Wonder Woman marks the first movie in the DC Extended Universe to enjoy success with the box office and critics and could shape the future of the franchise, but DC Films head Geoff Johns says that approach won't work for every character. When DC comics was preparing to launch its now widely respected Rebirth comics lineup, Johns said it was important for the brand to emphasize 'hope and optimism' moving forward, a strategy any Rebirth reader could tell you has paid off. After the success of Wonder Woman, Johns reiterated a very similar approach, this time applying it to the film side, saying the DCEU characters need to have "heart, humor, hope, heroics, and optimism at the base."
Simply skimming most Wonder Woman reviews will confirm that critics are responding to this approach better than they did with Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, the first three DCEU entries. Because of the reception of those earlier films, the conversation surrounding the DC movie properties often becomes contentious, if not toxic, calling the DCEU's public relations practices into question. In a recent interview with Variety, Johns and Jon Berg, the stewards of the DCEU, talked about how each film in the DCEU has impacted their strategy going forward, taking a much more clear and decisive approach for the DC movie brand.
While much has been made of his statements regarding "hope and optimism" in the DCEU, Johns took the opportunity to provide proper context to how that looks with multiple distinct characters and what it means for their future appearances.
"'Wonder Woman' celebrated exactly who the character is, but looking at it, it’s not like we should change everything to be about hope and optimism. There’s nothing to change. That’s what these characters are."
These words may be encouraging to many fans, who have pointed out that different characters manifest hope and optimism differently. Wonder Woman obviously embodies that hope and optimism in a much more overt way, but that looks different with Batman. As the ending of The Dark Knight famously highlighted, Batman is a much darker hero who enables others to stand as pinnacles of hope and optimism through his violence and cynicism.
In the DCEU, Batman recognizes the hope and optimism inherent in Wonder Woman and Superman, which serves as a catalyst for him to form the Justice League. These character differences are something Zack Snyder already emphasized about Justice League, where each member brings something different to the table to form the League, which will presumably be the ultimate embodiment of hope in the DCEU.
In addition to characterization, there is a lot to be gleaned from the successes and the failures of the DCEU so far. Addressing the lessons learned from the critical thrashing of BvS and Suicide Squad, Berg said
"There are lessons from every movie. You would be silly not to analyze how a movie was received — what went right and what went wrong on the making of a movie. On “Suicide Squad,” the movie did incredibly well commercially. It didn’t work narratively. You had some great casting and some great characterizations, but where the story fell down was on narrative, on plot. We could do better. “Batman v. Superman” was tonally dark. People didn’t respond to that."
While much of the focus tends to be on what the DCEU's first films did wrong compared to what Wonder Woman did right, it's encouraging to see Berg specifically call out positives from Suicide Squad, namely the casting and characters and also highlighting complaints about BvS's tone. Fortunately, Batman v Superman was always intended to be darker than the rest of the universe - Chris Terrio even compared it to The Empire Strikes Back and The Two Towers, setting up a much more triumphant third entry.
With Joss Whedon's heavy involvement in the DCEU, particularly with Justice League, where he recently brought in Danny Elfman to replace Junkie XL for the film's score, there's still a lot of uncertainty regarding the post-Wonder Woman strategy for the DCEU, but anyone concerned that Wonder Woman's enthusiastic reception would lead DC to polish off all the edges seen in some of its earlier entries can be at ease - DC may even have some R-rated movies up its sleeve in the future.
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