Warner Bros. Pictures now has the advantage of being able to learn from the mistakes made and/or missteps that Marvel Studios has taken on the road to building its Cinematic Universe, as WB begins to expand its own DC superhero film universe. Of course, the flip side of that coin is that now WB now has to compete with Marvel at a time when the latter company is (arguably) going stronger than ever – in terms of its overall commercial and critical success, alike.
The other item of concern for the DC Cinematic Universe is that WB’s approach to universe-building is clearly different than Marvel Studios’, as evidenced by the fact that the first installment – Zack Snyder’s Superman franchise reboot Man of Steel – is being followed by a superhero cross-over event (Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice), a super villain ensemble adventure (Suicide Squad), another solo character film (Wonder Woman), and then the DC’s own Avengers-style team up event, Justice League. And in this case, “different” doesn’t necessarily mean better or worse – just different.
James Wan (The Conjuring, Furious 7) has only just closed a deal to direct the Aquaman solo movie (starring Jason Momoa) for WB/DC, which means Wan has now officially joined the ranks of directors working on DC feature films – a list that currently includes Zack Snyder, David Ayer (Fury), and Patty Jenkins (Monster), and which may eventually add Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street, The LEGO Movie) if they decide to direct the The Flash movie they’re helping to write the screen story for. It’s quite a collection of accomplished cinematic storytellers that WB/DC has assembled.
WB Film Chief Greg Silverman boasted about just that, when asked in an interview with THR how his studio aims to differentiate the DCCU from the MCU:
We have a great strategy for the DC films, which is to take these beloved characters and put them in the hands of master filmmakers and make sure they all coordinate with each other. You’ll see the difference when you see Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, Justice League and all the things that we are working on.
Thus far, we have seen evidence that the upcoming DC feature films are being designed to fit together and form a complete puzzle (so to speak) – see SPOILERY Suicide Squad set photos/videos that reveal a direct connection to Batman V Superman, for example. However, the methodology behind this inter-connected storytelling is, as mentioned before, not the same as we’ve seen applied in the MCU in the past – and with the DCCU, there doesn’t seem to be one single individual in charge of making sure all the installments are well-coordinated with one another (a la Marvel’s Kevin Feige). Whether that, in the end, will prove to be beneficial or detrimental to DC’s world-building – it’s certainly up for debate right now.
The other big popular discussion topic concerning the DCCU is perhaps its tone – or, rather, as Warner Bros. Entertainment Kevin Tsujihara has claimed, if the DCCU’s most roster is indeed edgier than the MCU on the whole (and if that’s a good thing). Silverman, during his interview with THR, played down the idea that the DC film slate is all Christopher Nolan-style heavy drama (a la Man of Steel).
There is intensity and a seriousness of purpose to some of these characters. The filmmakers who are tackling these properties are making great movies about superheroes; they aren’t making superhero movies. And when you are trying to make a good movie, you tackle interesting philosophies and character development. There’s also humor, which is an important part.
One of the hopes for the DCCU is that individual filmmakers will bring their own sensibilities and voices to the table too. So, for example, Batman V Superman might strike a serious-but-fun tone more in line with Snyder films like 300, whereas Suicide Squad will have tonal qualities in common with Ayer’s best street crime movies (like his Fast and the Furious screenplay) – and likewise, Wan’s Aquaman will have a different superhero blockbuster vibe than either of those other two movies. That’s to mention nothing of The Flash possibly being all the more playful (thanks to Lord and Miller), while Jenkins brings more soulful drama to the Wonder Woman solo feature.
Basically, the hope is that each project has the right voice behind it – something that also accounts for why WB tested multiple screenwriters before settling on a scribe for Wonder Woman, as Silverman told THR. That’s not to say the DC approach (focus on making great movies that just happen to include DC superheroes) is inherently better or worse than Marvel’s #Itsallconnected method – just different. And frankly, “different” is something everyone will continue to crave, as more and more superhero films flood the market.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters on March 25th, 2016; Suicide Squad on August 5th, 2016; Wonder Woman – June 23rd, 2017; Justice League – November 17th, 2017; The Flash – March 23rd, 2018; Aquaman – July 27th, 2018; Shazam – April 5th, 2019; Justice League 2 – June 14th, 2019; Cyborg – April 3rd, 2020; Green Lantern – June 19th, 2020.