State of the DCEU Address

“If chicken little tells you that the sky is fallin’
And even if it wasn’t would you still come crawlin’
Back again?
I think you would my friend”

Maybe we’ll never know what Steven Tyler really meant when he sang those portentous lyrics; but if you think that he wasn’t pre-empting the alarmist reaction of 90% of fans to DCEU related news, then I’m sorry… but maybe you’re just not that big an Aerosmith fan!

Brand me a DC films apologist if you must, but it’s getting somewhat tiresome when every entry, and every announcement made pertaining to this universe is met with more snide jeering or  prognostications of doom.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m also not one of the emerging substrata of militant DC fanboys who react with aggressive petulance and reactionary Marvel-bashing whenever the state of the DCEU is criticised.

I get it. I really do!

The fledgling cinematic universe has been dealt some pretty substantial blows. That’s a matter of fact.

Has that fact had an adverse effect on the development of DC films? Absolutely.

Must it necessitate the collapse of the DCEU? Of course not!

Let’s look at each upcoming film in the DCEU (at least those in active development) and in so doing, let’s hopefully get a bit of perspective.

The Batman 

We might as well launch headlong into this one. While I have been, and remain, critical of how heavily Warner Bros. have relied on using Batman as the bedrock of their cinematic universe I’m enough of a realist to understand the logic behind it.

Batman is their money-maker. He has netted the studio in excess of $3bn (adjusted) and counting (don’t forget The Lego Batman Movie is still out there, folks!).

Ben Affleck is still one of the most sought-after commodities in Hollywood, even if most people didn’t like Live By Night (2016) as much as I did.

With Affleck attached to write, direct and star in the DCEU’s first solo Batman film, the casting coup must have seemed like a slam-dunk. Then, last month Affleck stepped down from the director’s chair with the following comment:

“There are certain characters who hold a special place in the hearts of millions. Performing this role demands focus, passion and the very best performance I can give. It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require. Together with the studio, I have decided to find a partner in a director who will collaborate with me on this massive film. I am still in this, and we are making it, but we are currently looking for a director. I remain extremely committed to this project, and look forward to bringing this to life for fans around the world.”

 While a great many fans and bloggers might stroke their chins and with a sidelong glance ask ‘yeah, but what’s the real story?’ I’m inclined to believe in Ben Affleck’s professionalism enough to take him at his word. After taking a sizeable (albeit undeserved) hit from the under-performance of Live By Night one can forgive him for thinking now in terms of damage limitation.

With a studio pushing harder and harder to push a script that he’s not quite happy with into production and the fan backlash from Batman V Superman (2016) still fresh in his mind I can respect his decision not to over-commit himself and to get the script as right as possible before playing the character to the best of his ability.

Despite rumours that Affleck now wants to ditch the cape altogether I have to believe that he still wants the best for the character and the DCEU.

When it was announced that one-time JJ Abrams collaborator Matt Reeves would step in to collaborate with Ben and take the helm as director, it seemed that just maybe everything  was going to be alright.

Reeves’ work on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) and Cloverfield (2008) demonstrated a canny ability to weave meaningful character based drama into a tapestry of action and visual effects, and nobody seemed to be able to come up with a better fit for the film.

Then The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that negotiations with Reeves had broken down, but conceded that  ‘The possibility, however, exists that talks could resume when heads cool’.

I’m not sure what could have happened within negotiations to make heads hot in the first place. Perhaps Reeves spent so much time among the apes that he began talks by throwing projectile faeces to assert himself as an alpha male?

Whether Reeves (or even Affleck) returns to the bargaining table or not, you’d better believe that Warner Bros. will be aggressively pursuing another Batman film.

THR has reported Ridley Scott (doubtful since he’s been quite vocal about his disdain for comic book movies) and Fede Alvarez (who brought us last year’s claustrophobic thriller Don’t Breathe) as also in talks to take the helm.

The absolute worst case scenario is that Affleck leaves the project altogether and his script (or at least a version of it) is developed with a new actor and director.

Given the names floated about for the character and his next cinematic outing it’d certainly be an interesting film no matter what.

You can check out our indignant list of demands for the film here.

PANIC LEVEL: BLACK

Wonder Woman

This one’s pretty much just around the corner so it almost seems pointless worrying about it now. Not that I believe there’s anything to worry about. Patty Jenkins is a director of real intelligence who not only possesses a ferocious love of the character of Diana Prince (she’s wanted to make a WW film for over a decade) but a respect and keen understanding of the character’s status as a feminist icon and an avatar of all the most noble qualities of womankind. In an interview with THR (linked above) she stated;

“The goal was to tap into what always spoke to me about her — to honor who she was, her legacy, and to make her as universal as she was to all of us little girls who ran around pretending to be Lynda Carter when we were kids. Wonder Woman is the grand universal female hero who didn’t have to be lesser in any way. She wasn’t less powerful, she wasn’t less of a woman. She’s as beautiful as any woman and as strong as any man. That, to me, is so enduring. There have been so few female characters like that — who weren’t small, niche characters or sidekicks. She’s a full-blown superhero who lives up to all of your dreams in every way.

It also was important to me to make sure she was as vulnerable, loving and warm as she should be. It’s important for her to be multidimensional.”

Argue with that if you can.

I’m not going to bury my head in the sand when it comes to the rumour generated by ‘angry former WB employee “Gracie Law”‘ but I’ve been in the digital content game long enough to know the dynamics of how clickbait works and understand the currency of negative press in the DCEU from a clickbait perspective. It’s unfortunate but not the kingslayer that people like to make it out to be.

Anyway, while a great many bloggers and armchair executives have thrown in their two cents on the matter, the most telling response comes from Ms Jenkins herself in the form of these tweets:

For my own part I have nothing but confidence in Jenkins as a director. If you’re having doubts, go and re-watch Monster (2003) and tell me that she isn’t able to get career-defining performances out of actors. Whatever your opinion of Batman V Superman, you can’t deny Gal Gadot’s ability to bring the intelligence, power, compassion and mystique of the character of Wonder Woman to the big screen.

Also… Just look at this trailer!

The performances.

The cinematography.

The production design.

The effects.

I just can’t see how this can be anything but a hit.

And I’m under no illusions as to just how big of a hit Wonder Woman’s first ever solo film needs to be.

PANIC LEVEL: GOLD AND GLOWING

Justice League

It’s really sad to see just how many people have written this one off, despite the fact that everything that we’ve seen so far, from publicity stills to concept art, has been of good quality. Whatever clickbait currency there is in bashing the DCEU appears to be multiplied tenfold when you use Zack Snyder in the same sentence (fuck you, SEO principles!).

In writing my previous news roundups for Justice League (that can be found here and here) I’d be lying if I said my excitement wasn’t palpable.

Many are viewing the relative quiet surrounding the film’s post-production as some sort of calm before the storm, yet in the same breath they decry last year’s SDCC footage as a desperate sop to the fans. It’s difficult to do the right thing when you’re accused variously of both trying too hard and not trying enough.

If you ask me, it took balls on Warner Bros.’ part to invite bloggers from sites like Slashfilm, Birth Movies Death and The Nerdist who were vocal in their criticism of ‘BvS’ to the London set (our invite must have got lost in the post. It’s fine, I had to re-weave my rug that day anyway).

 Of course many fans are becoming increasingly impatient for the release of a bona-fide theatrical trailer and while I can certainly sympathise with that particular itch it’s hard to brand the fact that Snyder and the studio are biding their time as an admission of failure. They more than likely just don’t want to step on Wonder Woman’s steel-capped toes.

Personally, I find that a regular dose of this staves off the shakes for a little while…

Of course Justice League is not without its own rumours of a troubled schedule and less than enthusiastic responses to early screenings.

Bill ‘Jett’ Ramey at Batman On Film (a huge and much beloved influence on this site), has reported that an unnamed insider dubbed an early cut of the film to be ‘a mess’ and many lesser sites have pounced on this, including British ‘newspaper’ the Telegraph (a right-wing Tory propaganda rag that I shan’t deign to link).

Some have perhaps read a bit too much into the gifts Henry Cavill gave the crew of the film. To mark the end of principal photography Cavill (being the lovely and Supermanly guy that he is) gifted all the crew with personal JL goodie bags, containing a card that bore the following inscription:

It has been quite the battle shooting this movie, but I could imagine no better people to have struggled alongside.Thank you all so much for your hard work, tenacity and great humour!

See you next time, it has been an absolute pleasure!

If you think this is an early indicator that the film is going to suck, then I’m afraid you’re an idiot.

Shooting a feature film is a long, hard, and often tedious job, especially if you’re hooked up to a wire rig for 40% of it.

Even the low-to-no-budget films that I’ve worked on personally have been laborious with long and anti-social hours, performing lines or small movements hundreds of times a day and then having to do it all again tomorrow because the lighting wasn’t quite right.

A difficult production is not an indicator of a poor film.

Superman The Movie (1978), Star Wars (1977) and The Exorcist (1973) all had nightmarish productions.

PANIC LEVEL: GREY AND MURKY WITH GLIMMERS OF HOPE

The Flash

Okay, so I’ll admit that I’m a bit worried about this one, with the caveat that there’s still plenty of time to right the ship (especially given that the studio has learned to be a little less aggressive when it comes to jamming a film into its allotted release date). When I first learned that the film would be based upon a treatment by The Lego Movie‘s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and a script by Seth Grahaeme “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” Smith I was thoroughly strapped in and prepared for a witty and self-aware romp that would honour the character’s vast and whimsical comic book history. This was to be Smith’s directorial debut and fans could be forgiven for hoping that Barry Allen’s first ever solo film would be a triumph of auteur cinema.

It wasn’t long before Smith left the project citing that old chestnut ‘creative differences’, though it was encouraging that the studio would still be using his script.

When Dope (2015) director Rick Famuyiwa took the helm it looked once again as though the stars had aligned in the DCEU’s favour. Fans and critics were excited to see what Famuyiwa would bring to the table. Alas, it was not to be and Famuyiwa bowed out with these parting words;

“When I was approached by Warner Bros and DC about the possibility of directing The Flash, I was excited about the opportunity to enter this amazing world of characters that I loved growing up, and still do to this day. I was also excited to work with Ezra Miller, who is a phenomenal young actor… I pitched a version of the film in line with my voice, humor, and heart. While it’s disappointing that we couldn’t come together creatively on the project, I remain grateful for the opportunity. I will continue to look for opportunities to tell stories that speak to a fresh generational, topical, and multicultural point of view. I wish Warner Brothers, DC, Jon Berg, Geoff Johns, and Ezra Miller all the best as they continue their journey into the speed force.”

It’s a sad state of affairs especially for a studio that prides itself on allowing film-makers to realise their visions. One can only assume that somebody at the studio has a very clear idea of what the Flash’s first film needs to be and the studio intends to pursue that vision at the expense of all others, the the extent of carrying out a page-one rewrite of the script.

Nonetheless, the scarlet speedster’s cinematic career is not without hope!

They may be down a director but in Ezra Miller they have one of the greatest actors of his generation in the lead role. Just look at Miller’s performances in We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) and even his small but powerful role in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016). They also have Geoff Johns steering the good ship DCEU and there are few writers whose work on The Flash has been so prolific and well-received. Besides, it’s not as though a superhero film losing an auteur director has been a killer blow. It happened over at Marvel and everything turned out alright.

Personally, I only hope that the film addresses why a forensic scientist would wear a superhero costume with fingerless gloves.

PANIC LEVEL: SCARLET AND INTERSPERSED WITH LIGHTNING

Man of Steel 2

Before you chime in with ‘But Batman V Superman was Man of Steel 2!’ you can’t blame Superman fans for expecting Henry Cavill to don the blue tights for a second solo film. Especially after no less a personage than George Miller was apparently being courted to direct it.

It’s been a frustrating time to be a Superman fan, especially if you’re one of the many who felt him sidelined by The Dark Knight in the DCEU. First a solo Superman film was put on ‘permanent hold’, then it was ‘in active development‘.

Many fans of the Last Son of Krypton took the character’s death in ‘BvS’ as a slight to the first and arguably most iconic superhero while others saw his death and inevitable resurrection as an efficient way to soft-reboot the character into something more in line with their own sensibilities.

Whatever the future holds for Big Blue I think it’s safe to say that the DCEU isn’t done with him in the wake of Justice League. With the character ‘playing dead’ on film I wouldn’t expect any announcements on a Superman sequel until the polls are in on Justice League.

If the film proves the hit that we all hope it will be, then The Man of Steel will no doubt fly solo again.

If not… He’ll still no doubt pop up in other character’s movies.

He’s always around, remember?

By the way, here are our 10 ‘Must Haves’ for Man of Steel 2.

PANIC LEVEL- ROYAL BLUE AND SPARKLY

Suicide Squad 2 & Gotham City Sirens

You could have knocked me down with a feather when it was revealed that Mel Gibson was in talks to direct a sequel to last year’s Suicide Squad.  Firstly, while the original film (which we reviewed here and talked about here) made more money than anyone really expected it to and demonstrably found its audience its safe to say that it was not at all well received by critics. This was a film that wore its troubled shoot very much on its sleeve and suffered from huge issues in post production, resulting in a hugely undecided tone and poor editing choices.

When it was announced that David Ayer and Margot Robbie had teamed up to develop a Gotham City Sirens movie (which would presumably centre around the triumvirate of Harley Quinn, Catwoman and Poison Ivy)  it seemed that the studio was keen to separate the wheat from the chaff when it came to the ‘Skwad. One can’t blame them for taking the most successful and resonant elements from the film and shaping a film around them (almost certainly involving Batman). On paper it seems like a sure-fire hit.

That said, I was encouraged by the news that a straight Suicide Squad sequel appears to be in development. There really is a lot to like about that film. The great relationships between the cast members on set related to great dynamics on screen, even if the character development was woefully uneven and the film left the characters with interesting directions in which to develop. The production design was rich and unique (if not to everyone’s taste) and the score was absolutely superb when it wasn’t being drowned out by the flashy pop songs from the trailers.

On the subject of Mel Gibson… Personally I think we all need to separate his talent as a film-maker from the mistakes of his personal life. Those of us who’ve seen Hacksaw Ridge (2016), Apocalypto (2006) and The Passion of the Christ (2004) can see that he has an eye for kineticism and a hard boiled approach to action that is stark and inglorious in its depiction of violence in a way that reminds me of Ayer’s earlier film End of Watch.

It’s way too early to know how serious these ‘talks’ are but I remain cautiously optimistic about both projects.

PANIC LEVEL: NEON INFUSED AND HEAVILY TATTOOED

Aquaman

Well shit in my pocket and call me Derek, a DC film that looks on-schedule for its 2018 release date. At the risk of jinxing it all, the stars seem to be well and truly aligning on this one.

Talented, visionary director?

Check!

James Wan has proven time and again that he has a great eye for composition, pacing and of course shepherding actors into memorable performances. He’s shown himself a dab hand at horror with the Conjuring films and I can’t wait to see how he brings the creepier elements of the briny deep to life (the Trench anyone?). He’s also demonstrated his action chops with 2015’s Furious 7 so it looks as though he’ll make good on the promise of Aquaman’s exploits as a swashbuckling adventure.

Badass villains?

Check!

I could scarce contain my delight when I found that versatile actor and Wan / Snyder collaborator Patrick Wilson was cast as Aquaman’s nefarious half-brother Orm / Oceanmaster. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…

These two are the Thor and Loki of the DCEU!

Wilson has the acting chops and charisma to share a screen with Jason Momoa and not be completely dwarfed by his sheer presence… and there aren’t that many actors who could do that. While Orm may be a more ideological and cerebral threat to Aquaman, the fangasm was audible when it was announced that Yahya Abdul-Mateen II was cast as the film’s likely most physical threat… Black Manta. Black Manta is hands-down one of the most stone-cold badass villains of the DC universe with a unique visual that’s been begging to be translated to the big screen for decades.

Charismatic lead?

Big ol’ check!

Aside from being one of the sexiest human beings alive, Jason Momoa’s charisma is palpable. Even his brief cameo in ‘BvS’ made the hairs on my arms stand on end. Ever since he was first cast he’s been gleeful in his enthusiasm for the character and his contribution to the stewardship of the DC Universe on film.

Go back and watch that behind the scenes footage for Justice League and tell me he isn’t having the time of his life.

All of these elements combined with a stellar supporting cast and Momoa’s promise that the film will take us to places never explored before on screen and Aquaman is shaping up to be sleeper hit of the DCEU.

PANIC LEVEL: CALM , BLUE WATERS

So, there you have it!

On closer inspection the future of the DCEU may not be that bleak after all.

Whatever issues may befall the cinematic fates of our DC heroes I personally suggest that we should all do this…

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