This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Henry Cavill has probably hung up his Superman cape. Ben Affleck is still fed up playing Batman. Warner Bros has a busy slate of superhero movies lined up for the next few years, with Aquaman, Shazam!, Wonder Woman 1984, Cyborg, Green Lantern Corps, The Flash, Birds Of Prey, Black Adam and about a dozen Joker projects all in the works (seriously, you can check out the full schedule of DC superhero movies in the works right here). But the news that the DCEU might be losing its two biggest headliners has caused some to worry about the direction it seems to be taking.
“There’s a recognition that some parts of the previous movies didn’t work,” a Warner Bros insider tells The Hollwood Reporter, with another source says Warners are looking to “hit a ‘reset’ button” with the whole DC Extended Universe.
The DCEU has always been the younger, weaker, angrier, moodier brother of the MCU – with Disney pretty much owning the box-office now for at least a decade – but is it really time for them to give up and start again?
If Warner Bros are thinking of “hitting the reset” button to reboot the DCEU (spoiler: they aren’t actually going to reboot anything), what should they keep and what should they lose?
Get a new Batman
First in 1989, and again in 2005, Batman made superhero movies what they are today. The fact that he doesn’t have any powers (and that his suit isn’t usually too silly looking), he’s the one character who can hook in non-comic book fans – and he’s the biggest weapon in DC’s arsenal.
Part of the reason Zack Snyder’s Batman had so many problems was because Christopher Nolan’s Batman was so much better. Nolan’s trilogy arguably ruined the DCEU before it started – making it impossible for anyone to be Bruce Wayne without making him different and the same. Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice had its faults but its take on Batman was probably the only way it could have gone at the time – more muscly for the Marvel-apeing action, more moody for the Nolan comparisons.
But you can’t have a DCEU without Batman. If Affleck does officially jump ship soon, Matt Reeves’ upcoming sequel might have to quickly become a full-on reboot (if it isn’t already). Even if Affleck does decide to stay in the suit, Reeves’ film would do well to ignore the previous versions and give Batman a whole new direction. We don’t need another origin story, but we do need a character that seems capable of holding up his own film – and the entire DCEU with it. Whatever you think of Snyder’s fetishized, grunting take on the icon, it’s hard not to care more about the comedy LEGO version (who’s already one stand-alone film up on Affleck).
Batgirl and Nightwing both have films in the works – but neither is going to succeed entirely on their own. Successful superhero movies need to click with casual fans as well as with die-hard comic-book readers, and the only way most cinema audiences will see either film is as a spin-off character for a more famous hero who hasn’t had a good film out for years.
It’ll be tough, it’ll jar, and it’ll give the Snyder films a cult legacy that they probably don’t deserve, but getting a new Batman might be the only way forward for Warner Bros.
Leave Superman on the shelf for a few years
For some reason, Superman films never work quite as well as they should. Just as important to the future of the DCEU as Batman is – if not more so – Superman is the original superhero who should have been the face of summer blockbusters for the last two decades. Marvel has a great stable, but they haven’t got anyone as mythic and definitive as the Man Of Steel – and no one that more embodies the contribution that comic books have made to modern culture. So why can’t anyone get him quite right? Why does he need rebooting every couple of movies?
Most likely just a problem of finding the right angle, the bigger problem will come if Warner Bros. decide to bring him back again too soon. If we get a soft reboot with another actor playing the same guy in the same world, no one will care. If we get another origin story, it’ll feel too soon after we saw the last one. The latest rumors put Michael B. Jordan in the frame, which sounds like a great idea – but don’t do anything yet.
Give us a new Batman and a new DCEU timeline, and then spend some time building up Superman’s legacy again. When the time feels right, the arrival of Superman will have the weight and worth that it deserves.
Pause the team ups
When Marvel made Avengers in 2012, they’d already made five separate stand-alone superhero movies. And even then, it felt like a bit of a gamble to have so many under-served characters in the same film. It took plenty more individual chapters before things really started clicking in the MCU, and it wasn’t really until Captain America: Civil War when it felt natural to have so many other A-listers dropping in and out of the same story.
Warner Bros., on the other hand, went straight from Man Of Steel to Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Suicide Squad, trying to fast track a ready-built cinematic universe full of superheroes. Backstory went out the window, character arcs rose and fell in minutes, and audiences didn’t have time to actually care about anyone on screen.
Again, a successful superhero movie needs to work for the casual filmgoer – which rules out DC’s small screen offerings as a lazy way to crowbar in a bit more script. TV is simply too crowded a place to use as a platform for characters that are getting their best set-pieces at the cinema, and the DCEU felt exclusive, confused, and niche long before Justice League made things worse.
If Warner Bros. are planning a full reboot, they need to slow it down. Give each character at least one full film of their own before sticking them in a super-team – and only start bringing in multiple heroes if they’re in a story that’s better told with them in it.
Embrace the dark side
The differences between Marvel and DC have been blurring since the early days, but Batman’s last few decades seem to have lent Detective Comics a slightly rougher edge in the cinema. Marvel has its fair share of angst (and you can’t really get darker than the end of Infinity War), but the general view of the MCU is coloured by bright costumes, quipping heroes and a whole lot of Disney merchandise.
DC has always known that it has to get meaner and moodier if it wants to stand out, and they’ve been experimenting with different looks for years. The trouble is, they also want to compete with Marvel in the lunchbox and sticker stakes – which has led to some confusing mash-ups of grown-up themes and tween-friendly design choices (ie, Suicide Squad). At best, the modern DCEU just looks a bit emo.
If Warner Bros really want to compete with Disney, they need to do what the Mouse House can’t. The under-twelves already make up a relatively small chunk of the global paying audience and fans are growing up quickly – which gives the DCEU plenty of remit to make films that are pitched more at The Dark Knight crowd. Man Of Steel started off in this direction – and Todd Phillips’ Joker certainly sounds like it’s going to do the same – but Justice League was a perfect example of what happens when you get your messages mixed. And who is Aquaman really being aimed at? What tone is Shazam! going for?
A reset DCEU could be a great counterpoint to the MCU if Warner Bros are brave enough to stop trying to compete on equal terms. Give us another grown-up superhero franchise and make DC cool again.
But leave Wonder Woman alone
The worrying thing about all this talk of a “reset button” is that it might mean Warner Bros. getting rid of stuff we’d like them to keep. Namely Wonder Woman.
The best thing in the DCEU by a long shot, Patty Jenkins’ 2017 film felt like the first time the studio had really nailed a character since Nolan’s Batman – still fresh enough to feel definitive. What’s more, Warner Bros. beat Disney to the punch in getting the first female-led superhero movie on the screen, and scrapping her now would be a big slap in the face to everyone that helped the studio take such an important first step.
Hitting the reset button might be too drastic a decision if it means losing everything at the same time – but the X-Men movies (and about a million comics) have proved that superheroes have a bit more licence with continuity than most other genres. Is it plausible that Warner Bros. might cull everyone except Diana Prince?
Probably not. The biggest problem facing the studio is money. With so many expensive tent-pole films already in the works – and so many already made that have been instrumental to their world building – hitting any kind of reset button is going to be prohibitively expensive. Warner Bros. have invested far too much in the DCEU to give up on anything, or anyone, and the most likely scenario is that they’ll shelve Batman, shelve Superman and carry on with five-year’s worth of B-list supers, side characters (and Wonder Woman) until they can figure out how to bring either of them back in a different incarnation.
If anyone in Warner Bros. really does have a finger hovering over a reset button, they’ll probably take one look at their upcoming slate and chicken out. Putting a cap on “Phase 1” of the DCEU might be the best thing for everyone – even before Cavill and Affleck started talking about quitting – but it’s definitely, probably, almost certainly not going to happen.