I might as well pull a page from The Simpsons and call this post “Old Man Yells at Cloud” because I feel like an old, Grandpa Simpson-esque crank when it comes to Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe. The latest, as you likely already know, is that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Matt Reeves has officially signed on to produce and direct Ben Affleck’s The Batman, and Lego Batman Movie director Chris McKay is now developing a live-action Nightwing movie with The Accountant’s Bill Dubuque working on the script. This is on top of Gotham City Sirens (which has a director, star, writer and nothing else yet), Suicide Squad 2 (which may or may not be directed by Mel Gibson) and all the other DC movies WB has in the works.
The internet being what it is, these potential films have inspired a slew of headlines, thinkpieces and social media arguments:
Is Matt Reeves a good fit for The Batman? Is Deathstroke still the villain? Are they doing a page one rewrite of the script? What comic book or video game storyline should they adapt? Will Ben Affleck spend the entire shoot in his trailer crying while watching his Best Picture acceptance speech for Argo on a loop, lamenting how far he’s fallen since then?
Is jumping straight to a Nightwing movie without bothering with an origin story yet another example of WB learning absolutely nothing from the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Or does it just make sense for Nightwing to already be in action if Batman is nearing the Frank Miller semi-retired stage of his career in BvS? Did WB already miss their chance with this when they failed to follow up The Dark Knight Rises with a Nightwing movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Who should play him now?
Who should join Harley Quinn in Gotham City Sirens? Which random actresses have said they’d love to play Poison Ivy?
And is Mel Gibson the perfect or worst choice possible for Suicide Squad 2?
I’ve also been guilty of such idle speculation. I already wrote my piece about Mel Gibson, and was debating Gotham City Sirens even before Suicide Squad came out. However, as a reader at the time reminded me can’t we just freaking wait to see how the other DC movies do before getting excited about what might turn out to be nothing?
The DCEU is in a weird space right now. A series of movies have made money, but not as much money as they should have and not a single one of them was widely adored. Take what you might think of as being the worst films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, let’s say Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World, and then imagine if those were the first three films in the MCU (I know, I know – this exercise doesn’t truly make sense since two of those three are sequels, but just go with it). That’s a pretty shaky foundation to build off of, right?
That’s where the DCEU sits after Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad except they all made more money than MCU’s worst despite receiving harsher reviews, from critics and fans alike.
It’s as if someone designed the perfect scenario to confound the spreadsheet-driven suits that run movie studios these days:
Suit: Hey, look, our profits/loss numbers are solid, and the ancillary toy sales are encouraging. Let’s make sure we have new product available in at least two fiscal quarters per year.
Anonymous Underling: Yeah, but the movies – or product, as you just called them – are shit, and no one likes them, sir.
Suit: You’re fired. You lack the foresight to realize that it’s as simple as this: If you put Batman in it the people will come, mindlessly handing over their money like the little lemmings they are.
Anonymous Underling: Yeah, but Lego Batman Movie is thus far trailing The Lego Movie at the box office. Maybe people are getting tired of Batman?
Suit: Oh, I can’t believe how fired you are. Why are you even still here? Get out.
That’s not entirely fair of me. After all, ever since BvS WB has made several moves designed to shore up the DCEU, such as anointing Geoff Johns as their Kevin Feige. It is under Johns’ watch that Nightwing, Gotham City Sirens, etc. have been put into development. However, this still all comes down to Wonder Woman, Justice League and Aquaman. As io9 recently concluded after providing status updates on the 17 DC movies currently in development, “That’s a lot of movies. And really, the only official ones at the moment are the two this year (Wonder Woman and Justice League) and one next year (Aquaman).”
I know it seems like the comic book movie bubble is never – ever! – going to burst. WB might be just fine with turning the DCEU into a Transformers-like movie factory where nothing they make is liked by critics or particularly loved by fans, yet they keep making boatloads of money, particularly overseas. However, what happens if these films start making less and less due to audience erosion?
At this point, WB’s best move might be to learn from the critical success of The Lego Batman Movie and turn many of its in-development live action DC movies into animated fare. That would truly give us something Marvel isn’t. That probably won’t happen, though. Instead, WB will continue to adjust on the fly and fill release slots with action heavy, language-neutral product, assured that its movies will continue to make money because we’re all a bunch of zombies who can’t say no to Wonder Woman and Batman. But what if we do? What if Wonder Woman and Justice League fail, creatively or financially or a mixture of both? What happens then?
Wonder Woman will hit theaters on June 2 followed by Justice League on November 17. Aquaman is scheduled for October 5, 2018.