In this post I will be discussing the DCEU, that is the DC expanded universe for those of you that don’t know, I will look at where they have been, where they are right now and what the future might hold for the cinematic shared universe.
It all began with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy; these films brought Batman back to the mainstream; after the debacle that was Batman and Robin. As well as this, Nolan’s tone and themes would go on to impact how Warner Brothers would deal with future projects and the overall aesthetic of the DCEU.
Furthermore, during the time of the Nolan trilogy, Marvel had assembled the Avengers and created the first cinematic universe. DC and Warner Brothers were on the back foot; they needed their own cinematic universe. Warner wanted Nolan to stick around to do more movies, maybe even to be the Godfather of the fledgling DCEU, but he said no.
In stepped Zack Snyder.
Snyder was known for his flashy film making bringing the likes of Watchmen and 300 to the big screen, both comic book properties themselves, so he seemed like a great man for the job. Snyder got to work making Man of Steel which would be a Superman origin story and set the groundwork for the wider DCEU. Snyder’s tone for this film carried on the dark, brooding atmosphere set by the earlier Nolan films, this set them apart from Marvel. However, Man of Steel was divisive some people loved it, I did, but others hated it, they didn’t like a lot of Snyder’s heavy-handed themes and the perceived lack of fun. To me personally, I think Man of Steel was excellent, it set up Superman and the wider world perfectly.
After this, Snyder got started on a followup, no it wasn’t Man of Steel 2 like a lot of people were expecting; it was Batman Vs. Superman. This film would introduce not only Batman to the young DCEU but also Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Cyborg; it was ambitious, to say the least. Batman Vs. Superman was even more divisive then Snyder’s previous film, and there was talk of Warner Brothers and Zack Snyder himself having very different visions for both the film and the wider cinematic universe. Though again I loved the film, it didn’t make as much money as WB would have liked, and the DCEU looked like it was in trouble.
After this Snyder went away to work on his two-part Justice League film, more on that later, and in stepped David Ayer to direct Suicide Squad. Regarded by some as the worst film in the DCEU, Suicide Squad followed a group of villains and anti-heroes as they were forced to fight for the US government. When the trailers came out people were cautiously optimistic, but when it released the film quickly divided the fans with most people not liking the way characters like the Joker were handled. Once again, the film didn’t do well financially.
After both of these were received poorly and rumours were rife of studio meddling, all seemed lost. However, there was a ray of sunshine, Wonder Woman. I loved all three films up till this point. I know that’s not the universal opinion. My favourite part of Batman Vs. Superman had been Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, and I loved her solo origin film. The WW1 setting added so much to it, it had charm and charisma, and Gadot was a fantastic Wonder Woman. Unlike the others, this film was received well and made money, and Warner Brothers were shocked. The reason a lot of people liked Wonder Woman was that it was more hopeful and cheery than Snyder’s previous films it had jokes and a more vibrant colour pallet, so WB had a drastic change of plans.
However, while Wonder Woman was being made Snyder was working on his Justice League film, cut down to just one part, so unlike the projects that followed WB couldn’t do much to change it after the success of Wonder Woman. After a tragic turn of event’s Avengers helmer, Joss Whedon was brought on to finish the film, but also to make it lighter. This resulted in the film feeling disjointed, a mismatch of two tones and styles, and a film that should have been a sure-fire hit for the DCEU blew back on them. After this, WB knew they needed to change gear.
Then the impossible happened again Aquaman, which many had thought was going to be bad, was a hit. People loved it, and the film made over one billion dollars, a first for the DCEU at this time. Again James Wan had moved the film’s tone away from that of the Synder films and made it lighter and jokier. Then a few months later, Shazam came out and carried on this trend, being lighter in tone, but also loved and profitable, though not as profitable as WB wanted it to be.
That brings us to now; The DCEU is on a hot streak. Warner Brothers have just released the Joker, which isn’t a part of the DCEU but features characters from DC comics, and once again people love it. The film is far darker than any of the previous entries, but it nails the character of the Joker himself so completely that it exceeds Nolan. Almost feeling like an art film Joker really has something to say. It is clear for all to see that DC and Warner Brothers might just be on the verge of turning it around.
Looking forward to next year, DC has a lot riding on the success of upcoming films like Birds of Prey, which features Margot Robbie’s’ Harley Quinn who was the most popular part of Ayer’s Suicide Squad. As well as the follow up to Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman 1984, which seems Gadot’s Dianna Prince now in the ’80s. Both of these films look to continue the DCEU’s trend of lightening the tone set by the earlier films, and both have people excited.
I had loved all the DCEU movies so far, and believe the misstep that WB took was trying to rush out of the gate before they had a plan before they had decided what they wanted their shared universe to look like. Still, through trials and error, I think WB have learnt what the fans want, and the DCEU has discovered its identity. This fills me with hope for the future and the upcoming films.