The trouble with the DC Movie Universe
What is going on with the DCEU?
Ever since the release of Man of Steel the DCEU and Warner Bros have slowly lost the faith of fans with each subsequent release. In recent months various directors attached to upcoming movies have come and gone and couple that with the disappointing critical reception of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad fans have begun to wonder whether or not things are going to get better. Starting at the beginning of the DCEU in 2013 I will go through the various news stories in an attempt to summarise the key points in the troubled path to current events.
The writer who helped Christopher Nolan get the Dark Knight trilogy off the ground with Batman Begins (David Goyer) in the early 2000’s came up with a Superman story which intrigued Nolan. Although the fan favourite director would only be credited as producer of Man of Steel Nolan did express interest in the property. Years later Man of Steel opened to mixed reviews and a decent box office return. The movie would become the first in the DC Extended Universe and shortly after its cinematic run the next movie to be announced was Batman v Superman with Ben Affleck as the Dark Knight.
It is fair to say that the internet almost broke with the news of Affleck being cast as Batman and when BVS was finally released in cinemas it received a huge backlash from critics and fans alike for its nonsensical plot and its treatment of the two main characters of Batman and Superman. Most agree that the extended cut of the movie did improve the experience adding in key scenes that made the film more whole and explained the character motivations slightly better. Overall though the movie was a let-down especially considering that comic book fans have been waiting decades to see Batman and Superman in the same movie ever since it was teased in Batman and Robin “this is why Superman works alone”.
After the back-lash aimed towards BVS Warner Bros quickly released a trailer for the upcoming Justice League movie which seemed to show more more levity. It was all well and good but for me serves as the first piece of evidence of the studio reacting to the failings and deviating from their overall plan. At this point though it did not matter to me. Batman was great in BVS and we still had Suicide Squad and the solo Batman movie (directed by Oscar winning writer Ben Affleck no less).
A few short months after Batman v Superman’s run Suicide Squad finally saw its release in the summer of 2016 and lo and behold it was another disappointment. Personally, while accepting that it is a flawed movie in terms of narrative plot (or lack thereof) and the whole thing feeling like an extended music video I kind of had fun with it. Yes it was nowhere near as epic as the fantastic trailers led us to believe and thank god for Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Will Smith as Deadshot who carried the movie. Most disagreed with my rating of the film and took to the internet to beat the movie within an inch of its life. It’s okay though, we still had a solo Batman movie written and directed by Oscar winning film-maker Ben Affleck to look forward to.
In May of 2016 The Hollywood Reporter wrote that "Geoff Johns along with Jon Berg would co-run the newly created DC films in an attempt to course-correct Warners' comic book movies". Johns is hailed by fans as a comic book legend with his most notable works featuring the Green Lantern and Flash. The thing that seemed to be lacking from the DCEU was a clear goal and fans have long been campaigning for a figurehead that could steer the ship a la Kevin Feige so this seemed like the right move or at least a step in the right direction.
At this point we had been introduced (ham-fistedly I might add) to most of the heroes in the existing DCEU including the Flash who also had a solo movie announced back in the early days of this movie franchise. Rick Famuyiwa, who impressed as director of the critically acclaimed Dope became attached to the solo Flash movie some-time around the summer of 2016 but less than six months later he announced his departure from the project stating “creative differences” as the reason. At the time of writing the Flash still does not have a director and a few months after Famuyiwa’s departure from the project, Warner Bros announced that the screenplay would get a page one rewrite. Still – at least Ben Affleck is in control of the Batman solo movie right….
By this point you have probably noticed that the through line of this article very much relies on the silver lining of having Ben Affleck in charge of the Batman. However, at the beginning of 2017 the actor began to cast doubt on his involvement as director by stating “it’s not a set thing” in an interview with The Guardian. A few days later and after much speculation he announced on Jimmy Kimmel while promoting Live By Night that he would very much be taking on directing duties. Still with me?! A few short weeks later however Variety reported that Ben Affleck was stepping away from directing the movie stating that he felt he could not give all of his duties (writing, directing and acting) the best shot and something had to give. While there are almost always production problems the ups and downs (mainly downs) of the news released from the studio have left fans wondering what the hell is actually going on with Warner Bros and DC.
In retrospect it is easy to see that Aflleck had probably taken on too much and it was unrealistic to imagine that he could steer the Batman ship in the right direction and within the time frame demanded by the studio and fans. The workout schedule alone would make my eyes water and it's no wonder that we are yet to see a Superhero movie directed by its star. You would think that would be it right?... Wrong.
After losing Affleck as director the internet went crazy speculating who might step in. I even jumped on the band wagon and wrote an articles asking "who should be the next Batman director". Very quickly Variety reported that Matt Reeves was announced as “in talks” to take the job which all looked very promising. Reeves credits include Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Cloverfield (the less said about Under Siege 2 the better) so it all looked rosy for a time. Just one short week later The Hollywood Reporter released a piece stating that “talks had broken down” and that “talks could resume when heads cool”. Poor choice of words? Clearly, although it is easy to imagine that to be accurate given the relative farce that seems to be happening with the studio and the DC Extended Universe.
Looking back through the recent years and the controversies surrounding the DCEU it seems that the lack of direction is the major problem with the franchise. This is something that we hoped the appointment of Geoff Johns would address but since stories of directors being dropped and page 1 rewrites are still coming thick and fast it seems that there is still a problem. The next few movies will be the true litmus test but whatever the outcome, it is likely that those movies will be a reaction to criticism rather than having a good, well thought out plan and sticking to it.
Looking forward we have Wonder Woman hitting theatres in June and Justice League in November so you could say this is crunch time for the studio and anything less than fan favourite epic movies just won’t do. If things don’t go well for the two tent-pole movies it would probably be safe to assume there will be some kind of reboot on the cards in the coming years.
What did I miss from the article? Were there any other controversies or upsets not mentioned in the piece? What direction do you think DC and Warner Bros should take? Should they scrap the existing cinematic universe and pursue a Lego DC Cinematic Universe or LDCU if you will. Let me know in the comments or on Twitter and Facebook.