This week, DC and Warner Bros. made a startling announcement: they are going to begin making films that are not set within the larger DC Extended Universe, instead launching a second, new banner for “elseworld” stories such as the already announced Joker origin film set in the ‘80s. Before this announcement, DC was full steam ahead with a cohesive movie universe not unlike Marvel Studios’ own Marvel Cinematic Universe, meaning every movie from Batman V Superman to Justice League to The Batman would all be part of one larger narrative, the same way the Captain America trilogy, The Avengers, and even Doctor Strange are all connected. It is the age of the movie universe, and DC is second only to Marvel in developing their own, with four movies already released, starting with 2013’s Man of Steel, and two more officially in production, this November’s Justice League and next year’s Aquaman.
Though one theory is that DC is course correcting, setting up this new banner so that they can do away with the DCEU entirely after the disappointments that were Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, as well as the rumor Ben Affleck won’t be sticking around – which would be a kick in the pants for continuity – there is no evidence that DC is not still roaring full steam ahead on their announced DCEU projects, in addition to films like the Joker origin movie and whatever else is planned like the rumored Superman: Red Son alternate reality story.
After all, at San Diego Comic Con, DC confirmed they are moving forward with a handful of films including Shazam!, The Batman, Wonder Woman 2, Batgirl, Justice League Dark, and Flashpoint. While some of these movies would work just as well separate from the DCEU, especially Justice League Dark and Shazam!, characters that appear in Justice League who are getting solo films would benefit from the inter-connectivity of the DCEU, just as the Avengers characters’ solo chapters do.
So, assuming DC moves forward with both the DC Extended Universe and these separate “elseword” or “what if” films, what would be the pros and cons for such a move? Is this a freeing idea for the studio, or a disaster waiting to happen? Let’s explore!
Pro – Marvel Hasn’t Done It
DC’s younger DCEU is still playing catch-up with Marvel Studios’ MCU, in most areas. Justice League is finally landing this November, five years after Marvel’s first Avengers film, and two years after its sequel. DC has yet to do something Marvel hasn’t, with one exception. Batman V Superman may have been the first film from either side to bring their two biggest heroes into conflict, but only by a few months before the bigger, better received Captain America: Civil War was released, and years after we watched the Avengers fight each other before joining forces in The Avengers. Suicide Squad may be the first movie from either side about a team of villains, but everything about it reeked as a failed attempt to imitate Guardians of the Galaxy.
Wonder Woman is where DC beat Marvel to the finish line, not only releasing the first female lead solo superhero film in the modern era of the universe, but a quality one at that, and one that has gone on to out gross any other origin film in either universe. If DC wants to beat Marvel to something that is a no-brainer again, doing movies set outside of the overall universe continuity is the way to go!
After all, the comics have been doing these sorts of stories outside of the official continuity for almost as long as there have been comics. Some of your favorite stories including Batman: Year One, Batman: The Killing Joke, and The Dark Knight Returns are all separate stories that are not officially part of Batman or Detective Comics continuity. These are all alternate realities where the author was free to play with the character without sticking to decades of continuity or influencing what comes after. Even without being part of the official narrative, these stories are some of the most fondly remembered and reread.
So, eventually Marvel or DC was going to start doing these sorts of films outside the DCEU or MCU, and it is to DC’s advantage to get it done before Marvel. The question is, is DC ready?
Con – The DCEU Is Too Young
It may be a good idea down the line, and beating Marvel to the punch is a nice prospect, but the DCEU is too young to introduce alternate versions of their characters and alternate stories that don’t tie into their other films. I’m not saying every film needs to reference every other – at Marvel, even though all the stories are in the MCU doesn’t mean Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will reference Doctor Strange in any way – but an overall continuity is less confusing than suddenly seeing two actors play the Joker in stories that don’t connect.
Imagine if a Wonder Woman movie not set in the DCEU was next. This would be an issue for two reasons. First, we don’t know the character well enough to clearly define her from an alternate reality version. And by we, I mean the general populace who sees these movies, not those of us dedicated enough to read and write about these issues online. Second, the overall narrative would be lost and it would undercut a sequel and character development already established.
On the other hand, Marvel probably could pull this off. We know Tony Stark really, really, really well. He’s not only had a trilogy of his own and two Avengers movies, but also major appearances in Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming. If you were to do an alternate reality or “elseworld” movie with Robert Downey Jr. or a younger actor playing Stark, we’d get it (better at least). We know him far better than Wonder Woman at this point, or even the DCEU’s Joker, so it would be more apparent that we are in a different universe or timeline.
I just don’t feel that DC is there yet. We need to truly know all the characters as they stand in the DCEU before we are given second versions of these characters that muddy the waters.
Pro – Continuity Is Less Important
On the other hand, these non-DCEU entries will be far more accessible to viewers than say Avengers: Infinity War will be or Captain America: Civil War was. The directors of Civil War, the Russo Brothers, said leading up to that film’s release that it was to be the first MCU movie to not hold your hand, instead throwing you into the action with characters that have been introduced across over a dozen films before. Did it pay off financially? Yes. Did Marvel Fanboys love it? Hell, yes! Did my mom have any idea who Vision or Scarlet Witch were? Unfortunately, not.
A film not set in the DCEU is truly a standalone movie. You don’t need to know what happens in Batman V Superman or Justice League to enjoy it; you can just come into the cool theater, watch a self-contained story, and leave. No pre-film research in the form of rewatching a film, watching a recap video, or having an impressive memory.
Likewise, scheduling these films will be more freeing. I’m not sure what Marvel’s complete plan is for Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel, which arrive between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4. How will this impact these films? Captain Marvel is set in the ‘90s, but is her film a set-up for herself or the Skrulls appearing in Avengers 4? Or is it set decades ago as a work around for these Avengers films? How will Ant-Man and the Wasp take place between two giant Avengers films, both likely involving Thanos? Only time will tell, but if Ant-Man and the Wasp or Captain Marvel weren’t officially part of the MCU, Marvel wouldn’t even have to think about these issues.
That’s not to say suddenly setting a movie outside of an already established universe will not be confusing, as running the DCEU alongside these new “elseworld” films may be an issue.
Con – A New Source Of Audience Confusion
Having a DCEU and these truly standalone films going at the same time could add to audience confusion overall, even if it makes said standalone movie easier to digest.
Let’s look at Star Wars as an example. I can’t tell you how many people I had to explain Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to. When my one of my best friends, who isn’t as into Star Wars as me, saw the trailer, she asked, “what is this?” She realized it wasn’t Episode VIII because she didn’t see Rey, Finn, Poe, or Kylo Ren, but she wasn’t sure what she was watching a trailer for. I have another friend who didn’t understand he wasn’t watching Episode VIII until mid-way through the film, requiring him to go rewatch it, after understanding what it was and when it took place.
Now, this isn’t a direct one to one comparison, but I believe non-DCEU films like Joker will feel like the Star Wars stories that fall between the trilogy or saga films. Believe it or not, some people, like my friend, did go in expecting Rey and Luke Skywalker to grace the screen, and were confused when they didn’t. After seeing Suicide Squad, some audiences will go in expecting a sequel to that film, only to be confused seeing a different actor playing the title role in a story with absolutely no relation to Suicide Squad. I’m not saying it would hurt the grosses, necessarily, as Rogue One did just fine, but audience confusion is not something you want to encourage, nevertheless. And, Star Wars is a much stronger brand.
Pro – Allows For Less Conventional, “What If” Stories
In addition to setting some films like Justice League Dark outside of the DCEU, because they don’t need to tie into the main Justice League cast or the overall mythology, you get the chance to make “what if” stories like Superman: Red Son, which was rumored to be in consideration as a project months ago. Red Son is a great alternate universe story where Superman’s ship crash lands in the USSR instead of the United States when he is a baby, and is therefore raised to fight for truth and justice in the Soviet way. Again, going from two movies starring Superman and one featuring him – we don’t know how long it will take for Supes to show up in Justice League – the time may not be right yet, without audience confusion. But, once you have a complete Man of Steel trilogy (go ahead and count Batman V Superman as the second chapter if you want to get there faster) and two Justice League films under your DCEU belt, the time is right for a 2nd Superman actor or Henry Cavill to star as an alternate world Superman as in Red Son.
You can also use the move to jump through time. You can have Ben Affleck Batman in Justice League and The Batman, and still cast a younger actor and do Batman: Year One (if we must repeat his origin again), or cast an even older actor and do The Dark Knight Returns (if Zack Snyder hadn’t wasted half the imagery from that film already).
The question here is, do we need more movies about the main three – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman – and their villains, such as the Joker, when we have seen plenty of them in the current age of the superhero genre?
Con – Characters Like Joker Are A Waste Of The Concept
I’ve already compared the idea of non-DCEU movies to those A Star Wars Story films from Lucasfilm, so why stop now? Simply put, the “A Star Wars Story” banner is wasted on films involving Death Stars and characters we already know like Han Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Are they fan favorites who will sell lots of tickets? Sure. Are they capitalizing on the idea of non-saga films fully? Not really, as everything ties too closely to what has come before.
To reach their full potential, these Star Wars stories should be covering different eras, planets, characters, and corners of the galaxy. In the case of Star Wars, there are thousands of years that could be explored, yet they’re sticking to a tight 60 or so.
DC too, shouldn’t waste this new banner on Joker films! We know the Joker like the back of our hand. Sure, we’ve only seen Leto’s DCEU Joker once, but remember, the non-DCEU Joker film is NOT about Leto’s Joker, but will feature a younger version becoming the clown prince of crime in the 1980s. So, just in live-action alone, not counting Adam West’s Batman film, we’ve already had three Jokers grace the big screen in so many years. How many times have we seen Justice League Dark (okay, we’ve seen a poor adaptation of the character of Constantine once)? What about Booster Gold? Could a non-DCEU film be a wacky comedy starring Bat-Mite? I’m not saying these are the best ideas, but now that we are free from the tone and obligation to use major characters of the DCEU, why not do something as out-there as Bat-Mite?
The new non-DCEU banner is wasted on characters like Joker, especially when he has Suicide Squad 2, Gotham City Sirens, Joker and Harley Quinn, and potentially The Batman all coming in the DCEU. Do we need four movies featuring the Joker in five or so years? No.
Con – It Takes Away Money and Talent From The DCEU
This may be another side effect of trying these “elseworld” movies too early into the life of the DCEU, but these project sap talent, money, etc from the DCEU films that DC needs to catch up with Marvel, if they are to keep doing both. The DCEU needs to be full steam ahead, especially after this lull that will take place in 2018, with only one DCEU release vs the two each in 2017 and 2016, and the three films Marvel will release in 2018.
Producing films outside their main universe may be beating Marvel to the punch in that department, but will it win a war? DC should be focused on the DCEU if they hope to achieve a market share the size of Marvel’s MCU.
Like it or not, Marvel Studios is DC’s direct competition. As is such, I feel DC needs to be competing with Marvel directly, as their DCEU has thus far. Sure, it hasn’t had as much success overall, but Wonder Woman was a step in the right direction, and diverting talent, money, and audiences over to these non-DCEU films feels like a huge mistake at this juncture.
I’ve laid out what I see as the Pros and Cons for you, so what do YOU think? Did I miss any major pros or cons? Do you feel these “elsewhere” films will give DC the edge? I’ve gone on for too long, so please, leave your thoughts in the comment section below.