Before we get started, let me assure you… I already know what you’re going to say.
Over the last year, there has been plenty of articles written about the DC Entertainment Universe (DCEU) helmed by Warner Bros., but I want to take a different approach. Instead of merely looking at what is wrong and highlighting it, I want to offer my take on a solution.
Numbers can be deceiving and, frankly, that is the number one problem with Warner Bros. While their films have seen massive worldwide ticket sales, does that really mean they’ve been a success? Their films have made so much from name recognition alone but fall short in quality, especially considering their competition. For instance, while Batman v Superman made a good chunk of change at the global box office, comparing it to a film like Deadpool shows that it missed expectations exponentially. Even though the film featured arguably the two most iconic superheroes ever for the first time ever in the same film (not to mention the first live action film version of Wonder Woman), and the film should have grossed well over 1 billion worldwide yet it fell far short. The success of a character like Deadpool should never compare to a film featuring Batman and Superman, but it shows you the difference between mere name recognition and a quality script that carries all the best elements of the character. (In fact, Suicide Squad suffered similar problems, by offering a film that made money from name recognition but not from the quality of the film itself.
Now I know, there are some reading that actually like these films, and that’s fine. This isn’t an article to bash DC or even compare them to their more successful counterpart led by the House of Mouse. Rather, this is an article of a comic book fan who wants to see sustained success–and, based on all the recent news, sustained success seems like a farfetched idea at the moment. I won’t link articles because I take rumors with a grain of salt, but with the confirmation that Ben Affleck won’t direct a solo Batman film; the script being thrown out and redone; and even some rumors that Affleck is trying to find a way to no longer play Batman, the state of the DCEU remains a giant question mark. (Though today’s news that Matt Reeves has confirmed his role as director is, finally, some good news related to the film…). In three months, we will find out if there’s some hope (and again, don’t let initial numbers deceive you) but it could also completely bury the DCEU for quite some time.
With all that being said, let’s offer up some solutions.
My first piece of advice for Warner Bros. is kind of an oxymoron when you first hear it. I want them to both emulate Marvel Studios and also stop emulating Marvel.
Let me explain.
When it comes to emulating, the WB must stop pretending like they don’t care what Marvel is doing. (Let’s be serious… you do.) So, emulate the planning process. So far, it seems like the list of DCEU films are based on reaction and “catching up” rather than coming across as piece of a clearly laid out plan. Through their use of their ‘Phase 1-3’ idea, Marvel Studios has come off as a company that had an overall story to tell, rather than just movie titles. This interlocking shared universe paid off and WB would be smart to copy that same formula. This means that you shouldn’t make a film that spends more time trying to set up another film then actually tell a good story on its own. By leaving the interlocking parts for the end credits where the main film can breathe on its own with a few easter eggs, the fans realize in the end credits that it is part of something greater. These are things that Marvel has made successful and definitely should be emulated.
Now to the stop emulating part…
One of the more consistent things we’ve heard about is the constant butting of heads idea that DCEU films aren’t good because tell less jokes than Marvel and aren’t as ‘light hearted’.
But that’s far from the truth.
DCEU films don’t need to be light hearted to be good. They don’t need to follow that Marvel formula. The Dark Knight remains arguably the greatest comic book film of all time, and that’s what DCEU should be leaning on. BvS didn’t fail (critically speaking) because there wasn’t enough humor. Suicide Squad wasn’t viewed as a mess because they didn’t get the humor right. Humor has nothing to do with it, and the execs at WB need to realize that. Suicide Squad should have been dark and stayed with the feel of a black ops film rather than interjecting a supernatural element that simply didn’t make sense in that particular world. It felt like two different stories were trying to be told. Instead, Warner Bros. needs to focus more on storytelling and not just the name recognition (that goes for both characters and the actors picked to play the characters). If you are a fan like me, you probably have watched many of the animated movies that have come out in recent years. When I compare those movies to the live action, it is night and day. Now, we can talk about the differences in filmmaking stylistically, but good storytelling is good storytelling. There are a plethora of stories and ideas to pull from directly from their own umbrella that can be adapted correctly. Whether its Justice League, or Batman, or Suicide Squad, they all have been done extremely well in a film feature on the animated side because they have the freedom to stay true to the characters and the DC formula. If the biggest criticism DCEU films have is story, why continue to revert back to the same screenwriters?
DC comics have always been different from Marvel. Sure, over the years, characters have been created to ‘copy’ one from the other side but, even then, the characters and personalities remain completely different. The DCEU should follow suit and get writers that work within other factions of the DC world in order to craft stories that stay true to the characters. The WB execs should, like FOX did with Deadpool, take a step back and give them the freedom to do it their way. I don’t think all the turmoil surrounding The Batman film, and the lost hope from majority of fans would be an issue if these things were to happen. At the end of the day, we all want to see the films succeed and want to see the DCEU have a sustained success. But please WB, stop trying to take shortcuts and thinking that the names alone is all you need. Make a plan and be willing to let the characters develop and grow while staying true to their nature. Have a freedom and liberty with the characters but respect their foundation and ultimately let them breathe. Think outside of the box and don’t pigeonhole yourself to the same writers or ideas and dare to cast unknowns or non-A-list actors for iconic roles.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how dark or light the film is. If the story is well put together, it will ultimately–finally?–lead to a sustained success.