WB/DC’s plans for a cinematic universe are looking less like plans and more like… not plans.
It’s hard to believe it’s only been 7 years since the Marvel changed the blockbuster-sphere forever with its ambitious plans to duplicate the serialized nature of comic books cinematically with a large, shared movie universe. Whether for the better is yet to be seen – no other mass-studio is even close to nailing down the cinematic universe quite the same way Marvel has with its seemingly unstoppable moneymaker; this weekend’s upcoming Avengers: Age Of Ultron is expected to break box office records the same way the first did. But that hasn’t stopped almost every major studio from trying their best to replicate that success.
That includes Warner Bros who is likely the closest just in terms of intellectual property owned (DC makes just as much sense for this kind of universe as Marvel does, if not more), but after the lukewarm welcome of the divisive Man Of Steel – $650 million seems like a lot, but after working with Nolan they were undoubtedly expecting to have another billion dollar Dark Knight on their hands to springboard off of – WB/DC weren’t exactly sure where to go next. Insert Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice (still can’t believe that’s the real title), their superhero tag team movie that exists almost solely to get people into seats so they hook them for the future movies. It’s smart because; let’s face it, Superman and Batman in the same movie? Everyone is going to be there opening weekend.
And this is partially why WB bowed out of the Captain America: Civil War weekend. Would they have likely beat Cap and co. at the box office that weekend? Sure. But Marvel’s already got a hugely successful universe, they can afford to take a hit on Civil War, while WB absolutely needs Batman V. Superman to be a billion dollar movie. They need to have everyone there for when they put the pieces into play. They’re essentially doing the reverse of what Marvel did, where instead of building to The Avengers one piece it a time, getting everyone stoked for the big pay-off, they’re showing everyone the whole team first (every major Justice League member is expect to show up in Batman V. Superman), getting them intrigued, and then hoping they’ll tune in for the solo movies. It’s an interesting model that could work, but I’ve always found that plan a little troublesome. Throwing everyone into the mix so quickly doesn’t give their team much time to flesh out their vision for each character. Think: Aquaman is expected to be ready to go on screen in less than year, but his own movie – where his characterization choices really matter – isn’t coming until 2018. What if they change their mind after it’s too late?
Well it appears those worries were not entirely unfounded. After a little digging by The Hollywood Reporter, they’ve uncovered that the creative vision of the DC cinematic universe is a bit of a hot mess right now.
Grumbling among talent reps came especially in response to the studio’s strategy of hiring five writers to compete for a job on Wonder Woman, which has a June 2017 release date. On Aquaman, set for 2018, sources say Warners commissioned scripts from three writers, one of whom followed the studio’s direction only to be told the rules governing the universe had changed and his work no longer was usable. Another writer has been on hold for the film for months as the studio works to define its vision. “They just haven’t been thorough about their whole world and how each character fits and how to get the most out of each writer’s time by giving them direction,” says a rep with knowledge of the process. “Obviously, Marvel’s very good at that.”
That is INSANITY. Having competing screenwriters is weird enough as it is, giving everyone the impression that they’re really just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks, but having to throw out a script because you changed the rules of your universe after you commissioned someone to write it? That’s the kind of thing that gets people, like me, worried.
Whatever you make of Marvel’s cinematic universe (personally I’m of the mind that phase one is mostly a mess), having a unified vision, in their case from President/Producer Kevin Feige, is vital to making this model work. Marvel gets into trouble a bit for maybe being TOO unified, not letting filmmakers express themselves as creatively as they might otherwise – something it seems WB is trying to avoid, scouting for all kinds of interesting stylists like Snyder, Jenkins, Lord & Miller, Wan (though, dismissing Michelle MacLaren for really dumb reasons doesn’t inspire much hope that they’re going to truly let all these filmmakers be creative) – but what use are all of these fascinating aesthetics when you have no idea what purpose their meant to serve? Coordinating these stories/characters the way Marvel has been doing, and the way it seems Disney and Lucasfilm plan to do with Star Wars should be the first priority. Having someone set a goal for the universe.
That’s why even through Marvel’s ups and downs (come on, we all saw Thor) it still works as a whole because there are larger ideas at play. There’s a vision. One that’s existed since the first Iron Man, one that feels like it’s constantly coming to fruition and expanding with each new installment. But as was made clear by THR’s insider reports, and the reactions to DC’s early marketing that feels just as schizophrenic and tunnel-visioned (that Joker, yeeeeeeeesh), WB really doesn’t know what theirs is yet. And with Batman V. Superman – again, the true establishing moment for their universe – only 11 months away, I think there’s some genuine cause for concern here. What do you guys think?
Batman V. Superman opens on March 25th, 2016.