How The DCEU Should Use Post-Credits Scenes
To be clear, there are several types of post-credits scenes. You have direct teases of a franchise's future - now the most famous - but also background plot resolution (think Thor's return to Earth at the end of Thor: The Dark World) and final jokes (more common in comedies but still prevalent in blockbusters, especially Pirates of the Caribbean and the MCU). What we're saying the DCEU should engage with is the former, at least in part, and not necessarily in an exclusively binding deal.
Indeed, there's a false rigidity to how post-credits scenes are viewed by the majority of commentators; as their critics have it, with every superhero film you sit through the ever-growing lists of VFX names, get a glimpse of a new character and the internet spends the next few years speculating. But it's not that simple. There's a science to giving audiences that thrill. Even within the MCU, which will always have a stinger, that varies; Kevin Feige and co. evidently carefully tailor the tease to the tone and characters of the previous two hours (even altering their number and positioning). Few films will ever come around with as knockabout a tone as Guardians 2 that makes five-post post-credits stingers (and a bunch of other easter eggs besides) feel worthwhile, and likewise Avengers: Age of Ultron's brief Thanos mid-credits tease was just what Joss Whedon's already future-minded movie needed. Done right, they complete the experience and frame it within the universe. Other times they're not necessary, perhaps most effectively seen recently with Logan; nothing extra could have improved the already perfect ending.
It's also worth remembering that "forward thinking" can come in other forms, meaning even more films don't actually need a credits scene. Think how X-Men 2 had a sly tease of the Phoenix following Jean's death or, going to DC, Batman Begins used its final musing on escalation, a cautionary coda on Bruce's movie-long mission, to introduce the Joker's calling card. This has become less prominent following the proliferation of post-movie teases but those examples show its strength (that Joker card is better than pretty much every after-credits scene ever).
Batman v Superman, for all its flaws, is a fair contemporary example of this. When taken in its Ultimate Edition version, everything you could possibly want in terms of establishing the next set of movies is there and, given it runs three hours (and isn't very good), you're not wanting more. There's plenty of sting potential - (deep breath) Bruce's Knightmare, the Quicktime Justice League files, Lex Luthor seeing Steppenwolf, Lex Luthor warning Bruce about Darkseid, the dirt rising on Superman's coffin - but they've all slotted into the movie so anything more would be overkill.
Conversely, Wonder Woman feels like it's missing one. Patty Jenkins' film is a truly standalone adventure where the main link to the wider DCEU is simply that it features a character introduced in BvS; we get an extension of that film's photo mystery, but in terms of advancing the plot ahead of Justice League it doesn't care. In the movie this is definitely a positive, avoiding links to those reviled films and allowing Gal Gadot to stand on her own, but the lack of stinger doesn't allow the film to transfer the goodwill it's built up into excitement for the more questionable Justice League. Bruce turning up in Paris or a tease of Themyscira's Mother Box would, assuming they didn't clash with the story of Zack Snyder's movie itself, have been effective ways to expand the scope.
That Suicide Squad had one does suggest DC are open to including these moments, but future use requires them recognizing its failure was execution and concept rather than form. It's a "how not to do" guide, with Bruce getting the metahuman files contradicting what we'd seen in Batman v Superman, confusing in the movie itself (why was Enchantress included?) and altogether unnecessary in terms of the Task Force X section of the universe. The weird tone of the movie totally befitted something after the Joker breaks Harley out of jail, but not that specific conversation.
When it comes to crafting a cohesive shared universe, post-credits scenes are a tertiary concern to making good standalone movies and ensuring the world is well-built. However, Warner Bros. are remiss to not take advantage of them all the same. They've found their first true success with Wonder Woman and to not have a way to signal to audiences in the cinema this is a new beginning is a major oversight. Not every film needs one, but neither should the alternative be so binary. Forget about worrying over copying Marvel and embrace the trend.
- Wonder Woman (2017) release date: Jun 02, 2017
- Justice League (2017) release date: Nov 17, 2017
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018