What?! Another article from LRM slamming the DC Extended Universe? I know, you’re shocked, but I urge you to hear me out, as I’m usually the voice of reason when it comes to fanboy-isms here on the site. And you know what? I actually think Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition is a genuinely great film. It’s not perfect, by any means, but it’s certainly much better than I believe it’s given credit for. And even Suicide Squad, while a deeply flawed flick, was an enjoyable romp for what it was. Yes, it had a myriad of negatives to get over, but by the end of the film’s runtime, I was more than ready to see this band of misfits take on another (hopefully better) mission.
Though even though I’ve enjoyed these last two DC films more than your average bear, the behavior we’ve seen from Warner Bros. over the course of the past few months has been less than encouraging. Let’s review, shall we?
On the heels of the negative reception to Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. incorrectly diagnosed the main problem to the film. While the dark and dreary tone was something almost every review pointed out, it’s a tone that would have been overlooked if that cut of the film had been stronger. As a result, rumors circulated about the 6+ cuts of the then-upcoming Suicide Squad. In a frantic attempt to “lighten” the tone, they recut the film several times over. After all, they’d been complaining about the tone for Batman v Superman, so surely if they fix that, they’ll have a winner, yes? Sadly, Suicide Squad’s story issues went much deeper than that, and at the end of it all, the film was even worse received by critics than BvS (though it’s important to note that the film performed incredibly well at the box office, and many audience members seemed to genuinely have a good time here -- though you wouldn't guess that based on WB's recent behavior).
Over the past few months, we’ve also had drama from The Flash, which was originally slated for 2018. In 2016, the film lost two directors: Seth Grahame-Smith and Rick Famuyiwa, who both left due to creative differences. For a film that should have originally been scheduled to shoot in early 2017, that’s not all too promising.
Then we can look at the revolving door of rumors surrounding Ben Affleck’s The Batman. They have yet to officially lock down a date, but recent reports have indicated that Justice League 2 has been pushed back in favor of the next Bat film, indicating a 2019 release. Then, we got a conflicting claim from Affleck and cast members stating they were shooting in Spring 2017, and a final word from Greg Silverman implied the movie would hit theaters in 2018. Oh yeah, and that Flash film? Doesn’t sound like it’s happening in 2018 and this pretty much leads us to another continual problem: the schedule.
A few years back, DC and Warner Bros. released an incredibly ambitious schedule that consisted of ten DC films. Here’s what it was.
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, directed by Zack Snyder (2016)
- Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer (2016)
- Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot (2017)
- Justice League Part One, directed by Zack Snyder, with Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill and Amy Adams reprising their roles (2017)
- The Flash, starring Ezra Miller (2018)
- Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa (2018)
- Shazam, starring Dwayne Johnson (2019)
- Justice League Part Two, directed by Zack Snyder (2019)
- Cyborg, starring Ray Fisher (2020)
- Green Lantern (2020)
This was the original slate they announced back in 2014, and it was was ambitious. Thus far, the first two years of its execution look to go through as planned, but it’s in that third year that things are beginning to fall apart. I’ve noticed in recent months that certain outlets have pretty much stopped acknowledging the original slate, which is a bit a strange since I don’t recall any formal announcement rescinding the slate, but who can blame them?
There have been rumors for quite some time surrounding additions of a Man of Steel 2, The Batman (which took forever to get confirmed), and more recently there have been confirmations of a Gotham City Sirens spinoff and Deadshot spinoff. Meanwhile, the likes of Cyborg and Shazam seem to have been thrown to the wayside and forgotten.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand completely that a slate like this is malleable. Warner Bros. has to make adjustments as they go. But all the steps they’ve been taking in recent months seem to make one thing perfectly clear: they have no idea what the hell they’re doing. They seem to be throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. Earlier this year, it was announced that Geoff Johns was the president of DC Films, but so far, we’ve seen little indication that he’s the one over there taking control. As far as we can see, it’s all business as usual (i.e., let’s just keep throwing ideas out there).
But the problem isn’t them changing course. As mentioned above, a smart company needs to be quick on its feet in order to address viewer concerns. The problem are the choices they’re making. They tend to be very short-sighted in nature. Rather than stick to the schedule they set, it’s as if they were like “oh, people like Batman. Give them more Batman!” or “Oh, people didn’t like Suicide Squad, but they really liked Harley Quinn and Deadshot. Give them more of that!”
In short, rather than addressing narrative issues, they seem to be looking at the most surface level of reasoning for their failures, and acting solely on those aspects. In doing so, they seem to be acknowledging one big thing: that they have no real overall plan. Again, I don’t want to fault them of a lack of foresight. We’ve known for sometime that even Marvel Studios tends to play things by ear, but they also tend to stick to their guns. No one wanted a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, but they stuck to it. No one wanted an Ant-Man movie, but they stuck to it. Rather than look at the surface and say “oh, no one wants that,” they worked to make those films work as best as they could as standalone experiences. They were playing the long game.
Warner Bros. always seems to be in short term gain mode. In retrospect, this was also the case when they announced ten films in advance, without having some sort of plan on how to get there. In 2014, fans like us were wondering why DC was sitting on their hands, and in making that announcement when they did, they could at least calm the waters and make it look like they knew what they were doing. The problem now is that it’s a couple years later, and that grand plan has already started to fall apart, and with these recent announcements of all these spinoffs, it’s starting to feel like they’ve lost all confidence in their original direction.
To play devil’s advocate, one could argue that if they’d maintained the course as it was, it would only lead to ruin, and while I agree with that, the argument I’m trying to make is that rather than re-direct the franchise in a meaningful direction, it seems like a bunch of studio heads with little knowledge of the source material are making decisions based on the most shallow of reasons.
That being said, it is important to note that for all we know, these are indeed the actions of DC Films president Geoff Johns. These moves can be a part of some great overhaul that we can’t yet comprehend, but at face value, all these moves seem to be moves of desperation. Moves that are meant only to react to audience reactions, not necessarily to fix the bigger issues that plague this universe.
I hope I’m wrong. I’ve long been a cheerleader of this universe, and my fingers are crossed that next year’s Wonder Woman and Justice League will bring a much-needed hit of adrenaline to this franchise that has lowly been sucking the goodwill from fans in 2016.
Come on, DC Films, get your sh*t together!