For just under a decade now, Marvel Studios have - arguably - “mastered the formula” of making good films and have built a nuanced and great cinematic universe out of it. 4 films into theirs and DC haven't been met with quite the reception. However, the recent Wonder Woman was the DCEU’s first notable success but does it promise great things ahead for DC and Warner Bros?

Well, for starters, let's backtrack around 9 years to the release of Marvel’s Iron Man. This was a comic-book movie decades in the making, with so much troubled press haunting its past but even once the cameras started rolling too since the script was unfinished when filming began. It was also a character that the general public wasn't necessarily too familiar with at the time either; the word “risk” was often tossed around. However, come May 2008, the film was a success. It was a critical and commercial success and the birth of the MCU. But what followed? Later that year, Louis Letterier’s The Incredible Hulk rolled around - hot on the heels of Favreau’s success - and fell flat. It was sorely disappointing. After that was Iron Man 2 in 2010, another poor effort. 3 films in and the MCU had only struck gold once with the first Iron Man back in 08. It was only when Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger arrived in 2011 where things began to pick up - even then, the first Thor was rather divisive. It certainly took a few years and a few films for the MCU to find its footing, though. It should be said, for the record, that I am not bashing Marvel. I'm a massive Marvel fan. I'm just stating the facts.

Post-Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy (still, arguably, some of the finest comic-book movies out there; if not Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, 2008’s The Dark Knight is admittedly up there), the future of DC remained a mystery. A Superman reboot had been in talks since 2008 - since 2006’s Superman Returns wasn't quite the version of the character the studio were hoping for - but no plans were initiated until after Nolan had signed on for another Batman film. As DC President at the time, Paul Levitz, stated, it was Batman that held the key to the Superman reboot: “Everyone is waiting for Nolan to sign on for another Batman, once that happens, the release date for Superman and all other future projects will follow.” However, in 2009, it was made aware that 50% of the rights of Superman’s origins went back to the family of Jerry Siegel - the character’s co-creator - and that if a film hadn't been made by 2011, Siegel’s family could sue. The film was, thus, fast-tracked and production began in late 2011 for a 2013 release. Now, whilst the film wasn't the most critically acclaimed, it’s easier to blame this on a troubled production than anything else - the kind Jon Favreau could have had with Iron Man but didn't. Also, given the character's lauded history - especially cinematically with the beloved Richard Donner films, there was more pressure for it to deliver - again, compared to the pretty clean cinematic slate of Iron Man, with no precedent to compare to. As far as debutant cinematic entries go (and as a fan of both DC and Marvel, equally), Iron Man is a stronger film. But Man of Steel is certainly still enjoyable and is by no means deserved of all it's harsh criticism - more so given the turnout after such troubles and such expectations and such pressure (remember: this followed in the footsteps of The Dark Knight Rises).

If we look ahead, though, what followed Man of Steel was the announcement and expansion of the DC Cinematic Universe and a full slate of films announced - the first being Batman v Superman, then Suicide Squad a few months later. Both films were haunted by further troubles behind-the-scenes involving many re-shoots and studio control etc. And in all honesty, it shows. Both films were critically panned and very divisive amongst audiences. However, if we - again  - draw comparisons with Marvel, their second and third features following from Iron Man were not great either. And comparing them, Batman v Superman - whilst certainly very flawed - is, in my opinion anyway, superior to The Incredible Hulk and the same can be said for Suicide Squad and Iron Man 2. Whilst those films just were not good in the slightest, there's perhaps more reasoning behind why the DCEU films didn't work. When the DCEU was initially announced, it was rumoured that the films would all be built around a “dark, serious tone” with “no jokes or optimism”, in comparison to the lighter, more pulpy bounce Marvel films have to them. But when this was met with criticisms post-Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros. wanted to make amends and Suicide Squad - which was in production at the time - suffered serious reshoots to “alter the tone”. As I stated in my Wonder Woman review, Suicide Squad tried making amends on tone but was so rushed in this that it become convoluted in doing so.

Speaking of Wonder Woman, the film is easily, unarguably the DCEU’s best entry yet. It's also one of the highest rated comic book films ever made, beating out all MCU films bar Iron Man and only coming below one other DC film: The Dark Knight. What made that film so great was its tone and its story and its direction and it just knew what it wanted to be. The film was light on its feet, suitably so given the character's more optimistic background in the comics. Director Patty Jenkins was given full control of the film and got to make the Wonder Woman movie she wanted. There has certainly been a lot more time for DC and Warner Bros. to listen to the complaints and address them and, if BVS was when scripts began to be altered, whilst it hindered Suicide Squad, there was more than enough time for care to be taken with Wonder Woman. And it shows. Because the film is exceptional. So what does this mean for the future of the DCEU? 

Back when the DCEU was first announced, in 2014, Warner Bros. revealed the studio’s entire forthcoming slate of films which consisted of 10 movies and spanned 6 years from 2016 to 2020. The original slew of films and release dates looked as follows:
  • March 25th2016Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
  • August 5th, 2016Suicide Squad
  • June 23rd, 2017: Wonder Woman
  • November 17th, 2017Justice League Part One
  • March 23rd, 2018: The Flash
  • July 27th, 2018: Aquaman
  • April 5th, 2019: Shazam!
  • July 14th, 2019Justice League Part Two
  • April 3rd, 2020: Cyborg
  • June 19th, 2020: Green Lantern Corps
However, this was 3 years ago. A lot can change in 3 years, especially once a couple of films have been released to the public eye for consumption and criticism. And a lot has changed. For starters, from all of the unreleased upcoming releases, it's only Justice League and Aquaman that currently have confirmed release dates - the former for this November and the latter which was pushed back to December 2018. Even Justice League is no longer subtitled Part One but, rather, is just a single storyline - for now at least. Other than that, the future ahead is unclear for the DCEU. Despite having a cameo role in Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad and being one of the core League members in Justice League, Ezra Miller’s Flash can't seem to be finding traction for his own solo outing. The Flash was initially set to follow Justice League, next March, but with directors coming and going (most recently director Rick Fumuyiwa departed due to creative differences), the film was ordered for a page-one rewrite and it's March 23rd release date scrapped too. When we will see the speedster's solo outing remains to be seen.

Whilst Cyborg and Green Lantern Corps seem to be on-track to meet their release dates - the latter has recently tapped David S. Goyer to co-write a Lethal Weapon-esque story for the film - their futures are still very much uncertain, given that Warner Bros. seem to be replanning and rethinking their whole strategy here. However, seeing as their release dates are quite far down the line, it allows the studio plenty of time to sort things out, learn from their mistakes, and their success in Wonder Woman, and still create two really good comic-book films in both Cyborg and Green Lantern Corps come 2020. But whilst those dates may seem somewhat distant, and whilst the future of The Flash remains a mystery, the DCEU’s newfound strategising has also put a slew of new films into development: Gotham City Sirens from David Ayer, Joss Whedon's Batgirl, Nightwing from Chris McKay, a Black Adam spinoff (possibly even before Shazam!), Suicide Squad and Man of Steel sequels and Lobo and Deadshot solo outings too and, of course, The Batman with Matt Reeves at the helm.

Whilst this can be looked at with much scepticism and negativity because the DCEU launched to rough waters and now all of the plans have gone askew and the universe hangs on a thread, I think there's actually a lot more positivity to it than that. If anything, it shows that the studio is listening to audiences and to the criticisms and trying to make amends. That's why Suicide Squad underwent massive reshoots; sure, the result was messy but at least efforts were made to TRY to make some amends to it before it hit cinemas. It’s the same reason Wonder Woman was more hopeful and why Justice League looks a lot lighter in tone too, but more naturally than as a result of reshoots and rushed script changes to accommodate this. Whilst it's a shame to see that films like The Flash and The Batman will be delayed for some time because they're undergoing page-one rewrites because “the studio has no faith in them”, at least the studio is rewriting them based on what the fans want to make stronger, more crowd-pleasing affairs.

And whilst some may look at the recent burst of new film announcements like Nightwing and Batgirl as DC trying to “produce as many films as they can for the sake of doing so to catch up to Marvel”, I believe these new announcements are more accommodating of this new vision and new plan that Warner Bros. are forming for the DCEU going forward. They're certainly the films that fans are clamouring for. And with talent like Joss Whedon, Chris McKay, Dwayne Johnson, David Sandberg and more all involved with these forthcoming projects, the future for the DCEU looks promising. Sure enough, this is a Cinematic Universe that had a tough launch and took some time in getting established but I passionately believe that the success Wonder Woman is receiving is only just the beginning of what's to come for Warner Bros. Fair enough, the studio wanted to hit the ground running and failed. But they've clearly learned from this and have gone away, collected their thoughts and are ready to get back up and give it another go. You can look at all the delays and problems as bad press, or you can look at it as a reformed DCEU cleaning the slate and getting ready to tackle these projects with a new mindset and a new plan. Whether this is the case or not, only time will tell. But there's still hope yet for the future of the DC Extended Universe.

About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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