But Have You Tried Being More Like Marvel?
How to Shepherd a Franchise
Recent reports have come out that with the merger of Time Warner and Discovery (after AT&T kicked Time Warner to the curb) the newly conjoined business is looking to rework Warner Bros., and DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s., into something better able to compete with the likes of Marvel. It's no surprise that the bosses of this new merge business have seen the state of the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe. and realized that something was very, very wrong. the WB has been a bad caretaker for the DC properties (as any fan can attest), and his new Warner-Discovery behemoth wants to remove the WB from the DC and let DC better run their own heroes. At least, that's what the reports have said (we shall see how that all pans out).
There's some intelligence to this idea. Marvel created the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. on their own, making partnerships with various studios (especially Paramount, who backed most of the early MCU films) and creating certainly the most successful cinematic universe around. Disney quickly came sniffing around and bought up all of Marvel, but they kept much of the structure of Marvel in place trusting Marvel to run Marvel. They know their shit, one would assume, and could see it through. And, for the last 11 years (and counting), Marvel has done just that, being the industry leader in cinematic superheroes.
During that time, under the WB's oversight, DC tried, and spectacularly failed, to launch their own shared universe. Since the crashing and burning of Justice League (which should have been a culmination of their ambitions yet very much wasn't), DC has tried over and over to recalibrate and get their cinematic ambitions working. Most of their movies have not been successful the way they wanted (the recent The Suicide Squad was a great movie that made barely anything at the Box Office). It's like audience members just don't trust DC to make a good superhero film.
Will putting DC in charge of itself fix that? It's hard to say. Certainly the higher-ups are going to look at what has been successful for DC recently -- Joker in 2019 and, more recently, The Batman -- and are going to want to emulate that going forward. That's not supposition, either, as the reports have stated exactly that: they want more films like these two grim-dark explorations of the DC Universe. And considering the failures of lighter fare, like The Suicide Squad (which, okay yes, was hyper-violent but also very comedic) and Wonder Woman 1984 and Birds of Prey... well, shit, maybe they have a point.
Why did Joker and The Batman work where those other movies failed. No doubt it's because they aren't connected to the DCEU and no one wants to watch DCEU movies. One could make a case that The Suicide Squad is an outlier, too, as it was rated R and released near the end of a pandemic wave. Plus, it's spin-off, Peacemaker, is apparently a hit for HBO Max. But still, two grim-dark movies printed money left, right, and center. DC wants more of that.
There has been one tidbit that could make all of this work: DC wants to find someone to spearhead their cinema division in much the same way as Kevin Feige heads up all of Marvel Studios. Rumors have swirled about who DC is eying, with James Gunn being one strongly bandied about contender. Gunn has proven himself to have a way with audiences, making two successful Guardians of the Galaxy films out of a comic team that shouldn't work on the big screen, and while his The Suicide Squad wasn't a massive hit, it was well received by critics and fans. Gunn could be an interesting choice, but whoever the get will likely be better than the last "creative master" they hired for the task: Zack Snyder.
It's fair to say that DC"s issues really started and ended with Snyder. His Man of Steel was a misstep that really didn't understand its central character. Follow-up Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was spectacularly bad, to the point that you had to wonder why DC kept letting him make movies. Yes, his Snyder Cut for Justice League is actually really watchable, but it also feels like a mea culpa for all the shit he caused. Snyder should not have been given the keys to the kingdom and, for nearly ten years, DC has been paying for that mistake.
A strong, central voice, though, is a great call for the series, just so long as it's the right voice. Feige has done wonders for the MCU, and you can look at other cinematic universes and see where a strong hand has helped (and a weak hand has hurt) the franchise. Star WarsThe modern blockbuster: it's a concept so commonplace now we don't even think about the fact that before the end of the 1970s, this kind of movie -- huge spectacles, big action, massive budgets -- wasn't really made. That all changed, though, with Star Wars, a series of films that were big on spectacle (and even bigger on profits). A hero's journey set against a sci-fi backdrop, nothing like this series had ever really been done before, and then Hollywood was never the same. suffered in theaters when there wasn't a clear creative voice leading the movies (Kathleen Kennedy being a bad choice to run the divisions from a creative standpoint). J.J. Abrams was also a bad choice to spearhead that franchise considering his limitations has a writer and the way his own movies battled against the middle entry of the Sequel Trilogy. On the flip-side, Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie have such a specific vision for Mission: ImpossibleIntroduced in 1966, the original Mission: Impossible featured a team of agents (with varying skills) heading out into the field to solve puzzle-box like cases on a weekly basis. This simple concept spawned a long-running series, a second series in the 1980s, and a hugely successful movie franchise starring Tom Cruise that continues today. that they've taken what was a middling action series for its first two entries and made it an absolute blockbuster monster.
Even with good material, mind you, it's still easy to screw up a cinematic universe. Sony has basically been given the kindest, gentlest tee-up by Marvel since SpidermanSure, DC Comics has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but among the most popular superheroes stands a guy from Marvel Comics, a younger hero dressed in red and blue who shoots webs and sticks to walls. Introduced in the 1960s, Spider-Man has been a constant presence in comics and more, featured in movies regularly since his big screen debut in 2002. gets to play in the MCU, garnering good with for Sony. That, plus their fantastic Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse, made it look like Sony finally had their shit together. And yet Venom was only passably watchable, Venom: Let There Be Carnage was a train wreck, and Morbius is reportedly so bad that even in an era that is incredibly kind to superhero films Sony's latest endeavor is bombing at the theater. Fans are already back to proclaiming that Sony doesn't know what to do with the Spider-man universe, burning all the good will they'd earned.
So what does this all mean for DC. Well, if there are simple lessons to learn here it's that the right voice, a good and proven voice with a vision that will resonate with fans, is needed to oversee a cinematic universe. You can't rush it, like the DCEU tried to do, or like the Dark Universe tried (which caused it to blow up after one movie), or like Sony is trying to do now. You have to give it care, and time to develop, and let the ground work set itself.
There is still hope for DC if they can find the right way to make their movies. I didn't care for Joker and I thought The Batman was overlong and not at all fun, but I still think DC, with their huge stable of characters, could get some good movies off the ground. Whether Discovery-Time Warner can succeed where AT&T-Time Warner failed remains to be seen.