The saga of newly-monikered DC Films and Marvel Studios is really “the tale of two Kevins.” There is perhaps no better point of reference for the different approaches between the two than October 2014, when each company’s head honcho announced an epic slate of superhero movies, in signature fashion.
Marvel had Kevin Feige play as Steve Jobs for a piece of theater that revealed the Phase 3 films and ended with the double unveiling of Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther and Captain America: Civil War. DC, on the other hand, had Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara announce a bunch of titles at a corporate shareholders meeting*.
Hollywood is ruled by fear of course, but that fear is especially evident in the DC films, each recoiling from the last as it remains unsure of its own identity or, indeed, its own audience (while also doubling-down on the process that made the errors). Superman Returns’ criticism begat Man of Steel, the criticism of which begat Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the criticism of which is shaping Justice League etc. It is not a positive feedback loop and this public perception, or “narrative,” is now threatening to define the DCEU.
People use narratives to make sense of things; it’s why we love films in the first place. And in 2016, DC has reinforced the narrative that they don’t know what they’re doing. Both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, despite the pre-release hype from both fans and critics, fell victim to that same narrative, reinforced by the bro-ish auteur styles of Snyder and Ayer, plus the studio’s slaughterhouse of an editing suite.
The irony is that these boys need a girl to clean up the mess.
Enter Wonder Woman – which almost fell into the same narrative last week after an anonymous open letter by an alleged former Warner Bros. employee was published that called the film “a mess.” Director Patty Jenkins delivered forceful pushback and while it’s worth noting Ayer did the same when responding to the (truthful) reports of WB adding more humor to Suicide Squad, this situation is fundamentally different.
It’s particularly egregious because my reporting for this article gave me the hope and optimism Geoff Johns wants to bring to the universe, as I realized how close the DCEU is to getting out of its narrative rut. Between films already announced and the unoccupied release dates of October 5, 2018 and November 1, 2019, DC Films seems to be aiming for three films a year (achieved in half-the-time – and half-the-quality – compared to Marvel). There are 14 projects in the pipeline, ranging from post-production to the dollar signs in the WB execs’ eyes. Let’s take a look at each, with the most up-to-date info possible, to get a sense for where the DCEU is and where it is going next.