At the end of 2017, Warner Bros. found themselves at a crossroads with DC Comics on film.
JUSTICE LEAGUE — a film that they had desperately tried to get to ASAP since 2013 after they were “disappointed” by MAN OF STEEL — was a complete critical and box office disaster.
In fact, Warner’s plan for a shared DC on film universe went off the rails early on when a true Superman sequel to MAN OF STEEL was hijacked and replaced with BATMAN v SUPERMAN, an overly dark, depressing catastrophe.
BvS‘s terrible reviews, poor audience reception, and much less than expected take at the box office led to another panic which resulted in Zack Snyder’s JUSTICE LEAGUE essentially being reshot under new director Joss Whedon.
But that’s all water under the bridge.
Since JUSTICE LEAGUE, the fine folks at Warner Bros. made a lot of changes — all-around — to DC on film. The result of those changes was that a new team of executives was charged with overseeing their DC properties, as well as a “new” (but really old, thus the quotation marks) way of producing these films.
When they were at that aforementioned crossroads, they chose the correct route.
Here’s how Mr. Toby Emmerich, Chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, describes the way the studio will produce DC movies going forward…
We all feel like we’ve turned a corner now. We’re playing by the DC playbook, which is very different than the Marvel playbook. We are far less focused on a shared universe. We take it one movie at a time. Each movie is its own equation and own creative entity. If you had to say one thing about us, it’s that it always has to be about the directors.
So, what does that mean? Let’s break it down…
“We all feel like we’ve turned a corner now.”
They got past JUSTICE LEAGUE (which felt as if they were simply trying to get in theaters and over with ASAP), made changes, and feel as if the ship’s been righted.
“We’re playing by the DC playbook, which is very different than the Marvel playbook.”
Historically, there’s a big difference in DC Comics and Marvel Comics.
The latter was created as a shared comic book universe that was centered in New York City and stories and characters overlapped. The former was established with solo characters created by teams that were only interested in their particular superhero.
Also, I think that Mr. Emmerich is also speaking to the fact that Warner has historically produced the DC superhero movies differently than Marvel Films: The MCU was built to be a producer-driven, shared cinematic universe, while WB has long been a director-friendly studio allowing for a lot of creative freedom.
“We are far less focused on a shared universe. We take it one movie at a time. Each movie is its own equation and own creative entity.”
Yes, their attempt at a shared DC cinematic universe failed, so they are moving away from it going forward. Each DC film from now on will be its own thing, will not be used in any way as a commercial for other DC movies, nor will it be used to set up team-up films. Also, it will not “have” to adhere to a universal aesthetic or tone.
“If you had to say one thing about us, it’s that it always has to be about the directors.”
They are going to find quality filmmakers who have a vision and passion and let them do their thing…like with THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY and — for the most part — WONDER WOMAN and AQUAMAN.
Now, do I believe that these characters no longer fictionally coexist in a celluloid world?
I do not. Let me explain…
In AQUAMAN, the world that Arthur Curry lives in is also inhabited by the likes of Wonder Woman and the others we saw in JUSTICE LEAGUE. However, we never saw them via cameos nor were they ever really mentioned. Also, there wasn’t one moment in James Wan’s film that was used to either set up another DC movie (other than an AQUAMAN sequel, of course) or a future team-up movie.
AQUAMAN was indeed “its own equation and own creative entity.”
Thus, I expect the same for WONDER WOMAN 1984, BIRDS OF PREY, and any other DC film that is, ahem, “technically” part of the DC on film universe.
Here’s the deal…
If someone goes and sees BIRDS OF PREY next year and it makes the experience for them better if they can know that somewhere out there in that world, Superman is Supermanning in Metropolis.
On the other hand, folks can watch BOP without getting beat over the head with the shared universe stick (and all that entails) and can enjoy it simply as a standalone movie.
A win-win for most DC fans I think…unless you absolutely must have cameos, blatant winks/nods/Easter eggs to enjoy the movie.
One more thing (call this my op-ed tag)…
What about Batman on film?
While we’ll never likely see Batfleck again, that particular BvS/JL version of the character can live on in the periphery.
For example, say Batman is mentioned in BIRDS OF PREY (hint), that would refer to the Batfleck Batman. Also, BOP takes place in the Gotham where that version of The Dark Knight still prowls the city fighting crime, for example. But, BOP is, just like AQUAMAN, a standalone movie.
So, since there’s no more Batfleck, what about Matt Reeves’ “Untitled Batman Project?”
Maybe, just maybe, it’ll be one of those “Black Label” (right now, an official title for that banner of DC films has not been revealed) DC movies like Todd Phillips’ JOKER starring Joaquin Phoenix?
Perhaps like JOKER, Mr. Reeves’ Bat-film will exist in a vacuum and its own world?
We know that Warner Bros. is keen on making these types of movies and Batman would be a perfect addition to that banner of DC on film.
We shall see (soon).
All in all, I’m very excited about the future of DC on film going forward.
It’s my hope that this new (old) way of making DC movies — along with these “Black Label” films like JOKER (and maybe Matt Reeves’ “Untitled Batman Project?”) — will offer a variety of great DC on film options that will make most DC fans happy and bring us all together again.
Well, that’s likely not going to happen, but one can always hope!
Now, does anyone want to jump in on my conga line? – Bill “Jett” Ramey