Originally published on whatculture.com
Building on the muted success of 2013’s Man Of Steel, Warner Bros. are moving full-speed ahead with crafting their own DC Extended Universe (formerly Cinematic) to rival Marvel’s massively successful enterprise.
With Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice due for release next year and a host of other titles readily in development, it’s a ballsy undertaking, though one that comes front-loaded with a number of snags which Zack Snyder and the project’s other creative forces are going to need to contend with.
From the sheer competition of Marvel’s presence to creative issues, characters who may already have burned their bridges with fans and the problem of having too much of a good thing, there are a ton of road-blocks standing in the way of the DCEU being a colossal success.
Who knows what sort of a future it has in store, and though competition for Marvel is very much welcome, it’s going to be an arduous uphill struggle for Warner over the next few years. Here are 13 problems nobody wants to admit about the DC Extended Universe…
The Problem: With the insane success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having grossed just shy of $9 billion over the last 7-and-a-half years, Warner Bros. are no doubt eager to establish similar gains with their own DC properties.
However, while Marvel meticulously planned out each of their “phases” with a clear road-map, there’s the distinct feeling that Warner are rushing to try and catch up with their rival, perhaps in the hope of getting there before the superhero movie bubble bursts (something we’ll return to later).
Their announced slate for the next five years is unquestionably ambitious, but whereas Marvel served up five individual superhero movies before The Avengers, the DCEU is giving us Batman V Superman in just its second movie, and isn’t even bothering with standalone Aquaman, Cyborg and Green Lantern movies until after the Justice League is very much underway.
How To Fix It: In an ideal world, shifting the movie order around a bit, but more realistically, giving these supporting characters snappy introductions in Batman V Superman such that Justice League won’t hit audiences cold.
But really, given the nature of business and competition, there’s not much that can be done to stop Warner diving into this double-time. Whether it will pay off with the same success is anyone’s guess. In its defense, the DCEU’s first movie, Man Of Steel, grossed more than the MCU’s inaugural outing, Iron Man, even if Superman is of course much more widely-known.
The Problem: Wonder Woman is finally getting her own movie in the summer of 2017, and though many fans originally had reservations about the casting of Gal Gadot, the brief clips shown of her in Batman V Superman marketing do somewhat quell the fanboy concerns.
Still, given the character’s stature as one of, if not the most, iconic female comic book character, there is tremendous pressure to get her depiction right and not result in, well, another Catwoman or Elektra. If the movie succeeds critically and at the box office, it will no doubt open the gates for the likes of Black Widow to get their own movie, and so there is a lot staked on nailing the character and her standalone film.
If it flops for any reason whatsoever, regardless of whether it’s actually a good film, it will sadly say to Hollywood execs that audiences don’t want comic book movies focused on strong female characters, which would of course be terrible for everyone. With that amount of pressure on director Patty Jenkins, though, it wouldn’t be surprising if she cracked and the results just didn’t live up to their promise.
How To Fix It: This one is as simple as having reliable talent at the helm, and though Jenkins has proven herself as director of the critically acclaimed Monster, screenwriter Jason Fuchs’ dubious credits are Ice Age: Continental Drift and the upcoming Pan.
Hopefully Warner and DC will be paying extra special attention to this movie in particular to ensure it is water-tight and a special, memorable component of the DCEU.
The Problem: The MCU was lucky enough to have Joss Whedon acting as a major creative force in its earlier stages, what with him writing and directing both Avengers movies and also acting as a consultant on other projects, giving input on scripts and even contributing rewrites where necessary.
The DCEU isn’t quite so lucky to have someone of Whedon’s caliber; director Zack Snyder can craft beautiful images, he’s always been more of a style guy than an ideas man.
As such it’s discomforting that the franchise doesn’t seem to have a loud, confident creative voice, either a producer or director, who has an intimate knowledge of the source material and can help build a consistent style and tone throughout all the DCEU movies, whether Snyder directs them or not.
How To Fix It: Making Christopher Nolan a more active part of the DCEU would be a big way to calm fanboy fears, for though he’s served as producer on Man Of Steel and executive producer on Batman V Superman, his role has been very limited for the most part, and there’s no indication about whether he’ll be involved with future movies in any capacity.
Alternatively, bring in another successful blockbuster director to help lighten Snyder’s load, given how many future DCEU movies he’s already committed to. Matthew Vaughn, perhaps?
The Problem: No matter what you think of Jared Leto’s The Joker in Suicide Squad from the clips shown so far, it’s inevitable that he’s forever going to be compared, probably unfavourably, to Heath Ledger’s Academy Award-winning rendition in The Dark Knight.
Though in an ideal world, fans will just accept Leto’s portrayal as its own thing separate from Ledger’s work, that’s not really how it works, and the two are sure to be compared until the end of time.
This isn’t just with The Joker, though: Ben Affleck is sure to be measured up against Christian Bale’s Batman, and if the portrayals (or the movie scripts) aren’t up to scratch, then the fanboys are sure to get their claws out.
How To Fix It: This is one issue that can’t really be fixed because comic book fanboys aren’t going to magically be reasonable overnight. Warner just needs to focus on doing something so substantially different from Ledger and Bale’s performances that audiences hopefully forget about standing them next to each other and just appreciate the good work that’s being done.
The Problem: While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made it clear that their TV component, containing shows such as Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Daredevil, takes place within the same world as the movies, DC have opted to draw a clear line between their DCEU and their TV world, which features shows such as Arrow, Gotham, The Flash and the upcoming likes of Supergirl and Krypton.
This creates an awkward disconnect with the viewer, especially because there will be two versions of The Flash soon enough, and considering how easily the movie and TV worlds could be joined together, it’s disappointing that Warner have basically taken the lazier “deal with it” option. While comic book readers will be used to different interpretations of characters and various non-canonical events, moviegoers aren’t so familiar with it and so may find it either confusing or annoying.
After all, isn’t it nice when everything tightly connects together?
How To Fix It: Now that we’re already committed to two versions of The Flash, there’s not really much that can be done about this. It would be nice if future movies would perhaps hint at certain aspects of the TV continuity fitting in with the movies where possible, but in honesty, this one’s pretty much past the point of no return now.
The only way fans can fix it in their own minds is to deal with it and accept that this is how it’s going to be.
The Problem: Whereas Marvel tend to assign tried and tested talents to write their movies nowadays, Warner are taking a wildly alternative approach with their DCEU movies, by hiring a litany of writers to “compete” for a gig. For example, it’s been reported that the Wonder Woman movie had at least five writers penning scripts with the best one being selected, while Aquaman had three scripts battling it out.
On one hand, this gives Warner a ton of creative reign, in that they can crib ideas from other scripts to make a superior whole, but it may also mean that the films end up lacking a clear vision if guns for hire are being sought to just try their best.
How To Fix It: Now, if Warner lands on some solid scripts for their movies, hopefully they won’t keep creating a contest out of screenplays for future movies, and will just settle on those who succeed to become gainfully employed DCEU writers for the long haul.
Take a cue from Marvel’s Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely: they’ve written two Captain America films and a Thor film, and have also penned the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. Find a few inspired creative voices, treat them right and the results will likely be far superior to a revolving door of screenwriters.
In Warner’s defense, they do have Chris Terrio (Argo) writing the scripts for Batman V Superman and both Justice League movies, so as far as their big “event” movies go, there should be some consistency.
The Problem: One of the biggest complaints about the MCU is that the comical tone means it’s hard to ever get invested in the stakes of a villain invading Earth: we always know that the superheroes will stop the humans from dying, and by the end of most Marvel movies, the status quo is pretty much restored.
Now, Man Of Steel avoided this by showcasing the colossal destruction of Metropolis in which surely many, many people died. Batman V Superman is clearly also going to touch on this, and how many citizens view Superman as a menace due to Zod’s arrival.
The flip-side, though, is that the dark tone is also sure to limit its box office performance. Yes, Man Of Steel made close to $700 million worldwide and the billion-dollar success of The Dark Knight Trilogy is well-documented, but there’s a reason why both Avengers movies have soared far past the $1 billion mark: their tone is light enough that kids and adults both want to watch them. DC’s slate so far doesn’t suggest they’re going to strike the same note with audiences.
How To Fix It: Granted, this is an issue for Warner rather than audiences, and hopefully the studio won’t be expecting the DCEU to make as much money as the MCU, because the tone clearly seems to be less child-permissive. If Warner are happy to make 50-65% of what the MCU has made, then the downcast tone isn’t a problem, but knowing how money-hungry these companies can be, that may not be enough for their coffers.
The Problem: Aquaman is something of a running joke as far as casual audiences go, in large part because Family Guy repeatedly mocked the character’s apparent inability to leave the water.
Comic book fans, however, will know that Aquaman is perfectly capable of being an awesome superhero on land, but given how silly the character sounds to non-fanboys, it’s going to be very difficult to make audiences en masse take him seriously.
How To Fix It: Figuring out the solution is tricky: should Aquaman be the comic relief of the DCEU? Or would this risk turning him into a laughing stock? Either way, hopefully his standalone movie will stray far from a heavy-handed environmental subplot and instead focus on the fantastical excellence and mythological properties of the character.
If the world-building is deep and entertaining, then much like Marvel’s unconventional successes with Guardians Of The Galaxy and Ant-Man, Aquaman could be the next big name in comic book movies.
The Problem: If Avengers: Age Of Ultron proved anything, it’s that the MCU is now arguably over-stuffed with characters, as even a writer-director as skilled as Joss Whedon struggled to give everyone meaningful and interesting parts in the film.
It seems like the Justice League is almost inevitably going to face the same problem: with a roster that’s surely only going to grow from there, how can the litany of characters all be crammed onto the screen without a large number of them just feeling like perfunctory cameos?
How To Fix It: Though Warner are clearly in a rush to catch up to the MCU, hopefully they won’t speed to add in peripheral superheroes like Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow and so on.
The best thing they can do is focus on a core line-up of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Aquaman, The Flash and Green Lantern, which is more than enough in terms of interest to sustain several movies. If the enemies the League faces off against are varied throughout the movies, then does the roster even really need much expansion at all?
The Problem: 2011’s Green Lantern was by most all accounts an abject disaster, a critical failure which just barely made its $200 million budget back. With Warner announcing a new Green Lantern reboot for 2020, however, the question will be this: have they already bummed more mainstream audiences out on the character, or will they be prepared to accept a new stab at the iconic superhero?
How To Fix It: Given that the new Lantern movie comes almost a decade after the original, there’s a good chance that more casual viewers will probably just forget it existed, and well, let’s face it, comic book fans are going to watch the new movie regardless.
The best thing the reboot can do is try and distinguish itself from what came before, and so though it might be cynical to say, the rumoured casting of Tyrese Gibson, a black man whose personality is a million miles away from Ryan Reynolds’, is actually a pretty great idea.
Reboots that come less than a decade after the original rarely succeed, but at least to casual viewers, the character isn’t held in any precious regard, and so the movie could easily snag a previously un-tapped audience if it’s good enough.
The Problem: Man Of Steel proved one thing above all else: Zack Snyder doesn’t want to just regurgitate comic book characters onto the screen without giving them his own contemporary stamp.
In Man of Steel, Superman ended up killing Zod at the end of the film in order to save some humans who were in his line of fire, a majorly traumatic event which will clearly have psychological repercussions for Clark heading into Batman V Superman.
That didn’t matter to some fans, though, who insisted, “Superman wouldn’t do that!”, despite Snyder clearly engineering the scenario to put Superman in a real-world, no-win situation. Snyder challenged the silly black-and-white morality of comic books which aren’t really applicable in the real world, and cleverly subverted it, even though a large portion of fans will defend these silly “rules” to the ends of the Earth.
Expect Snyder and the hardcore comic book fans to square off again in Batman V Superman and beyond, and though most movie tickets are bought by casual viewers, it’s still going to result in a ton of controversy online and attempts to smear the movies.
How To Fix It: Snyder really just needs to continue to do what he already is: just own his creative decisions and ride the wave. Marvel just barely got away with the ridiculous Mandarin twist in Iron Man 3 (though they did kinda backpedal with that one in the end), and so as long as Snyder doesn’t fold like a cheap suit, his daring interpretations of these characters shouldn’t put too much of a dent in the box office or critical appraisal beyond that which the dark tone already prescribes.
The Problem: To Marvel’s eternal credit, they’ve done a terrific job building a living, breathing world that manages to be both financially successful and critically acclaimed. As such, it’s not too surprising that, as they follow in their footsteps, Warner might want to take a similar approach with the DCEU.
Marvel have their big bad final boss, Thanos, for Avengers: Infinity War, and they have their carefully demarcated “phases”, but hopefully the DCEU won’t just transparently copy the same template, but actually opt for something more daring and unique.
What that will end up as is anyone’s guess, but if the DCEU just sets up Darkseid as its ultimate antagonist and divides its slate into phases, it’s going to feel mightily underwhelming.
How To Fix It: Given that Marvel’s big problem from movie to movie is their lack of compelling villains, this is an area upon which the DC films can capitalise. Rather than settle for a generic villain and plot you won’t remember in a week, focus on bringing out the iconography of the biggest, baddest DC villains in each movie, and don’t just make them circle in a holding pattern until the next big event film.
Of all the issues in this list, this is perhaps the one where DC could really show Marvel a thing or two.
The Problem: With Phase 3 of the MCU planning to routinely release three movies a year while the DCEU plans to release at least two movies per year in addition, it seems extremely likely if not inevitable that the superhero movie bubble is going to burst.
Hell, even Steven Spielberg thinks that the superhero movie will eventually go “the way of the western”, and as the characters and storylines begin to feel increasingly familiar as writers and directors struggle to stand out in a crowded field, this seems totally on the money.
After all, up until recently, the MCU has felt so fresh, yet their last few movies have seemed more indebted to a template, and this feeling will probably only increase as audiences have five major superhero films per year to gobble up.
How To Fix It: This is easily the toughest one to fix. Considering that, to some, the fatigue has already well and truly set in, it’s going to be difficult for DC’s output to feel markedly different. The major plus for both brands is their differing tones: perhaps Marvel’s lightness and DC’s darkness will complement each other in the long run, and each will prove a refreshing change from the other for a while, even if the eventual audience exhaustion is inevitable.
What problems do you foresee befalling the DCEU? Or are you in fact optimistic about the project’s future? Shout it out in the comments!