When DC Extended Universe was created, Warner Bros sought Christopher Nolan’s help in building it. But Nolan refused to because of one simple reason: he abhors CGI and uses it only when absolutely necessary. And while you can make Batman films with purely practical effects, Superman and Wonder Woman have godlike powers and it would be impossible to portray them in a realistic manner without the use of computer-aided visual effects. Warners then, oddly enough, decided to fall back on Zack Snyder, whose adaptations of graphic novels 300 and Watchmen had proved polarising. The result was a stream of continuous failures.
Man of Steel, the first DCEU film, also similarly divided critics. The follow-ups Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were panned critically, although both were successes at the box office. It was Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman that proved that Warner Bros and DC could still make great comic-book films in a classical way. Indeed, Wonder Woman was heavily inspired by the first modern superhero film, 1978’s Superman, in that it had the same optimistic feel and was much lighter in tone compared to other DC films. But all the goodwill that Wonder Woman generated was wrecked by Justice League, an enjoyable (for JLA fans, that is) fare, but with messy plotting, uneven tone, and a villain that was the very definition of generic bad guy. It was also apparent while watching the film that it was a product of two directors with vastly different visions. Zack Snyder was fired by Warner Bros while the movie was being made, and Joss Whedon was brought in to finish the film. The trajectory of DCEU so far would look like a hill if put on the graph.
But that was the past. After Justice League’s failure, there was a considerable shake-up at DC Films. There have been a few announcements since then that augur well for the future of films based on DC Comics. Warner Bros call themselves a director-focused studio but they have also been accused of overmuch interference. Many critics and film editors believe that Suicide Squad’s failure was because of heavy studio meddling in post-production. But I think they have learned their lesson. To direct Flashpoint, the first standalone live-action film on The Flash, they have hired the very talented Game Night director duo of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. There is an Aquaman film coming later this year, and it is helmed by James Wan, the man with proven credentials, albeit in the horror genre. There were positive reactions to an early screening of the film. Then there is one of the most exciting DC films to look out for in near future, Shazam!. Directed by David Sandberg, the film’s tone seems comedic in the vein of Spider-man: Homecoming.
Oh, there is also a Joker solo movie that is independent of DCEU. Joaquin Phoenix is rumoured to star in the film, which is a great choice if you think about it. There would reportedly be many more standalone DC movies that won’t be a part of DCEU. What this means is, Jared Leto will continue as the Joker in DCEU for the foreseeable future. Groan. I know.
This is all good news. But there is more. Only a few days ago, a New Gods movie was announced, and it will be directed by none other than Ava DuVernay. The choice of Ava was surprising enough, but the very concept of a New Gods live-action film blew many minds, including this scribe’s. New Gods is one of the most exciting comic-book sagas ever and it has given countless and time-honoured characters to the mainstream DC universe like Darkseid, Orion, Steppenwolf (who appeared in Justice League), and so on. Nobody, not even hardcore DC fans, would have even imagined that there could be a New Gods movie. And yet, it seems it is happening. Ava’s A Wrinkle in Time may not have impressed critics much, but she also directed Selma, and became the first and only Africa-American female director to be nominated for an Oscar in Best Picture category.
These are some very promising tidings for DC film universe’s future. It actually appears that there is finally some long-term planning at the top, instead of pushing films randomly and seeing what works. The ideas are great, but great ideas need great implementation. Elsewise, they fall flat. If the directors are given enough creative freedom and if the films are not rushed, we may yet see a resurgence of DC film universe.