Prior to the release of Iron Man, Marvel had already begun to stir up plans for a shared universe. Kevin Feige argued that while film rights to Spider-Man and X-Men belonged to Sony and Fox respectively, Marvel still had access to the core members of the Avengers. From there, they began plans to release individual hero films that would lead up to a crossover/team-up film. The concept of a shared film universe began to see massive success and, specifically after the release of the first Avengers film, practically every film studio began to scramble for film rights and properties so they could build their own extended universe.
Warner Brothers and DC comics were of course among these studios, and they planned to make a superhero film universe as successful as the MCU. Unfortunately, the DC Extended Universe has had a bit of a rough go so far. Man of Steel didn’t receive great reviews and it wasn’t until three years later that a second installment was released, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was also critically panned. Many fans feel that it seems like the DCEU is setting itself up to crash and burn, and here are 15 reasons why.
15. MAN OF STEEL WASN’T A STRONG START
As many know, Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster who would later sell the character to a publisher that would become DC. After selling the rights, Siegel, Shuster and their heirs would later fight to reclaim the character. Because of some of these disputes, the Siegel and Shuster families gained the right to sue Warner Brothers for lost royalties if a new Superman film was not produced by 2011, thus Man of Steel began production.
The production of MoS was a bit of a scramble. Christopher Nolan proposed a dark modern story that was passed on to a script writer with Zack Snyder was assigned to direct. This didn’t provide a great groundwork for a future shared universe since MoS wasn’t initially planned to be the beginning of a franchise, just a means to avoid the lawsuit. Thus, any extended universe nods and references were thrown in last minute.
14. BATMAN V SUPERMAN WAS MESSY
Wether you liked Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice or not is, of course, your opinion and, regardless of the film’s quality, its major faults lie in how it connects to the DCEU. First off, let’s not forget that the film was released three years after MoS, three years. That’s a lot of disconnect between films that are supposed to be part of a franchise, a notion ties into the previously mentioned production write-off. Remember, the second MCU film came out a little over a month after Iron Man.
Further, the “Dawn of Justice” aspect of BvS is meant to serve as a setup for Justice League. The MCU made five stand-alone films before bringing the characters together for The Avengers. Aside from Suicide Squad, there’s only MoS and BvS, resulting in the latter having the origins of the future Justice League members forcibly shoehorned into last-minute cameos.
13. WEAK CHARACTER DEPICTIONS
The debate of Marvel vs. DC shouldn’t be about who is better, but instead of what their strengths are. Marvel’s strength has always been telling real stories with human heroes, while DC excels at making icons. If you compare the two, Marvel has had a lot more characters fade into obscurity than DC, evidence of the lasting power of DC’s heroes and villains.
Take this as you will, but there’s a right way to for WB to use the iconography of their characters to their advantage. It’s smart to use the iconography of a character to pull in film audiences, but that will only fill seats. To keep people coming back, the iconic characters need to be depicted in relatable and compelling ways. Unfortunately, the three DCEU films thus far seem to offer little more than recognizable characters in familiar costumes punching and exploding things with little substance behind them.
12. GOOD ACTORS ARE WASTED
Let’s look at the actors of the DCEU: Henry Cavill as Superman, Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Jason Mamoa as Aquaman, Ray Fisher as Cyborg and Erza Miller as The Flash — and those are just the Justice league members. Among the entirety of the DCEU are three academy award winners, and two nominees. That’s pretty impressive, the MCU doesn’t even have that many high-praised actors.
The only problem? These actors have very little opportunity to actually act. The Oscar-winners and nominees need no praise as their incredible work speaks for itself, and the likes of Cavill, Mamoa and Miller have shown immense skill in non-DC work. Yet, there seems to be little room for these actors to show their chops when their characters are, so far, only depicted as recognizable costumes speaking dialogue that merely strings together fight sequences and explosions.
11. TOO DARK, TOO GRITTY
The Dark Knight trilogy is without a doubt one of DC and WB’s most successful endeavors. Warner Brothers, with good reason, saw the success of the Dark Knight trilogy and concluded that a rinse-and-repeat strategy would bring further success. This is a smart strategy, but while the Nolan trilogy was dark and gritty, it’s not what made the films great.
What made the Dark Knight trilogy so great was that the character was treated like a person, and the story was treated like a human story, an action/drama with a cape and cowl. WB however was quick to roll with the dark and gritty aspects of the film, thinking that’s all that was required to make a successful franchise. They even went so far as to say there are to be “no jokes” in the DCEU, when superhero movies need at least some sense of fun.
Where Marvel moves to line up all their films, comics and animation under similar narratives in order to lock down one large audience, DC has always been a bit different. DC’s strength as a publisher has always been in offering variety: you want fun superhero tales, you read Teen Titans; you want something a little different, you pick up a Vertigo title.
While more variety is good for comics, it’s good to have a focused audience for films, and DC can’t seem to choose one. Are the films for all ages, featuring characters that kids like? Are they for comics lovers, featuring bits and pieces from classic comic stories? Or are they for non-comic readers who loved The Dark Knight, offering recognizable characters in dark stories? Perhaps a little focus would help the DC movies find an audience, and from there they could branch out into stranger and more experimental titles.
Since the release of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, there have been a number of other DC films announced for eventual release. Since these films initial release date announcement, nearly every single one of them has lost a director and/or had their release date moved up. The Flash has gone through about three directors at this point and The Batman has had its own mess of production changes after Ben Affleck dropped out of directing and writing the project.
What is the cause of all these changes? Perhaps it’s the lackluster critical reception of BvS that scared away directors, or maybe it’s the constant shifts of power going on with DC and WB executives. Whatever it is, the initial plan that DC announced for their DCEU has already come completely unraveled, not a strong sign for the film franchise.
8. WONDER WOMAN’S MARKETING
Just when it seems that every DCEU film is doomed to receive horrible critical reviews, there’s a shimmer of hope, a small light peaking from the edge of the darkness in the form of Wonder Woman. Though not a lot of critics have come forth on the film, those that have, as well as fans and twitter users alike, have given the film solid praise.
The only problem? The marketing of Wonder Woman is almost nonexistent. This is due to the outdated belief that a female-led film won’t sell, so WB isn’t bothering with any advertising. This is a huge problem since it means that the quality of the film won’t matter if no one sees it, and if no one sees it, the “female-led films won’t sell” idea is “confirmed” by a poor box office performance, and WB will think twice about another female superhero film. It’s a lose/lose situation all around.
7. STUDIO INTERFERENCE
All of these problems part of a bigger issue, studio interference. For better or worse, studio interference has been present since the very beginning of modern cinema, and WB has done their fair share of it. In the case of the MCU, Marvel has made significant steps to ensure that their films are director driven, meaning they choose a director to give the film a vision rather than just act as middle manager for studio orders.
In the case of Suicide Squad, it’s clear that David Ayres had a vision for the film, but reshoots and post-production changes distorted that vision. Marvel’s success is in large part due to their films being worked on like personal projects. WB doesn’t necessarily need to adopt the same method for the DCEU, but if they’re going to direct the directors’ directing, it should be under one vision, which brings us to…
6. IT NEEDS A KEVIN FEIGE
Feige obviously wouldn’t leave his position as president of Marvel Studios, but the DCEU needs their own “head honcho” to keep things under one vision. Feige first coordinated the shared film universe idea and has since produced every MCU film, helping to keep things streamlined and unified. Since MoS was not planned as the beginning of a shared universe, there wasn’t any planning process behind the DCEU prior to the film’s production, and connections to a larger universe — like a Wayne logo — were added in last-minute.
This is what lead to Zack Snyder becoming the de facto leader of the newly established DCEU plans. It wasn’t until last year that DC chief CO Geoff Johns and WB executive VP Jon Berg were officially appointed to co-run the DCEU. While we’ve yet to see the effects of this joint leadership, two heads might not be better than one in this case.
5. LOSING DIRECTORS LEFT AND RIGHT
We mentioned earlier that nearly every one of DC’s planned films has lost a director that had been previously attached to the film. So far, over seven directors have walked out on DC projects, and even more prospective candidates have declined offers. Most recently, Justice League Dark lost Doug Liman. This pattern is a HUGE problem for a number of reasons.
First of all, it means that the critical disappointment of MoS, BvS and Suicide Squad has, for lack of a better term, scared off directors. Further, if a director walks out on a project before production starts — with weeks or even months of pre-production work already done — it means that whoever comes in after is merely a stand-in for a studio plan, further distancing the creators from the projects, giving their future films less personality.
4. BOX OFFICE HIGHS, CRITICAL LOWS
While critical receptions of film are important to the industry, what ends up being more important are the box office sales. The DCEU as a whole has made over $2B worldwide thus far. Thus, in terms of profits, the DCEU has been wildly successful for WB, but therein lies the problem.
While high box-office sales are good, these numbers are a bright fire, one that will only burn for so long. Bad reviews have yet to stop franchises like the Transformers films, but other film franchises haven’t been so lucky. Franchises like Die Hard, the original RoboCop and The Terminator have met their box office demise at the hands of low quality storytelling. If the DCEU continues to ride their box office success, fans are going to learn that the quality of DC films are not going to change, and they’ll eventually lose interest and stop buying tickets.
3. IT SHOULD COPY THE MCU FORMAT
Perhaps arguing this notion is a bit moot at this point, but it’s still an idea worth exploring. As we mentioned before, once the MCU started to see success, various other film studios began to look at what properties they owned that they could turn into a shared universe franchise. DC wasn’t even the first copycat to adopt this format, and more are announced each month.
Under this notion, there’s no real shame in copying the MCU, but if WB and DC are going to copy the MCU, then they should really copy it. The MCU started with Iron Man, a relatively non-popular character who had never had a film. This start to a shared universe was a low-risk that ended up paying off. If the DCEU wanted to start out right, they would have done the same, maybe by using a less-popular DC character like Captain Atom or Hawkman.
2. DOESN’T TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PROPERTY RIGHTS
When Marvel Comics was on the verge of bankruptcy, they began selling the film rights to some of their characters. While this lead to great films like X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, when it came time for the MCU plans, property disputes became an issue. DC, however, has been a subsidiary of Warner Brothers Entertainment since the ’60s, providing them with a huge advantage over Marvel.
Where the MCU sometimes suffers from boring and obscure villains because of their prior rights deals, DC is free to use whoever they want. So when it comes to the upcoming Justice League film, who do they decide on for the villain? Steppenwolf, which has the average movie-goer (and even comics reader) shouting, “Who the hell is Steppenwolf?!” They have access to the entire Legion of Doom and they choose Steppenwolf? That’s not exactly going to pull in fans if they don’t know the villain of the movie.
1. IT’S ALL HINGING ON JUSTICE LEAGUE
Justice League is set to premier in November this year, and to put it bluntly, it needs to do well in order for the DCEU to move forward. We’re not just talking about box office sales; the film needs to be cohesive, exciting and well-done.
The reason being that Justice League is introducing two new characters — as well as furthering Batman’s film presence — who have yet to have solo films. In other words, if people aren’t satisfied with how Batman, The Flash and Cyborg are depicted — or just unhappy with the film in general — they’re not gonna be driven to see their solo films. It ties back to the low-risk method that the MCU took: they built up to the big team movie slowly and carefully. DC is going all in with their big-players, and if they lose, then they lose it all.
Can the DCEU be saved? Does it even need saving? Let us know what your thoughts on the matter are in the comments!
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