After Infinity War, is it DC's time to shine?
How DC’s next films can jumpstart the DCEU
It’s fair to say that it hasn’t been smooth sailing for the DC Extended Universe. A string of sub-par releases has seen Warner Bros. attempt at a shared universe get off to a rocky start. This is due, in part, to DC trying to recreate the success of their comic-book rivals in half the time. Development was rushed and movies that should have been slam-dunks failed to resonate. As a result, the foundation for the franchise was unstable and the whole building nearly came tumbling down. Thankfully, steps are being taken to steady the ship. The wider universe-building is taking a backseat as DC concentrate on quality, standalone experiences. With this in mind, we’ve looked at the DCEU’s six confirmed projects and picked-out what that film needs to do ready for when they return to the bigger universe.
Birds of Prey (2020)
Despite the comics boasting an impressive rogue’s gallery, the DCEU has struggled to create villains that leave any real impression. For the most part, they’ve been undeveloped bad guys who just want to do bad things. One of the few exceptions, however, is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. In a movie that fumbled its characters all over the place, Harley was the one that actually connected with the audience. Her second outing in Birds of Prey needs to double-down on her; flesh her out by giving her a real character-arc away from the Joker’s shadow. By placing her front-and-centre, it’s not hard to imagine her becoming a recurring villain/anti-hero, think Loki in the MCU. That’s not to say that her fellow birds should be swept aside. Birds of Prey is an opportunity to kickstart the stories of two more relatable and engaging antagonists. If the film can manage to give substantial development to Black Canary and Huntress as well, then we’ll already have a connection to them when they cause havoc further down the road.
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Ever since her debut in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman has been the shining light of the DCEU. Where other characters have been mishandled and recast, her portrayal has been the franchises biggest victory. In this case, there is far less pressure on the sequel than there is for other projects. WW 1984 has the benefit of being set before most of the other installments, meaning it can remain a self-contained story. We already have a great understanding of Diana and what drives her character. This film just needs to show us some of the conflicts and struggles that made her the force of nature we saw in BvS and Justice League. It’s a case of filling in the blanks.
If you were to be hyper-critical of Wonder Woman, you could say it was lacking in the villain department. Ares was fine for an origin story, but he’ll hardly linger long in the memory. That suited the inaugural movie, as it let Gal Gadot establish herself in the role. This time around a strong antagonist is needed to keep it compelling. Everywhere else, just build on what’s already there. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The Batman (2021)
Perhaps the greatest victim of the DCEU’s failings is Ben Affleck and his run as the caped crusader. Despite showing glimpses of a grounded, gritty Batman, his story is sadly a case of what could have been. Up until now, Bruce has been restricted to featuring in other films where there is no time to really get to know him. Every other time the mantle has been passed on; the new actor has been allowed his own film to introduce them to the world. Batfleck was hard-done-by. He’s been caught up in the stories of other characters without an arc of his own.
Matt Reeves’ The Batman is a fresh start, with a fresh face under the mask. The Batman will place Robert Patterson’s portrayal in the limelight and should serve as an introduction to this new take. We need to come out of this movie with an understanding of what this version of the character is going to be. Is it going to be darker like the predecessor, or something more traditional? What we really need from this movie is a no-frills Dark Knight story. The approach should be similar to Spider-Man Homecoming; no origin story, no getting bogged down in story beats we’ve already seen. All fans have wanted since the DCEU started is Batman being Batman – taking down a classic foe and striking fear into Gotham’s underbelly. Mr Reeves, we beg you, let this be it.
The Suicide Squad (2021)
The less we talk about 2016’s Suicide Squad – the better. The first outing for DC’s band of misfits had a number of well-documented issues; so, the best thing that James Gunn’s soft reboot can do is steer as far away from it as possible. The best outcome for Warner Bros. would be for the original to become the franchise black sheep, much like The Incredible Hulk is in the MCU. We all know it happened, but we don’t need to think about it. Similar to Birds of Prey, the goal here is to give us an entry point with the team of baddies, to pave the way for their future in the DCEU. After her starring role in the spin-off, Harley Quinn’s role should be smaller so as not to overuse her. This would leave room for other characters to have some screen-time and make their mark.
Having already established Harley’s character, it would pay for one of the villains from The Batman to be featured here. The original suffered for having to introduce an entire cast in one swoop. In any ensemble it benefits the audience to have a few familiar faces, because we’re instantly more invested in seeing what happens to them. That way, the early part of the film can be saved for the backstories of the new characters. Then, when they inevitably get a run-out on their own in a standalone film, fans are already deeply committed to their arc.
The Flash (2021)
The jury is still out on Ezra Miller’s version of The Flash. The glimpses we’ve seen showed great potential, but his solo movie is a chance to really make the character his own. Of all the projects we know about, this is an opportunity to do something that’s never been done in the superhero genre. Barry Allen and the lore around his alter-ego is truly unique in the world of comic books, so there’s no shortage of inspiration to draw from. But, whichever multiverse-bending story they adapt, what fans need is a plot that really makes them root for him.
So far, the big-screen Flash has stuck to a comic-relief role with very little depth. Other than a brief scene in Justice League with his imprisoned father, we’ve got no insight into what drives him as a hero. He needs a personal story - he needs the Aquaman treatment. Once you get to know the man behind the mask, his actions while he’s tearing across Central City carry more weight. Compare him to Ant-Man in the MCU. In the standalone movies, we learn that he wants to be a better person to set an example for his daughter, that is the core of his character. Then when we see him in Civil War, this personal motivation underpins every decision he makes – even when he’s being a goof.
Aquaman 2 (2022)
Against all odds, Aquaman’s live-action debut went on to be a big win for the DCEU. It overcame some cheesy dialogue and (at times) questionable acting to become the franchises highest-grossing movie, surpassing Batman vs Superman. This makes advising the next instalment relatively simple. Realistically, everything is in place to make the sequel a big hit. The cast is strong, and director James Wan clearly has a handle on the source material. It’s merely a matter of sanding those rough edges. Now that the origin story is out of the way, Aquaman 2 can be a more streamlined, focused effort.
Unlike other entries in this article, here would be the place to start really sowing the seeds for the wider universe. You always want to put your strongest foot forward, and what’s stronger than a billion-dollar film? By this point in the timeline, it will have been five years since Justice League – the last genuine attempt to join these characters together. Working other characters into the plot after all this time (and hopefully on the back of some great films), they can start to promote the idea of a fully connected universe in a positive way. All of our hopes rest on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, what a world we live in.
After such a bumpy start, it’s refreshing to see a franchise take a step back and try and course correct. With a focus on standalone experiences and a bit of TLC, the DCEU can and will be a universe for fans to get excited about. With time, it can be a serious competitor to the MCU. Afterall, two superhero universes on top-form is what we all want.