can get his own feature. But this has been DC’s MO – to keep throwing out increasingly more “out there” film ideas – Gotham City Sirens, Green Lantern Corps, Cyborg – but without the wherewithal or strategy to pull them off.
In addition to that positive(?) news, three major negative pieces of news came out this week. 1) The Flash movie, originally planned to be released in March 2018, is undergoing a page one re-write (after losing its third director). 2) David Ayer, who is slated to direct the Harley Quinn-led Gotham City Sirens took to social media to express his disappointment with Suicide Squad, which is not something you’d normally see from the man behind a movie that was phenomenally successful less than six months ago and who is still in good graces with the studio. And 3) Affleck drops out of directing. We have enough superhero movies and TV shows. But a respected, Oscar-winning filmmaker tackling a character he is passionate about? This was DC’s number one selling point.
So where does this leave the DCCU? Not in a good place. As an Internet commentator, it’s my obligation to give a definitive, hyperbolic answer to some equally hyperbolic question such as “The DC Cinematic Universe – The End is Nigh?” Or, the more relevant query – is the DCCU dead and/or dying? Possibly? I might even go as far as say, probably. Maybe.
To be sure, anything is possible … when you’re one of the world’s largest conglomerates with hundreds if not thousands of genuinely talented and creative people who would chomp at any bit for the opportunity to bring their favorite characters to life. However, the current incarnation of the DCCU comes with it a lot of baggage and dreadfully lacking in both critical and fan support. Many people feel that they’ve botched Superman and Lex Luthor, their Batman is quickly losing interest, and the Vine videos introducing the rest of the Justice League were seen by most as the pathetic, desperate attempt to force an extended universe that they were.
Trying to fix these problems and restore these characters would require a lot of time and effort that might not be the best use of resources, if Warner Brothers legitimately wants to have a major mega-franchise before we’re burnt out on the genre all together. As a viewing public, we’ve readily shown ourselves willing to accept reboots in lesser and lesser time. We don’t have loyalty to actors or universes as long as Spider-Man keeps swinging. But as the viewing public, we still want at least halfway decent movies that represent a version of the characters that we like. If The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was good, we would have been disappointed that Garfield was ousted, instead we were glad to see him go. Similarly, I think most people would rather see a shining light Superman from the outset rather than watch DC spend years stumbling and failing to give us a Cavill-Superman who could inspire people. Especially considering that that’s not the Superman this universe wants, and the Superman this universe gives us is not one that the audience wants.
Where did it go wrong? It’s unfair blaming a single person considering how many cooks are probably spoiling this broth. The DCCU was never really able to recover from lacking a singular, Kevin Feige voice guiding everything from the start. However, most of these problems goes back to Zack Snyder. To be honest, I think he’s a good filmmaker, and I think there are good elements to Man of Steel. Unfortunately, as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice showed, his overall vision doesn’t work for this franchise. It’s flavorless and dour and devoid of any sort of lightness or humanity. This coldness isn’t necessarily a bad thing – we don’t want everything to be fluffy and/or Marvel – but it needs something to balance itself out. Deeper, richer characters. More intricate plotlines. Smarter stories.
But we haven’t been getting that. Instead, we get clumsily edited films with too many underdeveloped storylines and space lasers. They’re three out of three for that. During the press junkets for Batman v Superman, they actually tried to sell us that it was going to be too thematically rich for the average viewer. If you’re going to make that claim, you better be sure you have a smart movie and not canceled checks, art history, a Superman whose issues with Batman are never really made clear even in the three-hour long Ultimate Cut, and, of course, “Martha.”
Snyder doubled down on all the problems people had with Man of Steel with Batman v Superman, thus digging a deeper hole that audiences and critics continued to shun. We still had an angry, dour Superman, except now he was more angry and dour. We still had a world that was overcast and miserable. We still had aimless rampant, effects-driven destruction at the end, except it took away the stakes by having the area “evacuated.” We still had an unstoppable monster, except unlike Zod this one had zero motivation other than destruction for destruction’s sake. And we still had multiple storylines that went nowhere – a lot more so than in MoS.
From what we know, the Snyder-directed Justice League seems to be following the pattern. The resurrected Superman will probably still be dour, angry, and – to up the angst – in a black suit. All of the images we’ve gotten are still dark, grey and miserable. The villain is still another CGI monster. And there will still be too much going on – in addition to introducing the new members of the Justice League and whatever Earthbound characters they are throwing in like Commissioner Gordon, we also have to learn about Apokolips, Darkseid, and Motherboxes, as well as deal with the return of Superman, the probable explanation of Flash’s time-dream jump, and King Arthur? (And it would be shocking if we didn’t see some of the Suicide Squad show up, if only due to the massive success of that movie.) And remember, everything we’ve gotten is presumably what Snyder wants. This isn’t a David Ayer situation where the final cut was taken away from him; Snyder seems to have a lot of leeway with the franchise and his decisions are almost universally panned.
Could all of this turn around? Sure, why not. Wonder Woman could feature a tour de force performance from Gal Gadot and Justice League could be a masterpiece. But probably not. When several high profile members of your team publicly express their displeasure with the regime in relatively short order, and the one selling point this mega franchise really had – an Affleck-directed Batman movie – disappears, and the only thing you have going on in some production capability is a table read for Aquaman … this could be the best time to cut their losses. There might be something fitting in closing out the Snyderverse with a Justice League origin movie. It would tell a “complete” story. Not a good story, but a complete one.
Besides, most of the pre-production elements that the people hard at work on the other movies rumored to be part of the DCCU could probably be transferred to all the reboots that have to come sooner or later. They might even come out better with a Superman as a beacon of hope they want to write towards rather than away from.