When the new custodians of the DC movie universe, James Gunn and Peter Safran, said, “down with the DCEU. Long live the DCU,” a newly rebooted franchise was reborn. Kind of. This is DC, and things over there have never been straightforward.
Before we get to all the fun of another new Superman movie and another new Batman movie, the warm corpse of the SnyderVerse is still twitching. While Wonder Woman 3, Man of Steel 2, and Black Adam 2 might have been jettisoned, movies that were already too deep into an expensive production to cancel – Shazam 2, The Flash, and Aquaman 2 – are still dancing in the kitchen pouring themselves drinks not having realised the party’s over.
When they finally get the hint and shuffle away, Gunn and Safran’s overhaul is set to kick in with Superman: Legacy on July 11, 2025. Their plan promises to unite the DC movies with a coherent, long-term vision. Like the ‘Phases’ of Kevin Feige’s MCU movie kingdom, the new DCU will be partitioned into ‘Chapters’, with the first being ominously entitled Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters. It will span characters old and new throughout various formats, all in the hope of creating a shared universe audiences can invest in.
Almost anything would improve the chaotic free-for-all that’s been going on at DC for the past decade, which seemed to result from a growing power vacuum or a simple lack of care towards the IP. And yet still, the duo’s plan leaves me cold.
There is something the DC movies have done successfully for the past few decades, and that’s an occasional investment in the ideas and visions of filmmakers with superhero movies that are separate from everything else going on.
Whether it’s Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Todd Phillips’s Scorsese homage with Joker or Reeves’ Batman detective movie, each of these standalone ventures outperformed the 2017 Justice League movie at the box office.
Yet instead of picking out a selection of DC’s most beguiling characters and letting filmmakers take their ideas and build out from there (the one thing that the studio has done well), the plan is to stop that happening in the future and double down on the shared universe.
The Batman 2, Joker 2, and any other future movies that don’t take place within the shared universe will be called ‘DC Elseworlds’ movies (something that sounds suspiciously like a rushed Skyrim DLC). However, Gunn has explicitly said that he wants to end such side adventures, saying that the bar to make a movie outside of the shared universe is “going to be higher” than for one of the mainline movies.
How boring. These separate – and better – movies have been ushered away into their little box, where it seems like they’ll be gradually starved of opportunity and funding until all that exists is the shared universe. But here’s the catch: there is no automatic right for a franchise to have a decade-spanning shared universe that will bring audiences onside.
Such a thing can really only grow organically out of audience demand and support. Though it seems Gunn and co. are willing to be patient and avoid falling into the same pitfalls of the SnyderVerse, it’s still a gamble with superhero movie fatigue appearing to be on the rise.
Shared universes, especially ones with inconsistent output, only serve to hasten that fatigue. What people don’t tire of is creative visions: seeing characters they know and love within a filmmaker’s sandbox. That’s where DC has managed to have one up on Marvel in the past, and it’s a shame – though a predictable one – to see that coming to an end in favour of more superhero team-up movies.
For more movie madness, check out our guide to all major new movies in 2023, and broaden your horizons with our picks for the best movies of all time. Or stick with the DCU and check out our guides to Aquaman 2 and Peacemaker season 2. You can also check out our list of the best DC villains.