DC films have spent a long time playing catch-up to Marvel, and it's finally doing so by not copying the MCU. The DCEU started with Man of Steel back in 2013, but that and subsequent DC movies failed to capture the same critical and commercial success as its old comic book rival.
While DC had reigned supreme with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, they struggled to follow that up, while the MCU went from strength-to-strength, with The Avengers in 2012 proving to be a huge hit with fans and critics alike. This continued success led to Warner Bros. and DC putting their own shared universe in place on the back of Man of Steel, introducing Batman into the sequel, which became Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and rushing towards Justice League in order to compete with Marvel.
Although that move ultimately backfired, DC has turned things around following a number of changes at the top in terms of personnel and overall vision. After the likes of Aquaman and Shazam! proved to be winners, their future slate proves they're finally catching up to Marvel by doing their own thing.
The DCEU Failed At Being The MCU
After the release of Man of Steel back in 2013, plans were put in place to fast-track a sequel into development, and beyond that to create an entire shared movie universe. In 2014, DC unveiled an ambitious 10-movie release slate stretching from 2016-2020, just two-weeks before Kevin Feige would reveal the MCU's Phase 3 plans. The mission statement was clear, with the DCEU wanting to rival the MCU, with a focus not just on connectivity between the characters, but also ensuring the stories were driven by the filmmakers behind them.
However, while the MCU's films were performing well, whether based on established characters like Captain America or risks such as Guardians of the Galaxy, things didn't quite work out for DC. Batman v Superman was met with disapproval from critics and, considering it featured two of the biggest superheroes of all time, underperformed at the box-office. By the time Justice League was released in 2017, the DCEU was mostly known for its misfires, with Wonder Woman both the lone exception and the one set to shape the future going forward.
The plans that had once been the foundation of the DCEU were gone: The Flash movie has been repeatedly delayed, while the futures of Cyborg and Green Lantern Corps look even more uncertain. Ben Affleck has departed the role of Batman, a proper sequel to Man of Steel is on hold, and Snyder, once the architect of all this, is nowhere to be seen. The DCEU couldn't beat the MCU at its own game, in part because it tried to force a shared universe without doing the necessary groundwork, but the changes made in the last couple of years are promising.
DC Is Better Focusing On Standalone Movies
After the disappointing performances of Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and Justice League, all of which had plenty of interconnectivity, the DCEU has focused on standalone movies. Films like Aquaman would still exist in the same universe as before, but there was less pressure on them to fit in or set up a movie that wasn't directly related. The same goes for Shazam!, which occupied a more meta space in the world, but again was able to exist on its own.
Both films were more warmly received: Aquaman became the first DCEU film to pass the $1 billion mark at the box-office, and Shazam! was one of the most positively reviewed by critics. Like Wonder Woman, there was a greater emphasis on heart and humor, while also being unafraid to get weird too. They haven't been overly bound by needing to fit in any one style or tone, and as such have been able to flourish and really be individual efforts.
With no need to be setting up, say, Justice League 2, then Aquaman and Shazam! can truly fit with the visions of their respective filmmakers: James Wan's fingerprints are all over Aquaman, and Daniel F. Sandberg was able to litter Shazam! with some little touches of horror alongside the humor. They each simply feel like their own thing, rather than being molded to fit something else, and these DC movies shine brighter because of it.
DC's Upcoming Movies Are As Exciting As Marvel's
Marvel recently announced the MCU's Phase 4 slate, which will begin with Black Widow in May 2020, and be followed that same year by The Eternals, before 2021 brings with it Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Doctor Strange 2, and Thor 4. All are enticing prospects to various degrees, with the latter two in particular real showstopper announcements, but it's also a sign that the MCU is adjusting to a new future post-Avengers: Endgame, and that DC is really catching up.
The upcoming DC movie slate is incredibly exciting. This year's Joker, which stands completely apart from other DC movies, looks like it could be the best comic book movie of 2019; with Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role and a tone that makes it seem like a mashup of some of Martin Scorsese's very best films, there's a lot of potential there. That goes for the rest of what DC has to offer: Birds of Prey looks like a lot of fun; Wonder Woman 1984 is a hugely anticipated sequel; The Batman is a thrilling new take on the Dark Knight, with a great director and exciting actor; and The Suicide Squad can finally deliver on its promise, not least because it has James Gunn writing and directing, making Marvel's loss into DC's gain.
All of those movies could be great. Each is packed with talent behind and in front of the camera, and are set to do something different to what we've seen before, whether's that's a fresh take on a character who has been on the big screen multiple times, or introducing a new kind of heroic team, and stands apart from what the MCU is doing. Is DC's slate more exciting than Marvel's Phase 4? Your mileage may vary on that one, especially as the MCU is itself taking some fresh risks with more unknown properties like Eternals and Shang-Chi. But based on how great Joker looks, the fact Birds of Prey should be an absolute blast, and how good Wonder Woman was (and thus its sequel should be too, along with the fun of the 1980s setting), and Robert Pattinson being superb Batman casting, then at the very least it's on a par with what Marvel is offering, and arguably even better in the short-term, which proves just how much ground DC has made up on its old rival.
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
- The Suicide Squad (2021) release date: Aug 06, 2021
- The Batman (2021) release date: Jun 25, 2021
- Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020