Does Justice League’s mediocre reception at the box office and the upheaval at WB point to a full scale reboot for the DCEU on the horizon?
In my previous article, I broke down just exactly why I think Justice League underwhelmed at the box office and what changes WB was starting to put into place as a result of it.
As the fallout from Justice League continues, critics and fans alike have begun speculating on just what this means for the current slate of DC films going forward. As of right now, there are two camps for those who consider themselves fans of the DC films: those who believe that the DCEU needs a hard reboot to right itself, and those who believe the DCEU simply needs to focus on rebuilding for the next few years.
I will mention that there’s also a third contingent of casual fans and general watchers of DC films who believe the shared universe concept should be dissolved altogether. The idea here is that WB/DC should just focus on making good, stand-alone films without having them be in the same universe. I think that this first idea — focusing on making good, stand-alone films — is a great one.
I, however, also don’t believe that it’s necessarily at odds with either of the two options moving forward. I fully believe you can focus on making good films that are good on their own merit while also having an eye to how where they stand in the broader universe.
As such, I’ll be discussing that very idea — focusing on making good, stand-alone films — when I talk about rebuilding the DCEU brand over the next few years.
But before we get there, let’s discuss this idea of a hard reboot for the DCEU.
Pressing the reset button on the DCEU: The appeal of a hard reboot
I am staunchly against the idea of a hard reboot, but I’m not blind to the very valid points brought up by those who do want one.
The thinking behind a reboot is this: There’s no salvaging the irreparable damage done to the DCEU brand by Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman.
Supporters of this idea will point to the decidedly lackluster reaction to Justice League as evidence of the damage done by these first two films. They’ll make mention of the fact that out of the five films released so far, only one — Wonder Woman — has been both a financial and critical success. You’ll hear phrases like “built on a shaky foundation” and “ruined the characters” when describing the current state of the DCEU.
The conclusion, then, of this contingent is that the only way to get back into the general audience’s good graces is to effectively wash our collective hands of all that came before and start over.
There are variations of what this might look like, but the most common trajectory seems to be to let the next few movies that are already slated to be completed release — James Wan’s Aquaman and Patty Jenkins Wonder Woman sequel — then press the reboot button, recast and reset the entire universe.
I do admit there’s something appealing about starting over with a clean slate. As much as I have trumpeted my love here (and pretty much every where) about Zack Snyder’s work in the DCEU, and as much as I wish he could be appreciated for what I consider the great things that he did for the comic book movie genre, I am also practical enough to recognize that his films are deeply divisive and do not play well with general audiences.
The current narrative of the DCEU is plagued with narratives of its behind-the-scenes drama and fandom in-fighting, with numerous bloggers and critics approaching each film with a healthy dose of skepticism and, sometimes, outright cynicism.
So I absolutely do see and understand the appeal of a complete reset. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen one — after all, the Spider-Man franchise has done a hard reboot twice in the last 15 years, with this last one paying off handsomely.
However, what stops me from investing fully in this direction is the idea of recasting the characters. For whatever else its faults are as a shared cinematic universe, I think — and I would say most people, fans and non-fans alike, agree — that the casting has been pretty superb thus far.
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman at this point. And even for many of those who didn’t like Man of Steel or Batman vs. Superman, their problems lay with the storytelling rather than Henry Cavill himself. Likewise, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher all shone brightly as their characters in Justice League and I’d be loath to see new faces step in.
Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne is a little trickier, given his age and the fact that there have been rumors for what feels like my entire life about him wanting to leave the role. While I love him in the role, I’d also want someone who’s invested in it and in the universe — which it seems like Ben Affleck is increasingly not. Recasting him would be tricky — and would likely require a soft sort of reboot — but I don’t think we need to throw out the entire universe’s casting on the back of one character alone.
Rather than doing a hard reboot, I think that the WB should definitely scale back its efforts, take into consideration their lessons learned, and instead focus on rebuilding in these next five to six years.
Rebuild and rework — but don’t reboot
There’s no denying that the DCEU has an image problem and, with that, a money problem. Despite the shared universe making nearly four billion dollars worldwide with these first five films, three of those films have been considered to have vastly underperformed when we take into account the characters and budgets of each.
However, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater and settling for a hard reboot, I think that it’d be a better idea to simply work on making good, stand-alone movies with the established cast and building back up from what we have.
And my opinion, though I hate that I actually think it’s correct, is that it wasn’t so much that the DCEU had a movie problem inasmuch as it had a Zack Snyder problem. General audiences couldn’t trust him after Man of Steel and the studio wouldn’t trust him after Batman vs. Superman’s reception. With him stepping down to pursue his own projects — to which I wish him all the luck — the DCEU will have less baggage weighing it down for future films.
Understandably, it’s a huge disappointment that Justice League didn’t perform so well. But there’s no need to treat it as a season finale that failed to deliver. Rather, I like the take put forward by Forbes’ Scott Mendelson — that the film is instead a pilot episode that gives us an idea of what’s to come for the rest of the season.
Yes, like many pilot episodes, it has a few kinks it needs to work out. And yes, there are things I wish had been changed. But mostly, Justice League gave us a core six characters who were engaging, well-written, and interesting — both on their own and as a team.
It introduced us to three characters who we’re now excited to see in their own films, while fleshing out three of the most iconic characters in popular culture. That’s a great place to begin the rebuilding process.
In fact, what I want from the DCEU moving forward is to go ahead and do what Geoff Johns was hoping to do all along in a post-Justice League world (and what I wrote about here back in September): Less focus on one overarching narrative, more attention to individual characters and storylines.
Johns spoke of wanting to create films that weren’t just “a movie about another movie” or having to worry about connecting each film to every movie. This is still a goal that can be achieved in this next era of DCEU films without having to do a hard reboot of the characters or the universe.
It is possible to have a shared universe without having to hammer it in your audience’s brains every other moment that these characters exist in the same world. In fact, I find that preferable. After all, comic books themselves do it all the time. Each character has his or her own monthly that only occasionally crosses over with other characters, and only rarely evolves into a full-scale crossover event.
So, rather than rebooting the entire universe, my hope is that the WB doesn’t go full-scale reactionary decision-making when it comes to the DCEU. My hope is that they take the correct lessons from both the success of Wonder Woman and the underwhelming reaction to Justice League — leave the writers and directors alone so they can make their best own best film, give the creative team the latitude to develop their characters, and focus on good, individual storytelling rather than forcing connections where they don’t need to be.
This next year is a quiet one for the DCEU fandom, with only James Wan’s Aquaman slated to come out in the winter of 2018. As much as I wish we had more films coming out with these characters that I love so much, I’m mostly relieved to know that WB will be spending most of 2018 behind closed doors and hopefully making good decisions for the franchise moving forward.
It’s been a rough end of the year to be a DCEU fan, but like the titular characters in this movie franchise, I still have hope.