There's Gotta Be a Better Way
Let's Save the DC Extended Universe
During our discussions of the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe. it's become pretty apparent that the whole series is in dire shape. The best films in the run have be the ones focusing on a single hero (Wonder Woman, Aquaman) while the worst were the big crossover films (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad). Whether you like Snyder's style or not, I think we can all agree that the biggest issue with the universe is that it was rushed into existence. DC should have spent more time on individual movies establishing all the heroes, and the villains, and the world before it went in for epic storytelling in a shared universe.
I want to say that DC clearly understands -- they're already trying to distance themselves from the original concept of the DCEU. Snyder's plans post-Justice League have been ditched (no JL Parts 2 and 3, nor a Flashpoint Paradox), and new versions of many characters are being introduced. Bat-ffleck is out with a new version of "The Batman" getting introduced in a solo film later, while Superman is likely out either to be replaced by Supergirl, or a black Superman, or both (depending on the rumor you read). The few characters that did work (Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Harley Quinn) are moving on with new projects that may or may not ever crossover again. The steps are being taken to move away from the first version of the DCEU into a new, hopefully better version moving forward.
Except, not everything is quite as happy as it seems. For instance, due to the success of Aquaman, DC put into production a film about the bottom-deweling sea-beasts called The Trench, and they did this before getting an Aquaman 2 on the docket. Meanwhile although Jared Leto's Joker is supposedly out of the DCEU now, there are still rumors of three different Joker films in production. Who the heck knows what DC is really up to?
There are some things the series can do well, but DC just needs to back off, take a breath, and start figuring things out fresh. In our humble opinion, here are the thing DC needs to do to get the DCEU up and running properly:
Slow Down and Stop Trying to Be Marvel
From the get-go, DC rushed this whole cinematic universe. Marvel got the drop of them, that's for sure, launching the MCU out of nowhere and suddenly having a cinematic universe at a time when everyone thought that was a stupid idea. Marvel certainly showed all the nay-sayers, though, and suddenly DC had to play catch up if they wanted their heroes to have anywhere near the same kind of clout. By the time Man of Steel arrived in theaters Marvel already had five years, eight movies, and a wildly successful crossover film under their belts. DC really wanted a cut of that delicious superhero money so they rushed the DCEU out the door, trying to play five years of catch up in the span of two films.
But here's the thing: DC has access to their A-list characters while Marvel does not. Remember, Marvel almost went bankrupt in the 1990s and had to sell off the film rights to their most popular characters just to stay afloat. When they wanted to make their own movies they didn't have access to SpidermanSure, DC Comics has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but among the most popular superheroes stands a guy from Marvel Comics, a younger hero dressed in red and blue who shoots webs and sticks to walls. Introduced in the 1960s, Spider-Man has been a constant presence in comics and more, featured in movies regularly since his big screen debut in 2002. or the X-MenLaunched in 1963 and written by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men featured heroes distinctly different from those featured in the pages of DC Comics. Mutants who didn't ask for their powers (and very often didn't want them), these heroes, who constantly fought against humans who didn't want "muties" around, served as metaphors for oppression and racism. Their powerful stories would form this group into one of the most recognizable superhero teams in comics (and a successful series of movies as well)., so they had to go with their B-list characters. That meant they had to take time developing each of these characters on the big screen just so people knew who they were. This was a necessity, but it also illustrated something very important: if you take the time to properly develop your characters in individual movies, you get people to care about them when they have a big crossover event.
Put another way, you wouldn't launch a big crossover comic until you had each of your characters (or smaller teams) introduced in individual titles first. Why would you do things differently in films? This seems like an easy solution, and yet DC followed up Man of Steel with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film that crams in both Batman and Wonder Woman into a Superman sequel. Now sure, some would make the case that we've already had plenty of Batman movies so we know him, but this Batman was different from any version before with a different history and events in his life. We needed to get to know each of these new heroes before they had a big encounter with Big Blue.
But, also, DC doesn't need to worry about making people care about their heroes. They don't have to rush a bunch of heroes to the screen in a crossover film just so people know they exist because DC still controls all their A-List heroes. They never had to sell off the rights to Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman, the three longest-running and most successful heroes in comic history. If you can't trust these three to have individual movies (multiple ones in fact) and trust that audiences will show up simply due to name recognition, that you really need to reevaluate they people you have in charge of your movies. These characters could easily launch the biggest franchise in history, but you have to give them time to grow their silver screen personas first.
DC, you don't need to be Marvel. You don't have to try to catch up to your rival or get your universe going now so you can keep up with Marvel. People love your characters, so take your time and do it right. Maybe, one day, you get to smash your toys together and cross them over, but you don't have to do it right now. Let it happen organically.
Earth One and Earth Two
Once we get DC to slow down and start putting more focus on building individual characters, the next step is to figure out what to do with the current continuity. The DCEU slate is in disarray and the only reason is works as well as it does now is because most of the recent and upcoming films -- Aquaman, Wonder Woman 1984, Shazam!, The Suicide Squad -- are either set away from the main time period of the continuity or ignore everything that's happened before. Yes, Aquaman dropped a single reference to Steppenwolf from Justice League, but then it spent the rest of the movie acting like that previous film didn't matter at all.
While we can ignore the past continuity of the DCEU for a while, at some point it'll start to cause issues with the continuity. As I noted in my Justice League review, Superman is back and that's going to cause issues for any long-form storytelling set on this version of Earth. If Superman is around, wouldn't he show up to stop many world-ending threats the other heroes would want to handle? But since the actor that plays him, Henry Cavill, is leaving the role, what do they do with the character? They can't use him if the actor isn't there, but they can't just kill him off now because they already pulled that trick once. DC wants to introduce either a new Supergirl or an African-American Superman, but how do you do that when there's already a Superman around that exists but that they can't use? Same goes for a Batman that isn't Ben Affleck. And if DC wants to take another stab at Darkseid, they'll need a better plan in place, right?
Instead of pretending the current Superman is off on another world doing alien things when a new Kryptonian shows up, it seems like an easier solution is just to say a new set of movies coming out -- Supergirl, The Suicide Squad, maybe movies featuring a different Flash or a classic Green Lantern -- exist on a different Earth entirely. They can all still be connected, but they exist separate from the main continuity. On an Earth-2, of course.
Comic fans will know that Earth-2 originally was the world of the Golden Age heroes from 1940s DC comics. There was a Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, of course, but they also had the goofy looking Allan Scott Green Lantern, Jay Garrick's classic Flash, and an Egyptologist Hawkman. After the comic market bottomed out post WWII, many of these characters were dropped from the line up. When the market rebounded, new, unrelated versions of these characters were introduced. The old versions eventually showed up again, but they lived on Earth-2 to the main continuity's Earth-1.
What I'm saying is there is precedent for this kind of thing. We have old versions of characters and we say they exist on one world. They we make new versions and set them on a different world. You can even eventually do some kind of Crisis on Infinite Earths (like the ArrowverseWhen it was announced that the CW was creating a show based on the Green Arrow, people laughed. The CW? Really? Was it going to be teen-oriented like everything else on the network and be called "Arrow High"? And yet that one show, Arrow has spawned three spin-offs, various related shows and given DC a successful shared universe, the Arrowverse on TV and streaming. is doing next year on TV), merging continuities and eliminating any old versions of heroes you don't need anymore.
Essentially having a Crisis (and just one, DC -- let's not overdo it, okay?) can solve many of he continuity issues that have already cropped up because you rushed this whole thing.
And, while you're at it, if you could do an adaptation of the fantastic New 52 Earth 2 series, I'd greatly appreciate it. Maybe also a spin-off of Worlds' Finest, please and thank you.
Let's Get Weird... Just Not Too Weird
Speaking of Earth 2 and other strange stories that could be adapted, let's talk about how far afield this new DCEU should be willing to go. Right now there is some desire to see superhero movie try something new, to push beyond the basic punch-em-ups we've seen for years now. marvel has perfected these kinds of movies, but there's only so many times you can see the same kind of story. Wisely, sometimes superhero films try to push the format --- the absolutely detested Ang Lee Hulk which played like a monster movie, the fantastic Captain America: The Winter Soldier which is more espionage thriller than superhero film -- but most films don't do enough to distinguish themselves from the pack.
I'm certainly not advocating DC should do this any time soon. Right now they need to establish all their heroes, new and old, and spend time letting us get used to a normally paced, properly composed DCEU. At some point, though, the movies will have to push themselves and find new and interesting subjects to tackle. DC is already looking at this with the (seemingly stupid) The Trench film which looks to craft a horror movie in the superhero world. I would ask DC to not only pump the brakes but also reconsider a superhero horror film at all. It's great you're thinking outside the box, but don't put the cart before the horse. Remember, take your time and work on the heroes you have first, show us you can tell proper superhero stories before you get weird.
And then, when you do go for strange ideas mixed in to your movies, try a few with established characters first. Give the Flash his Winter Solider (hey is a CSI after all, so a crime-thriller is right up his alley). Or maybe have Supergirl fight Lobo before giving him his own Guardians of the Galaxy-style romp. Do it organically and don't focus on characters no one cares about just because you can.
Because, seriously, The Trench is a stupid idea. What audiences expect from a superhero film (even a spin-off of one) is different from what horror fans want. One group wants a family-friendly adventure with fist-fights and justice and honor. The other wants blood and guts and a hard-R rating. You can't please both groups, and arguably you can't do good horror if you don't cater to the hard-R crowd (anything less feels watered down, no pun intended), so it's hard to see how this film will be any good. And even if, magically, somehow it's actually a tolerable film, I still don't know who is actually going to want to watch it.
If you want an example of this in action we need look no further than Fox's X-Men-adjacent horror project, New Mutants. That film has been in development hell since it first finished filming, with the studio reportedly not happy with the original tone of the movie, so it's been worked over again and again, with its release dated delayed over a year so far. Maybe a movies worked over that hard will be good, but I just don't see how. It's trying to serve two masters and clearly is struggling to do either.
Stick to what you're going to be good at, DC, and don't try to push the genre father than it can go. And then, 15 years from now, feel free to make The Trench. If you can stick to this plan and rebuild the DCEU into a watchable series of connected films, I'll let you have that one. But not until then.