The State Of Two Cinematic Universes: MCU & DCEU

This past week the news involving the two big superhero film universes perfectly illustrated their states. For the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) it seems clear that they can do no wrong. This is based solely on the astronomic success of its latest film Black Panther. Meanwhile, over at the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), the woes continues with the latest news that Joss Whedon is no longer involved with a proposed Batgirl film.

So why are the states of both cinematic universes so vastly different? Both have popular superheroes and their films have tremendous talent creating the films. But why is the MCU so popular while the DCEU is looking more and more like the JV squad? Well, it’s not easy to pinpoint the success and failures of both universes but there are some factors. Let’s go over them.

MCU

One advantage Marvel Studios and the MCU had over Warner Bros. and DC was simply a head start. The MCU began in earnest ten years ago with Iron Man. That film featured a well known, but not very popular, superhero. Marvel Studios did not have the luxury of having their early films star Marvel Comics’ headliners like Spider-Man and the X-Men. With this handicap, Marvel Studios was forced to focus on the character of Iron Man and it worked. But that was not all, at the end of the film, there was the famous Nick Fury tease that signaled the existence in the film of a larger universe. This excited fans and set the groundwork for a viable cinematic universe.

Each film in the MCU has organic (usually) references to other Marvel properties that helped create excitement for future films even if the current one was a disappointment. It also helped that each film in the MCU is distinctly different (for the most part) from the other. They ranged from standard science-based superhero yarns (the Iron Man films, The Incredible Hulk), political thrillers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), period pieces (Captain America: The First Avenger), Star Wars-like space adventures (Guardians of the Galaxy), quirky, comical heist capers (Ant-Man), supernatural tales (Doctor Strange), stories set in fantastic locations (the Thor films), cultural milestones (Black Panther), and good ol’ superhero epics (the Avengers films). By being so versatile the MCU never seems to run out steam or stories to tell. Granted, the films have their faults like subpar villains, which are just dark versions of the main heroes, but the focus on character and stories made the MCU so successful.

Black Panther and MCU

There is also one other important factor that the MCU has and that is Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios and the filmmaking version of Phil Jackson. He masterfully and carefully guided each film to tremendous success. His vision for the MCU and ability to carry it out is a big reason for the upbeat state of the MCU. Will they falter? Of course, in fact, the MCU has had some genuine stinkers like Iron Man 2, but it has been able to quickly recover. Right now, Marvel is on a hot streak that has been going on for several years now and the future looks terrific with upcoming and hotly awaited films like Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel and of course a sequel to Black Panther. Hopefully this streak will last for years to come.

Continue reading

Advertisements

The Fallout From Justice League

Come together

This was not how things were supposed to turn out for Warner Bros. and DC. Justice League, the culmination of the studio’s version of their own shared cinematic universe, is not getting the reception they were expecting. The film’s main selling point was the fact that it featured the long-awaited teamup of DC Comics’ greatest superheroes, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. However, its opening weekend take was only $94 million, the lowest for any film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). It’s being ravaged by critics and it’s not drawing in the numbers it should be. Now, Justice League’s weak performance brings up a very important question, where does the DCEU go from here?

DCEU’s Uncertain Status

It is foolish to think plans for the DCEU will continue as if anything is wrong. Something has to change. Surely, Warner Bros. executives are taking a long, hard look at their superhero franchise and determining how viable it is. Expect announced films to be canceled, new personnel, and other radical changes to the DCEU, including a reboot.

The DCEU will not suddenly go away. Right now, Aquaman has finished filming and is slated for next year. Then a sequel for the successful Wonder Woman will certainly be made given Wonder Woman is the DCEU’s biggest hit. A Shazam film is also slated to begin filming next year to join the Wonder Woman sequel for release in 2019.

An Aquaman solo film…dig it

After that things get murky. There will be a Batman solo film directed by Matt Reeves, but that has been mired in controversy. Originally, Ben Affleck was to direct and star in The Batman, but the actor/director has had a falling out with Warner Bros. and first it was announced that he would only star in The Batman. That began the Internet rumblings that he would vacate the role, which is too bad since he is quite good as Batman. Adding fuel to the fire are Affleck’s recent statements suggesting that he is ready to move on from the role. At this point, it may be easier for DC and Warner Bros. to set the film apart from the DCEU.

Affleck’s swan song?

To date, there aren’t any solid plans to give Superman a sequel to Man of Steel and it’s unknown if it will ever happen. Henry Cavill, who portrays Superman, is contracted for one more film and it is possible that Warner Bros. and DC may just have him appear in someone else’s film before recasting the role. It is a shame because Cavill, like Affleck, has done an excellent job in portraying the superhero, but it is not the end of the world. As we saw with Spider-Man it is fairly easy to replace actors, though overall, it is regrettable that we may never see a full evolution of Superman into a beacon of hope as shown in the end of Justice League.

Other projects with uncertain fates include Batgirl, Gotham City Sirens, Green Lantern Corps, Cyborg and a Suicide Squad sequel. Given the problems Warner Bros. has had with its core superheroes it may be best to put those projects on hold so they can right their cinematic ship.

A Flashpoint To The Future

On a related note, a Flash solo film has been stuck in development hell for years as writers and directors join then leave the project. Most recently, the film is supposed to be an adaptation of the Flashpoint mini-series where the Flash time travels and resets the DC Universe. Using this storyline would give Warner Bros. a convenient way of rebooting the DCEU, but the story, with its alternate takes on characters and situations, sounds expensive and may go over the heads of casual viewers. It would be easier for the film studio to just do a hard reboot without any explanation. This has worked in the past for other franchises, and the one instance where time travel was used to reboot a franchise was Star Trek and it left fans with a bad taste.

Flash to the reboot/rescue?

One option for the studio is to repeat what happened with Wonder Woman. The solo film was set in the past and largely apart from the DCEU. Reportedly, the sequel will also take place in the past and this example could be a way to ease out of the DCEU. The same thing can be done with Aquaman and Shazam; remove references to the DCEU and focus on the characters. That is why Wonder Woman succeeded. Concentrate on solo films with little to no references to a larger universe and let the shared universe grow organically.

Continue reading

Wonder Woman Rescues The DCEU

Alright people, especially you DC fans, breath a sigh of relief. The new film Wonder Woman is actually a rollicking great movie. Most fans know by now that Warner Bros./DC Studios’  DC Extended Universe (DCEU) had very public lately starting with last year and their weak cinematic entries Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Many DC fans are in a state of near revolt at how badly the film studio have handled its superhero properties with the last good entry being 2013’s Man of Steel. After the embarrassing behind-the-scenes mishaps, everyone was looking to Wonder Woman to help right the ship for the DCEU. The only problem was that many doubted this new film could do that.

Well, those naysayers have been proven wrong. Wonder Woman is exactly what the DCEU and its fans need right now. Of course, it is not a perfect film. There are issues with pacing in the first half and the film overdoes the slo-mo shots, but on the whole, Wonder Woman is a fun and exciting jolt for moviegoers this summer season.

Diana Prince and Steve Trevor

Taking the best elements from Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, Wonder Woman takes those films’ fish-out-of-water scenario and period setting to create a joyous and unique adventure. Gal Gadot plays the title character of Diana, a super-powerful Amazonian princess raised on a mythical and secluded island populated by warrior women. One day a man washes up on its shores and it’s Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a Word War I soldier who introduces Diana to the outside world. Both characters go through the funny fish-out-of-water tropes, first with Steve on the island and later with Diana in war-torn Europe.

While these moments were amusing, the film kicks into high-octane and colorful action pieces midway through the film when Diana aka Wonder Woman fights in the war and never lets up. By that point, the action takes over and the film is a stunt and CG fest, but it’s not mindless. The filmmakers wisely gave us time to know the characters so that by the time Wonder Woman is racing through battlefields and taking out German soldiers audiences are fully engaged with her. Not to take away credit from the filmmakers, but Gadot deserves so much acclaim for pulling off this role. In many ways, the casting for Wonder Woman was more critical than other heroes like Batman or Superman. That is because in a field so crowded with male-led superhero films, the character had to grab us from the get-go and Gadot does that quite well. Now she joins the ranks of Christopher Reeve, Hugh Jackman and Robert Downey, Jr. as iconic actors believably portraying superheroes.

As mentioned before, the film has its issues. The villains are merely serviceable and this seems to be a common problem with recent superhero films that place so much focus on the main heroes. Zack Snyder’s influence is felt with the overuse of slo-mo shots, but the action and settings go beyond Snyder. For a DCEU film, Wonder Woman is much more colorful, vibrant and uplifting. But Snyder does deserve praise for seeing something in Gadot when he filmed Batman v Superman and she obviously was one of that film’s highlights. Warner Bros. should also be lauded for believing enough in the character to let her headline her own film.

Wonder-Woman-Gadot

Wonder Woman could not have come at a better time for the DCEU and everyone. Director Patty Jenkins has delivered a fresh and exciting superhero film and has helped restore confidence in the DCEU. It has some ways to go, but at least the bleeding has stopped thanks to Wonder Woman. Seriously, Marvel Studios made a huge mistake in letting her walk off Thor: The Dark World. Her cinematic eye, which is so evident in Wonder Woman, would have made the Thor sequel much more memorable than the standard muscle fest it turned out to be. Do not be surprised if this film’s success will mean that Wonder Woman, the character, will rightfully take her place among the headliners in the DCEU.

Waldermann Rivera

 

Who Should Be On The Shortlist To Direct The Batman?

batman-dceu

Ever since we all got the bombshell that Ben Affleck was stepping down as director for the new Batman film, the Internet geek community has been stirring up clicks over who should take over as director for The Batman (the current rumor being that is the title of the film). The choices being offered up ranged from the inspired to the WTF territory–supposedly there is an online petition to get Warner Bros./DC Studios to hire Zack Snyder to do it. Yes, the one chiefly responsible for bringing about the woes for DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Thankfully, the film company already has a short list of potential directors and we should hear who will do it soon. But before that happens let’s speculate over who would be a good fit to direct the next Batman solo film.

Darren Aronofsky

The director with the distinctive and dark visual touch has been attached aronofsky-batmanto potential Batman films for some time. Before Christopher Nolan revitalized the Dark Knight, Aronofsky was a serious contender to revamp Batman with a live-action adaptation of Batman: Year One after the Batman & Robin debacle. Now that he has more bang to his name thanks to high-profile films like Black Swan, he will bring a level of heft that a Zack Snyder cannot provide.

Cary Fukunaga

Anyone who has seen the acclaimed first season of True Detective, which was directed by Fukunaga, will recognize the brilliance of hiring him the helm The Batman. He certainly will add an atmospheric and crime-centered touch to the film and he is an up and coming talent to watch.

Patty Jenkins

jenkinsIf Jenkins is able to pull off a top-tier superhero film with Wonder Woman as some early buzz has it, then she should be rewarded with a chance to helm a film starring DC’s most popular superhero. Then again, other buzz has it that Wonder Woman is a mess so we won’t know until this summer if Jenkins is up to snuff, but most likely Warner Bros. will have tapped The Batman director already.

Sam Mendes

The brilliant, award-winning director who won rave reviews for his job at directing Skyfall, is a good, solid contender. He will certainly bring much needed gravitas to the DCEU and has shown the capability of reviving a struggling franchise as he did with James Bond, which needed a boost after Quantum of Solace.

George Miller

After the triumph of the adrenaline-fueled masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road, george-millerMiller is a natural to take on the Caped Crusader. As we all know he was supposed to direct a Justice League film that featured Armie Hammer as Batman (currently rumored to be taking over the role if Ben Affleck does indeed leave the DCEU altogether). Miller is certainly an inspired choice for The Batman because he will add much-needed excitement and drama to the film on the level that Affleck would have done.

Matt Reeves

Supposedly he is the frontrunner to take over for Ben Affleck and his selection would surely calm everyone’s nerves. Currently, he is putting his finishing touches in this summer’s War For the Planet of the Apes and his work on the Apes films has been stellar. Able to bring to the table, films that are exciting, terrifying and thought provoking (see Cloverfield and Let Me In), Reeves will certainly gives us a memorable Batman film.

Matthew Vaughn 

vaughn-bid-daddyOut of all the directors on this list, Vaughn is probably the best suited for a Batman film. His filmography shows a healthy respect and admiration for comic book adaptations starting with Kick-Ass, and continuing with X-Men: First Class and the popular Kingsmen: The Secret Service and its upcoming sequel. To get an idea of how he would direct Ben Affleck, see Kick-Ass which featured an excellent Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy, a Batman-esque superhero and was one of that film’s highlights.

Joss Whedon

Honestly, Joss Whedon has the pedigree to helm a big-budget superhero film. He will bring much needed levity, briskness and verve to the too-murky DCEU as he has demonstrated with his Avengers films. More importantly, he is available and his energies should be recharged at this point to tackle the Dark Knight. Who knows maybe if it works out he can take on another Justice League film, he has shown the capability of directing superhero team films and it will be a coup for Warner Bros.

ben-affleck-as-batman

There are many other contenders out there, though some like Christopher Nolan or Tim Burton are not going to return to a Batman film. Others like Kevin Smith, Guillermo Del Toro or Snyder may delight fans but are not realistic prospects. Any of the ones listed above are excellent candidates who will provide a confident and professional job of directing the next Batman film. And if they’re not chosen then they should be seriously considered for other films in the DCEU.

Waldermann Rivera

 

DCEU Woes & Growing Pains

justicv-league

We all just learned that The Flash, the big-screen version of the Scarlet Speedster, has gone back to a page one rewrite over at Warner Bros. OK, this is not good for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).

This latest mishap with Warner Bros/DC is now fermenting the common thought that the DCEU is veering out of control. To date, the film studio has released three films in the DCEU and all of them have received mixed reactions to outright hostility from fans and critics. Box office-wise, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad have done well, but they haven’t exactly taken the world by storm unlike their competitors Marvel Studios.

All three films weren’t complete turds, in fact, they have many admirable traits. IMHO Man of Steel is a misunderstood classic while Suicide Squad introduced us to many memorable anti-heroes like Harley Quinn and Deadshot. But to say that they have been controversial is an understatement.

Now comes rumors that this year’s Justice League and even Wonder Woman are considered to be unfixable messes. Sure, these could just be nasty rumblings from nervous executives, but it leads us to wonder if it’s time for Warner Bros. and DC to start panicking. Hell, they could all be quivering already for all we know.

The sad part is that these developments are truly shameful because it’s a disservice to the wonderful DC Comics characters and their fans. Many of them must be rightfully rankled that Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and even the Fox X-Men films are for the most part well received. These woes do not mean that DC’s superheroes are inferior to Marvel’s, it’s just that the films these days are being mismanaged. It’s frustrating because the potential is there for some exceptionally classic films.

justice-league-oneThis doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. At least with The Flash, Warner Bros./DC, at least, knew something must have been wrong with the script and instead of just plowing ahead, decided to start over. In the long run this could mean we’ll get a quality film, but don’t get your hopes up that The Flash will premiere in 2018. No, get your Flash fix from the excellent TV show that is still airing. Now, the problem is that too many people have felt burned with the uneven Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Then add to that the fear that Justice League may turn out badly and now all hopes are turning to Wonder Woman for being the film that knocks it out of the park for the DCEU. If neither film can deliver, then expect to see a radical shake up over at the film studio over how these films are made.

The obvious problem is that there are too many cooks in the the DCEU kitchen and no clear boss who can provide a strong hand in the films’ direction. Basically, Warner Bros. needs their version of Kevin Feige, the mastermind behind the MCU’s success. Sure they recently appointed Geoff Johns to run the DCEU, but it’s too early to tell if he will have a positive impact. What if he fails?The good news is that the film studio probably does have their own Feige and that person is Greg Berlanti, who is responsible for the success of DC’s television efforts. Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl are all successful, well-regarded TV shows that have a lot of energy and stay mostly faithful to the superheroes’ roots. Berlanti has skillfully interwoven a shared universe that isn’t clunky or convoluted and encourages viewers to sample all the shows. The DC shows are actually better than some of Marvel’s MCU TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because they are more lively and explore the full potential of their stories and characters.

Another thing to remember is that it is still early for the DCEU. There have only been three films and if memory serves us correctly at the same point with the MCU they had their share of growing pains. When there were only three films in the MCU, it wasn’t certain if the MCU could have succeeded. Those films happened to be Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. Only the first Iron Man film was well received but all was forgiven with the later films. The same situation could happen with the DCEU, so patience is called for and better management at the studio. For instance, stop making all these announcements (like Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson will play Black Adam) before the films are ready. Another thing is to slow down and stop trying to compete with the MCU. Marvel Studios carefully crafted their shared universe and the payoff was and continues to be huge. That is the lesson that Warner Bros. should take; slow and steady will yield higher rewards.

UPDATE:

The DCEU’s woes continue with the latest news that Ben Affleck is stepping down from directing the upcoming Batman solo film. This is especially disheartening because Affleck has the directing chops to elevate a superhero film. We’ll find out later what caused him to relinquish his directing task, but let’s be thankful that Affleck is still producing and starring in the next Batman film. Supposedly one of the short list directors that Warner Bros. Is considering is Matt Reeves. If Reeves or another talented director is tapped then all may not be lost for the Dark Knight in the DCEU.

Lewis T. Grove