When the news broke that Henry Cavill would not, in fact, be reprising his role as Superman, the various social media reactions all came to a broad consensus: disappointed but not surprised.
According to James Gunn, one of the co-CEOs of the newly-revamped DC Studios, this is because they are hoping to cast a younger man in the role and bring Superman back to its origins, providing the much-rumoured reboot to the flailing DCEU that has been whispered about for the past few years.
But Superman just appeared in Black Adam. The Rock said Cavill was essential to the future of the DCEU. James Gunn hasn’t ruled out bringing Cavill back. Ben Affleck is returning as Batman in Aquaman 2, and will be joined by fellow Batman actor Michael Keaton in The Flash. It’s more than fair to ask DC Studios what the hell is going on, but the truth is, I’m not sure they even know themselves.
What we do know for sure is that whatever you think of the artistic merits and credibility of Marvel movies, their construction of an elaborate cinematic universe has become something of a blueprint for filmmakers and studios alike: something that we’ve seen Warner Bros try time and time again to replicate, but never quite hitting the mark.
Man of Steel and Wonder Woman were fine. Batman v Superman was OK. And the less we say about the first Suicide Squad, the better. But in a world of movies where they aren’t exactly short of supervillains, it feels like Warner Bros’ worst enemy is themselves.
From poaching acclaimed Marvel director James Gunn to binning an oven-ready Batgirl movie, it feels like in their pursuit of crafting their own cinematic universe, they’re failing to see the wood for the trees and consistently falling short in the thing that matters most: making and delivering enjoyable, standalone movies.
Although it might not seem like it at this point, the Marvel Cinematic Universe came together organically. During a panel discussion at London Comic-Con, Jeffery Latcham, who was previously a producer and Senior Vice President at Marvel Studios, revealed that when they made 2008’s Iron Man, they were never looking any further ahead than that, and the Marvel movies’ gradual evolution into the cinematic universe we know today occurred entirely “by accident.”
It’s precisely because the Marvel Cinematic Universe was given the space and breathing room to evolve and world-build without external hope and expectation that it was able to become the mighty, multi-phase beast that we see today.
Sure, now that we’re in Marvel’s Phase 5, there is that sense of expectation around Easter eggs, cameos, ensemble movies, and post-credit scenes moving the cinematic universe forward, but the point is, at the start, it didn’t have any competition, and there was no pressure for its films to be bogged down with world-building responsibilities.
Instead, things all fell into place naturally. But it feels like DC Studios are too impatient to allow that to happen and are rushing to build this huge and beautiful mansion without giving any thought to constructing a solid foundation.
Although their more generic attempts at DCEU crossover movies leave a lot to be desired (*cough* Justice League *cough*), Warner Bros have shown that they’re capable of making genuinely great superhero movies when they relinquish themselves from the pressure of living up to Marvel.
Academy Award-winning Joker and Matt Reeves’ The Batman are two very recent examples of the potential DC movies have if they stop being their own worst enemy. The problem is they continue to put a hypothetical universe above the desires of fans, directors, actors, and, most troublingly, any kind of consistency.
If a studio head is saying one thing about the future of DC movies, but then leading actors are saying another thing entirely, it doesn’t bode well for a positive future working environment and films.
The thing is, DC will never be Marvel. And that’s okay. If I wanted to watch Marvel, I’d watch a Marvel movie. Once the studio realizes that, and embraces its own IP and rich identity in comic books, animated series, and fantastic movies for what they truly are, then that’s the only way I can see them succeeding. As for the alternative, well like Jor-el prophecising Krypton’s demise, the DCEU may be doomed for destruction.