The DC Extended Universe has been something of a mess throughout its early run. Poor critical reception and relatively disappointing box office numbers have marred the launch of what was supposed to be a flagship franchise for Warner Bros.
In the proceeding months, we’ve seen things start to come apart at the seams. Directors have left projects entirely, production delays have been a regularity, and there’s a distinct feeling that no one quite knows what they’re doing right now. What exactly has gone down though? We investigate.
1. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had the DCEU stumbling out of the gates
While Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s $873 million global box office is nothing to sneeze at, nowadays, if your superhero movie clocks in under $1 billion, said film is generally considered a flop. When you factor in Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, which reeled in its own $1 billion haul, you start to see the cracks forming.
Batman v Superman was supposed to be the spark that ignited the DC Extended Universe. Instead, it ended up being a meandering, underwhelming slog that somehow made DC’s two most marketable heroes a chore to watch.
2. Warner Bros.’ meddling dragged down Suicide Squad
It’s not uncommon for a generally scattered movie to have suffered from a fair share of meddling on the part of its parent studio. Just look at Fantastic Four, a film that was tampered with and tweaked into oblivion. Suicide Squad saw similar issues throughout its production, marked by what The Hollywood Reporter describes as “grueling moments, multiple editors, and competing cuts.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s article goes on to describe a host of issues that plagued Suicide Squad early on. Most prominently, Warner Bros. gave David Ayer all of six weeks to pen the screenplay before launching into principal photography. Things weren’t helped much when the studio floated a second cut of the film, made by the same people who threw together the debut trailer.
As late as May 2016, Warner Bros. had two separate cuts floating around, both of which were aired for test audiences. The result was a movie that felt as disorganized as the process behind its creation.
3. Aquaman hits early hurdles
It’s not difficult to see Jason Momoa as the perfect actor to embody the role of Aquaman. The Game of Thrones alum certainly has the necessary physicality, and given his on-screen appeal, he could very well be the first person to ever really make the hero cool.
That said, when rumors started floating around that director James Wan was “feeling a tremendous amount of trepidation” about the project, it spoke volumes to Warner Bros.’ inability to work with their filmmakers. That was soon followed by Aquaman getting delayed by two months, filling in the vacant slot originally held by James Cameron’s Avatar sequel.
4. The Flash loses its first director
Right on the heels of the less-than-positive rumors surrounding Aquaman, Warner Bros. announced that its original director for the standalone Flash movie, Seth Grahame-Smith, had left the project due to “creative differences.”
It was unsettling to say the very least, as Grahame-Smith’s own vision for the film clashed so profoundly with the studio’s, that he felt compelled to leave the project entirely after just a handful of months.
5. The Flash loses its second director
Even in the wake of Grahame-Miller’s departure, there was a shred of hope when Warner Bros. tagged Dope director Rick Famuyiwa as the replacement. That all came crashing down just four months later though, when Famuyiwa abruptly followed the lead of Grahame-Miller, quitting over “creative differences.”
According to a statement from Famuyiwa given to The Hollywood Reporter, the talented director “pitched a version of the film in line with my voice, humor and heart,” that unfortunately wasn’t enough for Warner Bros.’ own standards. Now, the studio has tagged Joby Harold (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) to give the script its third rewrite, delaying the original 2018 release date of the film indefinitely.
6. Warner Bros. completely reorganizes the DC creative team
Directly after the release of Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. ordered a massive restructuring of their creative team on the superhero side. The shuffle put DC chief content officer, Geoff Johns in charge of the newly-formed DC Films division, echoing Disney’s similar relationship with the largely independent Marvel Studios. And while Warner Bros. insisted they’d remain loyal to a “director driven” approach despite the executive reorganization, the exodus of directors over the last several months seems to tell us otherwise.
7. Ben Affleck steps down from directing his standalone Batman movie
Speaking of that director exodus, Ben Affleck’s own departure from the director’s chair of his Batman movie continues to hint at a massive level of dysfunction at Warner Bros. Affleck stated that he would “remain extremely committed to this project” as the starring character, with Cloverfield director Matt Reeves now heading up the film.
It all points to a troubling pattern of behavior for DC’s stable of directors, as the hits just keep on coming for the fledgling movie-verse.
8. The curse of “creative differences”
So what exactly does it mean when a director has “creative differences” with a studio? More often than not, it’s the nice way of saying “the studio wouldn’t stop meddling in my project, and I’d rather not deal with them anymore.” If Suicide Squad was any indication, Warner Bros. is asserting their power at virtually every step of the process. Compare that to Disney’s decidedly more hands-off approach with Marvel, and the differences are starkly defined.
9. Point blank: DC has a character problem
The biggest advantage that Marvel currently has over DC right now, relates to the way they develop their characters. People like Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Thor all have arcs that take them on a journey of change, where they evolve and grow accordingly.
In the case of Superman and Batman, we barely see that. Clark Kent starts Man of Steel as a reluctant hero, and ends the film as virtually the same person. We first see Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman as an angry, albeit effective vigilante, and that’s exactly where his character remains by the time the credits role.
It’s not a problem that can’t be solved by Wonder Woman, but it’s the most glaring thematic issue in the DC Extended Universe nonetheless.
10. How to salvage the DC Extended Universe
No franchise is truly beyond saving. Wonder Woman will mark the first female-led superhero movie of the modern era, and by all accounts, it looks awesome. Pair that with the release of Justice League later this year, and at the very least, DC is lining up some heavy hitters in 2017.
The studio will need to do some serious work on the way it treats its directors though, as well as allowing writers the space to truly develop their characters. If that happens, then we might finally see the DC Extended Universe realize its massive potential.
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