Whether we’re excited for what James Gunn and Peter Safran have planned for their relaunched films based on DC Comics properties or lamenting the demise of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), it is clear by now that the DCEU has lost its way.
There are many reasons why the DCEU ultimately faltered and a common factor that many point to has to do with the schedule of its early films and who they were centered on. Many fans have griped that there never was a proper sequel to Man of Steel or that Batman never had a solo film, while other announced films have yet to materialize.
So, could the DCEU have succeeded early on? It is possible and there are many avenues the films could have taken. Some have suggested that the DCEU films should have taken a gradual approach in introducing the heroes before releasing Justice League in the same way Marvel Studios led up to the release of The Avengers. There were many reasons why Warner Bros. did not take this approach with their reps publicly stating they did not want to copy the formula used by Marvel Studios. But if they did try to emulate the formula, how would the DCEU have turned out? Let’s look further.
The first film of the DCEU, Man of Steel, is released in 2013 as it happened in real life. Except, this time the film would have more Easter eggs to a greater DCEU instead of a quick glimpse of a satellite belonging to Bruce Wayne. The film would have a post-credits scene which would show a news montage about the Kryptonian invasion of Earth and the revelation of Superman. As the talking heads would debate about an alien being walking among us, the images would pull back to show they are coming from a TV screen or monitor and we would see that this scene is taking place in the Batcave or in S.T.A.R. Labs.
Instead of waiting until 2016 to release the next DCEU film, Warner Bros. would release two films in 2015. A proper sequel to Man of Steel called Man of Tomorrow, which would be a solo Superman film, and a solo Batman film called The Caped Crusader.
Man of Tomorrow would have been very similar to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice except that Lex Luthor would have been recast and Batman/Bruce Wayne would only make brief appearances. He never would have fought or even met Superman. That opening in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice where Bruce Wayne personally witnesses the destruction in Metropolis from Superman’s fight with the Kryptonians would swap out Wayne with Luthor. This gives Luthor more of a reason to hate Superman because he saw firsthand the danger of this superpowered alien. The rest of the film would have explored the ramifications of Superman’s presence in the world with Luthor trying to discredit him. The film could have had references to other DC heroes who at this time are operating in the shadows or have not become superheroes yet.
Like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Man of Tomorrow would have concluded with Superman confronting by himself a genetic monstrosity that Luthor created but instead of Doomsday it would have been an evil Superman clone, who we would know was a malevolent version of Bizarro. The film would include two post-credits scenes. One would show that Luthor had created another genetic opponent for Superman that was locked up. This creature would have been revealed to be Doomsday. The other scene would take place in another world and reveal that the recent superhuman activities have caught the attention of Darkseid.
The Caped Crusader film would be a proper solo film for Batman and it would have shown Batman to be coming out of semi-retirement. It also would have shown that Batman is largely considered to be an urban myth but by the end of the film, Batman would be revealed to be an actual person who fights crime. The Joker would not appear in the film or even be hinted at. Instead the villain would be Deathstroke as The Caped Crusader would have been based on Ben Affleck’s script for the scrapped Batman solo film where Deathstroke blamed Batman for the death of his son and tried to get revenge on Batman. As with Man of Tomorrow, the Batman film would have had references to the greater DCEU and possibly featured Superman in a cameo, probably as part of a newscast. It possibly could have introduced Diana Prince as a mysterious and potential love interest for Wayne. The film also would have post-credits scenes that set up a sequel and have Prince revealed to be Wonder Woman.
For 2016, Warner Bros. should have released two solo superhero films based on Wonder Woman and Aquaman. The two films would be very similar to the actual films that were released given that they were self-contained stories with one taking place during World War I.
The alternate Wonder Woman film would also take place in World War I and be disconnected from modern times and continuty. It also would have included a post-credits scene taking place in modern times which would have Diana Prince allowing herself to move on romantically and consider a relationship with Bruce Wayne. The second scene would feature Aquaman and somehow tie Atlantis to Theymscira.
The Aquaman film would follow the same plot as the actual Aquaman film, which was detached from the greater DCEU except for a throway line. However, in addtion to including the actual post-credits scene with Black Manta, it would include another scene. In the second scene, Darkseid would appear and he learns that a Mother Box is located in Atlantis.
2017 would have seen two more DCEU films, including Justice League. The first DCEU film of 2017 might have been a third Superman film where he confronts Doomsday and ultimately sacrifices his life to defeat the monster. His heroic act would have a great impact with other heroes and lead to the creation of the Justice League. As with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the final battle would have had other heroes joining the battle against Doomsday. They would include Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and possibly the Flash.
The film also would have featured Darkseid, who would see Superman as a threat to his plans for Earth and unleashes Doomsday. The post-credits scenes would show Darkseid sending Steppenwolf to Earth to gather the Mother Boxes and Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince forming the Justice League to honor Superman.
The Justice League film that would come out later in 2017 would be used to fully introduce the Flash and Cyborg, It also would be similar to Zack Snyder’s original vision of Justice League, and follow the same plot line, complete with Superman’s resurrection. Given the length of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, this alternate Justice League would be split into two films as originally planned. Part two would come out in the following year.
2018 & Beyond
2018 would have had the second half of Justice League and possibly a Flash solo film or even Suicide Squad. Except with this version of Suicide Squad, the Joker or some other street-level character is the main villain and the film could set up a possible confrontation between the Suicide Squad and the Justice League. Or there might have been a sequel to The Caped Crusader and feature Batman tied deeper into the DCEU. This film could have had him fighting the Joker and Harley Quinn.
As for how this alternate take of the DCEU would play out, that would be hard to say and depend on how well received the films were. Perhaps we might have gotten a sequel to Justice League where the team directly confronts Darkseid. At least in this scenario, Superman and Batman would have had their solo adventures and the original, long vision of Justice League would be the only version of Justice League.
Even though we never saw this version of the DCEU at least we have actual films that came out for us to enjoy until the rebooted DC films come out.
That’s a fascinating look at what could’ve been for the DCEU. I still think the biggest mistake was not having a proper sequel to Man of Steel or a solo Batman / bat fleck movie. BvS was a big letdown and I don’t think the DCEU ever really recovered from that. It’s a shame, but Snyder kind of boxed everything into a corner, and the more they tried to unpick it the more it seemed to fall apart.
I agree that the DCEU fell apart with B v S. Originally it was a solo Superman film with a Batman cameo, but over time it morphed into the botched version of the Death of Superman and Dark Knight Returns stories. So the film studio was impatient and hoped to roll in the big bucks. We all know how that turned out.