What a crazy and confusing week coming out of DC and Warner Brothers, and it brings into question the viability of the DC Extended Universe of films.
I’ve always contended that, when it comes to film, DC just cannot compete with Marvel. For me, the missing element is continuity. DC arguably has the better stable of characters, with icons like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash at the top of the list. And yet they CANNOT seem to put together a good set of connected films. Perhaps it is time for them to just give up on that goal of connectivity and commit to making nothing but good standalone films. So, why can they not make this work?
The Build Up
One of Marvel’s keys to success on the big screen was the measured build up to the connected universe. In Marvel Phase 1, we got two Iron Man films, a Hulk movie, a Thor standalone and Captain America’s first outing before they teamed up the whole group in the first of The Avengers films. (Incidentally, Marvel did exactly the same thing in their build up to to the mini-MCU member, The Defenders team-up that just released on Netflix).
DC, on the other hand, made Man of Steel and then jumped into team-up of their holy trinity of characters in Batman v. Superman. That was the first mistake. The second mistake in the same film was doing it with a 44 year-old, Batman. Affleck’s days were numbered the day he stepped on the set, and while I was pleasantly surprised by his performance, I was under no misconceptions that he was a long-term player in the DCEU. While Robert Downey Jr. was near the same age, there was a plan in place for a slate of films using Tony Stark/Iron Man as an anchor. Downey signed originally signed a 3 film contract, and has renegotiated for longer involvement. That same long-term plan doesn’t appear to be in place at DC/WB. Affleck did, B v. S, what amounted to a cameo in Suicide Squad, had a mere mention in Wonder Woman, is in Justice League and now his future in The Batman is suspect, at best.
As a matter of fact, DC is doing the opposite. They are building the team-up first and then the solo films. Here’s the problem with that. Starting with smaller budget solo films allows for people to get to know, and hopefully like the characters leading into the high budget epic. It also provides studio heads with much needed feedback about the solo characters that they can build on or pivot away from for the big party. In DC’s model, if the team-up isn’t well received, in part because you can’t develop characters as well in a big team-up, that could hurt the sales of the solo films downstream. I’m not going to lie, from what little I’ve seen of Aquaman and Flash thus far, I am uninspired. So now, DC has the harder task of inspiring me in a film that gives less time to each character.
The irony is that DC is doing the build-up very well in the Arrowverse. They introduced all of the individual properties first and then slowly introduced small crossovers before going with bigger, multi-episode events. Dear Geoff Johns…. please call Greg Berlanti and have lunch. You buy.
If DC/WB has a plan, it doesn’t seem to be sticking. More importantly, it doesn’t seem to be inspiring, as there is a revolving door of writers and directors over there. With that comes uncertainty and the hype train is mostly off of its rails. The trouble is that DC is playing catch-up. Over the years they were really only committed to the two amigos, Batman and Superman. In the list of DC Live Action films on Wikipedia, of the 31 films made from 1951 to present, 18 were either Superman or Batman or Batman v. Superman. That’s an astounding 58%, and doesn’t include the Supergirl or Catwoman movies that spun-off Superman and Batman.
In addition, we’ve had 5 different actors play the Caped Crusader since 1989’s Batman, and 5 different actors portray Superman since he flew onto the big screen, admittedly over a much longer period of time. Regardless, it is hard to get continuity going with so much turn over in actors and directors.
This week’s announcements make it even harder to get the ball rolling on any continuity project. Josiah LeRoy covers them in this week’s installment of “The Week In Geek”. Here’s a my understanding of what has gone down.
In a comment made awhile ago by The Batman director, Matt Reeves, The Batman is a standalone. Does that mean it is outside of the DCEU continuity? Reeves tweeted a response, maybe clarifying that, maybe not. Remember that The Batman was supposed to be written and directed by Ben Affleck. Then Ben stepped back, then they hired Matt, now there other rumblings. At best, it is a PR nightmare that shows no one is really driving the ship there. At worst, Affleck is going to toss his hands in the air and go work on something less dizzying.
Jeez, what’d I miss, guys…? 😀
Just to be clear: Of COURSE Batman will be part of the D.C. Universe. Batman will be BATMAN…
— Matt Reeves (@mattreevesLA) August 24, 2017
Batman and Superman are clearly the anchors of this universe like Iron Man and Cap are over in the MCU. Were I at the helm (They never call and ask. I’d give them this advice for free) I would have cast a Batman that is closer in age to Cavill so that you could get some long term traction out of both. I’d have not pigeon-holed Batman into a post-Robin timeline, (actually post-second Robin, probably) so that you could introduce that character, in Dick Grayson form, and then spin him off into Nightwing. Easy peasy. All you need is a plan.
Other news this week that shook the DCEU involved the Joker. I’ve made no bones about how much I am not a fan of Jared Leto as an actor, or as the Clown Prince of Crime. I thought he was terrible in Suicide Squad. Nevertheless, announcements were made that plans are being made for a couple of Jared Leto as Joker films. Variety recently reported one as a team-up with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn (one of the best performances in recent years). Leto is also attached to Suicide Squad 2.
Additionally, we heard that a Joker origin story film is in the works and it will be a stand alone outside of the DCEU continuity without Jared Leto. (More free advice: That kid Cameron Monaghan who played Jerome on Gotham was the real deal). Plop all of these reports and rumors on a plate and we could have 2 different actors playing Batman and 2 different actors playing The Joker, at…the…same…time. Can you say “muddy mess”. Go ahead, say it. It’s not hard.
The Man (or Woman)
One would argue, and that one would be me, that DC’s lack of success in getting a cohesive shared project going is a result of three things: vision, timing, and leadership. One could also argue that the first two stem from the third. Kevin Feige, while I don’t agree with all of his decisions, (he never calls for advice either) is in control over there at Avengers Tower. He built a universe by loosely plotting it out. While maybe not giving the writers and directors free reign, the expectations are clearly that each project is a part of a bigger picture. The creative teams know that coming in. Each phase had a purpose. Phase 1 introduced characters in a build up to The Avengers. Phase 2 added more films and laid the ground work for Civil War, Phase 3 began with the epic and introduced more to the fray in the buildup to Infinity War, Phase 4 wraps up the First Avengers story arc, and has introduced enough new characters that the continuity can continue with a focus on characters played by younger actors. Kevin Feige was the architect of that. It made sense, it inspired writers and directors to want to add their part to a larger universe.
I’m a fan of Geoff Johns, by the way, but something is getting lost in translation over there. Writers and directors aren’t being included in the overall plan/vision or the amount of control studio heads are being exerting is too much. Whatever it is, the plan isn’t working and the films cannot keep creative teams. The Flash movie is a perfect example of the dysfunction. The movie, set to star Ezra Miller was originally announced in 2014. According to the Wikipedia account of this film’s history, originally, Phil Lord and Chris Miller were set to write a treatment, but not direct due to their schedules. Seth Grahame-Smith was tapped to write and direct. In April of 2016 he bowed out citing the always popular “Creative differences”. Next up was Rick Famuyiwa, who only made it until October of 2016 when those ‘Creative differences” cropped up again. In January 2017, Joby Harold’s name popped up as a writer on the project. In April of 2017 the studio was apparently in talks with Robert Zemickis, Matt Vaughn and Sam Riami as potential directors, and earlier this summer apparently Lord and Miller were potential director. Most recently, it was announced that the Flash movie, when and if it flies will be named Flashpoint, after the very complicated and probably confusing timeline changing event that happened in the comics in 2011, and was (probably not coincidentally) written by Geoff Johns.
Why dive into something so complicated for a 120-150 minute film? Leadership. Some of the biggest failures in superhero films were because they tried to do too much in the span of one film. I’m looking at you, Spider-Man 3 and X-Men: Last Stand. Like the problem of build-up mentioned above, Flashpoint might need a build-up to it before diving in (if at all). The CW Flash TV show tackled Flashpoint this past season and probably not very successfully and they had 22 episodes to do it in.
Is this, in fact, the beginning of the end of the DCEU? Probably not. More likely it will be the beginning of the end of Geoff Johns tenure as the head of it. Man of Steel did $668 million at the box office and Batman v. Superman did almost $873 million. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at, and it took some time for the movies of the MCU to get their stride. However, Iron Man 3, The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War have all gone over a billion dollars. Here’s hoping that the team at DC and Warner Brothers can start to produce good, cohesive films that contribute to a larger universe, or that they cut bait and commit to making good standalone films that do justice to the great catalog of characters they have at their disposal. Hopefully with a commitment to a much wider variety than just a focus on Superman and Batman. At the very least, someone get a hold of the PR and help control the stuff hitting the internet.
What did you think of the situation in DC Cinematic? Am I right, or am I an idiot? Leave me a comment below.
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The Grumpy Geek, Pete Herr is the author of “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. He is the oldest geek in the Geekiverse by a factor of two. Follow Pete Herr on Facebook, Twitter,and Instagram . If you don’t he gets Grumpy. You don’t want to see him Grumpy.
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