The DC Extended Universe has seen better days. After the critical bashing received by both Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad, rumours are now swirling that Ben Affleck is eager to step away from the clumsy comic book world. This comes after The Flash losing two separate directors in the space of a year, and recent reports that Wonder Woman is also in trouble.
This is all beginning to look like DC’s cinematic universe is crumbling under its own weight, before it has even gotten off the ground. In contrast to the immense excitement and success currently surrounding the Marvel cinematic universe, Warner Bros has a real problem on their hands. Here are five ways that the DCEU can be fixed, before it is broken beyond repair.
5. Let Superman be fun
2013’s Man of Steel was a mixed bag, to say the least. The film scratched the surface of some interesting themes, and danced around a few fun concepts. But ultimately, it was a monotoned mess that gave its title character little to do, before quickly devolving into a CGI yawnfest. Superman has been reinvented just about as many times as Batman and James Bond. But, there is no ignoring the inescapable fact that Christopher Reeve will always be the true embodiment of the character. This is no reason to retread old ground, and completely imitate this version the big blue Boyscout. But, future film makers should definitely take note of why Richard Donner’s interpretation, is still looked upon as a classic.
Superman the Movie embraced the light, fun nature of the character, and gave us the most authentic version of him we have ever seen. Conversely, Man of Steel attempted to ground Superman in gritty realism, in an attempt to make him more relatable to audiences. In theory, this was an inspired idea, but in practice all it did was transform an indestructible alien from another world, into a boring, miserable loner. Batman V Superman only continued this trend by giving Superman even less to do, and completely sidelining him for Ben Affleck’s Batman. Considering that Spider-Man’s extended cameo appearance in Captain America: Civil War, actually contained more lines that Henry Cavill’s entire role in this film, something is definitely wrong.
All of this very clearly spells out a problem that Warner Bros are strangely unable to see, which is that Superman is not meant to be dark. This is a character that has been flying around in red and blue spandex, and wearing glasses as a suitable disguise, for over 75 years. And yet, Warner’s have failed to see why he has remained so popular all this time. Henry Cavill may not be the most charismatic actor within the ranks of the DCEU, but letting him crack a smile, and maybe even a cheesy pun, definitely wouldn’t hurt to make the new Superman a bit more popular. So far, he has been relegated to a side-story within his own franchise, and this will need to change if there is any hope for the character. If Marvel can make Ant-Man, Thor, and even Doctor Strange into popular, likeable, fully-fleshed out heroes, then DC can make the world’s most recognisable superhero watchable.
4. Give characters breathing room
There’s a reason that Marvel are hailed as the reigning champions of creating a shared cinematic universe. Not only did they introduce each of their characters slowly, over a period of five years, but they also gave most of them their own films, before bringing them together. This is not an example that DC have followed by any stretch of the imagination. As soon as Superman had been introduced to viewers, Warner Bros rushed ahead in a shallow attempt to catch up with Marvel. This lead to an incredibly crowded sequel, which ended up servicing absolutely none of the characters.
Rather than waiting patiently, and introducing characters over time, Warner Bros have actually made the same mistake twice. Both Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad managed to cram at least 10 characters into a 2 and a half hour movie, and expect viewers to care about all of them. Instead, we are now left with a slate of impending sequels, full of characters we barely even know, let alone care about. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was one of the only entertaining aspects of the aforementioned film, but she was still a hugely unnecessary addition. Gadot currently sits among a long list of characters ranging from Lex Luthor, to The Joker, who were underdeveloped and poorly written.
Warner Bros are slowly correcting this problem, with Gadot starring in her own film later this year, and Jason Momoa receiving his own Aquaman spin-off film in 2018. But, with Justice League arriving in theatres this November, most of the damage has already been done. This means that the epic team-up event will have to work very hard, to add to some much-need layers to these characters. After that, it’s definitely time for some solid solo instalments before crossing these heroes over again.
3. Connect the Film and Television universes
Marvel may be winning the race on the big screen, but on television DC have been going above and beyond for years. Between Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow, the CW has successfully crafted a shared universe that easily rivals any other superhero offerings currently available. Each of these four series’ share a range of characters, themes, and narrative connections, but also stand on their own as unique television shows. In the space of 5 years, DCTV has managed to introduce characters that have resonated with audiences on a level that the films will likely never accomplish.
If Warner Bros are smart, then they will connect these two vastly separate universes, and have half the hard work done for them. Yes, the television universe already contains separate (and far superior) interpretations of The Flash and Superman. But, it has also established the multiverse as a concept, which means that the two worlds could easily collide through various sci-fi plot devices. By having a cameo from Stephen Amell’s Green Arrow, or even the two Flashes appearing on screen together, this would automatically generate the sort of buzz the extended universe has been sorely lacking since its inception. This would also allow Warner Bros to beat Marvel to the punch for the first time, by successfully merging a film and television universe. Some will claim that this has already been accomplished with Marvel’s current Netlfix slate, as well as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But, we all know that’s a thinly veiled lie, with little connective tissue between them, and future crossovers virtually impossible.
2. Stop trying to emulate The Dark Knight.
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was a masterpiece, that is already remembered as one of the greatest trilogies of all time. Back in 2005 when Batman Begins was first released, the grounded, ‘realistic’ approach to the property was both refreshing and inspired. Over a decade later, and this formula is outdated and irrelevant in the current comic book landscape. Where Marvel have crafted a fantastic shared universe occupying gun-toting raccoons, and armor-clad warriors, DC have chosen to hold their characters back with ‘realism’.
One of the biggest reasons that both Man of Steel, and Batman V Superman failed to resonate with audiences, is because the characters have been portrayed through a gritty, unapproachable lense. Suicide Squad admirably attempted to change this, but by that point the damage had already been done, and the film had already began shooting. The end result was a tonally jarring finished product, that couldn’t decide if it was a dark character piece, or an upbeat Deadpool rip-off.
If Warner Bros are truly serious about creating a universe of comic book characters on the big screen, then they are going to have to fully embrace the source material. When dealing with fantastical characters such as Aquaman, Green Lantern, and even Wonder Woman, the grounded approach isn’t going to cut it anymore. Audiences have proven time, and time again, that they are no longer interested in their superheroes being gritty and dark. Marvel Studios have shown viewers that characters can still be relatable, without taking all the fun away from the entire film. If DC intends on selling characters who can talk to fish, and transform from children to adults by uttering a magic word, then this is a lesson they need to learn very quickly.
1. Let Ben Affleck be in control of Batman
In the sinking ship that is the DCEU, Ben Affleck is currently the only saving grace. The former Daredevil was initially met with heavy scepticism, before being greeted with open arms by fans and critics alike. Despite a hurricane of negative press, and frequent badgering from fans, Affleck managed to escape Batman V Superman relatively unscathed. The Oscar nominated actor will make his third appearance as Batman (after a disappointingly minimal cameo in Suicide Squad), later this year when Zack Snyder’s Justice League is released.
Originally, Affleck was all set to direct a solo instalment for the character, but that all changed after he dropped out earlier this month. He is reportedly still committed to play Batman in the film, but recent rumours have indicated that he is looking to jump ship. If this is true, and the DCEU loses their biggest, most bankable star, then Warner Bros would have a real crisis on their hands. Recasting Batman for the second time in the space of a decade, would throw the continuity of the current films into disarray, and destroy any momentum built up so far. Affleck’s true reasoning behind dropping out of the director’s chair for The Batman, is still shrouded in mystery. But, reading between the lines, it’s not difficult to see why he may be slightly hesitant to delve any further into the DC Universe. Warner Bros are clearly looking to fast track production on the film, with inside sources claiming that they’re not overly concerned with the quality of the script.
As an actor who has picked his career back up from the brink, and made an excellent comeback as an acclaimed writer and director, Affleck is not looking to ruin things now. This is a man who needs time to craft a quality, character-driven script. Most importantly, Gone Girl, The Town, and Argo, have all shown us that he knows what he’s doing when it comes to engaging and intelligent drama. Warner Bros needs to give him control over Batman’s cinematic future, otherwise they run the risk of losing their golden goose forever.