The Justice League movie has come and gone, and by all accounts, it’s a critical and commercial failure. With the movie raking in only US$96 million in it’s opening week, drastically underperforming expectations and definitely netting a huge financial loss for Warner Bros (it’s reported the studio sank $300 million into the movie – before marketing). Diehard DC fans have made the same arguments against the wave of critical disapproval, but the numbers don’t lie – all over the world, 40-50% of people who watched the ill-received Batman v Superman did not return to watch Justice League despite the positive reaction earlier this year for Wonder Woman.
The bad news doesn’t stop there for DCEU fans. Matt Reeves’ Batman trilogy may see Jake Gyllenhaal stepping into the role of a younger Bruce Wayne while Ben Affleck, who clearly was passionate about the role and the solo movies he originally stepped up to helm and star in, is all but clearly done with the franchise. The wider DCEU that was supposed to spin out of Justice League is up in the air now, except for Aquaman, which is already in the can, and Wonder Woman 2, which is currently in development. Other ancillary (and more importantly, less famous) characters like Shazam, Justice League Dark, Batgirl, and the likes are nowhere near as surefire as the two mentioned earlier.
Now, no comic fan wants to see the DCEU fall, but it’s clear steps need to be taken before the brand loses value in the eyes of the public. Here are 5 ways Warner Bros and DC could save the DCEU!
- Bring On The Flashpoint
After the requisite Aquaman and Wonder Woman 2, the DCEU could get an instant chance at redemption via DC Comics’ favorite plot device – the multiverse retcon. In the comics, Flashpoint occurs when The Flash decides to run back in time to save his mother from her assassination by Dr Zoom. Like a ripple, the effects of Barry’s choice spread out to the lives of the other heroes – with the Flashpoint Batman being perhaps one of the most compelling alternate versions of the character to exist.
For the DCEU, however, this presents a great starting point for The Flash on the big screen. Barry Allen was a breakout star in the movie, and Ezra Miller could very well have the charisma necessary to rebuild the DCEU on his back given a great script and a director with a clear love for the source material. Barry is still very green in Justice League, meaning he would not have the experience, knowledge, and judgement to make the call not to go back in time to save his mother, and giving him that motivation in Flashpoint would build a backstory without needing a traditional origin story solo movie.
A young Flash testing out his powers to try and save the woman whose death inspired him to a life of crime-fighting, first as a police analyst and then as a superhero, screwing it all up and having to reset the world by letting go of the mother who he has waited his whole life to meet again – that just sounds like compelling stuff. The reset itself would allow DC to then say that some things ‘changed’ in the process – including Batman being younger, Superman having a personality, BvS gets retconned, etc etc.
This also gives DC the chance to use an ensemble movie within a solo movie, in case the fear is that The Flash cannot carry a movie on his own just yet.
2. Batman: Zero Year
Remember when Ben Affleck’s Batman was the single good thing about BvS?
Ben Affleck had a lot of potential as the Caped Crusader, but when it’s obvious that the only source material Snyder truly read cover to cover was Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, there was only so much he could do with the antihero he was presented with. Now, there’s nothing hypothetically wrong with a ruthless, hyperviolent Batman – as long as he does not break his one rule around killing, we preserve the boy who lost his parents in an alleyway while still providing pathos for the character.
Now, Affleck’s Batman was obviously meant to be old and grizzled to evoke The Dark Knight Returns, but placed the DCEU in a tight spot. Superman is young, Wonder Woman is eternally young, Aquaman is presumably in his late 20s/early 30s, The Flash is young, Cyborg is young. You have a Batman out of step with his contemporaries, destined to step down first by virtue of his age (the argument about ‘master detective’ falls flat when you consider the Justice League movie version quite literally falls on his face). Batman could certainly be cast as older and more experienced – the true veteran and planner of the team – but he shouldn’t look two steps away from calling it a day.
If Affleck is truly on his way out in favor of Gyllenhaal, then Matt Reeves’ version should follow in the vein of Batman: Zero Year. Put a young Batman still earning his stripes (and still ultra-violent in his methods as he hasn’t been tempered) up against the most daunting challenge of his life in his intellectual nemesis The Riddler, who, lacking an adversary worthy of him, floods Gotham to take it back to ‘Zero Year’ – only promising to restore history if he finds what he is looking for.
3. End the Snyder experiment
There’s no easy way to say this. While our hearts go out to Zack Snyder in light of his terrible loss that forced him to step down from Justice League, it’s very clear that his vision for the DCEU just does not work. With declining attendance figures and a poor commercial reception, Snyder’s ‘dark, gritty, realistic’ direction has failed to capture the hearts and imagination of the general public, much less their wallets. While some may point at The Guardians of The Galaxy surprising many by grossing $93 million at the box office, consider who the Guardians were in the public consciousness before the movie came out. The Guardians were at best C-list superheroes, and definitely not a property a studio exec would point at and say, ‘Yeah, that’s money right there.”
Snyder is an amazing visual artist with a knack for visual detail and splendor. He’s good at sneaking in visual cues that serve as Easter Eggs, but overall, he is far too obsessed with style over substance. While many will point to the 20-hour (I’m exaggerating here) long Ultimate Edition of BvS as proof Snyder can make a great film, no fan, casual or hardcore, should have to shell out an extra RM180 just to get a coherent, enjoyable story from a film that already hits the two-hour mark.
It’s time to move on, and maybe take a leaf out of the Marvel playbook by having the movies producer-driven as opposed to director-centric.
4. Double Down on Wonder Woman
Make no mistake: Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is a star. Retain the creative team that brought the first Wonder Woman movie to the big screen for the sequel, and STAY OUT OF THE WAY. Warner was undoubtedly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Wonder Woman, and based on Justice League, understand that the character is money on the big screen as she is portrayed by Gal Gadot.
Patty Jenkins has done an amazing job creating a compelling character and a world around her that feels real, and she should be allowed to continue her good work without too much studio interference. Trying to build the DCEU off her back, however, is a horrible idea. Warner should treat Wonder Woman as their Iron Man – a breakthrough character that has seized the hearts and imaginations of kids all over the world – and burden her story with as little connective tissue to the greater whole as possible. Let Wonder Woman have her story, and if the fans want to follow the breadcrumbs to see a bigger picture, let them hunt for it.
That’s half the fun, really.
5. Be Patient
And this is where the Marvel side of the argument comes into play. Before The Avengers made it onscreen as a unit, we first got Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man 2 – not to mention Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. Where Marvel succeeds is that each installment of the greater MCU franchise works as a movie in an of its own. Audiences are not automatically familiar with any character, and it takes time to build a relationship and connection with the audience, and that means that solo outings must be that – solo outings.
The connective tissue so vital to a shared universe is a tricky thing – too much robs the movie of it’s own agency, and too little makes it unconnected to the greater whole. The DCEU’s greatest weakness it that it rushes the process of establishing it’s characters, and not developing complete stories for their heroes before teaming them up. When the League gathers, there is no sense of awe, no sense of accomplishment – we did not grow to love them for who they were first, nor were we given reason to care when they come into conflict or work together.
The trailer above, without everything that came before, would just be serviceable. But because we’ve had 16 movies to connect with these characters, there is gravitas and meaning to them heading into the long-awaited battle with a bad guy that’s been hinted at for no less than 5 years, since the end of the first Avengers movie.
The next phase of the DCEU must be planned and constructed by an architect who cares about the properties. The first step comes in rehabilitating these characters while creating stars out of the ones that did work – and when people care again, it will be time to see the League finally assemble.