We’ve already touched upon the subject of how the third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may disappoint fans, and it only seems natural to extend this devil’s advocate thought experiment over to Warner Bros. (the parent company of DC Comics). Though fan reception to the recent trailer for Suicide Squad has been pretty strong, that stands in contrast to the latest trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which seemed to give skeptics and fans alike a good reason to be worried.
This argument is simultaneously easier and more difficult to make for the burgeoning DC Extended Universe, thanks to the very same reason: the shared universe doesn’t technically begin until this March’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, significantly limiting our body of evidence while also making its analysis all the more thorough. Still, Batman v Superman does make our job easy in that, to an extent unseen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film serves as a microcosm of all the various properties and, more than likely, genres that will play out on movie screens over the course of the next four or five years; with so many cameos and so much world-building going on throughout BvS, it does allow for a certain amount of certitude in our discussions.
Let’s jump right into it, then – here are our 10 Reasons the DC Extended Universe Might Disappoint Fans. (And don’t worry – we’ll explore the flip side, how the DCEU might provide the best comic book adaptations yet, next week.)
10 Living in Marvel’s shadow
History is replete with brands breaking through and toppling their predecessors in the public consciousness – in the realm of videogames, for example, Sony eventually replaced Nintendo, which displaced Atari, which toppled Magnavox – but it’s an extraordinarily difficult task to pull off. For better or worse, and whether fair or not, the DC Extended Universe will be living in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s shadow, with its every success and failure being measured not on its own merits, but by being compared to Marvel’s own track record.
There’s also the little matter of the novelty factor having well and truly worn off (and the corollary issue of there being a way more cluttered marketplace of comic book movies, which might be heading to a saturation point). One of The Avengers’s main selling points was its coming together of four different movie series; this “event” aspect of the film added to its otherwise fairly standard story and paved much of the way for its $1.5 billion box office haul. By the time The Avengers: Age of Ultron released just three years later, the hoopla was mostly dissipated, leaving a decidedly quieter release (though it still went on to claim $1.4 billion). With Justice League, Part I scheduled to hit theaters two-and-a-half years after this, Warner Bros. might be looking at an uphill battle to capture the public’s imagination.
9 It’s not an all-encompassing universe
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, at this particular point in time, not only encompasses 12 different movies, from Iron Man to Ant-Man, it also includes five short films and four television series (with at least another four on the way). This may, indeed, be daunting to a newcomer, but it also allows the creators more than enough time to introduce, explore, and then resolve a great number of plot points and character beats, ranging from the large to the small.
The DCEU, on the other hand, will be strictly limited to the big screen – and while, yes, there are a great many properties currently on the drawing board, from Wonder Woman to Justice League, all the myriad DC-branded television series will be left in the cold. This presents a potential difficulty on two fronts. First and foremost, audiences may be easily confused by which version of which character belongs to which continuity (or parallel timeline, as is so prevalent in the DC Comics Universe), a possibility which kept Batman off of Smallville for all 10 of its seasons.
And then, secondly, it prevents the very point of a shared universe from ever truly coming to fruition: the ability to develop (on the filmmakers’ side) and enjoy (on the fans’) a wide variety of content that all builds upon itself.
8 Losing the (character) thread
Marvel Studios has been very careful to keep only two or three years in between sequels of its various franchises, whether it be solo films like Captain America or team-ups such as The Avengers. Warner Bros., on the other hand, seems willing to go far longer; Man of Steel 2, for instance, may not arrive in theaters until 2020, which would place it seven years after the original installment.
While this may seem like a moot point on the surface – it’s not like these characters won’t be all over one another’s movies, as is also becoming more and more the case on the Marvel side of the cinematic equation – the amount of screen time a particular protagonist will be able to secure in a movie that isn’t his own is limited, which makes the amount of character development possible similarly constrained.
All of which isn’t to mention the number of storylines that audiences can be expected to hold in their heads simultaneously and across multiple years; should, say, Clark Kent’s arc not reach a definite level of resolution until literally the next decade, it may frustrate viewers and encourage them to locate to other, more manageable narratives.
7 No blank slates
There is a curse to founding an entire movie studio on such unknown characters – well, in the popular consciousness, at least – as Iron Man, Ant-Man, or the Inhumans, but there’s also a great boon, as well: with no prior knowledge of the properties in question, there are no preconceived notions to contend with and no previous incarnations to have to live up to, for better or worse.
DC, on the other hand, has some of the most instantly recognizable faces on the entire planet; both Superman and Batman have been gracing the big screen since the 1940s, and even properties like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern have had high-profile (if not necessarily long-lived) incarnations in the past. The huge, nearly ubiquitous backlash against Ben Affleck’s casting as the Dark Knight in Batman v Superman is testament to the already-forged passions of the fanbase, and director Zack Snyder’s efforts at getting the average movie-loving nerd to reconsider his or her impressions of Aquaman (Jason Momoa) stands witness to the sheer amount of luggage that these movies have to lug around.
6 A fragile sense of realism
A major component of director Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was its effort to make the character and world of Batman as grounded – and, therefore, as believable – as possible. Given that that series of films has provided the spiritual guidance to Zack Snyder and the rest of the DCEU brain trust, and given to what lengths Warners went to make Man of Steel as similarly dark and realistic as The Dark Knight was, one can only assume this will be a driving influence on all the rest of the film roster, as well.
The only problem here is just how fantastical the cast of characters immediately becomes. In Batman v. Superman, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is an Amazonian goddess; in Suicide Squad, the next installment, The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) is, well, a sorceress. Whereas Marvel Studios slowly worked its way from the very-human Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) to the likes of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Thanos (Josh Brolin), and Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) across multiple years and movies both, audiences may not have a lot of time to adjust from the world-shattering ramifications of a flying alien to supervillains who are possessed and can summon flames at will.
5 Front-loaded world-building
Man of Steel may have been a rather specific origin story for Superman (Henry Cavill), with just the barest hint of a larger, wider world out there (we’re looking at you, Wayne Enterprises satellite), but Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice looks to come kicking the door down, bringing along a great cavalcade of new faces: Batman, Wonder Woman, Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons), Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Doomsday, and practically every member of the Justice League.
Even considering that a number of these characters may very well only be getting a cameo instead of a full-fledged role, that’s still a lot of material for audiences to sort through, and to do so quickly. Just for the sake of comparison, the first two Iron Mans introduced only a small handful of individuals from the greater cinematic universe, and all of these were supporting players – Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). It wasn’t until The Avengers that any serious amount of cross-appearances was instituted, and even all throughout Phase 2, most of these were of the cameo variety.
Warners is clearly banking on the fact that a number of these characters are already so well entrenched in the public consciousness, but it still raises the specter of Iron Man 2, a film largely panned by fans and, even, the filmmakers themselves as being too focused on world-building as opposed to developing its core group of protagonists.
4 No origin stories
Looking just at BvS, viewers will be introduced to both a Batman and a Wonder Woman – and, very possibly, all the rest of the Justice League roster – that are not only pre-formed, but who have been at this superhero gig for well over a decade. That means that their origins, their formative years, and, even, their hardening into their current behaviors and practices – the common fodder for superhero films – will all be off the table right from day one.
Discounting the possibility of doing flashbacks (more on that in just a moment), viewers will find themselves having to incessantly play catch-up, which, for the non-uber-nerds in the audience, may work alongside the multiple versions of these characters across multiple mediums to help confuse and overwhelm them. And even for those more well acquainted with the source material, it still may present a narrative landscape in which a sense of discovery is sorely lacking in some, if not many, of these films.
3 Spinning off instead of teaming up
There is, obviously, a very clear strategy that Warner Bros. is employing by introducing giant swaths of already-defined characters at once: by containing all of these various individuals in one major cinematic event (which is, of course, the Man of Steel battling the Dark Knight), it raises audience’s awareness of them and makes it all the more likely to go off and watch their respective solo films, which are all slated to come out in the years after Batman v Superman. This is, after all, why Disney advised its newly-acquired Marvel Studios to do the same thing, to release The Avengers before the solo films that were Thor and Captain America.
The question is: will it work? Will viewers find it more creatively fulfilling to watch spinoff movies instead of watching an entire universe organically grow and assemble itself before their eyes? Will audiences’ first impressions of these characters be stronger by seeing them working together as a unit before seeing them branch off and become individual personalities or voices?
The question isn’t just academic – the very fate of untold future shared universes all across Hollywood hangs in the balance.
2 A nonlinear overarching story
After Diana Prince gets introduced as a battle-hardened warrior in Batman v Superman this spring, audiences will next jump backwards in time to see her origin story in next summer’s Wonder Woman. In this way, Warner Bros. is attempting to have its superhero cake and eat it, too – it can hit the ground running with a fully-formed superheroine, and then go back and capture that sense of discovery in seeing her become a figure of legend (both figuratively and literally).
Whether the other solo/spinoff movies, ranging from Aquaman to The Flash, will follow suit is anyone’s guess, but if so, it makes for a rather arbitrary sense of storytelling – the narrative will jump from one year (or decade) to the next willy-nilly, potentially undermining its momentum while also providing yet another way to possibly confuse (and therefore alienate) moviegoers. (And, on the other hand, if the other follow-up solo stories don’t jump backward in time, as the next Batman is rumored not to, then audiences may feel cheated at not getting to see the origins of their favorite characters.) Keeping track of the DC Extended Universe’s huge cast of characters and their various character arcs may very well become a full-time job right from day one, providing no shortage of headaches in theaters no matter how smart of a business move it may look on paper.
1 Too dark
From Batman Begins to Man of Steel – and on through Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and, perhaps most especially, Suicide Squad – we now have a solid decade of a particular tone and approach dominating most of Warner Bros.’s DC properties: unrelentingly gritty and bombastically somber. It doesn’t help that those few movies that didn’t hew to the tonally and visually dark style guide – namely, Superman Returns and Green Lantern – underperformed at the box office, reinforcing WB's belief that lighter fare isn’t the way to go.
There are several different dangers with this particular approach. Although it’s currently in vogue now, the pop cultural wheel will invariably turn again, potentially making the DC Extended Universe look dated or tone deaf. There is a certain homogenization of all the various IPs that comprise the shared universe – if even Superman is gritty, there’ll be no balance between the light and the dark. Comedy tends to make even the most unbelievable of concepts more palatable, as Marvel has happily discovered with the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy.
And, finally, those commercial hits tend to skew more heavily towards the humorous, which could potentially be capping the total amount of revenue that the DCEU is poised to bring in.
Disagree with our assessment? Think we missed some rather obvious difficulties facing both Warner Bros. and the DC Extended Universe? Be sure to share with the world in the comments below.