The Main Problem with the DCEU: Universes Aren’t Built in a Day

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Another week, another avalanche of WTF rumors regarding Warner Bros. and the DC Extended Universe.

 

There’s going to be a Joker origin film written and directed by The Hangover guy and produced by Martin Scorsese?

Suicide Squad 2 is being fast-tracked even though it had trouble finding a director?

The highly-anticipated Gotham City Sirens is being replaced by a Joker/Harley Quinn movie?

Ben Affleck won’t be playing Batman for much longer?

The Batman will not be part of the DCEU? Oh, it is?

Zach Snyder is stepping away from other DCEU films? Or is he getting pushed out?

Snyder’s original Justice League cut was “unwatchable”? (I’m curious if this quote is from the same execs that gave Batman v Superman a standing ovation when it was first screened for them)

It cost millions of dollars to digitally remove Henry Cavill’s mustache?

Joss Whedon is completely reshaping Justice League, including deleting Lex Luthor scenes and changing the ending?

Holy rumors, Batman!

The one thing that all of these things have in common is that they are all proof that WB/DC are scrambling and making it up as it goes along. I vehemently defend the DCEU and have enjoyed all four of the films to varying degrees thus far, but its problem in 2017 is the same problem it had in 2012, namely that it’s trying to build a universe on the fly to compete with Marvel.

Only that’s not how you do it. Empires aren’t built in a day.

BVS Bat Signal

Unlike the vast majority of people, I unashamedly loved Batman v Superman, but even I can admit that in trying to catch up with Marvel, that film was three or four movies crammed into one. They introduced three huge characters – Batman, Lex Luthor, and Wonder Woman (not to mention Doomsday) – for the first time while also trying to continue Superman’s story from Man of Steel. While some of its references and homages were appreciated by serious fans, they left many casual fans confused and frustrated.

Compare that with Marvel, which took years to develop its universe. Forced to use B-level characters because of licensing rights, Kevin Feige took his time, choosing to build around Robert Downey, Jr. and Iron Man. That film was released in 2008. The Avengers didn’t hit theaters until 2012. During that time, there were four other films – The Incredible HulkIron Man 2Thor; and Captain America: The First Avenger – that introduced the other characters, even those that didn’t have their own film like Hawkeye and Black Widow. They were not all of the same quality – I liked The Incredible Hulk more than most and found Iron Man 2 to be weak sauce – and the continuity wasn’t always there – Black Widow is cool with Tony Stark; no, she’s Captain America’s homegirl; wait, she’s Bruce Banner’s love interest but she’s so tight with Hawkeye that his kids call her “aunt” – they were all bricks in the foundation of the Marvel Cinematic UniverseCaptain America: Civil War, which was almost like Avengers 2.5, was released in 2016 and while it introduced new characters – Spider-Man and Black Panther – it was anchored by two characters that have been in the bulk of MCU films so the audience is already deeply invested in these characters. That’s nearly impossible to do in one film, as Snyder tried with BvS. One of the most fun things about the Marvel flicks is the other surprising characters that pop up – Tony Stark in the post-credits scene of The Incredible Hulk; Falcon in Ant-Man – and one of the best parts of Suicide Squad were the scenes with Batman. He’s not the driver of the film, but he lives in this world. Black Widow deserves her own film, but the lack of one has not prevented the audience from learning about her character because we’ve spent so much time with her in the other movies.

A smarter approach for DC would have been to make Man of Steel 2, then Wonder Woman, then The Batman, then maybe Justice League and Suicide Squad and have characters cross over from one film to the next rather than trying to retrofit an origin story that fits in with what came previously.

This isn’t new. The brilliance of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy aside, Warner Bros. has struggled with many of its DC films, from Batman Returns to Superman Returns. 

Dark Knight Trilogy

Some criticism has been leveled at Feige and Marvel that their films are like superhero soap operas, episodic in nature without any real conclusion to each one. However, that is why and how they have been able to not only build a universe, but expand it, including new characters to interact with their established ones to the point where Infinity War will reportedly have at least 30 characters onscreen at once. That is something that has been a decade in the making.

Warner Bros. is so reactive and so desperate to catch up that I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to do it tomorrow.  And they would fail. The people behind the DCEU are like that guy who goes back to the gym for the first time in ten years, looks over at the dude with a six-pack who has been there sweating every single day and wonders why they don’t look the same. Then tries to lift the same amount. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Greatness takes time. Not even gods and superheroes can build a universe in a day.


Christopher Pierznik’s nine books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business InsiderThe CauldronMedium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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