There’s little doubt that Warner Bros. and DC’s Expanded Universe (DCEU) has stumbled out of the starting blocks in 2016. After middling reviews and box office returns for 2013’s Man of Steel, this year saw disappointing returns for not one, but two DC offerings with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad.
You can bet that this has had the folks in charge scrambling, especially as Marvel’s own superhero machine continued to plow forward. This begs the question: What would it take to save the DCEU from itself? Warner Bros. may have found the answer, courtesy of Director Doug Liman.
Liman is most known for his considerable work helming the instant sci-fi classic, Edge of Tomorrow, putting him on the collective radar of every studio in Hollywood. He’s kept busy in the days since the film’s 2014 release, even finding himself attached as the director for 20th Century Fox’s Gambit, until a “mutual split” saw him part ways with the project midway through. That move left him free for his latest undertaking: Justice League Dark.
[Update, 11/15/16: Added new trailer (courtesy of IGN).]
The movie represents an intriguing break from the norm for Warner Bros., even if it’s one that also feels frighteningly familiar. The film’s focus will be on an alternative group of edgier, “darker” heroes tasked with battling the forces of a supernatural evil. Or in more specific terms, exactly what Suicide Squad was supposed to be (at least on paper).
The team for Liman’s iteration is rumored to include characters John Constantine, Swamp Thing, Deadman, Zatanna, and Etrigan the Demon, meaning we’ll once again be introduced to a host of new characters in a single film.
[Update, 1/12/17: Added new clip featuring DC Comics character Constantine (via Empire).]
That being so, Justice League Dark also has the potential to breathe some much-needed life into the flagging DCEU. Liman more than proved his mettle with Edge of Tomorrow, and in theory, the whole “alternative, edgy heroes” motif carries a whole lot of appeal. To wit, it was a project so enticing that Guillermo del Toro was attached as the original director before leaving to pursue other projects. Suffice it to say, there’s tons of creative potential for a Justice League Dark film.
[Update, 1/26/17: Added video of first seven minutes of Justice League Dark, courtesy of PlayStation.]
The only limiting factor to Warner Bros.’s success here will be the studio itself. Warner Bros. has been its own worst enemy when it comes to its fledgling superhero franchise, zigging when they should have been zagging and zagging when they should have zigged. As io9’s Katharine Trendacosta aptly lays it out:
Virtually every decision made by Warner Bros. with regards to its DC superhero movies has been bad. But it’s been so desperate to recreate Marvel’s success that it keeps running forward, trying to constantly course correct, when what it really needs to do [is] take a break, a deep breath, and start over from scratch with a long-term plan that it will actually stick to.
The DCEU has rolled forward without much in the way of a consistent, hard-line plan, choosing instead to over-correct on the fly. Think of it this way: If you’re driving on a freeway and you see a deer crossing the road from a distance, do you a) lightly apply the breaks while preparing to move around the deer appropriately, or b) crank the wheel 180-degrees until you’re doing donuts in the dirt on the side of the road? It’s not hard to see which approach Warner Bros. has employed for their superhero saga.
That’s not to say there aren’t reasons to be excited for a Doug Liman-led Justice League Dark movie. But Trendacosta makes a solid argument when she mentions that she’s “been debating people on when, exactly, I have to stop giving Warner Bros. the benefit of the doubt on their movies.” At what point do we stop saying “yes, this one will be the one that’s actually amazing,” and start actively wondering if The Dark Knight trilogy really was the last quality collection of DC films we’ll ever get?
All doom and gloom aside, there’s enough money at stake here for us to at least hope that the ship gets righted at some point. If Warner Bros. can get out of their own way and allow their talented filmmakers enough room to breathe, there’s a chance, however small it may be, that they could fix things enough to actually compete with their Marvel counterparts.
They’re certainly not short on ammunition either; Superman and Batman are the two most iconic superheroes in comic history, The CW has already proven that the Flash can be awesome, and Jason Momoa may just be the coolest Aquaman ever.
That brings us back to our original question: Can Justice League Dark mark a turning point for the DCEU? In theory, sure, it absolutely can. Doug Liman is a more than capable creative force, the character of John Constantine has been begging for a cinematic reboot ever since the standalone NBC series went off the air, and all in all, it’d make for a welcome change of pace. It’ll just be up to the people in charge to learn the right lessons and avoid that deer in the road the right way.
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