It's strange to think how quickly Hollywood studios have invested, re-invested, and in some cases bet their entire production slates on 'shared movie universes": multiple films with differing heroes, all taking place in, and affecting, the same fictional universes. In fact, most have done so before the larger fan community can get a handle on what such a structure makes impossible - it seems like a dream come true for now, but more and more are asking if there's a price for such success.
Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment, for one, have taken exception to the shared universe model made bankable by Marvel's Avengers universe, and soon copied by nearly every other major studio since. Sure, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will be kicking off DC's own movie universe, but already, the emphasis seems to be on giving individual heroes and directors freedom to tell a story first, before weaving it into continuity of movies around it. What's more, a growing horde of DC Comics TV shows bear no connection to their movie counterparts whatsoever. But according to Justice League director Zack Snyder, he wouldn't have it any other way.
Considering how easy it is to get lost in this wave of insider terms and comic book lingo, it's worth remembering that the difference in thinking isn't all that complicated. With a 'shared universe' model, the studio - often with the assistance of a creative lead - creates a roadmap of multiple properties, deciding ahead of time how they contribute to the studio's long term franchise narrative. At which point, the studio brings in writers and directors to make that vision a reality. Fox has done it with X-Men, Deadpool, Gambit, a potential X-Force movie and, until its release turned into a disaster, the Fantastic Four. Marvel went one step further, creating multiple TV shows to fill in the gaps of the cinematic universe, helping characters and larger storylines get from point A (one movie) to point B (another movie).
The studio-driven model has paid dividends for most, but fans and critics are quick to point out why building a movie universe so interconnected can become a real problem on a film-by-film basis. Whether recognizing the risks or simply choosing to do things differently, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. have taken a different approach: Zack Snyder set the tone for the universe with Man of Steel, to be continued in Batman V Superman and then Justice League, but a consistent style or plan beyond that seems to be missing. Indeed, the blend of attitudes, talent and solo movies is the main reason critics feel DC is lagging behind its competition.
Once doubt or skepticism took hold, there seemed no better proof of DC's scattered plan than the confirmation that its movie projects and TV universe would be separated (for now). Even when the lead creatives claimed it was in keeping with DC's reliance on a "Multiverse" - stories set alongside one another, on countless worlds where anything was possible - detractors saw it as a cover for movie/TV studio rifts. TV crossovers might soften that stance, but at this point, even Snyder is explaining why he feels DC's strategy is good for the fans.
In speaking with the Hall of Justice podcast, Snyder was asked for his thoughts on DC's TV slate. While he keeps quiet on his favorites, it's their mere existence that has him excited:
"The bottom line for me is: I have 100% respect and love what they're doing on TV. I think it's amazing... and it speaks to the iconographic nature of these characters - these characters are bigger than any of the actors that are playing them. You know, long after I'm done making a Batman/Superman movie there'll be someone else who makes it. You know, who makes another one. It's almost like an American tradition now, we've established that these characters will be played and played again, and they exist outside of us in this moment.
"So that's the thing that I've embraced, and as opposed to just trying to shoehorn all these story lines into a single universe, we let the characters exist in multi-universe, and therefore it's a lot more fun and it's a lot more value for the audience. They get to see their favorite and most beloved characters on different adventures at the same time, in different universes. And it really makes the meal a lot richer and a lot more fun. And I think that's really the joy of what we're trying to do over here at DC."
Snyder's position isn't that hard to grasp: for every connected, singular universe, there are sure to be some fans who delight in the idea that "it's all connected," and others who realize that their offbeat, adult, or risky favorites will probably not exist in such a unified universe.
Already, there are those who fear that Marvel's Netflix shows are farther from the films than fans would hope, while others wish that the tumultuous Spider-Man was given a similar Hell's Kitchen makeover (no longer likely).
What we do know is that Marvel has proven the most successful at building a TV and movie universe, and has done so by telling one large story, and tailoring each of their properties to meet the mold of 'a Marvel movie.' Snyder doesn't actually single Marvel out, and doesn't need to, since nearly every other studio is following their lead. In fairness, nothing said by Snyder is going to shock anyone already mired in this discussion, either. But it's interesting to see that even among the executives shaping one side of DC's Multiverse - or even just one corner of one side - the differing opinions over which model is best are continuing to take shape.
Of course, as a comic book fan, Snyder isn't too focused on creating, evolving, or avoiding a single universe to overlook just what a good time it is to be a fan of comic book superheroes:
"I got to say, the joy for me is... I know it sounds goofy, but I'm like a kid in a candy store with this incredible opportunity. And it's really fun, and I think everyone involved on this end is really having a good time, and it couldn't be any better."
What do you think of his stance? Do you wish there were multiple movies and TV shows starring your beloved heroes, letting you choose your favorites? Or do you prefer to see them as part of something bigger, even if it means less time and fewer versions of them to enjoy? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will hit theaters on March 25th, 2016, followed by Suicide Squad on August 5th, 2016, Wonder Woman on June 23rd, 2017, Justice League on November 17th, 2017, The Flash on March 23rd, 2018, Aquaman on July 27th, 2018, Shazam on April 5th, 2019, Justice League 2 on June 14th, 2019, Cyborg on April 3rd, 2020, and Green Lantern Corps on June 19th, 2020.
Source: Hall of Justice