To be frank, it was best to wait a few days after the announcement from DC Studios’ head James Gunn about their new slate of DC Universe (DCU) films and TV shows. The immediate reaction for these types of announcements often run wildly until the news is fully digested. What was interesting about Gunn’s announcement was not the rage from fans of the ending DC Extended Universe (DCEU), but the large collective shrug from most.
There are many reasons for the various reactions, but the pervailing muted response has to do with the content of the upcoming DCU films and TV shows and that fans have been burned before with the intial announcement of the DCEU. When the first batch of DCEU films were announced last decade there was a lot to get fans super excited, especially with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Now we know how all that turned out. Some of the films were never made (with The Flash finally premiering later this year), while some released films failed to deliver. Then there is the fact that some of the more well-received aspects of the DCEU, namely actors like Henry Cavill and Gal Godot, will not be a part of the DCU. So, naturally the skepticism and outrage was expected.
But let’s face the truth: the DCEU was a failure. Blame the executives at Warner Bros.. Blame the producers, writers, directors and actors. Blame the unrealistic expectations and toxic fans. But the fact remains that there were too many missed opportunities and that Warner Bros. was too reactionary. Instead of trying to fix what was wrong with the DCEU, the film studios had a scattershot approach to their DC properties. They ignored what worked with the DCEU and doubled down on films and TV shows that featured DC characters, but were not connected to the DCEU. What made things worse for the cinematic universe was that non-DCEU films like Joker and The Batman were huge successes. More and more DC films and TV shows were greenlit that were not part of the DCEU, while the DCEU itself was left behind.
This was a mistake. Warner Bros. have the characters in a shared superhero universe that should have rivaled Marvel Studios and their properties. While this may please Marvel fans, the fact is that Marvel Studios needs healthy competition to keep them on their toes, and we were seeing the effect, as their recent films and TV shows were not as well received as earlier releases.
What could have been done to salvage the DCEU? Nothing, at this point. James Gunn took the right approach by starting over. But there should have been a complete reboot. Instead we are getting a TV show about Amanda Waller starring Viola Davis, who was prominent in the DCEU. Then there are reports that other actors from the DCEU like Ezra Miller will be a part of the DCU. Why keep Davis and Miller but not Cavill and Gadot? The latter two actors were very popular and turned in iconic performances as Superman and Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, while they were great in their roles they are too identified with the DCEU and nervous executives probably feared that keeping them in a new cinematic universe would be too confusing for the average moviegoer. Whatever.
On the other hand, to dismiss the DCU without seeing the final product is foolish. James Gunn is a very talented filmmaker who took the obscure Marvel Comics property Guardians of the Galaxy and made them beloved superstars. He also did this to a lesser effect with DC characters in his film The Suicide Squad and TV show Peacemaker.
Do some of the announced films and TV shows sound uninspiring? Sure. Who is clamoring for Waller or The Authority or Paradise Lost (sorry this last announced project seems too much like Game of Thrones)? Who the hell can replace Henry Cavill? Anyone trying to answer this should remember how many fans were attached to Christopher Reeve as Superman or bemoaned about how Brandon Routh was short changed. Who knows, maybe Cavill and Gadot will return at some point. It happened to Routh when he had the opportunity to reprise Superman in the Arrowverse version of Crisis on Infinite Earths. That is one crossover event that is begging to be redone properly by Gunn and his people.
It stinks that we have to wait until 2025 to see the first DCU entry Superman: Legacy, but until then we should be patient and see what happens. We should also be rooting for the DCU to succeed because if it falters like the DCEU then it will be a long time before such effort is made to create a live-action cinematic universe based on the beloved DC characters.