39 years ago, it was DC who pioneered the big-screen superhero genre with Superman: The Movie. Marvel wasn’t even on the map. Fast forward to the present and the tide has changed. The DCEU has been plagued with bad reviews, underperforming films, and behind-the-scenes drama, consisting of directors quitting projects and scripts being rewritten. Some recent insider rumors claim that Justice League and Wonder Woman are “a mess”. The Batman film has just found a brand, new director in Matt Reeves (replacing Ben Affleck) and is looking for a whole, new screenplay. While the MCU is sailing along, the DCEU is in disarray. What do they need to do to fix this problem? Here are five suggestions…
LESS STUDIO INTERFERENCE: Warner Bros has a long history of filmmaking, so naturally the executives think they know better than the artistic talent about what the public wants to see. This is why they constantly stick their unartistic noses into the talent’s business. Directors who’ve worked on DC films often claim that studio officials have insisted on changes that they felt would put more people in theater seats. When they do this, the reverse often happens. Suicide Squad had a lot of material chopped out of it, and it didn’t improve the movie. A good film can’t be made by market research. The WB might have less directors leaving projects if they left the talent alone to do their work
LESS WORLD BUILDING: The people running the DCEU need to remember the old saying “One thing at a time”. They are trying too hard to catch up with Marvel and build a wide, complex universe immediately. This was one of the biggest problems with Batman v Superman. It tried to do too much. It needed to introduce a new Batman, as well as Wonder Woman, while also setting up the Justice League film and the solo Batman movie. All this foreshadowing of future DC projects left little time for an actual, coherent plot. The script for Batman v Superman was a disaster because it served too many masters. The early Marvel films were so good because they stuck to one story at a time. It wasn’t until later, once the main players had been well established by their solo films, that the world building started. Don’t be in such a hurry, DC. One thing at a time.
STAY TRUE TO THE CHARACTERS: DC has terrific characters who have stood the test of time for decades. We know a good Superman movie can be made because it was done with Christopher Reeve back in 1978. In order for a good film to be made, the filmmakers have to respect the characters. When a filmmaker says “This character won’t work today, so I’m going to change him”, you know the movie is going to be awful. The people making the film need to understand and like the character they’re working on. The Batman trilogy was good because Christopher Nolan understood the character. Green Lantern was a dud because the people behind the camera just didn’t get it. Zack Snyder does not understand Superman, so both of his attempts to depict the character have divided fans, gained terrible reviews and fallen short of studio expectations. He tried to turn Superman into Batman, and Lex Luthor into the Joker, and it all fell flat. Writers, directors and actors need to understand and appreciate why a character is popular and why fans have loved this hero for so many years. If they do, they’ll manage to do justice to the character. If they don’t, we’ll get another Green Lantern. Marvel Studios understands this. DC needs to learn this, as well.
DON’T PANIC: Warner Bros. is footing the bill for these films and they naturally want a good return on their investment. The problem is, the WB is starting to sweat about not making as much profit as they had hoped. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman both underperformed. Because of this, Warner Bros hit the panic button and started making changes to movies that haven’t even been made yet. For instance, DC reversed their “Leave the jokes to Marvel” philosophy, and has mandated that future films incorporate more humor into the plots. The teaser trailer for Justice League featured a much more light-hearted approach than the earlier DCEU projects. This nervousness by the WB is increasing the tendency for execs to interfere in the creative end of the product, and that never ends well. The suits running the show need to calm down and just find the right people to make these films, and then trust them to do their jobs.
DON’T COPY MARVEL: DC and the WB have been trying too hard to repeat what Marvel has done. Marvel created an extended universe, so DC did it, too. Marvel made the Avengers, so DC announced a Justice League movie. Marvel did a movie about a team of criminals acting as heroes (Guardians of the Galaxy) so DC made a film about a team of criminals acting as heroes (Suicide Squad). Marvel has Thanos as its hidden main villain, so DC decided to make Darkseid its hidden main villain. While imitation is a form of flattery, it’s not a sign of originality or of creativity. Doing everything Marvel does will only keep the DCEU in the MCU’s shadow. They need to start thinking outside the box and coming up with ideas very different than what Marvel is doing. Come up with idea that will be an clear alternative to Marvel, not a less-fun facsimile.
So there you have five ideas for what the DCEU can do to pull itself up by the bootstraps. Hopefully, we can soon start talking about what they’re doing right, instead of what they’re doing wrong.