Life is tough right now for DC. The first three DC Extended Universe movies were critically panned, movies with characters like Batman can't crack $1 billion at the box office, and projects are falling apart left and right as directors and writers drop out, delaying them until who knows when. The Flash has lost several directors, Aquaman was recently delayed, and films that should be priorities like The Batman and Man of Steel 2 don't even have release dates. Several of the Justice League solo-films on DC's slate may have release dates, but not directors or writers!
And yet, DC keeps announcing new projects that seem like long-shots at this point, especially if they can't even get The Flash off the ground. We've heard about not only a Shazam movie, but also a spin-off for Dwayne Johnson's Black Adam. In addition to no brainers like Suicide Squad 2, DC has made their plans public for Gotham City Sirens and the already forgotten Dark Universe (seriously, am I the only one super excited for that one?). These are the projects that sound most interesting to me. I know there hasn't been a Flash, Aquaman, or Cyborg film yet, but none of that feels as fresh as projects like Dark Universe, or the recently announced Batgirl. Simply put, reaching deeper into their roster of characters is helping DC attract attention from fans and more diverse filmmakers.
Enticing talented writers and directors like Joss Whedon with these more diverse projects may be just the shot in the arm DC needs, though pairing the right filmmaker with the perfect character is also essential. Such a move could improve the quality of DC films considerably, rivaling Marvel in quality and raising their box office hits above the $1 Billion that mark Marvel Studios seems to manage pretty consistently. Attaching Whedon to the Batgirl film is a brilliant move, one that was only made possible by other recent developments in the DCEU.
The talent DC attracted for their first five films aren't terrible, but they just aren't that inspired nor the type of auteur director I would like to see being their unique style to the universe. The DCEU has relied too heavily on Zack Snyder, giving him three of their five first films, more trust than Marvel has given any director up until the Russo Brothers tackled The Winter Soldier, Civil War, and next, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4. Marvel has mostly spread around the franchise love, and though they have been known to be controlling, they have still allowed directors like Shane Black and James Gunn bring their unique style to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Whether you love the film or hate it, Iron Man 3 feels no less like a Shane Black movie than Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or The Nice Guys, aside from the PG-13 rating. Don't get me wrong, from what we have heard from several directors who left Marvel projects -- including Whedon who clearly had enough after Avengers: Age of Ultron -- Marvel Studios and their fearless leader Kevin Feige maintain quite a bit of control over creative decisions and story. Lately though, Marvel seems to be getting more comfortable with letting directors bring their style and expertise to a project. Just compare Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The First Avenger to Ant-Man and Doctor Strange. Or, for an even better example, look at the flashy, colorful effects and character design in the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 and the photos from Thor: Ragnarok. Both are far more ambitious and unique than the previous installments, as Marvel Studios appears to give up more creative control with each new hit.
Since the beginning, DC has taken a different approach than Marvel. DC has approached directors with experience in big budget pictures, like Zack Snyder with his hits 300 and Watchman, and David Ayer following his films End of Watch and Fury. Patty Jenkins, the director of Wonder Woman is the exception to this rule, though Marvel did try to lock her down first for Thor: The Dark World, before she too left over creative differences. Marvel is built on directors with limited big-budget experience, like James Gunn whose biggest movie was Super, indie darling Taikia Waititi who is directing Thor: Ragnarok, and the aforementioned Russo Brothers coming from the world of TV, having worked on Arrested Development and Community.
Though DC is attracting names that left Marvel like Patty Jenkins and Whedon, thus far all their projects still look too similar, suggesting DC may be just as controlling as Marvel, if not more. Suicide Squad may have been directed by Ayer, but the look and style were so similar to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice it may as well have been Snyder's work. To top it off, Suicide Squad wasn't a good movie, the blame for which has mostly been heaped on the studio that apparently re-cut the movie into the mess it is. Patty Jenkins seems to be a great fit for Wonder Woman , and though the film looks to be the most unique project we've seen footage from, with all that slow-mo it feels like we are living in a Zack Snyder world.
Sure, the universe needs to move and groove together so nothing stands out as too unlike the rest, but Marvel has proven lately that their movies can have different looks, genres, and tones and still be a cohesive unit. I'm not saying DC has to imitate Marvel, but they need to do something or the universe may be doomed!
New, Familiar Faces... With Style!
DC has taken steps in the right direction in the past few months. DC started this new round of A-List directors by locking down Doug Liman for Dark Universe, their adaptation of the New 52's Justice League Dark. At one point, Guillermo del Toro was attached, which did turn out too perfect to be true. Still, Liman has style, making fighting brutal again in The Bourne Identity, redefining sci-fi with the looped Edge of Tomorrow (Live. Die. Repeat. Sigh...), and delivering the laughs in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The man knows action, and horrifying aliens, so he is a great choice for an otherwise unknown project. Most importantly, his catalog is deeper and more diverse than Snyder's.
Even more exciting though, is locking down Matt Reeves for The Batman and the rumored involvement of Matthew Vaughn in Man of Steel 2. Reeves proved himself with the franchise spawning film, Cloverfield, redefining the found-footage genre (and making it watchable). Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continued a strong trilogy and his War for the Planet of the Apes, which looks fantastic, comes out this July. He may have a short list of credits, but his style is undeniably Batman appropriate.
Vaughn's style is overt and unforgettable, so hopefully the rumors surrounding Man of Steel 2 are true. Formally protege to the equally stylized Guy Ritchie, Vaughn's work is colorful in more ways than one. Just watch Kick-Ass or Kingsman: The Secret Service for something that looks completely original and unlike anything from DC or Marvel. Though any director in the DCEU has to follows a certain set of rules, imagine the unique action and (finally) colorful Superman he would deliver.
These are the types of directors DC needs to give their properties to. People who can color within the DC lines yet bring something original to the table. Substance and style! And by aquiring talent such as these directors, DC has opened the door for even better talent, including Joss Whedon and hopefully Aaron Sorkin, with whom they are in talks with now (though he is also meeting with Marvel).
Why Whedon Is Just Right For Batgirl
The aforementioned Batgirl movie, announced just this week, brought with it writer/director Joss Whedon. That's quite the catch; something that may not have been possible before DC started snatching up other auteurs. Whedon set the mold for what a team-up event film can be, as he was the first to successfully combine characters from different franchises into a very slick package. Though DC is differentiating themselves from Marvel, they have surely learned a lesson or two by following in Marvel Studios'... and Whedon's footsteps. Why not hire the man himself to do something, anything? Well, DC did better than "something, anything" and found the perfect project to attract Whedon.
This time Whedon will not be defining a universe, he'll be a player in one. He won't be focusing on an ensemble of characters, rather the adventures of just one member of the Bat Family. Whedon will be a player with likely more control than most in the DCEU. It was thought Whedon was done with superheros forever following Avengers: Age of Ultron, seeing as how he has expressed issues he had with Marvel over the cut and some creative decisions. Therefore, it can be inferred that DC offered Whedon a lot of creative control and freedom to attract him back to Hollywood's hottest genre. Don't expect anything as colorful as The Avengers, but there is no way a Joss Whedon film will be as dark as Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Look at the inspiration for the movie, said to be based off Batgirl's New 52 run. Though a part of the Bat Family, her book isn't nearly as dark as Scott Snyder's (no relation to Zack Snyder) Batman run. In fact, it was aimed at teens and carried a fairly light tone, even during crossover events like Endgame. If Whedon can capture the tone of Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Firefly, he would not only be able to bring a bit of light to the DCEU, but also stay within the boundaries of the world.
In addition to his superhero mastery, Whedon is an expert in projects with incomparable female leads. One needs to look no farther than Buffy the Vampire Slayer to see how well he writes and directs strong female protagonists. Even looking at The Avengers, which he wrote and directed, Black Widow wasn't fleshed out entering the film, but by the time I left the theater she was one of my favorite Avengers. After Iron Man 2, no one had high hopes for her, but now fans are clamoring for a Black Widow solo-film, all thanks to Whedon. He's blessed with some sort of magic and energy he brings to every project, and Batgirl will be no exception.
Can Whedon save the entire DCEU? No, he is just one director in a roster of dozens. But having such a strong player on your side not only attracts even more talent, it gives fans hope that the DCEU can be better. That it will be better. Whedon shouldn't be the only or last hope for DC, but he and the other directors DC has begun to lock down are all steps in the right direction.
Again, the key here is to attract the right director with the right project. Would I want Whedon to direct Dark Universe? No, it's not right for him. But there maybe no one better suited for a Batgirl film. If DC can continue this trend perhaps they can finally give Marvel a run for their money!