Monday, 10 April 2017

The DCEU's Crisis on Infinite Films


DC Comics and Warner Brothers are now four yeas and three movies into their ambitious interlaced cinematic universe concept - and it's not exactly going to plan. Beset by issues, I take a look at the various projects on the slate and how the future doesn't look any brighter for DC just yet.

You know when you can see something terrible happening right in front of you and you want to look away but just keep on staring instead? Like a witnessing car crash or a stranger fall over in the street, you sort of just stand there an gawp like a braindead zombie, watching the misfortune unfold in slo-mo. Powerless and rooted on the spot.

That's what it's like watching the DC Extended Universe (or DCEU for short) fall apart piece by piece. It's like a crusty old wooly jumper with one rogue thread causing the whole thing to unravel after you start to gently pull at it. Row by row, month after month, the hastily thrown together hodge-podge of ideas and directions that Warner Bros call the DCEU is slowly starting to come apart at the seams - and depressingly for passionate fans of the characters and comics, there doesn't appear to be any hope for this jumble to be stitched back together any time soon.

It's important to remember that things started promisingly - shaky, but still with promise. Back in 2013 we had Man of Steel, a film that received a mixed welcome upon release, criticsed for being overly dark and sombre. Turns out hindsight sees in 20/20 because what followed was a string of even darker and more sombre films that makes Man of Steel look like lollipops and rainbows in comparison.

Rather than taking stock of the criticism heaped on Man of Steel and carefully assessing their next manoeuvre, DC doubled down on the grimdark Zack Snyder aesthetic and ploughed ahead with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film that was pitched as a sequel to Man of Steel, a reintroduction of Batman and the set-up for an eventual Justice League film the following year. It's like putting your car into a skid and then overcorrecting way too much and pitching yourself into a fiery ditch.

I don't think I need to go into a lot of detail here about how that turned out; there have been more words written about the failure of Batman v Superman than there are stars in the night sky, which makes another round of shitting on it somewhat redundant. Coupled with the massive misfire that was Suicide Squad, you would think Warner Brothers would choose to not make the same mistake twice times by actually taking a step back and readjusting on this occasion.

Alas, that doesn't appear to be the case. Since Suicide Squad landed in cinemas with a deafening critical squelch, the studio has suffered a series of setbacks that are just as, if not more, damaging to the brand in the eyes of the moviegoing public. Wonder Woman and Justice League (due June and November respectively) seem to be chugging along nicely, but beyond that things aren't looking super rosy for DC and their infinite list of films in crisis.

Let's take a look at the various projects in development that are beleaguered by issues; first up, The Flash.

The Flash has proven to be a particularly difficult character to adapt - ever since it was announced back in October 2014, the project has cycled through an array of filmmakers, each of whom have boarded the project full of optimism only to drop out following creative differences a few months later.

First there was Jump Street's Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who were brought on board to pen the script. The duo delivered on that promise before promptly exiting stage right, after which Seth Grahame-Smith (writer of modern classics like Dark Shadows and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) was then signed to write and direct. By April last year, he too dropped out citing creative differences. Director of Dope, Rick Famuyiwa, came and went between June and October last year before just last month, Joby Harold (screenwriter of Guy Ritchie's upcoming King Arthur film) was hired to rewrite the entire Lord and Miller script from scratch.

Right to left: Rick Famuyiwa, Seth Graheme-Smith, Chris Miller and Phil Lord have all had a hand in
The Flash solo film at some point or another over the last two and a bit years

That's two-and-a-half years of pre-production with nothing to show for it aside from a cast that must be feeling increasingly disenchanted. Even the sunniest of optimists would struggle to believe the film is going to meet its original March 2018 release date at this rate.

Ben Affleck (left) and Matt Reeves (right)
The Batman is another project beset by issues; originally conceived as a retooled solo outing for the Caped Crusader, The Batman was set to be written, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, a prospect that had the internet pretty stoked to say the least.

The cast was falling into place (Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke, JK Simmons as Jim Gordon) and hype was building - Affleck was swamped with questions regarding the film whenever he appeared in public, sometimes when he was out and about promoting other movies like The Accountant or Live By Night.

Affleck has since announced he won't direct and Matt Reeves (director of the two most recent Planet of the Apes movies) has come on board after initially passing on the opportunity. Fede Alvarez (Don't Breathe) and Ridley Scott (you know who he is) were reportedly on the shortlist but Reeves settled and seems set to direct - for the time being at least. I wouldn't hold your breath on this one - it looks like The Batman is set to join The Flash in development hell for a while. Affleck's original script is also getting a page one rewrite.

The sequel to Suicide Squad is also facing some backlash after Mel Gibson was reportedly approached to direct. Nothing concrete here but the mere mention of Gibson's name touched a nerve with critics (and rightly so); you'd think that DC would want a less controversial person at the helm following the backlash towards the first film, but they have instead chosen to plunge deeper into the storm and battle with the torrential swirling hatred face first.

And we haven't even touched on the myriad of other projects that have been announced, talked about or hinted at.

Back in 2013, Guillermo del Toro was in talks to direct an adaptation of Justice League Dark. I won't bore you with the details on this particular saga so here are some cliff notes; del Toro has now left and Doug Liman is at the helm. What the studio has to show for it after nearly four years working on the project is anyone's guess.

Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Harley Quinn are set to appear in a Suicide Squad spinoff called Gotham City Sirens

Sequels to Man of Steel and Justice League are joining Suicide Squad in the pipeline as well as a Harley Quinn spin-off called Gotham City Sirens, which adds Catwoman and Poison Ivy to the mix. David Ayer (Suicide Squad) is attached to direct with only Margot Robbie currently in the confirmed cast. Earlier in the year, Dwayne Johnson dropped hints about a possible Black Adam spin-off, even though the root film Shazam doesn't hit cinemas until 2019 and the title role isn't cast yet. Talk about getting ahead of yourself.

Last month it was announced that Joss Whedon has been recruited to take the reins on a solo Batgirl movie; your guess as to where this fits into the overall continuity and/or universe is as good as mine at this stage. Although the decision to approach Joss is a good one, I can only see this project heading in one direction if Warner Brothers interferes with his vision and that's directly down the toilet.

A Cyborg solo film is supposedly in the pipeline somewhere, because the one thing people loved the most about Dawn of Justice was that brief .mp4 file about some random dude being turned into a robot and now DC are turning it into a movie. Deadshot, Green Lantern and Lobo are also on the slate; again, your guess is as good as mine on when or why they might transpire.

If all this is making your head hurt, you're not alone. I feel the same way. It's really tough to see a collection of characters that I've followed growing up being handled so poorly, especially when other companies are repeatedly showing everyone how it can and should be done - with characters much harder to sell than Batman or Superman! It's especially awkward because the Warner Brothers Animation team just put out The Lego Batman Movie, which is riotous fun and 100% gets the character of Batman. If they can do it, why can't the live action arm of the business?

It's all very well and good writing a lengthy blog post about DC and their many failings; the real question is, where do they go from here?

The answer isn't clear cut. Essentially they've started down a path from which they can't turn back. This isn't some kind of 'burn it to the ground and start over' scenario like Fox continue to experience with Fantastic Four; DC and Warner Brothers are committed at this point and to start again would be to irredeemably damage the brand further and longer than it is already.

Maybe Wonder Woman can
kickstart some success for the DCEU?

The simple answer is - just get good. Make better movies. Put together a solid base and build from there. Things are shaky right now but that doesn't mean one good movie can't reset the balance - and from the trailers, we could have that on the horizon in the form of Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman.

However, that also includes staying the course - not adding movie upon movie to your schedule simply because Harley Quinn was a popular Halloween outfit off the back of Suicide Squad. Marvel have added movies like Spider-man and Ant-Man and the Wasp to their line-up because of proven success in Captain America: Civil War and Ant-Man respectively. Why are DC developing films for Cyborg and Black Adam before they themselves have been introduced. Why are two separate sequels to Suicide Squad being developed in tandem when they conflict with one another? And why is it so damn hard to make a movie about The Flash when the folks over at The CW have been putting together an excellent interconnected TV universe with Barry Allen at its core for the last three years. How have they cracked the code but a studio with a budget of millions can't do the same?

The state of the DCEU poses a lot of questions and I can't offer a whole lot of answers. The whole affair seems increasingly amateurish, mismanaged and haphazard. And yet, despite all this, I'd love it if they pulled it together. Can you imagine how good it would be if these films were good too? Please DC, get your shit together. You're 0-3 but I'm still rooting for you to pull through.

But seriously though, put that Cyborg movie in the can right now. Nobody likes Cyborg.

1 comment:

  1. I liked Cyborg on Teen Titans lol.

    I don't know if DCEU will ever be able to pick themselves up. They started off so badly.

    ReplyDelete

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