Warner Bros is at a weird impasse with its DC universe. After breaking the unfortunate news that Batgirl, a $70-90 million production, was canceled as a result of poor test screenings and (presumably) a product that wasn’t up to par, it’s clear that WB is struggling to unravel the tangled web of its disjointed superhero franchise.
This is weird considering the very palpable slate of characters at the studio’s disposal, namely Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, etc. These aren’t your average heroes, like the Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man — i.e. characters the general populace had never heard of before their introduction in the MCU — but pop culture icons with a rich history and decades of material to pull from.
Yet, outside of Batman, WB has failed to find consistent success with its heroes, haphazardly bouncing from project to project without an overarching goal — outside of trying to mimic Marvel’s stunning achievements.
Even weirder, the studio can’t seem to decide if it wants to press on with the “SnyderVerse” (the characters created by Zack Snyder for Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League) or go in a completely different direction altogether. As such, we get films like Aquaman and Wonder Woman that very clearly take place in Snyder’s darker universe juxtaposed with Shazam! and Wonder Woman 1984 — entries that call back to previous films but are so tonally different that they render them completely separate from everything that came before.
Looking back at the likes of the recent The Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey — two very R-rated superhero films established after Snyder was kicked out for … making R-rated superhero films — and gazing ahead to WB’s upcoming slate — namely, Black Adam, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (featuring Ben Affleck’s Batman), Blue Beetle, and The Flash (featuring Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton’s Batman) — it’s clear the studio wants to take its heroes in a different direction but refuses to completely sever ties with Snyder’s pre-established concept.
My suggestion? Make a decision Warner Bros. It’s been nearly 10 years since Man of Steel, over six years since Batman v Superman, and five years since the debacle that was the Justice League theatrical cut. Zack Snyder’s Justice League was an enormous treat for fans of the Snyder brand and offered an appropriate amount of closure to his trilogy of films. You can watch Man of Steel, BvS, and ZSJL and (outside of those perplexing future sequences) walk away satisfied so long as you ignore the Darkseid stuff. At least, I know I did. Regardless, it’s time to move on to bigger and better things.
The DCEU Needs a Consistent Vision
One option is to reboot the DCEU, Aquaman, and all … recast and start fresh sans the baggage of earlier entries. Establish a lighter, more kid-friendly tone, and slowly build towards the ultimate team-up — i.e., Justice League. Hell, bring back George Miller and let him finish what he started back in the mid-2000s, albeit with an all-new cast or bring in someone like J.J. Abrams to build the franchise from the ground up. Do something.
Alternatively, let Snyder finish his vision. Stop tip-toeing around the SnyderVerse. Dive head first into the madness. Let Ben Affleck direct his Batman movie, let Ray Fisher complete his Cyborg solo project, make Wonder Woman cool again, introduce Green Lantern, remake The Flash (with a different actor), and give us more Henry Cavill. Give us a Shazam! and Black Adam co-starring Superman (and Sasha Calle’s Supergirl), and a Batgirl flick featuring Affleck’s Batman and Jared Leto’s Joker. Let Snyder make his crazy Justice League 2.
Another option is to bring back James Gunn and let him steer the DCEU into even darker territory. Give him full control over characters like Harley Quinn and Joker. While The Suicide Squad wasn’t for everyone (as the mediocre box office performance showed), it still had a definitive vision from an auteur filmmaker. There were many interesting ideas explored in that film that would be interesting to revisit or expand upon in future adventures. The DCEU clearly needs someone with a defined vision and tone.
Where the DCEU Currently Stands
Right now, WB might be trying to structure the DCEU around Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam … or maybe not, as even The Rock appears confused as to why he’s not battling Cavill’s Superman. Maybe they’re going to completely reset with The Flash when it hits theaters next year. Except, since Michael Keaton’s Batman has been erased and/or replaced by Ben Affleck’s Batman in Batgirl and Aquaman 2, will his character figure prominently in WB’s future plans? Why continue with Affleck if there are no plans for Affleck to continue playing Batman? What a mess.
At this point, the SnyderVerse is shattered. The pieces are there, though. They’re fractured, for sure, but they’re there just waiting to be picked up and put back together, or discarded completely. WB can’t decide.
I’m sure there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about. With the recent Discovery merger, WB is clearly stuck in no man’s land trying to fight its way out of the hole established by the previous regime (and that includes Snyder). I don’t envy their position. How can you nix cash cows like Aquaman and Wonder Woman after they go nuts at the box office? (Also, how can you continue with a franchise like The Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey when they bottom out at the box office?)
You can’t really recast Batman or Superman, which means Affleck will keep popping up at random, and Cavill’s boy wonder will continue to be alluded to but never seen unless you reset the whole thing. But how do Aquaman, Harley Quinn, Shazam, and Wonder Woman figure into a reset? Would they morph into different iterations of themselves in future movies, essentially nixing their previous story beats? Or would their stories remain in the previously established universe, in which case we’ll be stuck with the Cavill and Affleck problem until audiences decide to stop watching Aquaman and Wonder Woman?
What of Peacemaker, the HBO Max series that featured a special guest appearance by the Justice League — including Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Cavill’s Superman, albeit a faceless version of the character, which was definitely weird. Does that show get reset? I’m so confused.
WB, it’s time to pick a path and stay the course. Stop tossing shit at the wall and waiting for something to stick. Choose a direction and ride it until the end. Call Snyder and give him all the money, or wrap up the current slate of films and start anew a few years down the road. Just stop sitting on the fence.