Is It Too Late to Save the DCEU?

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(Credit: Legendary)

When the first Man of Steel teaser dropped in 2012, I remember feeling almost overwhelmed with both awe and excitement. With Zack Snyder at the helm and Christopher Nolan producing, we were finally introduce to the long overdue Superman reboot. The teaser, set to music from The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack, featured Russel Crowe’s Jor-El reciting monologue from the widely celebrated All Star Superman, as we were shown footage Henry Cavill as Clark Kent seeming lost, hurt, and low. All of this before we were finally treated to an image of a young Clark putting on a red cape in while playing in his yard, and a final shot of Superman himself flying off in the distance. The trailer was as beautiful as it was cryptic. People everywhere couldn’t wait to finally watch this Superman movie that seemed to be much more than any ordinary comic movie. Even hardcore Marvel fans, fresh out of theaters playing the first Avengers movie, couldn’t help but be blown away by it all. And we had no idea that this movie was only the first in a new comic film continuity that was set to the rival even the MCU.

We also had no idea that the film would end up being so disappointing.

Before I go on, let me clarify, I was more excited for Man of Steel than you could imagine. I LOVE the MCU, I’ve only disliked two films in the entire series so far, but I actually thought that Man of Steel would top not only MCU films, but that it would be a contender for the greatest comic movie ever. Even when I sat in the theater after it had finished, I felt mixed, but still tried to convince myself that it was great. I made up my own reasons for why the negative reviews were biased and passed off all of the movies flaws as “nothing that ruins the movie at all”. It wasn’t until almost a year later I finally accepted the flaws. The movie was visually spectacular, but almost nothing about it captured the character of Superman. Even from an origin story perspective. The humble hero who inspired hope, honesty, and courage in the hearts of everyone who looked up to him was replaced with a man who seemed burdened, thoughtless, and reckless. This was not the Superman audiences wanted or deserved. And it served to be the most disappointing aspect of the first entry in the new DCEU.

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Superman’s lack of enthusiasm or joy failed to inspire anything but boredom and frustration in audiences worldwide (Credit: Batman v Superman)

What many felt was a mixed bag of a Superman film ended up being a canary in a coal mine, so to speak. This process of getting audiences hyped through great trailer editing was repeated twice with both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. And like Man of Steel, the movies ended up being much worse than their promising teasers had advertised. With many more movies in the DC Extended Universe still scheduled, and the consistently horrible track record, fans were losing hope for the series of films. This should have been the ultimate rival to the MCU, and in the opinion of many, it should have been able to outshine the MCU. But while that series constantly thrived, the DCEU seemed like it was just desperately delaying it’s own inevitable cancellation.

Then, something changed. In June of 2017, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman was released and met with acclaim from both audiences and critics alike. Finally, after a string of movies with terrible editing, screenplays, and character development, we were given a DC film that avoided all of those. And Wonder Woman didn’t just end up being a good comic movie, it ended up being a near-perfect film altogether. In fact it was so well received that it brought back a new excitement for the DCEU, and a new reason for Marvel Studios to raise an eyebrow and be aware that, although they still reign supreme, competition is there. Wonder Woman’s success with both audiences, critics, and the box office seemed to be a sign that Warner Bros. finally found their footing, and that the DCEU fans had been waiting for was finally coming.

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Wonder Woman races trough No Man’s Land in the film’s most iconic scene (Credit: Forbes)

Then, everything seemed to be turned upside down. After a successful Comic-Con appearance from Warner Bros., which included Ben Affleck denying rumors that he was departing from the role of Batman, in late August fans were thrown for a loop when a Joker origin film unrelated to the DCEU was confirmed be in the works. The film is to be produced by Martin Scorsese, with Leonardo DiCaprio supposedly being eyed to star. While this doesn’t sound terrible, more than anything it is confusing to say the least. But that’s not the only piece of puzzling news that was released. Apparently, the highly anticipated Batman spinoff by Matt Reeves will no longer be set in the DCEU either. While this hasn’t been confirmed or denied, it does seem puzzling that almost every other day we are reading different reports on whether or not Ben Affleck will star the project. The confusion built even more when it was reported that Dwayne Johnson, who is scheduled to play Black Adam in the upcoming Shazam film, will no longer be appearing in that film. Instead, Warner Bros. is inexplicably opting to give the character his own spinoff.

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Suicide Squad’s troubled production and studio meddling showed with its sloppy editing and distracting soundtrack (Credit: Nerdist)

This news all came out within the span of a month, shortly after Wonder Woman was released. The decisions that are being made seem to be breaking down whatever trust fans had built up again after Wonder Woman. What’s going on? Does Warner Bros just want to phase out the DCEU entirely? Are they tired of pursuing a shared universe? Are they under the impression that two film universes is a good idea? While some may point out that the DC comics deal with alternate universes all the times, it’s important to understand that these movies need to work for both fans AND the general audience. Alternate universe stories are already a big turnoff for many people trying to get into reading comics, so I can only imagine that it’ll be a turnoff for the average moviegoer as well. So many people are already confused as to why they’ve rebooted Spider-Man twice now, how are they expected to react once they’re told that both Jared Leto and Leonardo DiCaprio play the Joker, just in separate universes?

It is entirely possible that these projects were in the works at Warner Bros. before Wonder Woman was released. It’s also entirely possible that Justice League is not what studio executives were hoping it would be, and that Wonder Woman has turned out to be the exception, not the new rule. If that is the case, would it even be worth it to save the DCEU? Given the news of the Joker movie, the Black Adam movie, and the conflicting reports about Ben Affleck’s Batman, it would be very easy to see why many people would just get tired of the madness and decide that Warner Bros. should stop pursuing a shared universe. The idea of the DCEU was promising, but if after five movies, only one has worked, it may not be worth sinking anymore money into. Continuing on with auteurist visions like The Dark Knight trilogy has given them both financial and critical success in the past. Why waste money on making a sure a films universe is “shared” when the solitary universes already performed above their expectations?

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Despite not existing in a shared universe, The Dark Knight still remains a widely discuss and acclaimed film after 9 years (Credit: Collider)

Indeed, once you take time to think about all of that, it would seem that the only reason to still continue the DCEU would be to appease comic fans. But if Warner Bros. can make three Matt Reeves Batman movies and make them same amount of money as five of their DCEU movies, why shouldn’t they? It’s a sad reality, sure, but one that fans may have to accept if Justice League falls down the same path as three of it’s predecessors. And even as a fan, what do you want more? A shared film universe with only one or two good movies, or separate film universes with different visions that end up living on as classics, like Richard Donner’s Superman or Tim Burton’s Batman have? Hell, people STILL talk about Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, and that movie is as old as the entire MCU.

Now it would seem like I’m coming at this from a negative angle, wanting the DCEU to fail. I must emphasize that I am not. What I am instead trying to convey is the reality of the situation. This Joker movie being made may just be a one-off, or it could very well be indication that Warner Bros. has decided to not move forward with this film series. I want the DCEU to succeed just as much as anyone else, but Hollywood is first and foremost a business. And if a project is costing more money than it is making, then that is not something that the business should continue pursuing. Mind you, that hasn’t happened with any of the DC films yet. All four of their films so far have made considerable profits. But it is a very real possibility, should this trend of disappointing films continue. Excluding Wonder Woman, of course.

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Ben Affleck as Batman is a great casting choice that has thus far been wasted in the DCEU (Credit: Comic Book Movie)

 

So is it too late to save the DCEU? Should Warner Bros. just pull the plug and go back to their routine before Man of Steel? Well, unfortunately there is no answer yet. That answer lies with one film, and that is Justice League. In 2012, The Avengers was the ultimate deciding factor in how the MCU was to move forward, if at all. If The Avengers didn’t succeed the way it did, there’s no way we would have gotten a sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, and there’s absolutely no way that Disney would have even considered doing Infinity War. But thanks to that film’s success, all of those were produced. I believe the same can be applied to Justice League. Though the majority of the DCEU has been an absolute mess, Justice League will be the film to make or break it’s future. If it lives up to audience expectations, it will prove one very important thing to WB executives, which is that audiences love these characters. They are worth moving forward with. It wasn’t the characters that didn’t work with audiences before, it was the tone and direction. If Justice League succeeds, expect some major changes to DC’s film slate, now more DCEU-oriented. If it ends up being another failure for the studio, still expect some major changes. However, this time you can expect some films to be cancelled or reworked, such as the Flashpoint, Cyborg, and the Green Lantern Corps movies.

It’s not that the DCEU had a ton of potential, that’s not my view at all. I believe that it HAS a ton of potential, even if Justice League fails. What I believe is important is that no matter how much potential it may have, Warner Bros. will not want to keep wasting  money until they finally know what they’re doing. I guarantee that Justice League will be the movie to decide how they move forward. Luckily, the newest NYCC trailer ended up giving me way more hope than I expected. When I finished it, I immediately thought “this is it, they finally get it”. Then I remembered how I thought almost the exact same thing after this Suicide Squad trailer. And of just how excited I was over the Man of Steel trailer. And I am reminded that no matter how good Justice League may look, it is important not to go in with high expectations. It’ll hurt that much more if they let you down again.

Warner Bros., whatever you decide to to, don’t fire your trailer editors.

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The Justice League will need to save both the world and the DCEU’s future this November (Credit: Digital Spy)

Justice League releases worldwide November 17th, 2017
You can now buy Wonder Woman on Blu-ray and DVD here.

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Author: Cody O'Brien

@DeetchTweets I'm a freelance writer and director in the Chicago area. In my ten years of experience I've written multi-genre screenplays, short stories, stageplays, as well as articles on pop culture, film critique, and more.

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