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A Hard Look At DC's Extended Universe

"Batman v Superman" stumbled, but these heroes (and villains) can still take flight.

DC Comics

The announcement of DC's big screen superhero lineup was met with excitement until Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice rubbed the majority of moviegoers the wrong way. It managed to turn a profit, but had plot holes and attempts to mesh multiple story lines—The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman—together, all the while being just a little depressing. Now, Warner Bros. and DC Films are in the process of reconfiguring their slate of pictures and their approach to the beloved source material. In light of a bruised ego, the companies recently allowed several media outlets to visit the set of the upcoming Justice League to get their swagger back.

Like many comic tentpole films before it, Justice League sounds incredibly promising and like a moment in history we wouldn't dare miss. Expected reveals including a meeting between Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen outside of their heroic attire and a sequence with Cyborg joining the team while facing reluctance are imaginatively awesome and fandemonium-momentum builders. Any and all growth requires one to simply move on, and that's exactly what the studios are doing.

Taking in all of the new tidbits about our heroes from the explosive marketing campaign for Suicide Squad this past week, here, we offer our thoughts on the future of the DC Extended Universe.

Justice League Is Not Two-Parts Good

The reception toward BvS left many on the web begging for the removal of Zack Snyder as the film's director, crying that he's style over substance. Since Snyder remains in the chair (production having gone underway in April), the outcome of Justice is up in the air. What we do know, however, is the film will be a standalone journey for Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. Since DC has been playing catch-up with Marvel, a two-part film seemed like another rush job merely to compete with the upcoming third Avengers film.

WB and DC may be doing themselves one of two things: 1) a really big favor by scrapping a possibly convoluted story or 2) not utilizing their ability to actually construct a story that can withstand the plot they wish to tell. The singular journey could be the wiser move for Snyder and the crew as it would force them to deliver a three-act film that justly concludes rather than disappointing them with a lousy plot structure: dialogue-heavy first half, action and a lack of depth in the second. It's OK to leave a crowd wanting more. Earning is better than expecting.

Understand The Characters Better And Adjust The Tones

Zack Snyder's Superman has faced criticism over two films. Because of Christopher Reeves, fans and the general audience have come to expect a light-hearted and friendly everyday hero they can depend on. Superman is the epitome of that standard, so it came as a huge shock when the human-in-disguise/alien-by-nature "murdered" General Zod back in 2013. A reason why Snyder's Superman doesn't work compared against Ben Affleck's Batman is because it doesn't properly highlight their differences. Ideally, Superman and Batman counterbalance one another like yin and yang. It's what makes them strong partners as well as formidable foes. By the time one reaches BvS, they're witnessing two brooding characters duke it out in an even more brooding universe. In theory, darkening the characters can work—it's why Christopher Nolan has received so much praise for The Dark Knight trilogy. Snyder is not the storyteller that Nolan is, to be clear. The characters he's currently overseeing were not designed to be sad all the time or down on their luck; they're supposed to inspire people. This goes beyond Batman and Superman. Even Wonder Woman (who absolutely steals the show in BvS) has had her All-American appearance stripped down for the sake of keeping in line with the rest of the DCEU.

Snyder and the studio sort of understand the internet's gripe. From what we've learned, they are intent on adding more humor to the new Justice League film and had already done so in the promos for Suicide Squad" If you think back to the 2015 Comic Con sizzle reel, David Ayer's super-villain tale was ripe for darkness. After all, the movie does feature The Joker. Since the backlash of BvS, the recent promo spots are even happy-go-lucky, à la Guardians of the Galaxy. In turn, of course, some have questioned the humorous approach and how it may affect these villains. The difference between Marvel characters and DC characters is that the latter are larger than life, damn near God-like, and it’s only fair to treat them as the characters they should be—rather than doing them, and the fans, a disservice.

Build The Damn Universe

Man of Steel was always intended to be the launchpad for DC's answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It started rocky, but it survived. Batman v Superman served as an aggressive expansion into the world of Metropolis. The problem was while it firmly introduced several important characters, it only hinted at a larger world. Another problem, from a technical standpoint, is BvS is just a sequel to Man of Steel. Nevermind the fact that Warner Bros. and DC in the past placed a huge emphasis on films that center only on their Batman and Superman properties, which created a huge barrier between the pair and the rest of the Justice League characters.

Although Suicide Squad is on the way, its relevance relies on Batman being their connection to the Justice League saga. The true first look at the building of the DCEU will/should be seen in next year's Wonder Woman. If her standalone story can successfully depict the mythological plane that the characters of DC tend to live on, then it will pave they way for characters such as The Flash and Aquaman when it comes time to both properly introduce them, as well as send them on their way for their solo adventures. It offers an account of believability. Each character comes with its own history and place of origin, whether it's intergalactic policing, transcending time and reality, or even ruling an ancient underwater utopia. The studios need to take viewers on that ride.

If Warner Bros. and DC feel the need to take a page out of the Marvel guide to building a cinematic universe, then so be it. Don't spite fans and audiences for the sake of wanting to be so different. You'll sacrifice the integrity of your characters, the source material, and the world you want to build. There is prime opportunity for the DCEU to overcome its hardships and it is by starting to making the right decisions. With guys like Geoff Johns and even Ben Affleck taking a more hands-on approach behind the camera, there is still a fighting chance to deliver us cinematic glory.

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