After the failure of Justice League at the box office, DC needs to reevaluate its strategy.
The DCEU has had a rough start. First the mixed response to 2013’s Man of Steel. Then the critical lashings endured by Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Not to mention the constant setbacks with Flashpoint. And of course, the massive question mark hanging over Ben Affleck’s head.
The overwhelmingly positive response to Wonder Woman gave both Warner Bros and DC fans hope. For the first time, it seemed the universe was coming together. When Zack Snyder had to leave for family reasons, Joss Whedon took over. The Avengers director joining Justice League gave all of us hope it would be smooth sailing from here.
That was before Justice League had a disappointing opening weekend of $96 million. Aquaman has already finished shooting, Patty Jenkins is set to return to the director’s chair for Wonder Woman 2, and Matt Reeves’ The Batman is still moving forward. And a few other projects are in the planning stages.
The DCEU began with a take on Superman that not everyone was ecstatic about. He was darker, more distant, and just overall more alien. I hoped DC would take these criticisms to heart; hoped Batman v Superman would be a course correction.
Nope, they doubled down. And the results weren’t pretty.
With the exception of Wonder Woman, the DCEU keeps stumbling, which means it’s time they did some serious soul searching. DC fans will hate me for what I’m about to say. But that’s just too bad because this needs to be said.
It’s time to pay attention to what Marvel is doing.
Marvel’s Winning Formula Can Be Duplicated
If you’ve already got the perfect template for a shared cinematic universe, why wouldn’t you follow it?
I’m not saying the DC movies need to follow the same style of storytelling and use humour to the extent Marvel has. But what I am saying is Marvel took their time. The big showdown between their two biggest characters came after eight freaking years of build-up and characterisation.
We got one movie with Superman and then in the follow-up, they try to jam eight years worth of films into one movie. No wonder Batman v Superman was such a narrative mess. Not even the greatest director or writer in history could have pulled that off.
Wonder Woman took the smart route. It followed the formula of the best solo MCU movies like Iron Man or Doctor Strange—we’re introduced to the character and her corner of the universe. There are some hints of the larger universe, but it’s still kept relatively self-contained.
This is the approach I hope they’ve taken with Aquaman and that they should also take with The Batman and any other solo movies going forward. Before you bring these characters together and have them clash with each other, we first have to know who they are.
The Avengers succeeded because we went into the film knowing these characters. So when we see Cap playing the good soldier and rubbing up against the roguish Iron Man, we understand why. And when we follow the characters through the successive movies and end up in Captain America: Civil War with both Steve and Tony essentially changing ideological positions, it makes sense.
This same approach has also worked for The CW’s DC shows. We weren’t dropped right into the multiverse with metahumans running around. We started with Arrow and then as the viewers showed they were willing to accept it, expanded outward into The Flash, then Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl.
Take your time to build up the universe and the fans will reward you for it.
Flaspoint Gives An Opportunity For Change
If the DCEU is going to get its act together, it’s time for a course correction. 20th Century Fox realised they needed to do the same thing after the critical hammering they received for X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, so they used X-Men: Days of Future Past to change the timeline.
But Fox also did something else very interesting. Rather than dive right into this new universe, they’ve been doing some interesting things. X-Men: Apocalypse was a dud, but they became really experimental with Deadpool and Logan. And New Mutants looks to continue that trend.
These movies are all linked together, but they have their own flavour. Why can’t the DCEU do something similar?
For those unfamiliar with the comic book story, Flashpoint featured Barry Allen going back in time to stop the Reverse-Flash from killing his mother. Though adapted into both the DC animated movie Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox and the season three premiere of The Flash TV series, the comic had a significant side-effect: it rebooted the entire DC universe.
Flashpoint can be the DCEU’s Days of Future Past. It wouldn’t touch Wonder Woman because that takes place long before Barry or his mother were even born. And in the new universe, there’s no need to do more origin stories. Just have Barry return to a time where the Justice League already exists.
That would give Warner Bros the freedom to tell great stories featuring these classic characters without being burdened by the mistakes of the past. And after Justice League, what other choice do they really have?