One of the biggest changes to ever happen in comics was DC’s 1985-86 event ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’, which cleared away the publisher’s convoluted 50-year history, peppered with multiple parallel universes and tangled continuity. Though Warner Brothers’ DC Extended Universe hasn’t been around for anything close to that amount of time, it has been a fairly well-known fact that these films have been undergoing quite a crisis of their own.
And like the ‘Crisis’ comic book, look for some fairly Earth-shattering– or rather shared universe-shattering– alterations. In fact, we’ve already seen one example of this.
WB modeled its DC Extended Universe after the massive success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the results have been less-than-stellar… that is, until ‘Wonder Woman’, this summer’s most massive domestic hit (besting Marvel’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ and ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’) and the highest-grossing film ever from a female director, Patty Jenkins. How did ‘Wonder Woman’ break WB’s DC losing streak? A more relaxed sense of continuity courtesy of two champions, DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson and chief creative officer Geoff Johns.
As Nelson says:
“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.
“…Moving forward, you’ll see the DC movie universe being a universe, but one that comes from the heart of the filmmaker who’s creating them.”
‘Wonder Woman’ did connect to the preceding ‘Batman V Superman’, but just barely. The new attitude is that these movies will build upon one another where it makes sense, but that directors should be free to craft their vision utilizing these iconic characters without being forced to forge connections where they don’t see fit.
“The movie’s not about another movie. Some of the movies do connect the characters together, like Justice League. But, like with Aquaman [directed by James Wan], our goal is not to connect Aquaman to every movie.”
Johns has worked as a consultant for earlier DC films, but his words were largely ignored. As one ‘Man of Steel’ insider revealed, “Geoff Johns and Diane were reading scripts, and Geoff Johns, to his credit, was concerned that there was not enough lightness or humor, given who the character is. Geoff definitely raised that point, but that current administration didn’t care that much about what Geoff Johns thought.”
Now, as WB executive Jon Berg says, “We talk about four things: Heart, heroics, humanity, and humor.”
Early on, WB didn’t feel the need to listen to Johns, because after all, they’d scored massively with Christopher Nolan’s bleak ‘Dark Knight’ films. What worked for Batman would obviously work for any DC character. As a result, Zack Snyder, who’d directed the equally dark ‘Watchmen’ movie which was only moderately successful with both critics and audiences, was given the task of crafting a new cinematic Superman.
‘Man of Steel’ was met with mixed reaction due to the rampant destruction at the climax of the film, with both the hero and his enemies careening through occupied skyscrapers, leading up to Superman snapping the neck of General Zod. Despite the lukewarm response, WB moved forward with a “sequel” which would introduce a new Batman, with a story based on the violent and gritty Frank Miller opus ‘The Dark Knight Returns’. It didn’t end there. WB announced a slate of ten DC movies, planned through 2020.
WB was, by most accounts, absolutely stunned that audiences and critics hated the dour ‘BvS’ and that it fell so short at the box office (#8 for the year behind ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’, ‘Finding Dory’, ‘Captain America: Civil War’, ‘The Secret Life of Pets’, ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Zootopia’). The damage was already done for ‘Suicide Squad‘ which was already in post-production when ‘BvS’ hit theaters and was iced. The studio scrambled to reshoot and edit ‘Suicide Squad’ which, while not directed by Snyder, emulated his dark tone. The result was a muddled film, but one that was less spurned by audiences.
With ‘Wonder Woman’, Nelson and Johns were finally able to cut through the corporate red tape and allow Jenkins to craft the film she had envisioned and by their accounts, Wan’s ‘Aquaman’ is much the same.
That leaves ‘Justice League’ which was filmed after ‘Wonder Woman’, but had basically been written and planned out… and directed by Snyder. Snyder, unfortunately, left after primary shooting due to a family tragedy with Joss Whedon stepping in. Though reports are conflicting, it seems that Whedon rewrote and shot roughly a third of the film. But the bones are still Snyder’s, so experts aren’t sure how this film will wind up doing.
For the fascinating full article about Nelson and Johns and their vision for the DCEU, check out Vulture.
It’s actually rather shocking that those involved were so candid and honest. (Martin Campbell, director of ‘Green Lantern’ admitted “Obviously, the film was a failure… There’s no point in bullshitting about it.”) The rumors have been buzzing since early last year, but since information and rumors were coming from various sources, it’s been hard to tell what was the truth. It seems that even though the facts might not be pretty, they are indeed facts. But it also sounds as though the DCEU, as loosely as it may now be structured, is in good hands.
How do you feel about the future of this franchise?