DC's Phase Two Takes Shape, What to Expect in 2019 and Beyond
Guest Blog by Nathan Warby
No-one can argue that 2018 has been Marvel’s year. Avengers: Infinity War became the biggest movie crossover in Hollywood history, while Black Panther became a billion-dollar cultural phenomenon.
But what does this mean for the competition? Warner Bros. and DC’s own superhero universe is floundering, and the blistering year the MCU is having only further compounds the franchise’s shortcomings. But can they bounce back?
The DCEU should be a success. They have an incredible line-up of characters that goes far beyond staples like Batman and Superman, plus a roster of iconic Villains that dwarves their comic-book counterparts; The Joker, Harley Quinn, Lex Luthor and Darkseid to name but a few. Plus, it’s not like they don’t have the pedigree to produce a quality series of films, the Nolan trilogy remains the absolute pinnacle of comic book movies and The Dark Knight, for me, is the best movie the genre has to offer.
But despite this, the DCEU is stumbling heading into phase 2 of their universe building. Man of Steel was fine but forgettable, Batman vs. Superman was incredibly divisive and Suicide Squad was a killer croc of you know what. In fact, only Wonder Woman from their first five outings has managed a critical score over 60% on Rotten Tomatoes, in contrast to the MCU, where the lowest critical score is held by Thor: The Dark World) at 66%.
The glaring cause of this, especially in the first few DCEU films, is they seemed intent on achieving 20 films worth of exposition in just two years. Man of Steel was a solid place to start, nothing that was going to set the world alight, but a fun ride nonetheless. From here, they could have kicked on. Instead we got the lifeless Batman vs. Superman. A film which tried (and failed) to deliver our first introduction to Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, Cyborg, The Flash and Aquaman in to just two and a half hours. Justice League, set to be their crowning kick-off like Avengers was for the MCU, was an utter failure of mediocrity. DC’s interested fan-base has dwindled down to hardcore fan-boys heading into their second phase of movies. Yet, as we know, one good movie can turn that all around.
The recent news that Marvel Studios is very close to finalizing acquisition of their Marvel assets from 20th Century Fox spells out an even more exciting future for the MCU, once favourites like X-Men and Fantastic Four get the proper treatment. Hopefully we get a version of Galactus who isn’t just a big cloud. But don’t count DC out just yet as they head into phase 2 of the universe building; once Infinity War and its unnamed second instalment are out of the way, the coast is relatively clear for them to come out fighting with everything they have. Which is apparently massive with around 20 new flicks in development. They’ve also secured world renowned talents, including Gal Gadot and Margot Robbie, for a few more films. Joaquin Phoenix is joining the DC stable and even rumors of the legendary Robert DeNiro are starting to circle.
One of these 20 new movies is the Flashpoint movie, which could prove absolutely pivotal in rescuing DC’s sinking ship. To go on the comic book arc, the story deals in alternate timelines where Barry Allen seems to be the only person aware of the differences. This could be the perfect opportunity to correct some of the mistakes that have divided the fan base by propelling the universe to new a new reality, where Batman isn’t branding people, Killer Croc isn’t wearing tracksuit bottoms and Superman never had a moustache to be removed. Jokes aside, not only would this kind of reboot would be something very unique (if done properly, right Fox?) it would also be the ideal time for the actors who want to jump ship to step back. Ben Affleck has expressed desire to hang up his cape on multiple occasions after the poor receptions to the franchises early outings.
Things are looking up for DC. Despite the relatively negative reception to Justice League (which i thought was quite harsh), the foundations are now solid to build on going forward. JL was a mashed mess of visions, but it reset the DC tone leaving the theatre and it was solid enough to move forward. It just wasn’t what they hoped it would be.
Even though Infinity War is going to dominate the next year or so, you can’t help but feel that the only way forward for the MCU is down from here. How on earth do they top something thats so fresh and original? DC need to treat everything up to this point as the first half of a football match, which they the are significantly behind in, but treat the second half as if they are back at 0-0. Perhaps their opponents will run out of steam in the second half after firing all their bullets, leaving DC room to steal the show and make a dramatic comeback. Rebooting DCEU via flashpoint around the same time that Marvel adapting to life post-Thanos could be the perfect play. DC can capitalize on the MCU being in transition and make a bold new start.
But what exactly would we want to see to help DC close the gap? Assuming that the Flashpoint movie is where we see the timeline split, the possibilities are almost endless. Any minor mistakes or regrets can be erased in one film, from casting errors to a change of tone. An idea I personally like the sound of, is keeping Barry Allen as the only character who can recall both timelines (perhaps in the same vein as Cisco in the Flash TV series) - leaving the opportunity to poke fun at the franchises missteps as it starts to win back the faith of its supporters. In terms of recasting we could see a narrative scenario where in the new reality, Jared Leto’s Joker killed Bat-fleck as he tried to save the life of Dick Grayson, leaving Robin to take over as the caped crusader. And if they could make the Joker less like a pantomime villa in, that would be great too.
In terms of what we already know; the next DCEU project is Aquaman. On the surface it may sound like a bit of a damp-squid, but Warner Bros. have an opportunity to create a visual experience truly unique in the comic-book movie realm. While Earth, and more recently outer space are becoming increasingly familiar, the prospect of a blockbuster which takes place mostly under the depths of the ocean could be a refreshing prospect. Subject to good CGI*. The trailer looks hopeful in this department even though we know CGi isn’t finished until the film is canned, just before theatrical release. Expectations going into the movie are relatively tame. That could be good. If they want Atlantis to become a bigger player in the future; we need to spend some meaningful time getting to know the place. We’re thinking more Wakanda than we are Asgaard.From the trailer we got, the concern is how fleshed out Jason Mamoa’s take on Arthur is going to be. There is little so far to suggest he’ll be anything but the Aqua-Bro we saw in Justice League, which might just be too one-dimensional for a starring role.
We’ve also got the upcoming Wonder Woman sequel; Wonder Woman 1984. Gal Gadot’s first run-out as the character became a beacon of light amongst the darkness of the DC universe, a triumph which has seen her upstage the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel to become the focal point of the entire franchise. You could even argue that she is becoming the Iron-Man of the DCEU. Of all the characters we’ve been introduced to; Diana already feels the most fleshed out and likeable. Her solo movie was easily the highlight of the universe so far; and her role in Justice League was a believable continuation of her arc. If they can deliver in the sequel by telling us another meaningful story, which digs deeper into her interesting character (and perhaps further tests her beliefs in mankind) then she could become their greatest asset. Plus, a successful and female lead film trilogy? Marvel has not even come close to that yet.
One of the more intriguing upcoming projects, is the Shazam movie. In terms of tone, it already comes across as a more fun and light-hearted story; compared to the increasingly notorious DC tone of being as Deadpool said, “so dark!” By embracing the wackiness of the character and fully committing to it, this could become the studios Ant-Man – quirky yet loveable. From the first trailer that’s just dropped at Comic-Con, the chemistry between the Billy Batson and Freddie is endearing, and the whole thing feels much lighter and more appealing. Descriptions of it sharing some tone and narrative similarities to the Tom Hank’s classic Big look to be accurate so far. DC has always had a much darker aesthetic, and Shazam shouldn’t abandon this completely, after all it’s what sets the two superhero juggernauts apart. However, the introduction of some humour in Justice League made a refreshing change, and utilising this for a whole feature-length film can make for a nice palette cleanser after the more serious narratives that rest are involved in. It looks like the DCEU is learning valuable lessons.
The incredible thing about comic book movies is that they will always have a die-hard fan-base who will go and see any and every film that either studio will churn out, myself included. But DC is dangerously close to losing some of their fanatics who feel burned by the franchise’s shortcomings, which is a sad thought when these projects are supposed to be made directly in service to them. You’ll never please everyone; we geeks are very passionate about this stuff, but the DC camp needs something to shout about - instead of hiding in their fortress of solitude. Will the DCEU learn from their past mistakes, or will rushed character development and convoluted plots continue to be their kryptonite?