Warner Bros.’ finally launched their DC Comics-based universe (unofficially titled the DC Extended Universe) with Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016, a follow-up to the filmmaker’s 2013 Superman origin film, Man of Steel. Shortly after the movie released, the studio started to expand and develop their newly-formed shared universe with David Ayer’s Suicide Squad in August 2016 and Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman in June 2017, with the overarching narrative building towards a superhero team-up in Snyder’s Justice League in November 2017.
Justice League united the world’s finest heroes – Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), who were all later joined by Superman (Henry Cavill) – for the first time on the big screen in an ultimate battle with the villainous New God, Steppenwolf, and his army of Parademons, who came to Earth to reclaim their three lost Mother Boxes and to terraform the planet into New Apokolips. Unfortunately, despite being one of the most highly-anticipated superhero movies ever, a standard plot, poor editing, and disjointed narrative (among other things) contributed to Justice League‘s critical and commercial failure.
Warner Bros. rushed Justice League‘s production and were unwilling to delay the movie so that they could deliver a more cohesive product, which resulted in an unimpressive final cut that contains conflicting tones and undeserved character developments. That’s a prime factor in the DCEU’s critical failure thus far: pushing out movies too fast and attempting to rework the fundamental nature of certain films during post-production instead of pre-production. This is something that could have been avoided, if Warner Bros. hadn’t been rushing to catch up to Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe.
WB’s History With Batman V Superman & Justice League
Batman V Superman‘s release undoubtedly dealt a blow to the newly-formed shared universe. While Batman and Superman finally appearing in a movie together for the first time was exciting, to say the least, the film’s botched delivery led to a course-correction that arguably only made things worse. The vast majority of people blame director Zack Snyder for Batman V Superman‘s mistakes, but it wasn’t Snyder’s idea to throw Batman into the mix after Man of Steel.
Long before Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins came along, Warner Bros. made several attempts to reboot the Caped Crusader on the big screen following Joel Schumacher’s much-maligned Batman & Robin. In 2001, they hired Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman to rewrite Andrew Kevin Walker’s script for Batman vs. Superman, which saw both Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent in the late stages of their respective crime-fighting careers. Alan Horn, then-president of Warner Bros. (and current chairman of Walt Disney Studios, since 2012), ultimately decided to pass on the project in favor of developing solo Batman and Superman movies, which later became Batman Begins and Superman Returns. But the idea of Batman fighting Superman remained on the backburner for several years.
Then, shortly after Batman Begins hit theaters in 2005, Warner Bros. started looking into ways to unite the character with other DC superheroes – and so began work on George Miller’s unrealized team-up film, Justice League: Mortal. The project remained separate from the studio’s solo movies, with different actors playing Batman and Superman (Armie Hammer and D.J. Cotrona, respectively). The idea was to introduce various superheroes and use the film as a launch pad for a DC Comics-based universe (similar to Snyder’s Justice League). Unfortunately, numerous production delays and the subsequent success of Nolan’s The Dark Knight convinced the studio to put the project on hold and, again, refocus on standalone films. That led to the abominable release of Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern in 2011 and, eventually, Man of Steel in 2013.
Zack Snyder’s Vision vs. Studio Mandate
In 2008, David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan began discussing a potential sequel to The Dark Knight. Goyer used that opportunity to pitch his idea for a Superman movie that incorporates present-day themes and deconstructs the character in the same vein as their Batman movies. Nolan liked the idea enough to relay the pitch to Warners’ top brass, and that’s how they started developing the Superman reboot that would later become Man of Steel. Warner Bros. approached several directors for the project before hiring Snyder in 2010 – one year after Snyder’s Watchmen adaptation released. Although Snyder made some alterations to the movie’s story, the overarching narrative was already established by Goyer and Nolan before Snyder came on board.
Shortly before Man of Steel hit theaters, the film’s creative team began discussing potential follow-ups. Since these discussions took place prior to the movie’s release, the team had no idea how successful or receptive their Superman film would be. And while brainstorming the sequel, Snyder said he initially pitched an idea for Batman to show up at the end of Man of Steel 2, with Kryptonite being delivered to Bruce Wayne’s house. But when Man of Steel debuted and underperformed at the worldwide box office, the studio decided Superman wasn’t the right property to build a shared universe off. They, instead, opted to fall back on Batman – which had just headlined two of the then-three billion-dollar superhero movies ever – by including him sooner than Snyder expected (or wanted). And so, Batman V Superman was born.
To pursue Snyder’s Superman sequel first before diving into Batman V Superman and, eventually, Justice League, would mean that the studio would need to wait until possibly 2020 before finally getting the world’s finest heroes onto the big screen – and that meant potentially losing out on even more money and time. After all, the studio failed to kickstart a DC film universe with 2011’s Green Lantern. They didn’t want to lose out on yet another opportunity. So, within mere months of Man of Steel‘s premiere, plans to develop Batman V Superman and the rest of the colloquially named DCEU began to take shape. Within one year, Warner Bros. had already planned out an entire shared universe – including two Justice League movies – through 2020.
While Snyder undoubtedly influenced various aspects of Man of Steel (and the establishment of the DCEU, such as casting), blaming the filmmaker for all of the film’s problems is scapegoating and profoundly inaccurate. In many regards, Man of Steel is as much a product of Snyder’s as it is a “Warner Bros. production” and a film from the “director and producers of The Dark Knight Trilogy.” Let’s not forget that, for what transpired in the months before and after Man of Steel‘s release set the DCEU down a path that led Warner Bros. to where they are today.
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