It’s early days in the DC movie universe. We’re effectively one movie in with Zack Snyder’s 2013 Superman reboot, Man of Steel, proving fairly divisive. For Warner Bros. itself, it just about did the job, proving a far more commercially successful venture than its other recent non-Dark Knight Trilogy comic book blockbuster, Green Lantern.
Over the weekend, the new, extended trailer for the second DC movie universe film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, debuted and seemed to be met more positively than the last. Warner Bros. debuted the footage, along with material from its other 2016 DC release of Suicide Squad, at San Diego Comic-Con. The footage from both films has subsequently made it (legally) online.
What’s interesting is that the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has answered one or two queries about whether the film remains the Man of Steel sequel it was originally supposed to be, with more glue to the earlier film than many were expecting. It’s also clearly a springboard to the broader DC film universe, and is expected to lead directly into the two Justice League films that Zack Snyder is set to direct afterwards.
I’m one of those who wouldn’t have put Zack Snyder anywhere near the shortlist for a new Batman film, in truth, but I thought the trailer looked far more interesting than anything I’d seen on the film thus far. But then, I also think that DC and Warner Bros. may have something, for better or worse, that Marvel doesn’t: absolute trust for a director.
One of the most disappointing stories I read this year was that basically, Joss Whedon didn’t get final cut on Avengers: Age of Ultron. That a sequence he wanted in the movie didn’t make it, and the man who delivered the third biggest film of all time still couldn’t quite get the film he wanted through the Marvel system. I still can’t fully wrap my head around that.
Now this isn’t a Marvel hate piece or anything like it. I’ve enjoyed and will enjoy a lot of Marvel films, but it’s little secret that it works closer to a television model. Kevin Feige, the boss of Marvel Studios, is effectively the showrunner here, and if anyone has final creative sign-off, it appears – from the outside looking in – to be him. He hires directors, he fires directors, he battles with people over their cuts of the film (Thor: The Dark World‘s Alan Taylor has arguably been the most public about this). But then, by whatever machinations Marvel uses, it works.
The vast majority of its films are good to very good. But I do wonder if such a system is why the studio hasn’t had an outright classic yet (appreciating one or two ran it close, not least the original The Avengers film).
I think it was Empire when, reviewing one of the Harry Potter movies, it argued that there’ll never be a terrible one and never be an outright great one, given how that franchise was run. I really liked Prisoner of Azkaban and Order of the Phoenix, but do see the point. With Marvel, a similar argument could be applied. That the checks are in place to make sure that the films don’t go off the rails, that decisions will be made quickly if things aren’t going to plan, and that the next film is never far behind anyway.
Marvel clearly cares about its films, and it hires interesting directors (I for one can’t wait to see what Scott Derrickson does with Doctor Strange). It’s more often than not reaped dividends for doing so, but conversely, you could never see a Christopher Nolan or James Cameron being attracted to the model it has. A director who needs and will take final cut. That’s not part of the Marvel deal, and when Joss can’t get it, what chance has everyone else got?
But the DC movie universe doesn’t have a Kevin Feige figure right now, and as a consequence, those safety barriers on either side are absent. It’s been said that Zack Snyder is the creative guide of the DC movies, but how can he be? By the time the second Justice League film rolls around in 2018, he’ll have directed four major blockbusters in five years. That just about gives him space in the schedule to watch other people’s films and pass on a few notes, but hardly to be the hands-on guiding support that Feige offers.
As such, the word so far is that Warner Bros. is giving its directors more creative control over its DC movies. David Ayer thus has reworked the screenplay for the Suicide Squad movie he’s directing, and he’s said to have had the crucial say over which way the movie is heading. Furthermore, it’s not lost on many that Warner Bros. has hired Patty Jenkins to direct its Wonder Woman film, with Jenkins having departed Marvel’s Thor 2 over “creative differences.” On paper, there seems to be a far stronger chance that she’ll get to make the film she wants to make under a Warner Bros. umbrella than a Marvel one.
To be fair, Warner Bros has been built over time on director relationships. Clint Eastwood, Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, Richard Donner, Ben Affleck, the Wachowskis, and more have for a long time – on and off – called Warner Bros. their home. The studio traded off rights to Friday The 13th and a new South Park movie to Paramount, just to stay close to Christopher Nolan and get a slice of his Interstellar movie. No studio offers a perfect, non-interfering environment of course, but at the moment, if you want to make a blockbuster and get your cut of it through the system, then Warner Bros. is as good a bet as any.
That’s why I’d argue that whilst Marvel is likely to be the more consistent producer of comic book and superhero movies, Warner Bros. may end up making the best – and the worst – ones. We’ve seen evidence of this already. Personally, I don’t think Marvel has made a film yet that’s better than Superman, Superman II, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (it’s alright, it’s the Internet, we’re allowed to disagree). Conversely, I don’t think Marvel has come close to making something as piss poor as Jonah Hex or Green Lantern.
Of course, by this time next year, egg could be smeared on my face. The strong Russo Brothers could have delivered a five-star smash with Captain America: Civil War. Furthermore, Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange from the outside is is a fascinating looking beast. Then, David Ayer’s Suicide Squad may turn into a middling meh-fest (I’d be genuinely surprised if it did though). But I think it’s healthy and refreshing, at least so far, to see the two big names in comic book movies taking slightly different approaches to their movies.
It’ll be interesting to see how the next few years pan out, and whether more and more directors are given the necessary control over the films. Because say what you want about Zack Snyder – and many people have and do – at least when you get to the end of one of his movies, it’s very much felt like one of his movies. There’s nothing I’ve seen of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that leads me to think anything different there…