DC films are currently in the midst of much-needed redemption. The cinematic universe that launched in 2013 was (up to most recently) met with mixed results. Warner Bros. Studios released DC titles that either returned poor audience and critical reception, less than desired box office numbers, or even both in some occasions. The most recent example being the first Justice League film in history receiving the banner of box office bomb in 2017. The would-be cultural event was only released less than two years ago, yet it feels like more time has passed thanks to the recent feats of DC films.
Aquaman was released last year to roaring applause across the globe. It has since become the first film in this cinematic universe to cross the $1 billion mark at the box office. The newly released Shazam! is already receiving the sequel treatment thanks to big numbers. Many are praising it as one of the best films to ever boast the DC logo. Early promotion for Joker was also met with riveting reception. How did Warner Bros. manage to bounce back so quickly?
It is to no surprise that the content speaks for itself, and all these films have something different to say. What tethers them together under the studio is that they represent something new. For the past few decades, the majority of DC films have been dominated by two things: Batman and Superman. This is not surprising considering that they are widely viewed as the most popular comic book characters of all time. Combined, they boast 15 live-action films centered around them. When most people, knowledgeable of superheroes or not, think of DC – these two quickly come to mind. However, their place in recent films is complex, to say the least.
Warner Bros. did not necessarily kick off their cinematic universe on the right foot. The first two films, Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, introduced new leading interpretations of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. By all means, this seems like the right way to kickstart a new DC universe. Unfortunately, now only Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman looks to have a future in the franchise. Stating that this universe did not begin suitably is not meant to be taken as slander towards these films, nor the talent behind them. This is a critique of the studio’s hand in them as a whole. It is fair to say that these films did not set sail smoothly when the future of two of its biggest leads would be unclear a mere four years later.
Henry Cavill’s Superman and Ben Affleck’s Batman are now featured across three films each. This is the final tally for Affleck for he has confirmed that he retired from the role. Cavill’s future is still uncertain, but things do not look bright. Not only is his contract over, but there does not seem to be any plans for another Superman film anytime soon. Nevertheless, there is still a chance of his return.
The early stumbles of this universe have already been discussed to great lengths. Love them or hate them, most of the franchise is what it is. Fans should respect the talent behind them and those that have decided to move on. It is clear that it was a short-lived era of DC. Not defined by unworthy creativity, but by lack of studio direction. The studio wanted a certain outcome but let the process steer in the direction of another (not to say one is superior) before it was too late. Thankfully, it finally seems like they have a well-oiled machine where everyone onboard is aware of the destination: beyond the past.
The majority of films that Warner Bros. has down the DC pipeline have one thing in common – they are expanding from Batman and Superman. The two are not forgotten, but instead being used as some of the roots for this growing world. This new era on the silver screen will not be dominated by the two giants and it makes for the freshest breath of air. The two may be DC’s biggest representatives, but fans of the brand will be the first to proclaim how huge and worthy of recognition the worlds around them can be. Many have waited too long to go beyond Gotham City and Metropolis.
Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam! each introduced new diverse worlds that further expanded on DC lore. Ancient societies of gods, kings, and wizards could not make for more vibrant storytelling. One could assume that 2011’s Green Lantern (a sci-fi heavy project that bombed), gave the studio cold feet on developing similar exuberant stories until recently. Many Marvel films have found success blending tales of sci-fi, fantasy, and magic. If Marvel Studios have proved anything – it is that almost no comic book concept is unsellable to general audiences (see talking raccoon). Warner Bros. seems to have learned this, and laid some groundwork – but it is time to dive deeper.
The sequel Wonder Woman 1984 is already set to build upon its title character’s mythology next year. Aquaman has already spawned a spin-off in early development based on the Trench monsters it debuted. The sequel to Shazam! will very likely expand on its mystical lore and the studio is even working on a solo film based on his arch-nemesis, Black Adam. This is all promising, but why stop here? These colorful roots could lead to the introduction of a plethora of DC characters. Magic and mysticism alone could already open the door for fan favorites such as Zatanna and Doctor Fate. All of these heroes also sport rogues galleries worthy of their fair share of screen time.
To complement these otherworldly tales, Warner Bros. has just as many grounded stories in the works – all expanding from Batman’s roots. Besides Joker releasing later this year, Birds of Prey releases next February, followed by The Batman in 2021. The studio also has a Batgirl film in early development. Even though these films are all cemented in Batman’s iconography, they are already proving to be distinct from one another. Joker and The Batman are both prequels – the former also being set in an alternate universe. Birds of Prey and Batgirl are expanding on diverse female leads tied to Bat-lore. Warner Bros. is mixing familiarities with new elements here to reinvest audiences in this side of the universe’s exposed and unexposed domains. Whether it be unexplored concepts, or finally debuting long-awaited characters, it makes for exciting content.
In today’s era of the comic book film takeover, the idea of newness is what will attract audiences to theaters. Not just new ideas, but also new and diverse faces. No one would believe the idea of Aquaman outgrossing Superman’s ticket sales years ago. The next wave of DC films shows some indication that Warner Bros. received this message loud and clear. Jason Momoa as the king of Atlantis and Zachary Levi as the Wizard’s champion now stand high next to Gadot’s Amazonian warrior. All proving that they can carry their own weight and more at the box office. There are no current plans for another Justice League film, but would it not be a great shame if audiences never got to see the characters they threw the most money at in a crossover?
With Cavill’s Superman in limbo and the next Batman being cast in a prequel, it does not seem likely that they will meet again in the distant future. Why should Warner Bros. rely so heavily on them for another crossover if they are not even their current best sellers? Some fans might think of a DC crossover without the two giants as heresy, but why let preconceived notions limit the advancement of the stories DC can tell onscreen?
Granted, more hero power would probably be needed than the current big three. Hopefully, the studio can produce a Flash film sooner than later. Regardless of who joins them, the idea of these characters trying to prove themselves in being just as viable without Batman and Superman could make for a compelling story. Not lingering on what came before, but going beyond expectations. The great metaphor for this cinematic universe altogether. Defined by its rough past, with little to no faith in a future. Who would have thought that a variety of characters we haven’t yet seen on the big screen, coupled with diverse creatives could prove the naysayers wrong?