Though still technically in its infancy, the DC Extended Universe is just barely limping along. Its first three entries were divisive, controversial, and lackluster, leaving most fans hoping for something different. Wonder Woman‘s massive success has temporarily revived the DCEU’s reputation, but its credibility as a franchise still depends on the reception of Justice League, coming out this November (and a little on Aquaman in May 2018.) The slate of sequels, stand-alones, and spin-off films already announced is ambitious, to say the least. How much of it will actually be filmed is uncertain, not helped by production difficulties and industry rumors that have plagued DC’s live-action cinematic universe since its inception. More recently, with confusion over The Batman‘s place in the DCEU, The Flash‘s change to Flashpoint, news of an ambiguous Joker stand-alone film, and much, much more, the DCEU’s future has never been more unclear. One has to wonder, can the DCEU be fixed? I think so, and here are a few ways how:
6. Have Solo Films that Stand on Their Own
Many panicked when news broke that The Batman would be separate from the DCEU. Director Matt Reeves later clarified the issue by stating that the solo film would in fact be set in the DCEU, but stand apart from its larger continuity and tell a mostly self-contained story. Wonder Woman did this very well, and from what little has been released, Aquaman looks to be following this model too. Telling interesting stories with well developed characters becomes exponentially easier when a writer or director can focus less on universe-building and more on narrative and characterization. Someone like DCEU co-runner Geoff Johns can then go into a script and carefully add these tangential connections to flesh out the film’s world without losing a solo film’s individuality. The DCEU solo films should keep their stories distinct and diverse. It’s alright to have tonally and thematically different stories within one universe.
From within DC and Warner Bros, all signs point to this methodology becoming the dominant game plan. DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson assured Vulture that;
“Our intention, certainly, moving forward is using the continuity to help make sure nothing is diverging in a way that doesn’t make sense, but there’s no insistence upon an overall story line or interconnectivity in that universe.”
If this proves to be true, then many of the continuity hang-ups and distracting universe elements of the DCEU would hopefully be replaced with better developed stories and characters. Plus, this would more easily allow for Elseworlds films and really out-there one offs, like the proposed Joker origin story…
5. Embrace Different Eras of DC Mythology
The history of DC is long and complicated, but can be broken down into different phases over time with different aesthetics and personalities. The Silver Age (1956-1970) might be a little too goofy for modern audiences (though aspects of it could work in a different Suicide Squad sequel…) but many parts of the Golden Age (1938-1956) could be modernised into great film plots and characters. An older guard of heroes, perhaps a version of the Justice Society of America, could prove helpful for a new Justice League. A hero from decades ago could return to an unfamiliar Earth after years in space. An older legacy hero, like the Atom or Blue Beetle, could pass down their mantle to a younger apprentice. Modern DC stories should be incorporated too, especially ones that highlight diverse casts and contemporary issues. The DCEU should take advantage of over seventy years of stories instead of simply drawing from the same well of late-eighties/early-nineties material.
4. Better Chosen Spin-offs
You might think this means I don’t want to see spin-offs of Batman side-characters, and that’s wrong. But as much as I might enjoy a Batgirl, Nightwing, or Black Adam spin-off movie, crucial parts of their stories need to be told in other films beforehand. Moreover, a spin-off should be based on a film’s depiction of the character and not on the strength of the character itself. If Jason Todd were played by Ricky Gervais, I don’t think fan clamor for a Red Hood film would be as fervent. If the DCEU wanted to feature a character in their own solo movie, then they should choose a character who is able to carry a film apart from any other character and I’m not sure that’s possible with any member of the Bat-family. It makes more sense to introduce these characters in a Batman-centric film, see who audiences enjoy, and then work from there. Think about how much higher demand was for Wonder Woman after seeing her play off of Batman and Superman in a supporting role. Her film would have likely still been successful without a part in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but the build up of her character added to her film’s success.
3. Give Talented Directors Autonomy
The DCEU has some very accomplished directors working for them, like James Wan, Matt Reeves, and Patty Jenkins. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has improved at choosing directors that will produce quality films when given the space and support to do so. David Ayer‘s original cut of Suicide Squad may not have been a good film, but it would have at least been more inspired and daring than the studio-crafted cut released in theaters. The DCEU needs to trust their directors to deliver on their own films and have DC Films and Warner Bros. executives act as removed advisors instead of hands-on developers.
2. Cast Fan Favourite Characters
Casting in the DCEU has been fairly good so far, with some notable exceptions. Just because a choice is different, unexpected, or interesting does not mean that it will be a good one. This point is undoubtedly subjective, but I’d still like to make the plea that the DCEU cast the rest of their heroes and villains with consideration for the years of comics, shows, and films that have come before instead of rejecting other interpretations as tired or dated. With that, here are a few of my own picks:
Armie Hammer as Hal Jordan, André Holland as John Stewart, Nathan Fillion as Booster Gold, Paul Giamatti as the Penguin, Jake T. Austin as Jaime Reyes, Charlize Theron as Cheetah, Clive Owen as Braniac, Noah Schnapp and John Cena as Billy Batson/Shazam, Andre Braugher as Darkseid, Kathy Bates as Granny Goodness, Matthew Lillard as the Riddler, Alicia Vikander as Hawkgirl, Luke Evans as Sinestro, Matt Damon as Hush, Jane Levy as Barbara Gordon, Finn Wittrock as Dick Grayson, and Damian Lewis as Eobard Thawne.
1. Maybe Just Reboot?
This is a last resort that would endow prolonged damage to DC films for years to come. After Spider-Man 3, Sony rebooted their Spider-Man franchise and produced The Amazing Spider-Man: an imperfect film, but one that told a familiar story with enough different elements to make it worth watching. Had they not rushed out its over-planned disaster of a sequel, the “Amazing” franchise might still be going strong. So DC films could pursue this option if needed and produce quality films a few years after. A soft-reboot is likely the better option, phasing out the world that Zack Snyder set up and giving each DC film its own flair and flavor, with Justice League team-ups feeling more like Wonder Woman than Man of Steel. The future of the DCEU is unknown and constantly developing. What happens next is anyone’s guess, but it will sure be interesting.