A Plea to Warner Brothers and DC – Stop Jerking Us Around!

On May 2, 2008 (officially), Marvel Studios released their first film, Iron Man.  Being their maiden voyage into feature film production, and seeing as how the Iron Man character wasn’t exactly a household name, many predicted failure for Marvel’s initial effort.  Instead, Iron Man grossed just over $585 million worldwide on a $140 million budget, making it a huge success and kicking off what has become the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The success of the MCU has been so astounding that if one of their films were to gross that same $585 million, today, it would be considered a disappointment in the eyes of many (a likely fallacy, unless said film cost over $200 million to produce).

In the wake of the MCU, other studios have been rushing to replicate Marvel’s model in the hopes of also replicating their success.  Some of these efforts feel contrived (Universal’s movie monster universe, which will be initiated by this summer’s The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise) while others feel more natural (the similar-sounding MonsterVerse, co-starring King Kong and Godzilla, already underway).  The one that absolutely felt necessary, however, is the now-up-and-running DC Extended Universe.  Like Marvel, DC’s comic universe has always involved constant crossovers with its characters.  Fans grew up dreaming of seeing them co-exist in big-budget live-action, as if these characters were alive and breathing, complete with their amazing powers that could only exist in our imaginations, otherwise.

And Warner Brothers launched said universe with Zack Snyder’s 2013 Superman reboot, Man of Steel.  The tone resulted in some mixed reviews from critics, who were only open-minded to what had come before, but it was still fairly well-received and ending up grossing $668 million worldwide on a massive $225 million budget.  Conventional wisdom says that the film needed approximately $613 million to break even, so a profit was more than likely realized, even if it wasn’t as overwhelming as Warner Brothers had likely hoped.  In any case, the DCEU was up and running.

Skip to the 2013 San Diego Comic Con, just about a month later, where Warner Brothers and DC announce that the next installment in the DCEU will be Batman v. Superman.  While the announcement was met with much enthusiasm, many saw it as cause for pause.  Warner Brothers had long been overly dependent on Batman.  Even after the massive critical and box office failure of Joel Schumacher’s 1997 film Batman & Robin, WB practically gave up on live-action films based on DC properties until trying again with . . . you guessed it . . . Batman Begins (only Catwoman – a Batman character – and Constantine – not promoted as a DC character – were given films in the time between).

So, now, after one single film that made no reference to Batman didn’t quite succeed at the level at which WB was hoping, their response is to fall back on Batman.  No one could be sure, but to the more observant fan, it felt like a panic move and a change of plans.  And it felt rushed – like an effort to quickly catch up to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe without taking the time to establish the characters at a more palatable pace for the casual audience.  Who is this new version of Batman as a character?  Why doesn’t he get his own film?  The world awaited the answers.

Before those answers could come, however, WB stunned everyone on October 15, 2014, with an announcement of their full DC Comics film slate through 2020.  The films they announced were:

  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
  • Suicide Squad (2016)
  • Wonder Woman (2017)
  • Justice League Part One (2017)
  • The Flash (2018)
  • Aquaman (2018)
  • Shazam (2019)
  • Justice League Part Two (2019)
  • Cyborg (2020)
  • Green Lantern (2020)

Very ambitious.  And this was clearly designed with the goal of putting visions of their own Extended Universe in the heads of audiences around the world.  They so desperately wanted to stand side-by-side with Marvel, and they certainly had and have the talent and characters to do so.  But what they seemingly don’t have is the patience, the faith, or a plan.

Sure, that looked like a plan.  But, two weeks after DC’s announcement, Marvel announced their own slate.  Fans were excited about all of the films coming their way from both companies.  The future looked bright and fun.

Then, last March, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released around the world.  The film’s reputation was smeared before the release, however, as critics savaged the film.  By the time it hit theaters, many moviegoers just assumed it was horrible and the movie – once considered a lock to join the Billion Dollar Club – closed out its run with approximately $873 million worldwide.  Due to its astounding budget and massive marketing costs, there remains a question as to whether or not the film even made a profit.  I suspect that it did, and $873 million is a number that any film should be proud of.  But Warner Brothers had a certain milestone (that $1 billion that Marvel has hit a number of times) in mind and they were embarrassed when they didn’t cross it.

Originally, Batman v Superman and Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War were slated to open on the same day in May.  Marvel stood firm, confident in their property and their film, whereas WB blinked, moving BvS to March.  The natural assumption was that both films would benefit financially from the move and many reasoned that nothing could top the might of DC pitting the two most famous superheroes of all-time against each other onscreen.  So, when Civil War out-grossed BvS by a whopping 32%, what did WB do?  Did they stick to the plan like seasoned professionals who trust in their characters and believe in their own abilities?  No.  They panicked.  And they turned once again to Batman.

One of the components of BvS that most agreed was praiseworthy was Ben Affleck’s portrayal of the Dark Knight.  Surprising basement dwellers everywhere who, for many years have feigned ignorance of Affleck’s talent, Affleck – a self-professed comic book lover – delivered a picture-perfect portrayal of an aging Caped Crusader, delighting fans old and new alike.  So, WB decided he was the only way for them to make money.  Not only was his guest spot in the upcoming Suicide Squad prominently featured in that film’s marketing, but in April of 2016 – barely a month after the release of BvS – WB suddenly announced that Affleck was going to direct a Batman solo film.

Wait, what?

WB had already announced their upcoming DC films through the next half-decade and it was crowded and it was Batman-free.  When was this movie going to be released?  Mum was the word on that, but it was coming, everybody!  Yet, once again, this felt like it wasn’t thought all the way through.  A Batman solo film was needed before BvS. That was part of the problem with that movie: time had to be taken to introduce the new Batman.  Wasn’t this too little, too late?  And wouldn’t there be danger of WB stepping on its own toes by trying to shoehorn this film into its previously-announced schedule?  Well, I guess it’s just one film, so that can be done without too much of a problem, right?

Fast forward to August when Suicide Squad hits theaters.  The film receives the worst reviews of any of the DCEU movies, thus far, and none of their films had yet to be met with the same critical enthusiasm as Marvel’s worst-received films.  Personally, I persist in my love for Man of Steel, which is my favorite film based on a DC property, EVER.  And I maintain that Batman v Superman, while flawed, was more good than bad.  But Suicide Squad . . . was not.  Not by a long shot.  The writing was so shameful that I can’t imagine most children giving it a free pass, much less adults who are supposedly out there reading actual books and whatnot.  But, much like BvS, there was one aspect that drew nearly unanimous praise: Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn.

In December of 2016, in response to the enthusiasm over Robbie and Harley, WB announces a Gotham City Sirens film.  Okay, hold on.  For WHEN?  Well, they aren’t saying.  And isn’t it a problem that Harley’s GCS partners, Catwoman and Poison Ivy, haven’t been introduced, yet?  There’s no established history there.  And how are they going to be organically introduced without Batman?  And, again, WHEN is this supposed film coming?  And what about the other films that have been announced?

Previous to that, after a massive opening weekend for Suicide Squad, The Wrap announces in an exclusive that WB is now putting Man of Steel 2 into active development.  Is this in place of one of the other movies?  When is this coming?  Nobody knows.  Maybe this could be viewed as an inaccurate report since it wasn’t announced by WB, themselves.  But, in that case, why didn’t they dispute it?

Speaking of films that have been announced, see that Shazam film on their slate up there?  It was in September of 2014 – almost two-and-a-half YEARS ago  – when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tweeted that he was committed to portraying Black Adam in that film.  The next month, WB presented that gigantic schedule of films.  And nothing about Shazam, since.  Nothing.

Okay, fine.  But then, in February of 2017, The Hollywood Reporter reports that director Chris McKay is developing a Nightwing movie for WB.  Okay.  Okay, sure, I just bet that’s happening.

And then, just five days ago on March 30, 2017, Variety broke the exclusive that Joss Whedon will be directing a Batgirl film for WB!  Come on, this is ridiculous!  Yet, WB hasn’t denied any of it.

Every time word of one of these films makes the rounds, my Facebook feed just explodes with people who are buying into it all.  But I’m here to tell you, not all of these films are going to materialize.  The Affleck Batman film is already falling apart at its foundations.

So, what are the possibilities, here?  One is that WB is sticking to their previously revealed lineup from 2014 and are developing at least FIVE additional movies (and actually sticking with Shazam) FOUR or more years ahead of time, including hiring talent.  This isn’t how filmmaking happens, folks.  Yes, sometimes movies are being developed that far ahead of time, but directors and actors typically aren’t locked in that early.  They have other projects to attend to and plan for.  They can’t commit unless work is beginning soon.

Another possibility is that they’re actually going to make fifteen films over the span of five years, despite having already scheduled ten of them, with two already released and two more on the horizon.  That would leave eleven films over three years.  It’s not happening.  That’s too much for one division to handle when the films are at this scale.

A third option is that WB is just lying about much of this.  I don’t think that’s the case.  Here’s what I think . . ..

I think WB just has no idea what they’re doing.  All they understand is Batman.  So they keep announcing or leaking word of these mostly-Batman-related projects to get people excited and thinking positively while, behind the scenes, WB struggles with their own self-confidence, identity, and insecurities.  They’re too worried about what Marvel is doing to just make a plan, hire quality behind-the-scenes talent to bring their ideas to life, and succeed on their own merits, rather than trying to be the biggest dog in the yard.  WB doesn’t have to make more money than Marvel to be a success.  Making a profit and pleasing audiences – both critics and general audiences – is all they need to worry about.

I’m at the point where I pay no attention to any of these announcements.  I assume there will soon be word of a Batwoman movie, a Joker movie, an Azrael movie, a Calendar Man movie, a Renee Montoya movie, and, naturally, an Ace the Bat-Hound movie.  No matter what I hear, I can only truly believe a DC-based film is actually coming once it enters production.  Wonder Woman and Justice League are happening.  Beyond that?  We’ll see.  Marvel made a plan and – after switching to their backup plan once Sony agreed to share the use of Spider-Man, have stuck with it.  The biggest alteration has been moving The Inhumans from the big screen to television, but even with that, the first two episodes are being released in IMAX theaters, first.  If WB wants to emulate Marvel, that’s how they should do it: by emulating their confidence and by not making false promises to their fans.

I like DC.  I like their characters, I like their comics and, for the most part, I like their movies.  But I don’t like indecisiveness and I don’t like being misled.  If Warner Brothers isn’t sure about a project, they shouldn’t mention it to the press or to anyone else.  It doesn’t need to be a competition with Marvel and I wish I didn’t have to frame it as such.  But their handling of their DC properties is turning it into that by their own choosing.  And their constant waffling and lack of follow-through is only emphasizing just how behind the Marvel curve they truly are.

UPDATE, JUNE 6, 2018:  Just to add onto this, not much has changed.  Justice League was a box office failure, grossing $657 million worldwide on a reported $300 million budget ($750 million or more would have been necessary to break even).  Aquaman was put into production before the release of Justice League, making it too late to turn back on that one, which comes out towards the end of 2018.  Shazam! has shockingly wrapped production – but without Dwayne Johnson’s involvement and it’s unclear as to whether or not it has a connection to the DC Extended Universe.  Both of these films have an uphill battle in order to cross into profitability, but we’ll see.  Other than that, Wonder Woman 2 is the only DC film that has crossed into production, as well it should as Wonder Woman is pretty much all DC has, right now.

Of the discussed rumored films, Whedon’s Batgirl is dead, Affleck’s The Batman is dead (though there will inevitably eventually be another Batman film in some form or fashion, and rumors continue to persist regarding what form that will take), there has been no other mention of Man of Steel 2, the Nightwing movie “may take five years or more”, the Gotham City Sirens film has morphed into a supposed Harley Quinn solo film (the only good idea I’ve heard from them in a while, outside of continuing the Wonder Woman films), Cyborg is dead (a bad idea from the start), the Flash movie is undergoing extreme reworking, a Joker movie helmed by Martin Scorsese was laughably announced, and now just yesterday, a different Joker movie starring Jared Leto’s incarnation of the character was announced.  There won’t be two different movies starring the Joker, friends.  There probably won’t even be one.  If Sony’s Venom film does surprisingly well in October, then maybe WB will see it as a sign to move forward with a Joker film but using Leto’s version is a recipe for disaster.  Most viewers didn’t care for his take and, as Solo: A Star Wars Story is showing us, if audiences aren’t into the concept, they won’t show up.  WB doesn’t need another DC flop on its résumé and they know that.

So, WB continues to flounder with regards to their DC films, especially in the wake of Justice League‘s poor box office performance.  Gullible fans on the Internet continue to buy into every single “announcement” that’s made regarding a new DC film but, while statistically speaking we can probably expect a couple of these films to get made, most of them will never see the light of day and every “announcement” from WB regarding a DC film should be taken with the largest (or smallest?  How does this metaphor work, exactly?) grain of salt one can find.

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