Fans eagerly anticipating Ben Affleck’s portrayal of the Dark Knight in a solo film got some potentially bad news this week when the star announced he would no longer be directing what's tentatively titled "The Batman."
Affleck's stepping down is, of course, not a death knell for the feature, as he and Warner Bros. reached a mutual decision regarding his helming the film. "I have decided to find a partner in a director who will collaborate with me on this massive film," Affleck said of the situation. "I am still in this, and we are making it, but we are currently looking for a director. I remain extremely committed to this project, and look forward to bringing this to life for fans around the world."
Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment are building their own cinematic universe (nicknamed the DC Extended Universe, or DCEU) starting with 2013’s "Man of Steel," with the goal of competing with Marvel Studios' highly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. But while the DCEU has a roster of heroes and villains that can rival Marvel’s, it hasn’t yet succeeded in captivating audiences in the same manner as its competition.
While Affleck will still produce and star in “The Batman,” this director change is the latest in a string of upheaval for Warner Bros. From rumors of scripts being frequently rewritten, to multiple directors leaving franchises, the DCEU could use a check in the "win" column in a major way. That said, we took a look at the tumultuous events that have transpired over the last several years, and offer our thoughts on what they may mean for Warner Bros’ overall larger picture which, despite the turmoil, remains bright.
Two Directors Exit The Flash
“The Batman” isn’t the only Warner Bros. film to see a director bow out; the standalone “Flash” movie, slated for a 2018 release, has had seen two directors -- Seth Grahame-Smith and Rick Famuyiwa -- step down over “creative differences” with the studio. To lose one director may not be a big deal, but to have two exit due to the same or similar reason makes you wonder what is going on behind-the-scenes.
Are the directors not given enough creative freedom to make their vision of the film? Or are they being told one thing, only to see circumstances change once they’re brought on board? It’s hard to say from the outside looking in, but it puts “The Flash” behind the eight ball when trying to win over fan perception. Plus, all of these changes have seemingly pushed "The Flash" from its presumed March 16, 2018 release date, with Warner Bros. "Tomb Raider" reboot now in that slot.
Zack Snyder’s Vision Of The DCEU
“Man of Steel,” directed by Zack Snyder, was Warner Bros. attempt to step back into the superhero world after the lackluster performance of “Green Lantern." The Superman origin story performed well enough at the box office, but many fans weren’t pleased with its darker connotations, most notably Superman snapping the neck of his arch rival, General Zod. Even so, Warner Bros. tapped Snyder to direct its follow-up, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and oversee the entire DCEU.
To say that “BvS” was divisive among fans and critics would be an understatement. To the dismay of many, Snyder’s dark and gloomy world remained intact, the top item on a laundry list of complaints ranging from an overall lack of hope and optimism to the removal of lighthearted moments to balance out the dreariness. It appears Warner Bros. is listening to feedback and trying to course-correct with "Justice League," as well as changes to its executive board.
Constant Changes to WB/DC Hierarchy of Execs
Speaking of which, the shuffling of executives at the studio have resulted in Snyder’s influence diminishing and the promotion of DC Comics Chief Creative Officer and veteran comics writer Geoff Johns to President of DC Entertainment. This has been considered a move in the right direction for the DC Film slate by a number of fans, as Johns has been involved in the highly successful string of DC TV shows and is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to DC Comics' continuity and history. If he has the final say on scripts and vision, then the sky’s the limit for the future of the DCEU. Johns’ presence will be felt later this year, when “Wonder Woman” hits theaters.
Here Comes Wonder Woman and The Justice League
Though “Wonder Woman” arrives in March, before "Justice League" debuts in November, Warner Bros. has bent over backward to provide positive nuggets of information for its first superhero ensemble. It brought journalists on site to witness filming and conduct interviews, along with releasing a behind-the-scenes video to excite fans, building up anticipation for an important piece of the DCEU puzzle.
With "Wonder Woman," DC will actually beat Marvel at bringing a female hero to the big screen in a solo film. That said, it hasn't been an easy road to getting there, with a letter from an alleged insider describing the film as “a mess,”. It also saw original director Michelle MacLaren step down citing “creative differences.” “Wonder Woman” ultimately found its director in Patty Jenkins, but as with all DC Films, "Wonder Woman" has seen its fair share of tumult.
Suicide Squad Post-Production Changes
The first teaser trailer for “Suicide Squad” looked to insert a fun, edgy tone that ran counter to “BvS.” However, the actual film was more like “BvS” than we initially realized. There was a report that “Suicide Squad’s” production drama was a direct reaction to “Batman v Superman,” with Warner Bros. execs scrambling to make cuts before the villain-led feature landed in theaters, even bringing in the company that cut the teaser trailer to make alterations.
Perhaps the biggest complaint audiences had about “Suicide Squad” is the handling of The Joker. The trailers made it seem as though the Clown Prince of Crime would be center to the film’s plot, but it turned out he was only a supporting character, with a number of scenes left on the cutting room floor. With The Joker being arguably the most popular bad guy in the DC Universe, we'd hope that Warner Bros. has a larger role for him moving forward as the DCEU continues to expand.
Despite Its Stumbles, There Is Still Hope For The DCEU
Of course, even with Affleck no longer directing “The Batman,” all hope is not lost for the DCEU. Streamlining the people in charge the DC Films is a good thing, allowing a core vision for the universe to be realized, creating a blueprint for future films to follow. Affleck and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman were the highlights of “Batman v Superman,” and if their solo films and the upcoming ensemble can harness that positive energy despite the behind-the-scenes rumblings, they should prove to be solid hits. The key will be for “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League” to encourage favorable word of mouth once they are released.
“The Batman” currently stars Ben Affleck, Jeremy Irons, J.K. Simmons, Joe Manganiello, and has no release date.