The road to success for the films of the DC Extended Universe has been bumpy and has occasionally detoured off into abject failure. While there are surely enough successes under their belt thanks to Wonder Woman, Shazam! and Aquaman, it's difficult to ignore the failures like Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad and Justice League. And now, with Joker on the horizon, it begs to question if DC might be best off cutting its losses and opting for a soft reboot.
The start of DC's cinematic universe was promising enough, with 2013's Man of Steel introducing audiences to Superman and the world of the DCEU. And while the film wasn't an overwhelming success either critically or financially, it wasn't offensive enough to polarize fans in either direction for or against it. Still, the subsequent films set within the universe were more than prepared for such polarization.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice tried to do the bulk of the work with worldbuilding, but bit off far more than it could chew. On top of trying to shoehorn in teasers for the following Justice League film, Batman v. Superman just did not meet the expectations it needed to and was critically panned. And 2016's Suicide Squad only exacerbated the DCEU's problems, and last-minute attempts at reshoots and changing the film's tone hurt it even worse rather than re-correcting the course.
Thankfully, DC and Warner Bros. appear to have learned somewhat from the DCEU's prior failure. As it stands, many of the problems from early DCEU films seem to have melted away. Since 2017's Wonder Woman, DC's cinematic universe has added two more notches to their belt of successes. Even more impressive? The studio looks to be willing to take risks going forward as seen with Birds of Prey and The Suicide Squad. There appears to be a new dawn for the world of the DCEU, and it's certainly not the Dawn of Justice they were hoping for.
Wonder Woman debuted the first major studio female-led superhero film while telling a heartfelt period piece, while Aquaman and Shazam! offered up lighthearted fun. In fact, the latter film fits more into the comedy genre than any DC film before it. After all, films like Batman v Superman and Justice League were notably full of broodiness -- something that (finally) appears to be a part of the past along with overly ambitious world-building. Yet, while the DCEU has taken positive steps forward, there's no denying its "past" is the franchise's main problem.
Ben Affleck will not be returning as Batman, and it seems unlikely that Henry Cavill will return as Superman (especially given Superman's faceless cameo in Shazam!). The key issue is that DC's two biggest heroes are not only, well, their biggest heroes, but the earlier films did so much to establish both characters as central to the goings-on of the world of superheroics. While Robert Pattinson is set to fill in the role of Batman in the upcoming adaptation of the comic Year One, a prequel sidesteps the issue of how to reinvent these characters so that future films can integrate them.
The possibility of a Flashpoint Paradox-style reboot was discussed at one point as part of DC's plans for its cinematic universe. However, it's currently unclear what form the (long-gestating) Flash film will finally take once it enters production. Still, either way, it seems clear that a reboot of the universe is necessary. The DCEU's three main successes did well in part because of their distance from the franchise's other heroes. The films allowed their main stars room to breath without bogging the plot down with setup. This gives DC the latitude to integrate those movies into future films while ignoring those of its past.
Such latitude may mean that an actual reboot-style story isn't necessary. A "soft" reboot could just involve recasting the roles of Batman and Superman and changing up their characterization and story without concern for explaining the discrepancy with earlier incarnations. Sure, some of the same diehard DCEU fans who still clamor after the controversial Snyder-cut of Justice League would rattle their sabers at such a move, but there's nothing to indicate that the casual theater-goer holds any kind of fidelity to continuity. It's unclear what the DCEU's next move will be at this point, but there could be some hard choices involving a soft reboot in their future.