Right now, the Warner Bros. executives find themselves in a difficult situation. The DC Extended Universe, or DCEU, has an enormous amount of money riding on it, and while you’d be hard pressed to call its installments financial failures, they haven’t been the crowd pleasers that the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, has been. The MCU launched to success with 2008’s Iron Man, and has only continued to be increasingly successful since, performing well this year with both Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange. The DCEU launched to financial success with 2013’s Man of Steel, but underperformed with critics and many fans alike.
It can be argued that reasons for the DCEU not reaching MCU levels of success is because of who sits in the director’s chair, casting decisions, or decisions to cram too much into single films in an attempt to “catch up” to Marvel. Ultimately, the primary reason revolves around the difference in tone. There are those out there, myself included, who enjoyed and even appreciated the grittier, more somber tone of Man of Steel when it was released in 2013. There is an even smaller number of people, myself still included, who enjoyed Zack Snyder doubling down on this tone for Batman v Superman. However, this was not the case for the majority of moviegoers, with many citing a lack of humor and grim portrayal of these characters for reasons as to why it didn’t live up to expectations. A concern I have is that the executives feel as if they are forced between choosing to please one of two groups: the smaller group of hardcore DC fans who enjoy the current interpretation and are willing to pay for multiple viewings, or the much larger group who enjoy DC as well but feel as if the current interpretation of these characters aren’t what they want from a silver screen adaptation. Even without multiple viewings, pleasing group number 2 would probably lead to an increase in profits. The release of 2016’s Suicide Squad adds credibility to this concern, as the course correcting the studio made in response to the negative reaction to Batman v Superman is laid bare in the final edit.
Gone was the somber tone of the original comic con footage premiered nearly a year prior. The film feels as if it lost its identity, at least the one it had initially. It’s final
tone was a mess, as well as it’s plot structure and pacing. This “course correcting” cost DC critically, though perhaps not financially as it raked in a hefty sum at the box office, and they now find themselves in a similar position as they were in immediately following Batman v Superman’s release. What to do now? I remain optimistic that a third option exists. That a change in tone could be made, one that would strike the perfect balance between the lighthearted optimism desired by one group, and the seriousness and gravitas desired by the other. “The tone both groups want seem to be so different from each other, what could the DCEU possibly do to satisfy the two?” I’m glad you asked, as I believe the perfect example of this balance already exists, and what’s more is it’s a DC property.
Justice League was an animated series which ran from 2001 to 2004 to much acclaim, and struck this perfect tonal balance I’m talking about. In it, Green Lantern
stood trial on the planet Oa with the stakes being he faced death were he found guilty. Superman was forced into a gladitorial arena where other aliens fight each other
to the death. Martian Manhunter, the last of his race, is plagued with memories of his former life, knowing he will never see his family again. The show could get dark,
yet through it all Superman was still the blue boy scout, Wally West as the Flash was making one liners, and witty banter among the group was still common. The show
existed within a larger universe as well, being preceded by shows like Batman the Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series, and Static Shock. DC need only take
cues from the template it’s already laid in its past, as most of these shows are considered some of the most quality comic book television series made, animated or otherwise. Because this show, as well as its sequel Justice League Unlimited, was so universally loved, you can find its fans in both groups previously mentioned. What I’m not arguing for
is a film adaptation of the three episode story arcs of the series (though I would pay to see that as well, and you know you would too,) just that the executives would take inspiration from something they know works. A decision made that I was very pleased with was placing Geoff Johns in a creative position akin to Kevin Feige (Marvel Entertainment’s creative head honcho.) As President and Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics, he certainly understands these characters, and his runs on Green Lantern and Aquaman are proof that he cares for and respects them. He is precisely the man the DCEU could use to get them on a more critically successful track while retaining what works in the DCEU currently. The early footage of Justice League seem very promising, and both trailers for Wonder Woman released thus far are nothing short of outstanding, so it appears they are headed in the right direction.
Is this transition in tone possible to make without feeling jarring or forced? I believe so. In fact, the ending to Batman v Superman perfectly sets the stage for this tonal shift. While most found the hints of optimism in the films ending not enough to make up for the inarguably bleak 2 1/2 hours of film that preceded it, I saw it as the night being darkest just before the dawn. Batman is set to start his path to redemption as he puts together a team with Wonder Woman, now returning to the world of men to fight at his side. The dirt raising from the grave just before the films credits was Zack Snyder and co. reminding us that the dawn is coming and, if done right, what an amazing dawn it has the potential to be.