From the outside looking in, it doesn’t seem as if anyone at Warner Bros. truly knows for sure what’s going on with its DC films anymore, and a new report has only added further confusion to an already murky situation and increased the cynical calls for the company to just call it a day on the DCEU, other than Wonder Woman.
Of course, the writing has been on the wall for a while now. A company specializing in the production of movie trailers was allowed to essentially recut an entire movie over the director’s objections. Margot Robbie is currently attached to four different Harley Quinn movies. Jared Leto was blindsided by talk of a Joker origin movie that might not involve him. A prematurely announced Ben Affleck solo Batman movie led to months of contradictory interviews which then led to the ongoing confusion over how much longer Affleck will even be around in the DCEU. Ezra Miller thinks he’s still getting a solo movie but admits no one’s told him anything about it let alone shown him a script yet. The number of rumored and/or confirmed, but stuck-in-development-hell projects have grown too large to keep track of.
This isn’t entirely unique to WB’s DC properties. The actors in the MCU are often just as in the dark as their DC counterparts. However, in Marvel’s case, the studio has a insanely stellar track record to fall back on, which suggests an unassailable method to their madness. Other than Wonder Woman, WB doesn’t have that, at least not since The Dark Knight trilogy. What’s happening over there rivals the Trump White House in disorganization and turmoil, and we have little reason to give them the benefit of the doubt. Now, the latest report, this time from Variety, of the studio’s panicked reshuffling reads like same shit, different day.
A bit of background: After Batman v Superman underperformed, WB attempted to exert more institutional control by demoting several of BvS’s producers and anointing Jon Berg to be the company’s point person on all DC films. Working with DC’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, Berg’s job was to right the ship and do his best impression of Kevin Feige. He could only keep it up for one movie, though. Wonder Woman slayed under his watch, but Justice League bombed, on track to lose $100 million for the studio.
The latter’s failure is especially damning since Berg and Johns were instrumental in the troubled project’s extensive reshoots. Given a losing hand, they leaned on Joss Whedon to help them salvage what they could, but the ongoing question over the future of WB’s corporate parent, Time Warner, reportedly prevented them from delaying the release date. Certain studio suits, according to TheWrap, wanted to “preserve their [Justice League] bonuses” since they might not be with the studio next year should the AT&T merger go through. Now those same studio suits are in the process of a significant reorganization effort.
Berg is out. Well, not out, but transferred to another part of the studio, the official word being he sought out his reassignment and is not actually being punished. Johns, an obvious heir apparent, is being kept in his current position, continuing to merely serve as an official advisor. And DC Entertainment’s autonomy is about to end.
That last bit is the most stunning part of the news. After Wonder Woman, Johns and DC Entertainment were riding high and on the cusp of possibly taking the lead on all future DC movies. Johns and his boss, Diane Nelson, were the subject of a fascinating Vulture profile which painted a behind the scenes picture of WB habitually ignoring all of Johns’ and Nelson’s notes on the various DC movies until repeated failure led to a long-delayed, “Maybe we should actually listen to the comic book people this time. They seem to know what they’re doing with all of the TV shows.”
The result was a comic book faithful Wonder Woman which captured the zeitgeist over the summer and soared to record-breaking heights. A sequel said to be set during the Cold War, is already in development and dated for November 1, 2019. That’s an obvious win, but with Time Warner now suffering a financial embarrassment with Justice League at the worst possible time extreme measures have to be taken. Not surprisingly, they’re going about it completely wrong.
According to Variety, rather than give DC Entertainment more power over the films WB is instead opting to demote the subsidiary by ending its decades of autonomy and streamlining its operations, which include exclusive oversight of the comics, online content and merchandise and an advisory relationship on all DC TV shows. Ala Marvel Studios, DC Entertainment has functioned as its own island unconnected to various corporate ladders. Ending that decades-long power dynamic and suddenly moving DC Entertainment in-house is either the worst or best thing they could do.
Because, in truth, it’s not actually clear what’s really happening here. As Vulture’s resident comic book whisperer Abraham Riesman explained:
According to Variety, DC could soon move into the same space as the movie operation, so as to give the latter more control over the DC-branded flicks. The article is vague on that front, and it would be prematurely speculative to say DC Entertainment, as an entity, will be made subordinate to Warner Bros. Pictures. But if DC does gets a demotion, it would be a slightly surprising choice, given that it was Warner Bros. Pictures, not DC, that initially led the charges on BvS and Justice League. So far, the movie with the most DC Entertainment influence has been Wonder Woman, which was a crown jewel for Warner. If the higher-ups punish DC and Johns for Justice League’s shortcomings, they might be throwing the Superbaby out with the kryptonite bathwater.
Putting DC Entertainment under the thumb of the absolute idiots at WB who have made a mess of the DCEU is, frankly, entirely in keeping with the studio’s repeatedly flawed thinking on how to go about competing with Marvel. Punishing Johns and DC for Justice League feels like gutless scapegoating of the highest order.
But what if that’s not what’s going on here? What if this reorganization is an attempt to simply move Nelson and Johns even closer to the action since they might have a better feel for the characters WB keeps screwing up? Who really will be in charge remains a mystery, but centralizing operations doesn’t have to be a flawed option if it’s being done to reward and elevate DC Entertainment, not punish. This isn’t to say Johns is completely blameless in the DCEU’s failures, or that they should just make him their Kevin Feige already. But if Justice League turns into a speedbump on the path toward a solid Aquaman movie then DC Entertainment will be 2 for 3 in its brief run as more hands-on consultants in the DCEU. Hopefully, WB realizes that and isn’t needlessly blowing up the one thing that was working for them.
What do you think?