The moment Iron Man hit theaters with AC/DC’s “Back in Black” blaring in surround sound to the post-credit instant when Nick Fury appeared in Tony Stark’s living room with whispers of “the Avengers program,” Marvel had a plan.
And for more than 10 years, they never deterred from it.
They developed characters with solo projects, even created multiple trilogies. They introduced some lesser-known folk to make them household names. They destroyed box-office projections time-after-time.
Still, they weaved an intergalactic tapestry of cinema that proves what it means to plan first, produce second.
Then came DC and WB…
The marketing machine and the hype — oh Lord, the hype — for Man of Steel was through the roof. DC Comics were going to compete for supremacy. Sure, they were a few years late to the party. Yes, they screwed up allowing the Nolanverse to be completely separate from plans.
But, this was going to introduce a brooding character carousel. Man of Steel was a stellar origin movie. Henry Cavill may have been relatively unknown when he came from Krypton but that man became the role.
Of course, DC and WB couldn’t do it just like Marvel, so the “sequel” had to not only stand out from the nerd banter and give them all something to really discuss, but also introduce new characters — Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, and of course, Batfleck.
And, well, two out of three didn’t disappoint. As polarizing as Batman v. Superman became, we still had the making of a DC Extended Universe. Huzzah! Then, DC and WB had the fart-and-fall-down moment of Suicide Squad.
Even though $746 million is very impressive, a little less than an eighth of those dollars were spent by people who walked out of the theater high-fiving someone. The movie had its faults. Well, many of them.
DC and WB needed a rebound and the doltish duo got one with Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins created a dynamic origin and made an instant leading super lady of Gal Gadot. More origins to come. More movies to fall in line. More box office success.
And here flops the Justice League…
Three new characters — the same ones that were teased in Batman v. Superman. They were all here. This had to be good, only it wouldn’t be because of life hurling a gignormous monkey wrench in the middle of production.
We all know what happened to Zack Snyder’s family. We’ve all heard the tales of woe to come from Snyder leaving and Joss Whedon entering. It’s a point of urban legend of #TheSnyderCut. And now, Zack Snyder has been doing something about it.
How could all that potential be squandered because one guy wanted to create jokes? Were Walter Hamada and his crew of misfit executives never really committed to Snyder’s vision? What caused them to jump ship so easily? Questions like these never stopped. Rumors kept swirling. And hopes kept dashing.
Yet, still, all DC fans are left longing for what could have been only seven movies into the extended…well, black hole since it never really made a universe.
One movie created ripples in the DC / WB pond of dreams that have yet to stop fluttering in the water and drowning every hope that comes in its path. Fortunately, water is precisely where hope has sprung forth.
Aquaman Chartered a New Course
The King of the Seven Seas gave something to DC and WB they didn’t seem to capture with their first six films — credibility.
You heard it here first: James Wan saved DC.
He did it months before the movie appeared in theaters and earned more than $1 billion at the box office. He did it because the movie had one vision, free of bureaucracy. The movie had a single focus, to tell Arthur Curry’s story and how he returned to Atlantis following the battle against (the CGI-aborted vision of) Steppenwolf.
It happened because the movie was singular — it stood apart from the gossip, the gregarious conjecture. James Wan had an idea, and stuck to it, with a little help and blessing from Zack Snyder. (So suck it, Hamada.)
WB had momentum. And it was starting to show.
Before the movie debuted, we saw a Shazam trailer that was electric! (Yes, that was intentional. Sue me.) We heard stories of other one-off movies (i.e., Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman 1984). It seemed Warner Bros. and DC Comics got its sea legs back.
Then, no more Batfleck. Cavill took his mustache and went elsewhere. Flash and Green Lantern were becoming more forgotten than focal points. But all that money…
That brings us to today and Warner Bros. Pictures Group Chairman Toby Emmerich. Following a shiny new Producers Guild of America’s Milestone Award, Emmerich was feeling himself and told THR his thoughts on a new DC Comics’ future and how WB is getting back to movie making, even if it is one-off movie magic.
We all feel like we’ve turned a corner now. We’re playing by the DC playbook, which is very different than the Marvel playbook. We are far less focused on a shared universe. We take it one movie at a time. Each movie is its own equation and own creative entity. If you had to say one thing about us, it’s that it always has to be about the directors.
See, there’s no vision there, only what he can see.
Movies related to a multiverse of any kind hurt the studio. Films that could stand on their own were box-office reckonings. Shazam is no longer having a Supes appearance, so it’s alone. Joker is going way back to determine what caused Arthur Fleck to become the Crown Prince of Crime, so that’s clearly alone. The Batman is getting younger at that position, so we have Bruce Wayne’s formidable years.
Everything is headed in that direction. They have been for a while. When Emmerich took the helm, he noted that while he’s not of the geek variety, he is an executive who is confident in how he can make some coin.
I don’t speak comic,” Emmerich acknowledges in his first sit-down interview [with Variety] since assuming his new role, a week after “Wonder Woman” took the box office by storm. “I do feel like I speak motion pictures. I speak for an audience. I look and ask, ‘How does this work for a general audience?’
The “general audience” is who they are after. Nerds are going to see every Marvel, DC, and indie movie made. That’s about as much of a given as some Hollywood starlet taking a selfie today. In short, WB and Emmerich has never been banking on us. They want to reach the other audience.
That’s where the payday is located (and how they can finally catch up to Marvel). Even Geoff Johns, who is known for his affinity for comic canon, doesn’t care.
“He understands that when we’re talking about the characters, we’re not just talking about what their powers are,” says DC Entertainment president and chief creative officer Geoff Johns. “We’re talking about who they are as people.”
So, Who is This Diverse Bunch?
“You can’t begin to learn someone as a person without learning first the people around them.”
No one famous said that. I heard it once in a public relations workshop featuring an HR expert. It makes so much sense, namely when it comes to DC Comics and the perpetual WB experiment.
Who are the people around the people we want to see? What is the diverse collection of experts? If DC and WB has done anything right (which, outside of Wonder Woman and Aquaman hasn’t been much), it’s creating a true multiverse — one that is inclusive and reflective of all the people who need a hero or heroine.
It all began with giving the reins to Patty Jenkins for a movie about one badass chick who has been an emblem of #GirlPower ever since. Then, James Wan was given Aquaman, and you saw how the APAC region rewarded that choice.
Positioned on the slate in the next coming years are:
- Ava DuVernay is at the helm for New Gods
- Rick Famuyiwa has been linked to Flashpoint
- Cathy Yan earned Birds of Prey (another female=led flick)
- Christina Hodson is now writing Batgirl (buh-bye Joss Whedon)
Considering what greenlighting female-led or directed comic book movies meant in the past (Catwoman, Elektra, we’re talking to you), it was surprising that Patty and Ava were linked to DC so quickly.
Moreover, Jenkins was originally given Thor: The Dark World and DuVernay was asked to direct Black Panther but both left due to creative differences.
The DCEU – Worlds of DC – DC Comics / WB Pictures as we know it is dead.
For the most part, that’s a good thing. They know they will never create a universe to compete with Marvel. That is, yet.
With the focus on all of these characters — some lesser-known, others noteworthy — there’s seems to be a collective mix of progress stewing for DC. Whatever they choose to call what they are doing now, let’s agree to name it what they needed to get back to doing in the first place…
Movie Making. Nerd Style.