The Marvel Cinematic Universe is more successful than the DC Extended Universe.
Ya, I said it. Even if you are the most hard-core DC fan (like me) you have to admit this. The MCU invested patiently in its movies and took time developing its plans. They cultivated a global fan-base and crushed the competition, changing the way fans and studios viewed franchise film-making.
The greatest thing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they built a vast shared universe of movies and TV shows. Many have tried to copy but have yet to succeed (for lack of patience in most cases). They deliver what they promise to their target audience without compromising too much on the stories that they planned to tell. Which then leads to massive financial success.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the best cinematic universe out there. But DC still makes better films.
Yes, this also has to be said. While many fans, myself included, mourn the DC Extended Universe’s premature death, we still have hope. We know the corporate greed and haphazard planning by Warner Bros. has squandered our absolute feelings. But that doesn’t make the films they’re producing anything less, right? They’re not formulaic or generic-looking in production value. And they’re also not forgetful episodes of a long cinematic story equivalent to a TV series.
The DC Extended Universe movies are complete and not just a commercial for the next film. They create engaging stories with characters facing consequences in the story itself. They have better VFX, memorable music and outstanding cinematography. They’re expressions of their creators bearing their own unique marks (barring Justice League and some parts of Suicide Squad). Yet they’re also organically connected with each other without it feeling forced. Even if the DCEU, or whatever it is in its current state, isn’t exactly how it was envisioned by Zack Snyder and co., it still kinda is, oddly enough.
The original DCEU was never meant to be an exact replica of the MCU. The original slate was meant to provide room for other directors to bring their own style in while Snyder completed his 5-part Justice League arc. In turn, it would provide a unique one-of-a-kind gourmet approach instead of fast-food McDonald’s style of the MCU.
One could watch the main epic arc and still enjoy it without having to watch 19 films of back stories. Or one could watch the various solo spin-offs in between that would provide more self-contained stories for the league. Even though most people don’t want to believe it, Aquaman and Shazam –the only two movies which were part of the original slate- are more or less the same story they would’ve been if the DCEU had continued as planned. (Give or take a headless Superman)
What’s Happening Now
After the Justice League fiasco, Warner Bros. got scared and abandoned its plans for a grander ensemble film. Instead, they started concentrating on lower-budget solo movies. That way, each film wouldn’t determine a financial risk if they fail. Or if successful, would prove highly profitable. Essentially, they could continue the successful movies into sequels/spinoffs with no proper planning as they did with The Conjuring franchise.
Now maybe this new subdued approach of WB is Walter Hamada’s. His shrewd calculated genius from the success of Newline horror movies is working like clockwork. Or it’s just a broken clock with the hands barely moving anywhere. But as the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Maybe by design or by accident, but this approach might, again, end up doing what WB/DC has always done the best; Redefine the genre.
What It Means
This ‘treading with caution’ strategy may appear more like a ‘Throw s*** at the wall and see what sticks’ strategy. And I get the hate. The hate stemming from getting so close and yet not getting all the iconic DC characters on-screen. The pain of almost getting an epic story with sacrifices and cliff-hangers and multi-world crises that the DC comics are famous for. The biggest wound being the studio not communicating transparently and clearly with its most die-hard fans.
But there are many reasons many why you should still be excited about DC’s upcoming slate of films. Especially for many die-hard fans who defended the studio and continue to defend some of its movies in spite of them still treating some fans like an after-thought. Even if you are a DCEU fan. If you’re a hard-core Snyder-verse only DCEU fan (especially if you are a hard-core Snyder-verse fan) these movies could actually be something we like Snyder for. Why? Well, we’ve discussed this in our previous DC DNA series (here and here).
How DC Is Different
One of the many things that attract people to a WB/DC film since Nolan’s Batman Begins, is their willingness to do something different on-screen. To experience something never experienced before. Whether it’s the first gritty reboot (Batman Begins) or the deconstruction of superhero mythology (MoS, Watchman, BvS). Or the first multi-racial/multi-gender team-up movie (Suicide Squad). And even the first time witnessing an epic underwater battle never-before-experienced like Aquaman. Oh, we can’t forget the first female-lead solo film in Wonder Woman either. WB/DC is always out there doing a lot of ‘firsts’.
The need and know the pressure to compete with MCU. It might actually have come as a blessing in disguise, because WB doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. The MCU is done with the culmination of their 22-story saga, Endgame. There have been a lot of changes at WB at the managerial level. They’re not focusing on getting DC at par with Marvel. There is no pressure to just please the audience to somehow make a billion dollars as there was with Justice League. Come to think of it, nothing can be better for WB/DC. They can take more risks and make movies which are completely different than what the MCU is still doing. And at the same time, pulling off some more of those unique things that we know and love WB/DC for. So, take a deep breath, put on that crazy paint, assemble your squad and let’s fly right into DC’s new slate.
(The list includes movies which are either complete and in post-production or at least have their script and casting confirmed. So, the hundreds of rumored projects like Batgirl, Plastic Man, Booster Gold, etc. are not on the list. Neither is Matt Reeves’ Batman. Because let’s face it, it’s the Batman. You are gonna watch it either out of excitement or sheer curiosity)
WONDER WOMAN 84
DIRECTOR PATTY JENKINS
EXPECTED RELEASE DATE – JUNE 2020
Regardless of what most people felt about the DCEU, almost everyone loved Wonder Woman. It is the first (and some would say only) great Female led Superhero movie. It treats the character with sincerity and intensity and turned Gal Gadot into an international Superstar. Many of Snyder’s haters seem to forget the fact that he wrote the story for it.Patty obviously took a lot of inspiration from Snyder for the slo-mo action scenes. The announcement of a sequel was not a surprise at all considering the 1st ones financial and critical success. The only issue for most original DCEU fans being that the sequel would somehow deviate from the Wonder Woman set up in BvS where she says “100 years ago, I walked away from mankind; from a century of horrors”. Also, Chris Pine is apparently making a comeback as Steve Trevor when, in fact, he is seen giving up his life at the end of the 1st one.
So, why should you still be excited about it? Well, 1) The cast with Gadot and Pine reprising their roles. 2) We will see Wonder –Woman’s arch-nemesis Cheetah (played by Kirsten Wig) on screen for the first time. 3) Patty Jenkins has proven that she believes more in the sincerity of the story and intensity of tone than MCU style quippy humor which would feel like a betrayal of tone from the first one. But the best part about the movie, in my opinion, is how little we actually know about it. The only things we know are that it’s set in the ’80s. We have Cheetah and Maxwell Lord as the antagonists, and Steve Trevor somehow makes an appearance. Whether it’s through time travel or a dream sequence or whether this is indeed a retconning of the DCEU as some popular bloggers have theorized, remains to be seen. We still don’t know how Cheetah looks or how it retains or breaks the original BvS timeline. In the age of by the second photo –leaks on social media or VFX reels or scripts being passed around easily, the fact that Patty Jenkins has managed to keep it all so tight-knit is very refreshing. Let’s hope team WW84 can retain the mystique when the marketing kicks into full gear. As of now, WW84 is the easiest DCEU movie to be excited for as its original was generally liked and enjoyed by everyone.
SUICIDE SQUAD 2 OR (THEY SHOULD GO WITH 2ICIDE SQUAD FOR THIS)
DIRECTOR –JAMES GUNN
EXPECTED RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 2021
Talking about sequels, let’s talk about one for a movie that wasn’t originally liked and enjoyed by everyone but still managed to make $700+ million dollars worldwide (that too without releasing in China). It also had a platinum-selling soundtrack and won an Oscar for make-up. Still, it was universally panned as the worse DCEU movie (until at least Justice League was released). The controversial butchering of the original dark and somber tone of director David Ayer’s movie by Warner Bros was perhaps the first sign of them losing faith in their own plans. But still, the movie was a financial success and the performances of Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn were greatly appreciated. WB had started plans for a sequel as early as 2017 with initially Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, The Accountant) attached to direct. But the plans fell away and the project was in limbo for quite a while. Until James Gunn was fired by Disney for his controversial pedophile joke tweets and WB decided to pick him up.
Now the debate regarding the separation of art from the artist is as old as Roman Polanski. So without going into it, let’s focus on why it still could be a good movie. First things first, even if you think the MCU is generic and formulaic, one has to admit that Guardians of the Galaxy 1 was one of the better movies from the franchise. Perhaps one of the very few that kinda retains the distinct flavor of its director. While you may or may not appreciate that flavor, it is interesting to note that even in a central mandate driven studio like Disney which refrains from any experimentation by its directors, Gunn manages to put his stamp –visually and tone-wise- over the movie. It doesn’t look and feel anything like all the other MCU movies. Consider what he can do with a more ‘director friendly’ studio. (I know that’s relative but let’s just say WB badly needs this movie to work and rolled out the red-carpet for Gunn to deliver for them. They are mostly gonna let him have his way with the movie). Secondly, almost the entire cast is returning for their respective roles with the exception of Will Smith as Deadshot. But we have Idris Elba in his place as Bronze Tiger. Idris Elba in anything is always a win. Now neither WB nor Gunn have clarified whether this is a sequel or a reboot because I honestly think even they themselves don’t logically know. Safe to say, that the studio wants Gunn to pull off a GoTG for them and Gunn is more than happy to be given full freedom to handle such popular characters. For those of you who are afraid, this movie will be more ‘kid-friendly’ or have more unnecessary humor remember the director got fired (and re-hired but that’s a different story) for making extremely inappropriate pedophile humor. That’s darker than most people could handle.
In a recent online survey I took with close to a 1000 votes, SS2 was the DCEU movie least number of people were actually excited for. And it’s understandable with the treatment given to the first one and with Gunn’s lackluster direction and cringe humor in GotG Vol 2. But I think if done right, we could finally get a great a good secret military mission movie with some R rated humor and great chemistry between the characters- like how a good Suicide Squad movie should be. Hopefully without the studio butchering it this time.
BIRDS OF PREY (and the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn)
DIRECTOR CATHY YAN
EXPECTED RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 2021
This is the real ‘Dark horse’ of this race. Produced by Margot Robbie, BoP is a team up movie consisting of Comic Book characters – Harley Quinn, Black Canary, The Huntress, and Renne Montoya teaming up to save young but skilled martial artist Cassandra Cain from Gotham mob-boss the terrifying Black Mask – played by Ewan McGregor. I am personally very excited about this movie because it has a number of firsts attached to it –
- First female ensemble comic book movie that too a multi-racial team up.
- First comic book movie directed by an Asian female director
- Ewan Mc Gregor’s first comic book movie
Director Cathy Yan comes from the indie movie scene and her only other credit as a feature film director is the Chinese film Dead Pigs. Dead Pigs is a black comedy drama which explores the effects of haphazard development in Shanghai through the lives of many colorful characters. It earned a lot of praise on the film festival circuit. While I personally haven’t yet seen the film, mainly because it is hard to find, the trailer on YouTube looks fantastic and Yan does show a good eye for neon-noir like visuals. All of it making her a great choice for Birds of Prey. BoP is also going to be an R-rated movie, which means it’s going to be no-holds-barred with the language and the action. The stunt team behind BoP is the same one which worked on John Wick and Atomic Blonde, so one can expect a lot of excellent martial arts action.
The early reactions and the buzz surrounding the movie has only been positive. Rumors saying that McGregor as Black Mask giving a top-tier DCEU villain performance. The movie will also deal with themes of the emancipation of Harley Quinn which in this day and age is a fascinating theme for a comic book movie to have. Quinn’s toxic relationship with the Joker is what makes the character worthy of exploration. Some on-set photo leaks show a Jared Leto Joker look-alike with Quinn, so we may have another headless Superman like scenario here like Shazam. Other than that particular issue however everything about the movie looks right- It’s a low budget, all-female team up, gritty R rated comic book movie directed by an indie movie director. That is exactly why anyone should be excited about it. WB isn’t betting too much money on this, hence there are little to no chances of seeing a movie being made with a corporate mandate. We could actually get to see something truly original and unique. Besides, for a change, it’s nice to explore the crazier side of Gotham with characters that are not Batman.
DIRECTED BY – TODD PHILLIPS
RELEASE DATE – 4TH OCTOBER 2019
This one topped in my survey and if anyone had any doubts thinking whether the same guy who directed The Hangover movies can do a gritty character study of the most enigmatic character in all of comic book history, they were all extinguished when the teaser was released. While it could still be possible that the movie still sucks, but Joaquin Phoenix is not known to choose movies lightly and everything we have seen till now- the tone, the acting, the cinematography is excellent. WB also placing their faith in this one and wants to premiere the movie at the prestigious Venice Film festival. Fans, critics and almost everyone is whispering the O-word for the movie even before it has released knowing Phoenix’s acting caliber and the potential to portray a dark complex character like the Joker.
Phillips has said that the movie is set in the ’80s but made keeping modern socio-political themes in mind. That it is a character drama having more in common with Taxi Driver than modern comic blockbusters. It is confirmed rated R and does not connect to any other existing movie and will not lead into any other movie. While initially I also had my doubts about the necessity of having a solo Joker drama in spite of all the cosmic, reality-bending, time-traveling potential of DC properties, the trailer won me over.
Stephen M Colbert, senior editor at screenrant.com while speaking to us said “Joker is going to change the way people think about comic book movies.” which it is already doing even before its release. An Oscar is not the only benchmark of a great movie, but to finally have comic book movies rule everything from the box office (which the MCU has got sorted) to the Academy will certainly elevate the genre to newer heights.
Joker is the first movie under the new Walter Hamada regime at DC films and if successful (which by all accounts it will definitely be financially successful since its budget is just 55 million USD) could open up the door to more experimentation with the genre, which is Warner Bros. and DC’s greatest strength. They can be what the MCU can never be, owing to the tone and the empire of expectations MCU has built for itself. WB can experiment. They can be different. WB might have made many mistakes with the DCEU but are slowly re-discovering the style that works for them. Just like the Joker, they are upsetting the established order. Let’s hope they continue to redefine the game rather than play someone else’s.