The DC Film universe has been a divisive one up until this point, to say the least. It has been pretty much lambasted by critics, save for Wonder Woman. Fans, on the other hand, have been a little more kind, though they have also found some fault amongst the films. This has caused Warner Brothers once to do a very superficial kind of shakeup and the again recently to do a more substantial one.
The slide for DC Films started with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Some would say that it really started with Man of Steel, but nobody will ever be able to convince me that it wasn’t a good film. For me, Man of Steel is the best Superman movie ever made, and one of the best superhero movies. Period. To be honest with all of you, I have liked all of the DC films to varying degree, except for Suicide Squad. After all of that, I understand why critics and fans may not like select movies in the universe.
(Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016))
It is no secret that after BvS, executives at Warner Brothers were not happy with the critical or fan response to the movie. Though being a financial success at almost $874M, this movie should have easily broken $1B. In today’s film landscape, where a movie about Thor is approaching the $1B landmark, a movie about arguably the two most popular and recognizable superheroes on the planet should have sneezed at that number.
While yes, Zack Snyder should shoulder some blame for the flow of the narrative, WB made a critical mistake. That mistake was not allowing Snyder’s cut to go to theatres. Don’t worry, they do this two more times before we get to today. This was a money play to shorten runtime and in turn get a few more viewings. After that, they release the “Ultimate Cut” to make it up to Snyder. If you’ve seen this cut, you know that the story flows much better and makes much more sense than the theatrical version. This cut should have been the theatrical cut. I’m not saying that this would have cured all, but it would have made for a better theatre experience.
At this point, WB is not pleased with the direction of their film universe. This prompts the studio to part ways with Snyder and hire a new director for Justice League to set a new direction. Just kidding, they’ll wait to do that until a third of the way through production. This is a guy who they’ve seen two movies from, they know what they’re getting with him, he didn’t magically become another director. He creates big, larger than life comic book moments and then has just enough story to connect big moment A to big moment B. Because they don’t want to change dates for JL, they keep Snyder and give him all of these parameters he has to follow.
At the same time, WB does a pseudo-shakeup that makes Jon Berg and Geoff Johns the heads of a new DC Films division and then they answer to Toby Emmerich who answers to Kevin Tsujihara. That is way too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen. All of these guys then have an opinion on how Snyder should make JL. At some point, they decide they want to change direction and have Joss Whedon take the helm. Whedon is only given about six months to do reshoots and post-production, thus the Frankenstein version of JL was created.
Does that feel like a whirlwind to you? I’m sure it did for everyone involved. And that’s the simplified version. I liked Justice League a lot, but you could feel the rushed nature of its production at times. No, we’re not going to talk about Cavill’s mustache. To me, if you hire Snyder, you go with Snyder’s movie. If you’re a studio that prides itself on allowing your directors freedom, that’s what you do.
I do believe that there are very smart people at Warner Brothers and these missteps are a product of trying to stick to a schedule and compete with Marvel. Lesson learned. That time is over. Make good films and your audience will show up. Create a universe whose films are in unison and the audience will buy in.
The silver lining is that things seem to be heading in the right direction. The start was hiring Walter Hamada from New Line to be the sole head of DC Films, with Geoff Johns only in an advisory position. This is Hamada’s universe and he is directing all that happens within it. He has the final say. Hamada was at the helm of New Line’s very successful Conjuring franchise and IT remake. He is known as a stickler when it comes to quality control and he has been called a perfectionist by his peers.
(IT poster by: Andy White (2017))
Some fans are worried that he’s ever worked on horror films. That doesn’t much matter to me. If you can guide a cohesive universe with great storytelling, that’s all that matters. Another that skill that he’s developed in the world of horror is making big box office dollars out of peanuts. This will allow him to streamline the outrageous budgets that superhero movies are spending. This doesn’t mean a lack of quality, but a smarter way of spending. He also seems like a director’s guy, so he’s going to allow his filmmakers to breathe while staying within the parameters of the DC Films universe.
As DC fans, I know we’ve been through some rough times over the past couple of years, but I truly believe that the course correction that we’ve wanted is on the horizon. Yeah, many of us have liked the movies, and some haven’t, but we want them to be great. We love these characters and we want the films about them to be respected, not just by fans, but by everyone. I believe those days are right around the corner.