J.M. Barrie once wrote: “To die would be an awfully big adventure.” The quote belongs to his play, Peter Pan, but it may as well be the mantra that Warner Bros and the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) currently live by. Having shown some noticeable dents in their armor, the studio duo has been dragged through the wringer in the span of only a few short years, and yet… they remain strong.
Are they ushering in the comeback of the century, or are they doomed without any hope of a return? If the cards are in their favor, then death may very well be the beginning of something bigger and better. But only time wil tell. So, to help make up your mind, keep reading to explore 8 Ways The DCEU Was Destined To Fail (And 7 Why It’ll Succeed Anyway).
15. Fail – It was rushed
When Warner Bros decided to tackle the DC equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), they went in with their guns a-blazin’. Instead of taking a more strategic and methodical approach, they essentially hoped for the best, betting on the deep-rooted success of DC’s characters and evidently believing that they had unquestionable success in the bag without so much as testing the waters.
As everyone ultimately discovered, however, this didn’t turn out to be the case at all. Financially, sure, they made a solid turnaround. But in terms of crafting a solid cinematic universe within the DC world — they hit some noticeable hurdles. You can argue that Marvel jumped just as quickly into the well of high hopes, tacking Nick Fury onto end of Iron Man as as a setup to The Avengers, but Marvel could have jumped ship at the first sight of failure. Warner Bros, on the other hand, got cocky and bypassed the setup that standalone films could have offered, in following up Man of Steel with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
14. Succeed – Wonder Woman Was A Triumph
Superman may have promised to be the bringer of hope, but it’s safe to say that that duty fell into the lap of one Diana Prince.
Before Wonder Woman was released, DC fans were dubious at best. Hell, even the studio itself was. But critical reception aside, how would audiences respond to a female-led superhero flick? And would gender even play a role in its success or failure? As it eventually turned out… no.
The DCEU took some (literally) critical blows with Man of Steel, BvS, and Suicide Squad, but the end was not quite as imminent as audiences and critics might have believed. Not only is Wonder Woman closing in on becoming the most profitable film in DC’s new shared universe, but it stands at an outstanding 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. So, if Warner Bros can maintain this momentum, then the future of the DCEU may very well turn out to be more of a success than its first phase indicated.
13. Fail – Built On The Back Of A Highly Divisive Movie
Remember the first Man of Steel teaser? Russell Crowe’s voiceover echoing Superman’s theme of hope, Howard Shores’ chilling “Bridge of Khazad-dûm” score playing in the background, the sense of realism, the grit… It didn’t just hint at perfection, it may as well have guaranteed it. A new Supes had entered the scene, and the entire package seemed perfect.
Only, that didn’t turn out to be the case. The final result turned out to be a sloppy trek into Superman lore, being equally divisive among fans and critics alike. It was a frustrating first go at a reboot, and it hardly set a confident stage for the extended universe that ended up following it.
If it were followed up by a direct sequel, then some of its weaknesses might have had the chance to be rectified. Alas, Warner Bros thrust the DCEU headfirst into a battle royale that deserved (and needed) some other entries to set a more solid stage.
12. Succeed – “Dark And Gritty” Is A Flexible Concept
If Warner Bros had created a carbon copy of the MCU, then critics would have been on full-attack mode. WB would have undoubtedly been accused of lacking confidence and originality, not bringing something new into the world of big-screen superheroes, and failing to differentiate themselves from Marvel. As it were, doing the opposite turned out to hurt them just as much. They took the “dark and gritty” approach, hoping to balance out the lighter, family-friendly touch that the MCU brought to the table, but in doing so, they only ended up hurting themselves.
“Dark and gritty” only turned out to feel “sour and empty,” the characters ended up feeling soulless, and even Superman lacked any sense of genuine hope. All seemed lost.
Thankfully, though, WB appears to be cognizant of their missteps. Starting with Wonder Woman, and as evidenced by the trailers and other promotional material for Justice League, as well the future lineup for DCEU films, a lighter touch is coming. The fact that Joss Whedon has been added to the mix to add some polish onto Justice League also speaks volumes, so maybe WB is happy to learn from its mistakes after all.
11. Fail – Too Many Eggs In One Basket
It’s safe to say that Zack Snyder has a distinct touch. 300 and Watchmen, for example, were two films that focused heavily on the visuals. They were digital through and through, but even with a computer-generated paintbrush, Snyder set an unquestionably personalized tone. However, that’s not to say that Snyder isn’t a flawed filmmaker.
This is someone who confidently prioritizes style over substance; someone who indulges in scale over subtlety. He has a gargantuan, often clumsily stylistic mindset, and for someone holding the creative reins over the entire DCEU, well…eggs have certainly been put in more secure baskets.
While Snyder certainly has his fans (you’ll likely find some of his more vocal supporters in this article’s comment section), it’s tough to argue that his two DCEU entries have lived up to expectations.
10. Succeed – The Promise Of A Better Tomorrow
Most mistakes are fixable. Even when they’re part of a multi-million dollar franchise.
Had Warner Bros refused to take any feedback into account, then their adaptation of the DCEU would have remained a runaway trains headed straight back to Divisive Town. Thankfully, that isn’t going to be the case. Whether they fail or succeed in doing this remains to be seen, but WB has promised to rectify some missteps that were all too glaring for fans. Why does Batman seem to take pleasure in torturing criminals? Why is Superman void of the positivity and hope that his character is meant to embody? In Justice League, all will be answered. Supposedly.
These heroes may be “super,” but they’re flawed like anyone else, and Justice League will finally bring these issues front and center, shedding light on character flaws and humanizing these legendary figures.
9. Fail – Commitment Questions
Sometimes, characters need to be recast. It can be frustrating, but necessity trumps all in the end. Maybe the actor had other commitments or maybe a studio just didn’t have confidence in their portrayal. Whatever the case may be, these things happen, and the best you can do as an audience member is to simply accept the changes and move on.
However, when the change has to do with the main character in a series, it risks being too jarring to forgive.
There have already been plenty of rumors surrounding the recasting of Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman, but so far, it’s all proven to be hearsay. What can’t be denied, however, is this question: can Ben Affleck really be counted on to stick around? Having reclaimed his fame in Hollywood as a successful director (and showing no signs of stopping), will he realistically be able to balance his role as a director and superhero? Directing requires unparalleled commitment, so balancing those duties with at least three Batman films (not to mention the Justice League sequels) might be more impossible than even he may be willing to admit.
8. Succeed – The Fanbase Is Already Too Committed
Some film franchises are destined to fail. Even if the box office says otherwise, there is only so much strength in a series to keep it afloat if audiences aren’t full-on gung ho. Just look at The Golden Compass or John Carter. Or if you want to stay recent, just look at The Dark Tower. It may very well earn itself a sequel through box office receipts alone, but whether the fans want one is another story entirely.
For the DCEU, however, the chances of outright failure are pretty damn slim at this point. Critics and dollars aside, the DC fanbase is already way too committed to allow this universe to crash and burn.
There are the fans who take things too far, the casual fans, and the folks who are fans simply because the DC license is simply too familiar to ignore. So, no matter how you spin it, and no matter how much better or worse the franchise ends up getting, full-blown failure won’t ever be an option because the fans won’t ever allow it.
7. Fail – WB Doesn’t Trust Its Filmmakers
Studio interference is pretty unmistakable. Whether or not a particular director has a noticeable handprint, any sign of it is dashed away by the telltale touch of nervous producers. And if you need proof of this, look no further than Warner Bros.
Ever since the DCEU got its legs, WB hasn’t been making the job of its directors very easy. Once a project gets moving, it’s become tradition at this point for a director to drop out. And “creative differences” seem to always be the reason.
Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, and (supposedly) upcoming Flashpoint are just a few films within the DCEU that dealt with a myriad of problems in pre-production, with directors being replaced at an almost casual pace. To make things worse, WB is also happy to mess with the director’s final cut, getting their hands dirty in the editing booth and recutting the theatrical release to their liking.
6. Succeed – Phase II Films Seem Like A Major Improvement
If everyone failed during their first attempt at something, then the world would be a washout of a epic proportions. You live, you learn, as they say. So, sure, the DCEU may not have have had the strongest start (which is certainly a subjective claim in some people’s eyes), but hope is far from lost. Judging by the lineup of films slated to mark the second phase within the DCEU, there may be a bright light at the end of the tunnel after all.
More than just being exciting to see certain characters on screen, these upcoming films feel inspired. Batgirl has Joss Whedon in the directing chair, The Flash will bravely delve into the time-tripping plot of Flashpoint, James Wan is jumping from The Conjuring universe to Aquaman, and Matt Reeves is gearing up for the rise of the planet of The Batman. Justice League Dark, Gotham City Sirens, and Nightwing make up only a handful of others in the long list of in-development standalone films that are, if nothing else, highly promising.
5. Fail – Feels Like A Cash-Grab
From the get-go, Marvel Studios knew exactly what it was doing with the MCU. With Kevin Feige at the helm, it was in good hands, it was developed in a steadily paced timeline, and it remained loyal to both its source material as well as its fans. What’s more is that the MCU as a whole has raked in quite a pretty penny, giving movie studios everywhere plenty of faith in the financial turnaround of superhero movies and shared universes.
Sadly, that’s all that Warner Bros seems to have taken from the MCU’s success. Awkwardly paced as a whole and not nearly as confident in its characters, WB often comes off as the Biff Tannen of superhero franchises. Where Marvel sees spectacle, WB sees dollar signs. And where Marvel feels genuine (if formulaic), WB feels desperate. At the end of the day, filmmaking is a business like any other, but if WB isn’t careful, this narrow mindset could very well be their ultimate undoing.
4. Succeed – They’re Confident In Being The Outliers
At their worst, Warner Bros can seem a bit greedy with their licenses. What with all of the internal drama becoming more and more public, it’s no mystery that they’ve gotten a bit of a negative reputation — and the films they’ve put out so far in the DCEU aren’t very telling of a bright future.
That said, however, WB has a single factor that sets them apart from Marvel in the best way possible: they’re confident in being the outliers. So, their approach to the source material hasn’t been perfect. Worse things have happened. At the end of the day, you can’t really accuse them of playing it safe. What some may consider to be “all over the place,” others can easily refer to as “brave,” and in an industry where lacking originality is regularly pointed out and frowned upon, WB deserves credit for daring to be different.
They released a movie where the heroes are villains, pitted their top characters against each other, and even gave Ben Affleck a second go at being a superhero. WB may not be perfect, but they’re at least trying something unique.
3. Fail – DC Entertainment President: WB Doesn’t Understand DC Characters
Kids all over the world dress up as superheroes every year for Halloween. Parents buy the costumes, kids wear the costumes, and voila — the character is put on display and given life. The only problem, however, is that the simple act of wearing a suit and playing the part doesn’t mean that justice is being done to the character. Character creation requires a solid understanding of the character, not just a simple game of dress-up.
This is where the current DCEU fails — according to DC Entertainment President, Geoff Johns, at least.
During an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Johns opened up about the woes of Warner Bros, and he clearly didn’t see the point in holding back. After coming aboard as the head of DC Films (alongside Jon Berg), DC Comics CEO/president Johns explained that WB has DC characters all wrong. Though he’s come aboard to fix the issues personally, the cleanup is going to be intense — especially if he and Zack Snyder don’t see eye to eye.
2. Fail – The DCEU Just Wants To Be The Anti-MCU
The DCEU was doomed to fail for one simple reason: they bet their successes on being the anti-MCU. Something that nobody was asking for. Yes, Marvel succeeded in bringing their franchise to the big screen, but that’s not to say that the competition had to craft an entirely unique path all on its own. As the saying goes, “Good artists borrow; great artists steal.”
As long as the imitation is done out of fairness and necessity, it’s OK. And in the case of adapting superheroes to the silver screen, there’s no shame in not trying to fix what isn’t broken in the first place.
For years, superhero movies have been consistent in failing. Though there were some pre-MCU exceptions (Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, X-Men), the adaptation formula was screwy at best. However, seeing as Marvel clearly perfected the process, there’s no shame in following suit. Which is exactly what WB should have done, but didn’t.
1. Succeed – “Why Do We Fall?”
For all of the negativity that someone can (easily) attribute to the DCEU (and specifically, Warner Bros’ handling of DCEU), it’s not fair to consider it dead in the water. Yes, it tried, and yes, it failed in some respects, but considering the M.O. of its own ringleader, Bruce Wayne, its failure may as well be its ultimate strength.
DC’s own Alfred Pennyworth reminded Bruce Wayne time and time again about the benefits of failing, and that very quote became the mantra for Christopher Nolan’s entire Dark Knight trilogy. “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
If you’re not entirely fond of the direction that WB has taken the prized characters of DC, you’re not alone. But then again, there’s no harm in holding out hope. And if Bruce Wayne can make a comeback after having his spine broken by the indomitable Bane, then the DCEU has a shot of doing its source material justice after all – whether Michael Caine is there to help along the way or not.
Can you think of more reasons to either defend or bash the potential future of the DCEU? Let us know in the comments!
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