What a whirlwind these last weeks have been for DC. We went from Patty Jenkins reportedly departing Wonder Woman 3 to Henry Cavill being dismissed from the role of Superman in the new DC universe reset led by James Gunn and Peter Safran. And, even though all this has happened in just over two weeks, life for DC fans hasn’t been easy for a long, long time. It’s been awhile since anyone has had any concrete idea as to where the brand’s cinematic universe is really going, and these recent controversies aren’t doing it any favors.
Of course, it’s easy for us, out here, watching everything as fans or just casual audience, to look at all of that and immediately start giving opinions and pointing fingers, but managing such an important and gigantic brand like DC can’t be easy. This is the mother brand of the most iconic superheroes ever, with over ten thousand characters. Currently, in a transition state as the newly founded DC Studios is being established under Gunn and Safran’s leadership, it’s only natural that not every single thing is crystal clear. But it has been a while since clarity was a word used to describe the brand’s trajectory on the big screen, too, so a good clean-up is way overdue.
Where Has This DCU Mess Come From?
Right off the bat, it’s important to make something crystal clear: James Gunn and Peter Safran are hardly the ones to blame for the current state of the DC slate. In fact, those guys have the rough end of the deal and have taken on the huge task of putting everything in order as good as possible. We still don’t know exactly what it is they are planning, but they do have to start somewhere, and, apparently, the bulk of the DC universe is being reset. Like it or not, that’s the clearest direction it has had in years.
We may think this mess started when Warner was acquired by Discovery, but everything was already murky much earlier than that. It began when the so-called Snyderverse began to crumble. Not that we’re defending it or attacking it, this is merely a fact. When Zack Snyder had to step back from his Justice League directing duties, the storytelling in the version of that movie that would be released in 2017 was such a mess, it was clear that executives had meddled with it trying to emulate some of their rival Marvel’s magic.
And that was, in itself, a huge mistake: DC shouldn’t strive to be like Marvel. Everything about these two companies is different. Their heroes, their universes, their approach to storytelling throughout all their media, everything. Superman and Batman are the first superheroes anyone thinks of, and, amazingly enough, they were precisely those we were seeing the least of. Anyone can tell stories about them, but when people in suits start dictating where they should go, the audience can just feel it, because, well, that’s not exactly an executive’s strong suit. Say what you will about Snyder as a filmmaker, but at least he had some notion of where his take on the DCEU (as the brand’s shared universe was known then) was going.
Not only that, but he apparently also knew how to conduct a set and make his actors feel safe which was not the case after his departure. The whole controversy between Ray Fisher, Joss Whedon, and Walter Hamada is a direct product of the lack of leadership in that environment, both on and off set, as cases of abuse and harassment were made public. Even though Warner officially launched a probe to investigate the matter, it felt as if nothing had been done to settle the matter and no corporate measure had been taken, especially as the issue dragged on for months after Fisher first brought it to light. In the end, though, Fisher was the one who lost the most, as his character, Cyborg, one of the central heroes in the comics, was apparently written off the whole DCEU altogether, as he’s simply nowhere to be seen after the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Big Changes in Management Led to the Downfall of the DCEU
Cut to 2022. One of the industry’s biggest mergers had just been concluded, as Discovery acquired WarnerMedia and, thus, Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) was born. This new media leviathan was to be led by Discovery CEO David Zaslav, and he stepped up to the task at hand in style by canceling Batgirl, a movie that was already in its final stages of production. Needless to say, this decision took the whole industry by surprise – why do that to a nearly finished flick? Of course, we were all astonished!
In the following months, though, Zaslav took to explaining this decision publicly and making even bigger cuts. The goal was to cut as much as 3 billion in write-offs for the studio, which was in great debt, according to WBD’s new leadership. Batgirl and many other productions were canceled, and even now series are being taken out of HBO Max’s catalog, like Westworld and Raised By Wolves, under the pretense of saving money.
Another bold step taken by Zaslav was the decision to scrap most of the DCEU and find someone to lead DC in a model similar to that established by Kevin Feige at Marvel, designing a 10-year plan for the studio to follow. On paper, the idea is good, as the lack of clear direction was the biggest problem the DCEU faced since its inception. But acting on that idea, however, would prove one hell of a challenge, as many projects were already in later stages of development and production. Projects much bigger than Batgirl, like Black Adam, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, The Flash and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. How to accommodate all that and develop a new, single and cohesive universe for the DC brand, after all that has happened and all the shake-ups it has been through?
You read that right. There’s no way of doing it. There have been so many reshoots, redesigns, cancelations, and general animosity between everyone involved with the DC brand up to this point, one just can’t do anything to tie that much-disconnected tissue up again.
Black Adam, in particular, is shaping up to be one particularly awkward chapter of this story, as it was exactly the movie that promised the return of Henry Cavill’s Superman. That came to be after years of pushing by star, entrepreneur, and overall hype man Dwayne Johnson, as he wanted to have a showdown between his own character, Black Adam, and DC’s biggest and strongest hero, Superman. Johnson and Cavill may be old friends, but adding the Man of Steel to the Black Adam fold was just not a good idea, as it’s clear by now. It happened as the result of sheer pressure on the weakened leadership of Walter Hamada’s DC, but tides have shifted pretty quickly, and now that movie basically lost the importance it could have had to the future of DC.
As if it weren’t enough, Black Adam also became the subject of a narrative battle in social media over its box office, as different sources have reported different results over the last week, an embarrassing dispute that even Johnson himself decided to take part in. A lot of buzz was generated around this movie, and, sure enough, it led to an enormous let-down as, after a meeting with James Gunn, Johnson confirmed that Black Adam is not in the fold for this first chapter of the newly rebranded DCU.
How Do the Remaining DCEU Movies Fit Into the DCU?
In recent weeks, DC fans have taken to social media asking what’s the point of even watching the four remaining movies on the DCEU anymore, as they aren’t part of future plans for the DCU. With Henry Cavill out as Superman and Wonder Woman 3 not going forward, these projects simply don’t fit anywhere anymore and are likely the last chapters of the infamous cinematic adventure known as DCEU.
That’s where James Gunn and Peter Safran come in. They were appointed after their success in projects like The Suicide Squad and hit series Peacemaker. Their fabled 10-year plan still hasn’t been presented, but they are the leaders and co-CEOs of DC Studios, the chosen ones that will deliver DC from this crisis on infinite movies. To do that, unfortunately, they will inevitably have to make a lot of people unhappy.
By now, it’s clear that the Snyderverse is being undone, as the major stars of the fallen DCEU are one by one getting the phone call no one likes to get. Interestingly enough, is that, in his recent social media post about Black Adam and the DCU, Dwayne Johnson mentioned that his character “will not be in the first chapter of storytelling”, and that he and Gunn will continue to explore how the Man in Black “can be utilized in future DC multiverse chapters”. The key word here is “chapter”, which he mentioned twice, perhaps as a first indication that the DCU will likely be structured, that way, similarly to Marvel’s phases.
Apart from designing a new slate of movies and series for DC, Gunn and Safran also have to deal with the overall feeling of uncertainty that has attached itself to the brand after all these years. The way things are right now, every time a new fact comes to light, someone discredits it days later, like Black Adam‘s box office and Patty Jenkins’ departure from Wonder Woman 3.
A positive step has already been taken in that direction, as Gunn has been using his own social media platforms to engage directly with fans and deliver first-hand updates on the state of affairs over at DC Studios. Usually, Twitter wouldn’t be the best and wisest medium for a CEO to do this (as we can see with its very owner right now), but the brand desperately needs to reconnect with their most important asset, the fans, after years of misleading by people in suits, who cared only about making – or saving – money. Social media is the battlefield where many of the controversies around the brand are fought, but Gunn has been using it as a contingency to deal with the fallout of previous bad decisions made by other players, who didn’t really measure the consequences of what they were doing.
Weirdly enough (or not), filmmaker Sam Mendes has been developing a series for HBO Max (of all places) with the premise of following the superhero franchise business, called The Franchise. We still don’t know what the plot is, but he doesn’t need to look further than Warner’s own slate, as the DC odyssey offscreen has sparked more interest, drama and plot-twists than most of its onscreen adventures.