While Marvel Studios continues its head-spinning box office ascension, with this year's Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War both shattering records, the DC Extended Universe just can't seem to gain anything close to the same level of success. From an ever-changing movie slate, to uncertainty around core actors like Ben Affleck as Batman, to various Elseworld stories and constant chatter about spinoffs arising almost every day, it's an understatement to say the DCEU has spent its entire existence in a perennial state of flux.
Arguably, the biggest flaw in the DCEU's game plan so far has been the all-consuming desire to make ensemble films, an approach that, simply, hasn't paid dividends. This was compounded by the dismal critical and financial reaction to Justice League -- the DCEU's lowest-grossing movie ever -- leaving many fans assuming course correction would soon be put into place to streamline and focus the studio's superhero narrative once again.
Sadly, given how things are apparently progressing with the Birds of Prey movie, it doesn't appear any lesson has been learned. In fact, it seems that Warner Bros. is indeed destined to repeat mistakes of the past.
The DCEU should be building towards group films, not just throwing them out to audiences again and again. This ought to be the case now more than ever, especially in the wake of Infinity War where the Marvel Cinematic Universe showed how a team-up should be done: Through patient storytelling and proper character development. These are important components Justice League lacked, and why it ultimately failed.
Throughout Warner Bros.' history, emotional connections between characters and the audience have been rushed and forced. In Justice League, fans simply weren't as invested in Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) or Cyborg (Ray Fisher) as much as they needed to be. Recruiting crimefighters in quickfire fashion -- something Birds of Prey has embedded in its DNA as a group of street vigilantes who come together to clean up ground-level crime -- made the Leaguers feel more like hired guns than superheroes.
As it stands, characters are being chosen at a breakneck pace for Birds of Prey. Founding member Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn are tapped as the leads, then there's another founding member in Black Canary (Dinah Lance), as well as a next teammate from the comics, Huntress (Helena Helena Bertinelli) being mentioned. And then there are two villains, Catwoman and Penguin, linked to the action.
This packed-cast approach hasn't been a strength for Warner Bros., with every ensemble film thus far coming off way too convoluted. 2015's Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice started this trend by cramming Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Lex Luthor and Doomsday in a storyline which lacked a lot of character development and didn't result in emotional connections. Hence the reason no one cried when Henry Cavill's Superman died, as opposed to the Infinity War ending which left audiences in tears. Suicide Squad suffered similar problems a year later, with a cast that, apart from Will Smith's Deadshot and Robbie's Harley, didn't feel fleshed out, and were stuck in a gimmicky, haphazard plot.
When it comes toe Birds of Prey, the studio appears to be assuming audiences latch onto Batgirl and Co. in a story which will most likely be fast-paced and rollicking, taking very few stops to let the leads sink in i.e. issues which harmed Justice League. Why not focus on the Batgirl standalone and then move into the ensemble movie? Or develop Black Canary in her pocket of the DCEU with Green Arrow first? Trying to cover multiple heroes' backstories in a team-up could also lead to a lack of development with the villain, a problem witnessed with Steppenwolf and the forces of Apokolips. Their motivation was lacking, and they didn't come off as intimidating at all. In fact, they felt quite generic.