The DC Extended Universe has had a shaky start, but while many will write it off, it's not actually too late for it to become a major franchise hit. The DCEU (or whatever you choose to call it) officially kicked off with 2013's Man of Steel. The franchise has had something of a bumpy start, with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice setting up a false dichotomy between fans and critics. Now, Justice League's disappointing box office performance has proved that casual audience interest has petered out.
When put against Marvel it certainly looks bad, but it's not too late for this franchise to win back viewers and become box office gold.
Abandon The Watchmen Factor
Back in the '80s, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons released Watchmen. The series was a deconstruction of modern superheroes, and it set the pattern for the next two decades of DC Comics. It also had a profound impact on Zack Snyder. As he explained in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the way it brought heroes into the real world changed his view on the genre.
The director obviously directed the big screen adaptation, and he repeated the same approach with his DCEU films; each one of his movies was an unashemed real-world breakdown of the iconic hero. Ironically, he was doing so at the very moment DC Comics finally chose to ditch the Watchmen influence. Under the leadership of Geoff Johns, DC initiated their latest relaunch, the tremendously popular "Rebirth." The new comics have emphasized purer character arcs and relationships, returning to a more traditional comic book approach.
Justice League's box office performance may not have been everything DC hoped for, but the film's ethos is actually a step in the right direction. It takes the time to breathe, setting up strong character dynamics between the different heroes. Perhaps the most entertaining of all was the friendship between Batman and the Flash, with the Dark Knight acting as a mentor to the youthful super-speedster. Not all of the relationships worked, of course - the strange, semi-flirtatious interaction between Batman and Wonder Woman struck a decided off-note - but the focus was right.
It doesn't have to be upbeat per se, but the DCEU needs to embrace what makes these heroes such longstanding genre staples, giving audiences at least something of what they're expecting.
Embrace Your Successes
It's tempting to focus on the DCEU's failures, but the reality is that this franchise has had some tremendous successes. Most notably, a lot of its casting has been spot on; Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman especially. DC Films need to take stock of those successes, ensuring they're repeated but also maximizing those actors' potential.
There are promising signs. Margot Robbie is already signed up for a number of DC movies, including Suicide Squad 2 and Gotham City Sirens. The latter is the most exciting opportunity for DC, given the film is set to include both Harley Quinn and her lover, Poison Ivy. That relationship has proved a touching one in the comics, one of DC's few prominent lesbian romances. With the right crew behind it, the film could be a tremendous success, as well as a bold step forward for DC Films in terms of representation.
Meanwhile, Patty Jenkins is already on board to write and direct Wonder Woman 2. The first film is the biggest film in the franchise domestically and is noteworthy in the series for mostly ignoring the character beats set up in the other films; Jenkins's focus seems to be on continuing her character's story of hope, setting aside the more downbeat interpretation established by Snyder. This shows a willingness on DC's part to do what's best for the movie at hand. Wonder Woman's proven so popualr, in fact, there's some who argue it would have been more prudent for Justice League to focus more on Diana.
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019