It’s just been over five years since Man of Steel was released in theaters. This was the start of DC’s plan to forge their own interconnected series of films in the same vein of their biggest rival in comics. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was hitting like gangbusters and DC and Warner Bros. knew they were sitting on a gold mine of superhero content and they wanted in.
Fast forward to the present and DC and Warner Bros. are abandoning their plans for the DC Extended Universe. At least, abandoning their original plans for it. Instead of copying the template that Marvel set up with their Cinematic Universe, DC is going to take a different path but a path that they’ve taken before. It’s a plan that they’ve taken a lot of flak for in the past, actually. Instead of having it so that their superheroes can pop into each others’ movies, DC and Warner Bros. are now going about the more traditional route of giving them individual films and not worry about how each movie will fit in the grand scheme of their so-call DC Extended Universe. That’s what DC and Warner Bros. had done for so long in the past with films like the Christopher Reeve Superman films and the Tim Burton/Christopher Nolan Batman franchises.
It seems counterintuitive, especially with a lot of studios attempting their own version of a shared universe these days. I didn’t think this was a good idea at first. But, after mulling over this for a while, I believe that, while it does go against today’s conventional wisdom, it’s DC and Warner Bros. best move.
I’ve already gave my thoughts regarding what went wrong with the DC Extended Universe before as well as why they wanted to duplicate the formula Marvel had been using in the past. So, let’s delve into why DC and Warner Bros. made this huge and “radical” course correction and I’ll give my opinion as to why this was a sound decision.
You may think that the decision to distance themselves from the entire “shared universe” concept started with the disappointing box office disappointment of Justice League. No, it had nothing to do with Justice League not doing as much business as they’d hoped. It actually started with their only huge success: Wonder Woman.
I don’t think anyone really expected Wonder Woman to be as good as it was. Box Office Pro predicted that the film would underperform and even forecasted that it would be worst performing film in the DC Extended Universe at the time. To be fair, they don’t have the benefit of hindsight and there were a number of factors that could’ve derailed Wonder Woman. There was the DC Extended Universe’s track record; it certainly didn’t help that Wonder Woman would have to follow the abysmally disappointing Suicide Squad. There was also the fact that it was being released in between Pirates of the Caribbean and The Mummy, which would’ve eaten into its profit margins. Once again, hindsight is a funny thing, isn’t it?
So, to the surprise of many, Wonder Woman actually made DC and Warner Bros. a ton of money. In the United States alone, the movie made over $412 million, making it the highest grossing DC Extended Universe film in the United States. Worldwide, it raked in over $821 million, just $50 million shy of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’s (God, I really hate that name) take. Considering that it didn’t have big names like Superman and Batman on the marquee, that’s incredibly impressive that it got that close! Oh, and as of this writing, it’s still the DC Extended Universe’s best reviewed films out there. Imagine that!
Thankfully, DC and Warner Bros. didn’t just take a cursory glance at what made it so successful. If they did, they would’ve come to the conclusion that it was because the hero was a female who loved wearing sexy clothing and was into bondage! No, they actually saw what critics and audiences liked about it and they found out that they enjoyed it because the hero was, get this, heroic and inspiring! This was a far cry fro the “grimdark” tone that was established and something that the foundation of the entire DC Extended Universe was built on! Basically, Wonder Woman felt like a hero who did heroic deeds rather than just a person with God-like powers… who also likes questioning fashion trends for how impractical they are.
With that lesson in mind, DC and Warner Bros. tried to do some course corrections. Even with Justice League, they tried to add some levity, which is probably why they hired Joss Whedon, who did the first two Avengers films for Marvel, to helm the reshoots. This wasn’t enough and might’ve made Justice League even worse as it gave an inconsistent tone. But this give them some time to retool their future projects, such as Aquaman and Shazam!
Aquaman may have also been a part of Justice League but his film doesn’t seem to reference the events on that film all that much. This even led to a minor continuity problems, such as Arthur Curry seemingly not knowing who Mera was even though they met during Steppenwolfe’s attack of Atlantis and the need to speak in frickin’ bubbles when they’re underwater. These issues don’t distract from the movie but it does show you that there is some effort to distance themselves from the past films.
In a few months, DC and Warner Bros. are going to release Shazam! and it’s looking to be the most divergent from the previous “grimdark” tone that was established. There’s a general lighthearted tone in the trailers so far, which makes sense since Billy Batson is just a kid! They even got Zachary Levi, an actor noted for his comedic performances, to play the hero. Although it is obvious it’s still set in a world where Superman and Batman exist, it doesn’t look like it’ll be all that focused on ingraining it in the same universe with cameos and the like.
But what does this more lighthearted tone have to do with DC and Warner Bros. new focus on standalone films? Well, the more upbeat feel distances them from the problems that the “grimdark” tone created. Prior to that, the heroes of the DC Extended Universe didn’t come off as heroes. Sure, they fought bad guys and huge threats but they came off more like they were doing it because it was something they had to do, not something they wanted to do. It’s like it was part of a list of chores to do. Wash the dishes. Clean out the kitty litter. Stop the beam from the sky from annihilating all life on the planet. Take out the garbage. The more jovial tone will make the characters appear more valiant, more relatable and, most importantly, different from the former status quo.
Also, focusing on more standalone films gives DC and Warner Bros. a little more time to breathe. It gives them more time to focus on the heroes and the characters without having to concentrate on how each and every film fits into the grand scheme of the DC Extended Universe.
In the past, they couldn’t wait to show everyone that all of these heroes were in one “cinematic universe.” This caused them to rush through the process by cramming all their heroes into one film. It made them catch up in terms of establishing a team, sure. But it hurt them in the long run since I didn’t really care for the characters they introduced in Justice League. Why would I give a crap about mopey Cyborg, surfer dude Aquaman and The Flash, the corwardly hero that pushes bad guys and runs away?
After watching Justice League, did anyone feel the urge for a solo Cyborg or Flash film? I didn’t. I was actually shocked they were pushing through with the solo Aquaman film after Justice League! But, credit where credit is due, I liked Aquaman a whole lot, much more than I expected, to be honest. I still think Wonder Woman was better but Aquaman is a solid second in the DC Extended Universe. And a lot of that has to deal with the film pretty much shunning its origins in Justice League.
But the biggest reason why focusing on standalone films is a good decision is because it’s a formula that worked for them in the past. No, I’m not talking about the old Superman and Batman movies; those films have no connection whatsoever with each other. Rather, it’s the new formula that they accidentally discovered with Wonder Woman.
If you really look at it, Wonder Woman is a standalone movie and hardly has any connection to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The only real connection it had with the previous film is the old photo Bruce Wayne sent to Diana, which caused her to remember her origins. That’s it! That’s the only connection it has!
But what makes Wonder Woman different from Man of Steel and Suicide Squad then? Technically, they’re all standalone films, right? You got me there, actually. However, Man of Steel and Suicide Squad were still made with the mindset that they had to fit within the tone of the “grimdark” tone of the DC Extended Universe. Wonder Woman didn’t.
They gave Patty Jenkins, the director of Wonder Woman free reign to do what she wanted. I have been trying to research if DC and Warner Bros. tried to interfere with the film’s production and I couldn’t really find anything! The only thing regarding any fighting was actually with her own people saying that the No Man’s Land scene, probably the most iconic scene in the film, was unnecessary since Wonder Woman didn’t fight anyone when she stepped into the battlefield and she was just deflecting bullets most of the time. If you put it that way, it does sound silly but you can’t argue with how great the final product looks, can you?
But since Patty Jenkins was given the leeway to put together the film she envisioned without having the burden of creating the foundation of a cinematic universe or having studio heads telling her what to do, Wonder Woman was a better film for it. So was Aquaman. Hopefully, Shazam! will also be good as well because of this.
While the “old” DC Extended Universe is technically dead, they’re not throwing out the continuity totally. They’re not building a cinematic universe like a giant mansion, with each movie akin to different rooms but having to follow the same scheme. DC and Warner Bros. have shifted to making individual movies, much like building smaller houses by different architects within the same neighborhood.
This direction seems to be best for the DC Extended Universe as of the moment. It may be too early to tell if it will work but, if Aquaman and the Shazam! trailers are any indication, it seems like it’s going to work out for them.
What do you think of DC and Warner Bros. current course for the DC Extended Universe? Let me know in the comments section below!