Editorial: Warner Bros Needs to Expand the DCEU Beyond Batman
by Dan Marcus
January 10, 2017
At the climax of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Superman has literally fallen into the arms of his love, Lois Lane. The ending is far from romantic, however, as Batman and Wonder Woman stand beside the slain hero, heads bowed mournfully. Who knew this downer of an ending would signify more than just defeated heroes, it also acts as an analogy for the entire trajectory of DC Comics on film. By the time Suicide Squad rolled around, you could argue the DC Extended Universe had been put on suicide watch. For Ben Affleck, what started as a co-starring role has morphed into possibly being the DCEU's only saving grace.
If this seems melodramatic – as melodramatic as killing off your title character in the second movie of your new cinematic universe – imagine how it must feel for Ben Affleck. Here's a guy coming off of winning a Best Picture Oscar for Argo and then starring in one of the most critically derisive comic-book movies of the last 10 years. Actually, scratch that. Spider-Man 3, which came out 10 years ago this year, scored better with critics. The critical backlash was so bad it spawned one of the best YouTube video sensations of last year:
Seriously, the last time Ben Affleck donned a superhero costume for 2003's Daredevil, despite the general mediocre reaction from audiences, it actually scored better with critics. So you can understand why Affleck, who also appeared in Suicide Squad (which fared even worse), would be hesitant about jumping back in the Batmobile for another outing in a solo movie he's supposed to write, star in and direct - title The Batman.
If you've been following his comments on The Batman over the last several months, he's gone from being noncommittal ("we still have to get a screenplay and get it together") to unsure ("I'm not going to write and direct anything that I don't think is good enough to be made") to saying the film is on track to shoot in 2017 ("we're on the right track… and everything is coming together") to noncommittal again ("it's not a set thing and there's no script… if it doesn't come together in a way I think is really great I'm not going to do it").
If that's not enough, a new report from the site Batman News suggests production on The Batman has been delayed until summer, most likely to accommodate Affleck while he (continues to) fine tune the script. The report also says Justice League is a "mess", while other sources seem to back up this claim. It is entirely possible Justice League is in rough shape, but that's also common for a movie that likely only has a very rough cut at this point. Given the negative press Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad endured, you can be guaranteed Warner Bros will do everything in their power to make sure Justice League delivers. If the reports are true, you can bet reshoots are in the film's future. In a response to the rumors of a delay, Affleck assuaged concerns, saying most recently "the script is great, it just needs to get better". If a delay will help get the script in a better shape, then a delay is actually great news indeed.
Here's an idea, film journalists: Stop asking Ben Affleck when he's going to do The Batman! This is a man who has directed three films that have ratings in the mid-90s on Rotten Tomatoes. He has proven to be an extremely capable writer, actor and director. When he decides he's ready to make The Batman, he'll make it. Hopefully. It is quite possible his most recent comments are either taken out of context or he's backtracking to squeeze more pressure from Warner Bros, which all but dumped his last directorial effort, Live By Night. Even with that film's floundering reviews, Affleck is still a Hollywood heavyweight.
It is also possible Affleck is sweating bullets over suddenly being posed to be the only saving grace of the DC Extended Universe. When he was initially approached to star as the Caped Crusader in Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman, he was there to add gravitas to the character. Affleck didn't just leave it at co-starring, though. When he had concerns about the script, he brought on Argo writer Chris Terrio to polish up the screenplay. He was naturally invested in the film's success, which is why he evidently took the film's critical failure so hard. It also explains Affleck's increased role on Justice League, joining the film's producing team as an executive producer. There's even more pressure now for Justice League to succeed. After Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad tanked with critics, WB needs a surefire hit to regenerate the DCEU brand.
Of course, those movies were financial hits, generating a combined $2.3 billion at the box office, but WB clearly took the critical bludgeoning hard. They swiftly made adjustments, calling it a "course correction", including promoting comic guru Geoff Johns as co-president of DC Films & downgrading producer Charles Roven. If Wonder Woman and Justice League under-perform, the entire future of the DCEU is in jeopardy.
Which explains why Affleck would be nervous about outright committing to The Batman just yet. It is clear Warner Bros is hedging a lot of bets on the film, going as far as delaying Justice League 2 from its June 2019 release date in favor of The Batman. However, if there's anything WB needs to change, they should stop focusing solely on Batman and start focusing on the other heroes in the DC universe. There's a reason why, according to fans, Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman movie is more anticipated than Justice League.
I'm the biggest Batman fan around, but at this point even I'm ready for the Justice League's other members to get their time in the limelight. Yes, we're finally getting solo movies for Wonder Woman, Aquaman and The Flash over the next few years, but it hasn't been an easy road to the silver screen for any of those guys. Wonder Woman lost her original director (Michelle MacLaren) before Patty Jenkins took charge. The Flash has had two directors depart the project since entering pre-production last year, and is currently stuck.
Batman is a consistent major moneymaker for the studio, so it makes sense WB would focus so heavily on the World's Greatest Detective in their big screen strategy. That doesn't mean Wonder Woman or The Flash can't earn that title as well with the right amount of attention and respect. The more WB leans on The Batman to salvage the DCEU, the more Affleck will likely get cold feet. If WB wants to develop a diverse universe of enigmatic films, it needs to start trusting its filmmakers and its characters. Which means giving up depending on Batman like a crutch, even if that seems like a risky move (in terms of potential earnings).
Warner Bros thought that by adding the Dark Knight back into the mix again after Man of Steel under-performed it would help Batman v Superman reach $1 billion. Well, that strategy failed. It proved even adding in a psychotic Batman won't make a film an astronomical success, even if Batman v Superman earned more than Man of Steel. If The Batman does not live up to expectations, it could prove that even WB's flagship superhero may not be able to save the day for the studio.
When Ben Affleck talks about the film, he doesn't mention the previous DCEU films. He constantly brings up Christopher Nolan's trilogy which set the bar remarkably high for what a Batman movie could be. "Christopher Nolan did an incredible job," Affleck has stated. "I go into [The Batman] with a tremendous amount of respect for the people who came before me." It is clear Affleck doesn't want to make a mediocre Batman movie. "There's not enough money in the world to make a mediocre version of Batman worth it."
If The Batman were to fail, WB's entire house of superhero trading cards would fall in on itself. Affleck is probably waiting to see how Justice League performs before committing to The Batman, which could also make-it-or-break-it for the studio. Even if that film disappoints, there's still an entire litany of other heroes WB can draw upon. The best case scenario is that Wonder Woman lassos a win for the studio, showing that DC characters that aren't Batman can work on the big screen. There's a lot more riding on that film's success than Justice League. If that team-up movie fails, they could still reboot the universe a couple years down the road. If Wonder Woman fails, it may prove disastrous for the studio and for the other members of the Justice League idly waiting for their turn to shine.
Imagine how groundbreaking and exciting a good Aquaman movie could be, talking fish jokes aside. James Cameron has talked about exploring underwater depths in Avatar 2 (if and when he ever finishing making that), but Aquaman could conceivably explore a whole new world that has heretofore never been shown cinematically before. WIth Furious 7's James Wan at the helm, it's a promising start for the character. Wan has proved he can consistently produce good results with The Conjuring movies. If you mix that with the sensibilities he brought to Furious 7, Aquaman could be a real game changer not only for the DCEU, but for superhero movies period. Most important of all, Wan said Aquaman will have a lighter tone and be fun.
In a discussion about Aquaman, Wan explained: "I just think it's fun to actually show a really different, cool, badass side to this character. But the same time, let's not forget to have fun with it." Indeed.
That last statement could act as a slogan for WB's entire superhero slate from this point onward. Batman v Superman was a very glum affair, and WB's (over)reaction to that was to lighten up Suicide Squad to rather mixed results. WB needs to stop being reactionary, and start opening up its comic book universe for all it has to offer. Have fun with some of these characters. Be true to who they are, and you'll be surprised at what they can do. It may finally make WB batty over someone other than Batman for a change.
So what do you think? Do you agree WB needs to stop relying on Batman so much?
Reader Feedback - 22 Comments
I think the main reason Affleck is so iffy on giving solid answers on the batman is because they don't have a script yet. But everyone wants a trailer by tomorrow morning. Yes the DCEU needs a kick in the seat but until we see the next 3 films all we are basing anything off are rumors and half answers. Just let the thing happen.
Jon Odishaw on Jan 10, 2017
No thanks... There is more than enuf characters out there that always right, and always win, and refuse to die already... Please just let the pubescent fantasies stay in the comic books.
MzUnGu on Jan 10, 2017
The main reason why DC universe can't come up together into a really interesting and compellling shape is the lack of vision. The worst decision DC execs took was to put at the helm Zack Snider, a guy who excels in making great visuals with zero substance. It's like watching a beautiful dead body. Are DC studios hiring drunk monkey nowadays? The guys who wrote BvS and Suicid Squad should be banned from earth. They have no clue on how to develop a character or to make his story arc compelling. I am pretty sure they start writing the fight scenes first, and then try to make a story around them.
tarek on Jan 10, 2017
I would half agree with you, BUT Zack's film actually have substance HOWEVER, it is not obviously presented.
CageRage on Jan 10, 2017
I know it's all a matter of perception, but Znyder's movies leave me cold like a permafrost. I simply can't believe in any of his characters. They all lack (for me) this 3rd dimension that makes them relatable and likable. His Lex Luthor was just a deranged and suicidal rich boy. the dude has zero knowledge in bio-engineering and genetics, but takes his chance in creating a monster who could have crushed his skull before he could say pumpkins. Oh! and thanks for making fools of kryptonians. Their spaceship AI is as dumb as drugged dog, when it comes to protect the ship from intruders.
tarek on Jan 11, 2017
Ok what about David Fincher? Don't his characters leave us cold too? (Apart from Benjamin Button)
CageRage on Jan 12, 2017
Can we really compare Snyder to Fincher? Their styles are barely comparable. the former is focused on 2 hours fight scenes on slo-mo, while the other is more into psychological dramas with great dialogues.
tarek on Jan 12, 2017
Script quality for Fincher's stuff is worlds away from Snyder's bubblegum fare.
RAW_D on Jan 15, 2017
Yes. It is not Snyder's fault (entirely). Rather the execs cutting the films into what they think is right and not relying on the the talent they hire to create a good film.
DAVIDPD on Jan 11, 2017
Now they are blaming it on the tone.
CageRage on Jan 12, 2017
Snyder's got a healthy addiction for dream sequences in his movies, and most of the time, they're unnecessary. He started off hot with Dawn of the Dead and 300 was a worthy follow-up, along with Watchmen (which was ALMOST a direct translation of comic book to screen). The problem with the DC universe, is they're making movies and completely disregarding the source material from which they're derived. The only similarities are the character names and MAJOR selling plot lines of the comics (The Dark Knight and Death of Superman). They should have Bruce Timm or Paul Dini writing the scripts for this, because they (as evidenced by their animated series and comics) GET IT.
RAW_D on Jan 15, 2017
What's source material got to do with anything? The Bourne movies have very little to do with the books on which THEY'RE based. A book is a book and a movie is a movie. They're allowed to differ.
Calum Sanderson on Feb 3, 2017
Aren't the books usually better than the movie?
RAW_D on Feb 6, 2017
My problem with the DCEU is that it has heretofore been forced. The MCU came together so organically because they were willing to do exactly what you mentioned in this article: take gambles on solo character films and really develop those characters. When they all came together it worked because we had an established knowledge of the universe and its heroes. DCEU has forced heroes into the same film and then on top of that trying so hard to universe build rather than start to slowly build. To start with a team up movie like BvS and then go right into Justice League, its just a bit too much too quick.
KJB 10 on Jan 11, 2017
Green Lantern had so much potential. It has such a great story, with tons of cool characters. They could have made such a killing with it. Shame, they will be forced to shelve it for quite some time now...
DAVIDPD on Jan 11, 2017
I think the tone and style of WB eclipses Marvel for drama. I like the Marvel movies but they're Disney-fied... which isn't to say they are bad, just different.
chuckpenz on Jan 12, 2017
Disney-fied? Please Explain.
ErrorSapiens on Jan 12, 2017
You know like a delicious candy coating.
chuckpenz on Jan 12, 2017
I'm starting to get tired and sick of all the candy. They need a new formula...AND FAST!
RAW_D on Jan 15, 2017
I think Batman in BvS was the one of the ONLY redeeming things in that movie for me. The **SPOILER ALERT** rescue sequence of Ma Kent was the best iteration of comic book Batman put on the big screen. I want to see more of that, and if it takes a solo-Batman film to right the ship after Wonder Woman and Justice League, so be it! I feel like WB is in a deadly tailspin with the DC properties, and we're either going to see a spectacular crash, or they'll pull up at the last minute and save their asses and have all us fanboys with our jaws in our laps "ooo"ing and "ahhhhh"ing. That's my hope anyway. I REALLY like that they cast Mamoa as Aquaman. I've always felt that a blonde-haired blue eyed dude that's king of the ocean seems off and unusual. I just wish Mamoa's Aquaman had a cool hook hand...
RAW_D on Jan 15, 2017
Do you feel the Marvel formula worked? Cause whatever DC is doing right now...is kind of a sh*t show....
RAW_D on Jan 15, 2017
Nolans Batman and Faveros Ironman.... Changed our perception and expectations of how movie should be made. On the other hand don't forget the factor of time... all of us are getting older and wiser... and our perceptions change as well... But the feeling of seeing a memorable movie that we've seen at a younger age was forever imprinted with a lasting impression of how that movie made you feel and think... and everything that follows is always judged against it and fails. Until someone does something incomparable.
Alpivan on Jan 18, 2017
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