It’s official: The DC Extended Universe is dead.
It seems almost unfathomable that a cinematic shared universe populated by Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and comicdom’s most popular superheroes, is denying fans the right to see all of them ban together in one film. But it seems like Warner Bros. and DC are backing away from something that would’ve been a money printing idea as Toby Emmerich, Warner Bros. Pictures group head, has stated they’re focusing on more standalone stories in the future.
A decade or so ago, I would’ve said Warner Bros. are being stupid. But now, it’s hard not to see why they’re giving up on their current DC Extended Universe. After the abysmal Justice League, DC were forced to go back to the drawing board and rethink how they were churning out their superhero flicks.
What went wrong? Actually, it wasn’t just one thing. It was a multitude of things! There’s a lot of stuff to unpack so, for the next several weeks, I’ll be delving into why the DC Extended Universe was doomed from the start and why their plan of producing standalone superhero feature films is the best course of action for now.
In order to fully grasp what happened to the DC Extended Universe and all it got wrong, we have to talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After all, if it wasn’t for it, the entire concept of the “shared universe” in film wouldn’t have become popular in the first place! DC wasn’t the only one who tried using the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s formula of printing money. I’m looking at you, Universal’s Dark Universe!
(On a weird side note, Marvel actually kind of mimicked Universal as they’re just the most recent success story that have used the idea of cramming their most popular heroes in one film. Just wanted to add that little tidbit of information.)
Before Iron Man, the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, things didn’t look so hot for Marvel in the movie front. They had some enormous success with the Sam Raimi Spider-Man flicks over at Sony but the rest of the movies based on their characters fell short of their super expectations. Around this time, we got stinkers like Elektra, Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider and X-Men: The Last Stand. Even the aforementioned Spider-Man wasn’t safe because we eventually got the rather terrible Spider-Man 3 around this time!
This wasn’t entirely Marvel’s fault. Sure, these movies featured their most famous superheroes but they didn’t have any control as to how the films were going to be. Marvel licensed a lot of their more big-name characters like the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man to 20th Century Fox and Sony years before. It was up to the movie studios to make the film and that’s what they did with hardly any input from Marvel. All Marvel had left were the licenses to their B-rank heroes. Strangely enough, the superheroes that Marvel still had the rights to, namely Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, were the bulk of Marvel’s greatest team, The Avengers.
This should’ve been something that any major movie producer would’ve notice but no one really noticed this odd fact. No one but Kevin Feige, that is.
Kevin Feige was a huge Marvel fan even back then, which was (and still is) very refreshing. A comic book movie producer who actually is familiar with the source material? That’s pretty unheard of! In fact, his love of comics is what got him his first producing gig. He was brought in during the first X-Men movie because he knew a lot about the characters. He still didn’t have much of a voice back then, in my opinion, as he was also a producer for the Ang Lee Hulk film, Elektra and the little heard-of Man-Thing live action film.
Still, he’s the one who discovered that Marvel still had the building blocks for an Avengers movie. Like most comic book fans, Feige had a dream of seeing good superhero films that mostly mirrored the stories and events from the comics and, more importantly, see them routinely join forces in each movie outing. With official backing from Marvel, he was named head of the newly formed Marvel Studios and the first movie of what was going to be the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man, was green lit.
Oh, and Iron Man was a long shot in the sense that no one really believed it would be good, let alone be the cornerstone of a massive movie franchise.
Iron Man, to be frank, wasn’t Marvel’s most popular superheroes. He may be one of the company’s more long-lived characters but he just wasn’t as well-known. Even non-comic book fans have a passing familiarity with Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men thanks to cartoons and other media. To be fair, Iron Man did have his own cartoon series in 1996 but it didn’t make a huge splash. The weird thing is I vaguely remember its partner cartoon, The Fantastic Four (which was awful, by the way), but not the Iron Man CGI animated show.
Anyway, not many fans were thinking that the Iron Man film was going to be any good. I mean, it had failed actor Robert Downey Jr. in the starring role! So it came to a surprise to most people that Iron Man was a huge hit! To say that there was something magical about the film would be an understatement. There have been superhero movies before and some of them have been very good. But there was just something about Iron Man that made it stand out. A lot of it had to do with Robert Downey Jr’s charismatic portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man. But it certainly helped that this felt like a comic book movie that, while taking some liberties from the source material, felt like the actual comic come to life.
Of course, the clincher was that after credits scene that hinted that Iron Man was just the beginning of something bigger…
The mere fact that Nick Fury showing up was already big. But him mentioning the Avengers Initiative blew geeks minds! Was this even possible? Was is possible for Marvel to pull off a miracle and actually assemble Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in one film? It just didn’t seem like it could happen!
Iron Man was the foundation. Slowly but surely, Marvel released more superhero movies and each film dropped more hints that the heroes were in the same world. Tony Stark popped in on General Ross at the end of The Incredible Hulk. Phil Coulson, who was introduced in Iron Man, showed up in Thor. Nick Fury approaching Steve Rogers/Captain America after waking up from being frozen in ice. It felt like there was this grand story. They may be individual films but they were linked together in some way, making it feel like a cohesive unit.
It all led up to Marvel’s The Avengers, the culmination of several movies and probably the biggest build-up in cinematic history. Just seeing that iconic rotating shot of all the heroes made all that waiting worth it!
Even after that, Marvel just kept rolling on, producing superhero film after superhero film. But instead of getting worse, which is what you would expect for something that’s been running for years, Marvel’s movies have only gotten better! That’s an accomplishment in itself!
So, what made the Marvel Cinematic Universe the success it was? Oddly enough, one of the reasons is dumb luck! Imagine, no movie studio even though of getting the movie licenses for the Avengers when it was cheap to do so! Of course, a lot of credit has to go to Kevin Feige for noticing that they could make an Avengers movie with the characters they did have. He was the guy working behind the scenes and creating an interconnected universe of movies and he’s the one who’s engineered everything from the start.
That’s okay, though, because Kevin Feige has a deep love for the comics. He’s shown a reverence to the source material and he’s proven that comic book movies can be entertaining for the mass audience and not just comic book nerds. It’s because of him that we have this huge boom in superhero movies, a genre that was previously known for being slapdashly put together to make a quick buck. Oh, we still get terrible movies based on superheroes but at least they put a ton of money in the hopes that they’ll be actually good!
But the most important thing Marvel got right was they consistently made good, entertaining films. Even the worst ones, which, in my opinion are Thor: The Dark World, The Incredible Hulk and Avengers: Age of Ultron (from worst to bad), are still entertaining in their own right. Marvel even learned from those mistakes and seems to only be getting better and better each year. You can say they’re formulaic; lots of action, CGI and a good dash or two of humor. But it’s a formula that worked since the first Iron Man film, so why should they mess with it?
Of course, Hollywood isn’t that big on innovating ideas. So when all the different movie studios saw Marvel raking in tons of money, they had to try to duplicate that formula. That includes DC but I think this post is pretty long as it is. I’ll go talk about how DC tried to duplicate the Marvel formula and how they got it wrong from the very start.
What do you think is the reason for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s success? Let me know in the comments section below!