The comic fans may not agree on the success of DC’s Movie Universe, but one thing’s for sure: those in charge of it don’t seem anywhere near as panicked as the rumors would have fans thinking. And while some have gone so far as to suggest that Wonder Woman’s box office and critical success is BAD news for DC’s other properties, every report of scrambling or internal trouble seems to be quashed within hours (as soon as it was suggested that Wonder Woman would need a bigger role in Justice League, DC confirmed they were ahead of the curve).
Even when the critics, pundits, and bloggers agree that Wonder Woman shows what DC must become, Geoff Johns says the DCEU heroes don’t need to change. If you didn’t know any better, it might seem that DC’s failures in keeping pace with the competition weren’t being treated as ‘failures’ at all. Old assumptions are hard to change, which means the DCEU’s determination to not simply copy Marvel’s MCU formula remains widely seen as a mistake. But the truth is: the DCEU is following its own strategy for success.
And when viewed outside of the most hyperbolic review scores and nonstop news cycle, it’s clear that strategy is working better than most ever expected. And it should, since it’s the one that DC Comics has been following for half a century.
“Fans Won’t Care About Heroes They Don’t Know”
It was the basic idea upon which the building of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe: you can’t just throw superheroes into one big adventure and expect an audience to be interested. No, in order for the average moviegoer to truly embrace a team of superheroes, they must be introduced to them all, one by one, through solo origin stories explaining and outlining their powers, motivations, and personalities. When Marvel’s ‘Phase One’ was carried out in that fashion, and the payoff Avengers film proved a bigger hit than any film previous, it seemed a flawless equation – a theory soundly proven.
Although, one example isn’t enough to prove a law, theory, or rule – no matter how successful. Still, to introduce Batman without first establishing this new version on his own– and to also introduce Wonder Woman without so much as an origin story?! That, many decided, was naked greed on WB’s part. A desperate scramble to catch up to the competition.
Greed and doomed foolishness, to be more exact. In the end the rumors of a Justice League follow-up to Man of Steel weren’t exactly right, instead bringing DC’s ‘Trinity’ to life in Batman V Superman with only surveillance video teases of The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. Which made it all the more shocking when DC’s formula – their ‘shortcut’ to an ensemble story – worked. While critics apprehensive of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel ambitions let his sequel have it (some escalating to torch-wielding-mob territory), the mass audience responses averaged out to the middle of the road. Yet the people turned out to see it for themselves, pushing the global box office to $873 million.
What’s more important, though, is that the success and follow-up Wonder Woman movie released this year seems to have finally shown the strategy being pursued by Warner Bros. and DC Films all along. Unsurprisingly, it’s a strategy set up by the comic books decades earlier.
DC’s Mission Was Misunderstood
None of this is to suggest that DC’s way was “better,” or even that Marvel could have pursued a more accelerated path towards the kind of ensemble, cross-pollinated movies that now comprise the Captain America, Avengers, Thor, and even Spider-Man brands. But in hindsight, those resolving Marvel’s way into the only way failed to properly give credit to the problem Marvel’s approach solved: the mass audiences needed to know why Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and Black Widow were major league, marquee superheroes. In contrast to that challenge, DC Films was counting on the fact that with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman… mass audiences already did.
The numbers proved that assumption to be correct, while clearly lacking the marketing hype and momentum of “The MCU.” But the challenge tackled by Batman V Superman wasn’t just to defy the odds (read: Marvel’s path to success), but solve the same problem as Marvel… in reverse. Because as much as audiences can be relied upon to turn out for a movie starring Batman and Superman, selling them on the rest of the Justice League was a make-or-break proposition.
We actually outlined this potential motivation behind DC and WB’s decision long before the Man of Steel sequel was revealed, with a team-up of a half a dozen DC heroes seen as the most likely plan. That all changed… but the reasons we gave back in 2012 of how Justice League could fast-track DC’s movie universe have proven to be surprisingly accurate.
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