The DCEU's Future Is Uncertain
The problem with the shared universe model is that it doesn't reward this kind of approach. If a risk doesn't pay off, it damages the whole project.
Obviously, there have been three high-risk moments for the MCU itself, for example. The first was 2008's Iron Man; if the film had bombed at the box office, it would have risked damaging the entire MCU. The second was 2012's The Avengers, which needed to satisfy four years' worth of setup. And the third is next year's Avengers: Infinity War, which has to deliver on a decade of world-building. The pressure on these specific movies is intense.
Related: Marvel Crushed DC on the Film Side
Right now, every single DCEU film is feeling that same kind of pressure. Thus far, that's led to Warner Bros. interfering with their directors' visions, forcing corporate restructures every time a movie fails to perform as hoped, and potentially building up to a universal reset. As part of the DCEU, The Batman risks continuing the trend, or at the very least getting caught in the aftermath. To remove a key hero is, of course, drastic, but in terms of bigger brand and movie quality, it may be the safest bet.
It's Time To Give Batman A Chance
Reeves needs the same kind of creative freedom DC Comics have given writers like Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Jeph Loeb. To create a Batman film unlike any we've seen before, its director needs to be freed from the pressure of operating within a shared universe, where every box office disappointment leads to another business reorganization, and where every creative decision has repercussions five films down the line. He also needs to be able to cast a Batman who suits his own vision, not one carefully chosen in order to suit an ongoing narrative that runs through countless films.
Ultimately, he needs the freedom of Logan director James Mangold. He dared to make a unique superhero movie, in part because he rejected the very idea of a superhero genre; Mangold essentially created a Western with superheroes in it. In exactly the same way, Warner Bros. has to allow Reeves the chance to move beyond the popcorn flicks. The best Batman stories have embraced a wide range of tones and styles, from Steampunk to detective noir, from psychological horror to grim dystopias. That's the kind of creative freedom Reeves needs to have - and, based on rumors around the time of his hiring, he got.
The great thing about this approach is that it doesn't actually involve giving up on the DCEU at all. If the new Batman proves to be a success, he can be carefully intertwined with the rest of the Justice League at a later date. After all, DC has done similar with the best standalone graphic novels; from The Killing Joke to Hush, the most beloved graphic novels have been gradually worked into the Batman canon. If the experiment doesn't pay off though, you just take a step back, wait a couple of years, and then relaunch Batman once again. Meanwhile, the DCEU continues without any further damage.
The shared universe model has weaknesses as well as strengths. So far, the sad reality is that the weaknesses have been very visible indeed when it comes to the DCEU. By changing tact and learning a lesson from rival studios, Warner Bros. can breathe life into The Batman once again.
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- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019