Following the announcement of Warner Bros.' shared DC universe plans through 2020, two expected adaptations were left entirely off the schedule - leading many fans to believe that Joseph Gordon Levitt's Sandman and Guillermo del Toro's Justice League Dark would not be part of the interconnected Justice League storyline. Since that time Sandman creator Neil Gaiman took to social media - clarifying that Sandman belongs to an entirely different slate of films under its respective Vertigo imprint. The writer assured fans that Sandman is still in development - but is not part of Warner Bros.' shared universe plan.
As a result, since several core Justice League Dark characters fall under the Vertigo publishing umbrella, many fans assumed that Del Toro's movie adaptation, tentatively titled Dark Universe, would also exist as a standalone storyline with no ties to the larger DC shared film universe. However, in a recent interview, the fan-favorite filmmaker revealed that Warner Bros. is not confining the supernatural team to standalone film territory - asserting that Dark Universe is part of the shared DC universe.
In the wake of Universal Studios' plans to create a cross-film classic monster universe with a potential team-up between Dracula and The Mummy, among others, Del Toro provided an update to Collider regarding his potential involvement with the solo Frankenstein chapter (not to be confused with Paul McGuigan’s sci-fi adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe as Igor) - indicating that he hasn't followed-up on the project in a while. However, the director elaborated by stating that, while he isn't currently contributing to Universal's monster universe, he's hard at work on a shared universe project for DC - i.e., Justice League Dark.
I haven’t followed up with Frankenstein so I really have very little to add to that. Right now the only sort of shared universe project I’m working on is Dark Universe for Warners, you know, for DC, which is Swamp Thing, Demon, Deadman, Zatanna. It’s a very different universe. As to the plans to the other one, I wish I had an inside track right now.
At this point, there's no way of knowing how connected Justice League Dark will be to the core Justice League series. Though, with news that the script has officially been submitted to Warner Bros. for review, it's likely the studio intends to bankroll a few standalone genre adventures outside of the main Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman plot - with the possibility of bringing select characters (like Zatanna) into contact with the core Justice Leaguers down the line. Marvel enjoyed incredible success with their cosmic/standalone/shared Guardians of the Galaxy installment - and it's possible that Warner Bros. is trying a similar (albeit darker) tactic. After all, given that studio is throwing heavy star power behind the Suicide Squad film (even eyeing Oprah Winfrey as Amanda Waller), the studio is proving they've got lofty ideas for some of DC's B-list heroes and villains.
Nevertheless, Del Toro and Warner Bros. will still need to walk a very fine line if they do intend to eventually utilize Dark Universe characters in main shared universe storyline entries. After all, this isn't even the first time that Del Toro has teased Justice League Dark's inclusion in the wider DC film universe and, at that time, he also cautioned that it would be a challenge to find exactly where the team fits into the studio's bigger plans. Readers who are familiar with Justice League Dark can probably list several reasons why the task will be challenging - since Del Toro would need to marry supernatural monsters with super-powered humanoids in both tone and plot.
To that end, it's unlikely we'll soon (or ever) see Swamp Thing teaming-up with Batman; yet, that doesn't mean that Dark Universe's Zatanna, for example, couldn't enjoy a run-in with the Caped Crusader at some point. Justice League Dark might have been difficult to include in a shared DC universe kicked-off by Christopher Nolan's relatively grounded take on the Dark Knight but the cross-film storyline that was launched with Man of Steel makes allowances for a much wider range of genre adventures - whether domestic (Batman), cosmic (Green Lantern), or Supernatural (Justice League Dark). For now, the notion of Deadman fighting alongside The Flash might sound absurd but rewind five years and ask: would you have believed that Robert Downey Jr. might one day share the screen with a talking raccoon?
Unfortunately, it may be a while before we get a clear sense of Del Toro and Warner Bros.' vision for the property - as well as how it could be tethered to the developing Justice League universe. As indicated, it was only one week back (from the time of this writing), that Del Toro even submitted his Dark Universe script treatment to the studio for reactions. It's entirely possible the studio will find Del Toro's ideas do not fit with their larger vision - and simply decide to throw Justice League Dark back into development hell (especially following the underwhelming response to fellow Justice League Dark member Constantine on TV). Hopefully that's not the case but it wouldn't be the first time, this year, that a studio has coerced a filmmaker to retool their passion project (read: Edgar Wright's Ant-Man) in order to provide a better shared universe fit.
Given that David S. Goyer had previously teased an appearance by Justice League Dark characters in Constantine, it's also possible that Warner Bros. has decided not to pursue a second season of the NBC series and might be planning to inject the character, one of Justice League Dark's founding members, as a key player in their film roster - with a high profile star in the role to drive casual interest. Not to mention, Constantine (and his knowledge of the occult) was instrumental in defeating one of the New 52 Justice League Dark's original villains, Enchantress/June Moon, who happens to be a primary character in the aforementioned Suicide Squad film.
That said, John Constantine in Dark Universe is entirely unsubstantiated speculation/wishful thinking at this point but we'll be sure to update readers as official details are released for Guillermo del Toro's Justice League Dark.
Justice League Dark (aka Dark Universe) does not currently have a release date.
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