The DCEU 2013-2023?

It was not supposed to be like this. For decades, DC Comics’ characters ruled the box office and airwaves, especially with Batman, thanks to the backing of their parent company Warner Bros. That all changed starting in 2008 when Marvel Studios successfully launched their interconnected series of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which soon overtook DC and Warner Bros. in terms of critical and fan reception and economic success. Warner Bros. did put up a fight and launched their own version of interconnected films, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), with the release of Man of Steel in 2013.

That film, featuring a new, updated version of Superman, had mixed reactions. Some applauded the grounded, grittier take of Superman, while others complained about the dark tone of the film and its over-stylized look thanks to director Zack Snyder. Still, thanks in part to Henry Cavill’s performance as Superman/Clark Kent, the film was the sound basis for an interconnected film universe featuring DC characters, which continued with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016. At last, Warner Bros. had a true counterpart to the DCEU because the second DCEU film greatly expanded its cinematic world as it not only introduced the DCEU version of Batman, but Wonder Woman, and other members of the Justice League superhero team.

But as we all know, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had a negative reaction thanks to its uneven and convoluted storyline and the DCEU never quite recovered with its sophmore film. The DCEU had an uneven track record with its filmography. For every critical and commercial success like Wonder Woman and Aquaman there were failures like Justice League and the Suicide Squad films. The film universe was inconsistent with its tone and output, meanwhile, the MCU churned out hit after hit without any legitimate competition.

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What made matters worse for the DCEU was the fact that Warner Bros. seemed to give up on the DCEU by delaying long-announced films, including a solo followup to Man of Steel. This last issue drove Cavill away from the role as the film studio made announcements about new versions of Superman, which never materialized. Instead of focusing on the DCEU, Warner Bros. turned its attention to projects outside of the DCEU like Joker and The Batman, as well as TV shows that were not connected to the DCEU.

Many of these projects were successful, but they did not do anything for the DCEU. Fans asked for DCEU films featuring Superman and the other DC heavy hitters, but instead Warner Bros. greenlit films featuring lesser known characters like Black Adam, Blue Beetle and the Wonder Twins.

Then there were issues with the pandemic, which delayed film productions and forced Warner Bros. to debut films like Wonder Woman 1984 on their streaming platform, HBO Max. In fact, the parent company of the film studio, AT&T decided to forego or deemphasize film releases in favor of premiering films on HBO Max. This led to diminished financial returns for DCEU properties like The Suicide Squad.

Another sign that implied that the film studio had given up on the DCEU were rumors that the long-delayed DCEU film, The Flash, would be used to reboot the DCEU with new actors. Evidence for this lies with the fact that Michael Keaton is reprising his role as Batman in The Flash. Meanwhile the DCEU version of Batman, played by Ben Affleck and Superman, would be wiped out of existence thanks to the Flash and time travel hijinks. But that was nothing compared to the big changes instituted by new owners.

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The Superhero Multiversal Crossover Events Are Among Us

The biggest and latest thing now with live-action superhero films and TV shows are the crossover events that feature previous versions of superheroes and supervillains showing up to lend a hand or imperil the current heroes. The most recent and one of the best examples was seen in Spider-Man: No Way Home where the Spider-Man (Tom Holland) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) met two older versions of Spider-Man (both played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) that appeared in their own films.

Of course, fans will be in for a treat this week as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness debuts and promises to deliver a the mother of all crossover events as the worlds of the MCU, previous Marvel films and more will interact. But that’s not all, next year The Flash will be about its own crossover event as the title hero’s (Ezra Miller) time travel antics will create alternate timelines and have him meet previous film versions of DC’s superheroes; notably Batman, reprised by Michael Keaton.

There have been other examples of multiverses in superhero films and TV shows. The TV series Loki, heavily dealt with this theme as the title villain (Tom Hiddleston) was a Loki from an alternate timeline that ultimately did not die as he escaped the events that led to his death in Avengers: Infinity War. This Loki grappled with knowledge about his potential fate, time travel and bizarre variants of his being, which included an alligator version of Loki (!). The events of the TV show probably led to the multiversal crisis befalling the MCU.

The Disney+ animated series What If…? exclusively explores other versions of the MCU, such as one where T’Challa never became Black Panther but instead became Star-Lord, or a world where zombies have overrun the MCU. More importantly at least two characters introduced in the What If…? series will appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. They are a dark version of Doctor Strange and a Peggy Carter who recieved the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers. In one segment when a superpowered Ultron and the Watcher fought, their battle raged across different universes, including what may be the Star Wars universe. This series is inspired by the Marvel Comics title What If…? which explored different outcomes and events of the Marvel Universe, only the animated series focused on the MCU and for the most part the series was fun to watch.

Another terrific animated presentation from Marvel was the masterpiece Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which took place in an alternate world where a blond Peter Parker died as Spider-Man and Miles Morales took his place as a new Spider-Man. In his adventures he met alternate versions of Spider-Man including an older, jaded version of Peter Parker, Peter’s old girlfriend, Gwen Stacy and a cartoon pig. The film won the Oscar for best animated film and two sequels will be coming out starting next year.

Marvel is not the only one dealing with animated alternate worlds. DC has released several animated films based on their Elseworlds imprint, which is their own take of alternate universes. We’ve witnessed adaptations of popular Elseworld tales such as Superman: Red Son, Gotham Under Gaslight, and The Dark Knight Returns. These films were excellent adaptations of the source material or were inspired by the original premise.

DC has already had its live-action forays into alternate worlds. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a television crossover event that took place across DC’s Arrowverse TV shows. The event was a very loose adaptation of the classic comic book mini-series about multiple timelines and universes in DC being combined into one. The highlight of that event was, of course, the cameos, Easter eggs and appearances of DC heroes and villains from various live DC films and TV shows that were not part of the Arrowverse. For instance, we got to see Burt Ward reprise his role as Dick Grayson from the 1960s Batman TV show, we revisited the world of Smallville, and Brandon Routh appeared as Superman in a combination sequel to Superman Returns and loose adaptation of the classic comic book mini-series Kingdom Come. But the biggest surprise was that the TV version of the Flash (Grant Gustin) briefly met the film version played by Ezra Miller.

As to the rest of the crossover event, it was acceptable. Being these were Arrowverse shows with limited budgets, the result was what one would expect. Still, it was often entertaining and seeing the concept of a multiverse realized was fun, especially the end of the event which gave us tanatlizing glimpses into other worlds and stories.

These stories about multiverses and alternate characters and situations seemed unheard of fairly recently. Aside from the logistical hurdles of clearing rights and enticing actors to return to roles, the film and TV executives also feared that such stories would be too confusing. Sure, comic book readers and fans would understand the concept of alternate timelines and situations but the average person might not. Fortunately, as we have seen lately, these live-action presentations have been very successful, especially Spider-Man: No Way Home, which became one of the highest grossing films of all time. Still, the writers and showrunners have to be able to thread the needle carefully and tell a compelling and clear story. Otherwise, the result will be a confusing and unsatisfying film or TV show. The important thing to remember is that these are fun and fascinating explorations of our favorite characters. So for now, let’s enjoy and celebrate. these crossovers and multiverses for what they are.

Big Changes Coming For DC & The DCEU

This past week Discovery officially took over Warner Bros. and its properties including DC Comics and DC Entertainment. After doing so, the company (rebranded as WB Discovery) announced they were radically overhauling DC Entertainment and its superheroes, specifically their films and TV shows including those of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Even though there have been very successful DCEU efforts like Aquaman and Peacemaker, other releases did not exactly hit the high bar when it came to box office sales or critical/fan reception (Wonder Woman 1984). The goal of the restructuring is to make the DCEU genuinely competitive with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

This would mean that a head honcho would be hired to oversee the production of DCEU films and TV shows in the same manner that Marvel Studios president, Kevin Feige, does with the MCU. This also implies that the DC films and TV shows will be more coherent and less disjointed, while some once-prominent properties will get more attention. In fact, WB Discovery stated that Warner Bros. allowed top tier properties like Superman “languish” to the detriment of the DCEU and DC.

The Snyderverse and Stalled Efforts

Frankly, the coming changes are a much needed shot in the arm for DC and the DCEU, which has lacked a strong visionary leader. Previous leaders like Walter Hamada, Geoff Johns and Zack Snyder proved to be unable to present a clear direction for their films. Only Snyder came the closest to presenting a vision that was coherent. Unfortunately, Snyder is also a film director and when his Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice did not impress critics and fans, and Justice League failed to reach the success of The Avengers, he was ushered out of the door by Warner Bros. and the DCEU that he helped create basically fell apart. Part of the problem with Zack Snyder being in charge with the DCEU (or the Snyderverse as some fans called the early films) is that although Snyder is a gifted director, what was needed to oversee the films was a producer in the mold of Kevin Feige. A producer is tasked with the production of films or TV shows and brings a guided vision to entire productions. Directors are focused on individual films first and bring their own stamp to what they film. It is not possible given a director’s schedule to expect him or her to oversee the vision of several films at once.

Even before Snyder’s exit, projects were stalled after big announcements, while conflict occured with many actors and filmmakers. Directors and writers joined and left projects. Then there were the casting headaches Warner Bros. faced from the fact that Henry Cavill, cast as Superman in the Snyderverse, was for all purposes, dismissed to the outlandish and criminal behavior of Ezra Miller, whose film The Flash has not even come out yet. Then there is the fact that The Flash was in perpetual development hell for the longest time as directors and writers exited the film left and right. Now, there are rumors that Miller will be fired from his role and in his situation it would be easy. Since The Flash deals with the title hero time traveling and alternate universes, just reshoot the ending to replace Miller with a new actor. Even Grant Gustin from the TV version of The Flash would be a better choice, although that casting may be too confusing for some.

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The Batman Is A Powerful, Gritty Look At The Dark Knight

The latest live-action incarnation of DC Comics’ most popular superhero, The Batman, was eagerly awaited by fans and for good reason. Director Matt Reeves promised his version of Batman would actually used his detective skills like in the comics and his film would be more of a gritty crime noir piece. For the most part, Reeves succeeded and delivered one of the most powerful Batman films of all time.

Taking elements from the film Se7en and the comic book mini-series Batman: The Long Halloween, The Batman takes place during the second year of Batman/Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) war on crime. As the film starts, a terrifying serial killer called the Riddler (Paul Dano) is killing the rich elite of Gotham City and exposing their dark secrets. This includes crooked politicians and police officers alike. Batman and his only ally in the police department, Detective James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), work together to capture the Riddler by solving his enigmatic clues before he claims his next victim.

Batman’s detective work leads him to the seedy, underworld empire of crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and the criminal elements working for him, such as Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrel echoing Robert DeNiro in a fat suit) and Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz who redefines sultriness with her version of Catwoman). Their interactions expose many secrets about Gotham, including uncomfortable revelations about Bruce Wayne’s parents. At the same time, Batman starts questioning his vengeance-fueled crusade to rid crime from Gotham as he realizes the Riddler’s macabre vendetta is a dark mirror to his cause.

Unlike previous Batman films, The Batman is more grounded and gritty. Believe it or not, it feels even more realistic than the Christopher Nolan films. Gotham itself is shown to be a bleak and dreary locale without redemption and Matt Reeves revels in exposing it to the audience. Almost all the characters have dark elements in their souls and are tremendously conflicted. Batman most of all, who is at his core, a tragic figure. He is clearly emotionally damaged by the murder of his parents…thankfully this film did not bother to show us yet another version of his origin. Instead, it focuses on the aftermath of their deaths as Bruce has to learn to move past the idea of vengeance and find a more noble vision within himself.

Seeing Batman portrayed as a quiet and intimidating vigilante at odds with the police and displaying his cunning intelligence as he solves riddles was a novel approach and harken back to Batman’s Golden Age crime story roots. Pattinson does a fine job as the determined Caped Crusader and the gaunt Bruce Wayne. Unlike other versions, this Bruce Wayne is a true social recluse who has not yet adopted the outward identity of a charming billionaire playboy and it was an interesting take on the character.

The other actors were also striking in their roles, with Kravitz, Dano and Wright standing out. Dano’s horrifying take of the Riddler is truly chilling and rivals the best portrayals of the Joker. Speaking of the Joker, there is an unnecessary cameo of the Joker in the film which was distracting. We did not need to see the character and his appearance demonstrated one of the film’s weakness.

As powerful as it was, The Batman was bit too long in length, being nearly three hours long. Matt Reeves could have easily trimmed off fifteen or twenty minutes because the film dwelled too long on the intricate subplots of various villains and the corrupt elements of Gotham’s elites. Honestly, the material with the Riddler more than held up the film and those side stories were not needed. It was obvious these elements were put in to set up future films.

Regardless, from the excellent acting to the beautifully haunting cinematography to the thrilling fight scenes, The Batman is quite a neo noir achievement. It is not for everyone, especially younger children and those seeking a light-hearted superhero romp. But The Batman is one of those few films that makes you want to see again and again to discover something new with each viewing.

José Soto

Top Ten Unused Batman Villains For Future Films

With the release of Matt Reeve’s The Batman, which features three main Batman villains (The Riddler, The Penguin, and Catwoman), it’s time to take a look at some unused antagonists of the Dark Knight who either have never been seen in live action or have only appeared on the various TV shows featuring Batman and/or the Bat Family.

10. Hugo Strange

This character is more of an intellectual threat to Batman. A psychologist and evil genius, Dr. Hugo Strange runs Arkham Asylum, but uses his intellect to commit crimes while under the guise of trying to reform criminals. Batman always sees through this and stops his plans, but Strange’s abilities and access to Arkham’s most dangerous villains allows him to evade justice many times. His appearance in the Gotham show was a highlight and he would make a great antagonist in any Batman film.

9. Solomon Grundy

Solomon Grundy is rather large, super strong villain that is basically a zombie who was resurrected in the swamps of Gotham. He appeared in the television show Gotham, as well as the various animated shows and is a great bad guy for Batman to deal with. Showing up in a grounded Batman film would be strange, but would give it a good horror movie feel and play on our fears of unknown creatures in the dark.

8. Killer Croc

This character had a prominent appearance in Suicide Squad, but didn’t interact with Batman onscreen. I liked this portrayal of Croc and would be happy to see him appear again, especially going up against Batman in the sewers of Gotham City. His gruesome reptilian look and super strength makes him a real threat to the Caped Crusader and like Solomon Grundy, evokes fears of unknown creatures in forgotten places. His appearances in Batman: The Annimated Series and other shows are always great to see.

7. Calendar Man

A criminal who kills according to the dates and significant holidays of the calendar, this villain had a great appearance in the animated movie The Long Halloween with his Hannibal Lecter-like presence while being questioned by Batman in Arkham Asylum. Batman was trying to find out about murders being committed during holidays, and turned to him for insight. Having something like this in live action would be great to see and would fit Matt Reeves’ take on the Batman universe, with his version of the Riddler being portrayed in The Batman as a serial killer trying to take down Gotham City and expose its many secrets.

6. Ventriloquist

Another unique villain, the Ventriloquist is a meek gangster named Arnold Wesker who can only commit crimes while having a dummy, named Scarface on his hand who has a violent personality and rules his gang through fear. His appearances in Batman: The Animated Series werememorable and showed an interesting split personality similar to Two-Face. The audience was kept guessing as to who was really at the center of the Ventriloquist’s schemes, the mild mannered Wesker, or the hot tempered Scarface and it would be fun to see in a film.

5. Mad Hatter

Jervis Tech is a demented villain is obsessed with the Alice in Wonderland story and is frequently shown to be determined to live out the book by kidnapping his would-be Alice and forcing her to partake in his bizarre rituals, and commit crimes using mind-control hats. Obviously, Batman always has something to say about that, but had to deal with the Mad Hatter’s insanity and overcome Tech’s schemes. Having this kind of villain in a film would be a strange but interesting take in a Batman film.

4. Clayface

A shapeshifting villain that uses his sludge-like appearance to mimic anyone he wants, Clayface has caused all kinds of problems for Batman, and his morphing attributes would be nice to see on the big screen. His ability to create various weapons with his arms evokes the T-1000 from the Terminator series and was something that was used to great effect in Batman: The Animated Series, but to date hasn’t been attempted in live action.

3. Man-Bat

This unusual villain is literally the flip side of Batman. Dr. Kirk Langstrom is a scientist who develops a serum that turns him into a huge bat-like creature that terrorizes the skies of Gotham City. Man-Bat has the distinction of being the villain that appears in the very first episode of the classic Batman: The Animated Series and is a unique take on the were-wolf mythos. Bruce Wayne eventually befriends Langstrom and helps him overcome his curse by developing a cure, but the threat of the Man-Bat reemerging is always in the background. Having a massive bat-creature duking it out with Batman on various rooftops would be thrilling to see on the big screen.

2. Deathstroke

With only a brief cameo at the end of Justice League, this master mercenary/assassin known as Slade Wilson has been a match for Batman. Deathstroke was supposed to be in the now-defunct Ben Affleck-directed Batman solo film as he battled Batfleck in Arkham Asylum. His deadly skills and mastery of weapons are shown to great effect in the Titans series as he divides the team from within, pitting them against each other and nearly destroys them in his quest for vengeance. Deathstoke also had a famous role in Arrow and became that show’s best villain. He has recently appeared in his own animated film and it would have been great to see him go up against Batfleck, but hopefully there is a future for him in any further Batman films.

1. Red Hood

The classic story “A Death In the Family”, which shows Jason Todd aka the second Robin being killed by the Joker, resulted in the emergence of a resurrected Todd as the anti-hero/villain the Red Hood. He terrorizes criminals using lethal force and goes after Batman due to his outrage at the fact that Batman let the Joker live, even after being responsible for Todd’s death. This emotional tale is told in the excellent animated adaptation Under the Red Hood and is also seen in a different form in the HBO Max series Titans. It would be great to see this adapted into a theatrical form since it strikes at the core of Batman’s code of ethics and his battle to control his demons while contrasting this with the Red Hood as a Punisher-like vigilante, who goes over the line trying to clean up Gotham City.

Batman has an iconic rogues gallery. While the most famous ones have been portrayed many times in films, there are many more that show the variety of villains that exist in his universe. Some are more serious and deadly, while others are more fantastical, but all of them are interesting characters that would be great to see in any big budget Batman film, including a sequel to The Batman.

C.S. Link