Is it too soon to write off the DCEU? While the partnership between WB and DC Comics has had some success on television and financial success with their movies, critical and fan reaction has been less than stellar. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was widely panned by critics, despite eventually topping $800 million at the global box office, and the follow up Suicide Squad hasn’t fared much better. Though the latter was slightly better received, it still only made $700 million at the box office, distantly trailing their rivals at the MCU and leaving both critics and fans with sour tastes in their mouths.
Perhaps writing off the cinematic universe would be a bit extreme. While none of the three movies released in the shared universe so far have exactly wowed audiences, with many fans taking issue with the dour tone portrayed by the films, it’s also difficult to deny that the good has been, well, pretty good. Despite all expectations, Ben Affleck’s (The Accountant) Batman was one of the best parts of Dawn of Justice, and despite rumors of onset strife, next year’s Wonder Woman looks like it might finally bring some light to the otherwise dark universe. Things can’t really go anywhere but up for the cinematic universe, and there’s plenty of room for it to grow as it moves on. Now, WB itself comments on the growing universe.
While that seems to put it lightly, it does represent the culmination of a growing trend of the studio admitting that perhaps not all is well in the DCEU. Earlier this summer, DC creative director Geoff Johns was given a larger role in the overall direction of the movies, a move many took as a backlash against director Zack Snyder’s dark vision of the universe. Bewkes himself addressed this issue at the conference, in an attempt to ease concerns over the future of the movies.
“The DC Comics characters…have a little more lightness in them than maybe what you saw in those movies, so we’re thinking about that.”
It’s a positive sign, to be sure, but is it enough? WB needs to work hard to win over fans who’ve balked at the direction of the films released so far, and lightening the tone would go a long way towards that. However, that’s not the only thing that’s been hindering the acceptance of these movies, and that’s something WB needs to consider as well.
Much of the critical scorn of Batman v Superman stemmed less from tone (though certainly that was an issue too) and more from the fact that the theatrical version of the film was criticized for being uneven. The way the film was edited was said to be confusing, and much of the exposition was left on the cutting room floor, leaving critics and audiences confused about what was actually going on. The release of the Ultimate Edition director’s cut solved many of the problems most critics had, and caused many to wonder why that version wasn’t released in theaters.
Reports of massive cuts and narrative changes to Suicide Squad have plagued that film since its release, causing much speculation about a director’s cut being planned for the home video release. Perhaps, then, it’s time to accept that part of the problem may be WB’s constant hand-wringing and interference with the movies. More than anything, WB may need to let those in charge of the films - and the universe as a whole - have more control rather than less.
It may help WB to take a cue from the Disney/Marvel relationship. Disney seemingly allows Marvel Studios, under the guidance of Kevin Feig, do their thing and the result has been a series of billion dollar wins. If the DCEU is going to take off theatrically, perhaps WB should look to Marvel and imitate their success, at least behind the scenes. Installing Johns was a good first step, and the admission that the films have been less than stellar is nice to hear. But Bewkes and WB will have the chance to prove that they're improving the DCEU with their upcoming films, Wonder Woman and Justice League.
Suicide Squad is now playing in theaters. Wonder Woman opens in theaters on June 2, 2017, followed by Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash, The Batman solo movie, Dark Universe and Man of Steel 2 are currently without a release dates.