What The Hell Is DC Doing?
Even making all the details on the last page clear doesn't really explain too much about DC's plan, at least not immediately.
Their expansion initially felt like a direct, accelerated aping of what Marvel's done with the MCU; a mixture of origin-explaining solo movies and big team ups. It did bring in more clearly separate properties like Suicide Squad, but otherwise, that initial 2014 slate - when the initial game plan became truly clear - felt like a rather simple reordering of the early Marvel schedule whose most novel idea was having some origin stories after the team-up.
So much has changed since that original announcement - not least the optimism for the series - although now there may be a re-emerging sense of order, at least up to the end of the decade. At SDCC, eight movies were confirmed that, in addition to the two already in production, provided an interesting roadmap. There's five following the core Justice League (with the later two - Flashpoint and Green Lantern Corps. - taking definite genre turns) a lighter entry in the form of Shazam!, a gritty contrast with Justice League Dark, and something sort of in the middle with Suicide Squad 2, which has some overlap with Gotham and thus Batgirl (as well as the already-included The Batman).
So what we seem to be witnessing is a massive franchise diversifying. At the DCEU's core are the heroes that were always going to build it, but the in-development movies suggest Warners are just as invested in exploring alternative sides - especially if they're villainous. Further, all the talk of standalones within the shared universe - especially in regards to The Batman - makes it look like they're moving from a constantly rolling wheel of story and instead trying to simply build good solo films. Why else do a completely separate Joker movie as part of a new banner? It's an attempt to offer more than the rather singular appeal thus far.
This may seem to go against the shared universe model as previously accepted - it's removing the ongoing story element as a clear, repeating focus - although that may be smart. Many of the other Marvel imitators are working on a smaller scale - The Conjuring and MonsterVerse narratives are nowhere near as sprawling as the MCU - and those that have aimed large - the divisive DCEU and Dark Universe - have struggled to garner as strong interest. It's becoming clear that to really have long-term success requires building a brand name. Indeed, while Marvel is all connected, outside of die-hard fans the real appeal is that stamp of quality the logo suggests; nobody went to Guardians of the Galaxy just for its Thanos scene, and it sounds like after Avengers 4 they're going to do a soft restart.
DC's approach feels like that in a ground-up way, purposely going in several directions. That's probably why they've tried to lock in on Christmas releases - it builds subconscious loyalty. Of course, it would also be ill-advised to not mention the franchise's mixed reception thus far, with Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad in particularly gaining scathing reviews; splintering off means those who like the films can get more, but the many who don't won't simply give up.
Much of what we're hearing about these upcoming films would seem to attest to that, chief among it the idea of them being "director-led". This has been thrown around from the very early days, seemingly as a way to distinguish from the clearly producer-dominated MCU, but was undermined by repeated cases of re-edits and studio meddling. Now, though, there's a ring of truth to it; Patty Jenkins stated there was no tonal mandate on Wonder Woman, both James Wan and Matt Reeves have made clear that was an essential part of their contract negotiations for Aquaman and The Batman respectively, and everything we hear from Sandberg, McKay et al suggests a prioritization of vision above all else.
Of course, that doesn't appear to have been the initial plan and that this is being prepped in the months leading up to Justice League is certainly interesting. Everything prior to the team-up has felt like of similarly-pitched franchise ethos - even Suicide Squad fit the mold. For WB to be getting ready to go off into many lanes away from JL (including a non-canon one) could indicate they're not too confident in it being the harmonious success many have it pegged as needing to be. But that still fits the logic of what we're saying; they aren't doing a total u-turn, but are starting to adjust tact so different tastes are catered to.
If you want to find method in the seeming Warner madness, that appears to be their future layout. Individual movies that are part of thematically linked sub-franchises forming one whole under the DC banner. It's different to the MCU and indeed much of how DC is perceived in comics (although imprints and standalone stories are definitely a big part of them) - and that makes it risky and doesn't get away from their current approach being a bit scattershot. However, it is still a method that may finally see the ship right itself. Only time (and four Joker movies) will tell.
- Justice League (2017) release date: Nov 17, 2017
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020