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Can the DC Cinematic Universe work?

Editor’s note: Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is currently blowing away the competition, and with Sony now throwing in with Kevin Feige over their flagship property Spider-Man, and Fox’s franchises being hit and miss, only DC and Warner Bros. stand any chance of overthrowing the kings of the comic book movie. Here Wayne Upton looks at what DC has in store, and whether it can really work.

DC, and by extension Warner Bros, its parent company, is about to unleash its version of Marvel’s cinematic universe with a fully announced slate of movies based on its roster of characters.

It’s a little unfair to compare DC with Marvel because Marvel has already proven their own business model with its phased multi-bazillion dollar franchise, and that can only lead the sceptical among us to assume that DC are bound to fail, surely?

Man of Steel was somewhat hampered by the fact it was directed by a 14 year old boy- the more troubling aspect is that this same man-child is now at the helm of Batman v Superman. Not a sequel as such to 2013’s “Super” flick, but a DC Universe smack down that pits two of the comic world’s most easily recognised titans against each other for our amusement, and terror of the citizens of Metropolis (Which of course went well for them all last time).

I’m starting to sound cynical aren’t I?

So what do we have to look forward to beyond that? Here is the announced raft of movies as it currently stands:

2016 Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

2016 Suicide Squad

2017 Wonder Woman

2017 Justice League (Part 1)

2018 The Flash

2018 Aquaman

2019 Shazam

2019 Justice League (Part 2)

2020 Cyborg

2020 Green lantern

Image via DC Entertainment

Image via DC Entertainment

Add to this list as-yet unannounced standalone movies for Batman and Superman, and you’ve got a definite Warner/DC plan of action.

So should we be excited? “Of course!” I hear you cry. The more cynical like me will approach the DC slate with some trepidation – possibly because like me, Man of Steel didn’t float you proverbial boat or because in the past any DC franchise that has not starred the Caped Crusader has been shaky at best. Yes, Green Lantern, I’m looking at you. You and your CGI costume.

So far the teaser trailer for Batman v Superman has shown the Instagram filtered world of Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel continues to live on, despite Superman’s best efforts to level Metropolis. A cohesive universe is starting to take shape – although if the dark Metropolis is any indication to go by, Gotham will be practically pitch-black. Sniping aside, there is a definite Frank Miller vibe to what we’ve seen so far. The announcement of the project was delivered by reciting from Miller’s Dark Knight Returns:

“I want you to remember, Clark, in all the years to come…in your most private moments…I want you to remember my hand at your throat. I want you to remember the one man who beat you.”

We’ve also seen from the leaked Comic-Con & officially released teaser, a spot on Miller-Esque Armoured Dark Knight asking if Superman can bleed. We are assured he will. Excellent.

Casting has been as controversial across the announced DC line up as ever (Michael Keaton/Heath Ledger you’ve had your turn…). Ben Affleck has been afforded the most disdain mainly due to his portrayal of Marvel’s Daredevil – most fans forgetting that the Academy Award Winning Actor/Writer/Director has appeared in, and given stellar performances in, a host of films where artistic and dramatic range were a far greater commodity than being able to believably and repeatedly punch a CGI bot in the face. He is though reportedly two inches taller than Batman should be. There won’t be a petition at the end of this article.

The Marvel Model saw us the audience carefully schooled in Marvel lore, gradually investing us in each character and allowing acclimatisation to the world the superheroes inhabited before the payoff. Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America all had solid outings before assembling to collectively punch CG-BOTS in the face. It worked. It is STILL working. Avengers: Age of Ultron just rounded out Marvel’s Phase Two and has already, although somewhat clumsily, this time set up the climatic Phase Three. DC has chosen to go the other way… Sort of.

Aside from Man of Steel there have been no other movies that have been released that pertain to this particular universe or continuity but now we hear that Master Snyder is about to launch “DC’s answer to the Avengers”, the Justice League, but without the run up. Dangerous? Foolish? Well, maybe not. Do you know who Batman is? Do you remember how Superman came to be on earth? Ever heard of Wonder Woman, Aquaman or The Flash? DC is betting you have.

Instead of a protracted meander, we will meet the Justice League straight away, albeit possibly briefly and pre-League, during 2016’s Batman v Superman. How this will manifest beyond awkward cameos is anyone’s guess but just like that big old “S” on Henry Cavill’s chest, we need to hope. Hope that DC has seen another way to get us there. Hope that substance will be as much a part of this ongoing universe as the unquestionable spectacle of Man of Steel. Hope that the very best of the DC Universe – its intelligent and rich array of icons are fully realised and used as the titans they have come to represent from creation to current incarnation.

Image via DC Entertainment/Warner Bros

Image via DC Entertainment

David Ayer (The director of Fury, and End of Watch) will soon follow Batman v Superman with the Suicide Squad, a DC villain smorgasbord with a cast headed by Will Smith as Deadshot (pictured right), Margo Robbie as Harley Quinn, and another controversial casting of the Joker in Jared Leto. The first publicity stills from the production have sent the comic book community into a frenzy with Leto’s Joker sporting a silver grill on his teeth, and assorted tattoos including a “damaged” brand on his forehead. Where will the controversy end? Ultimately, will it matter? Bold moves are seemingly on the cards. Suicide Squad will reportedly feature a cameo from Affleck’s Batman – presumably responsible for The Joker’s incarceration in Arkham Asylum, and possibly, if rumours are to be believed, the ‘Bogeyman’ of the film.

So this is 2016’s springboard into the DCU headfirst into epic and then splintering off into smaller, more intimate pieces, before re-forming for the second part of the Justice league extravaganza. Looking at it objectively, Warner and DC have apparently assumed a certain level of respectable familiarity from its viewers and of course its readership. Why should we amble around back-story, exposition, and origin story when we can see a war-worn Dark Knight go head to head with our already introduced Man of Steel? One can only assume a certain level of prior knowledge will come in handy when explaining where the Amazons of Themyscira are from. Surely not moulded from clay… Surely?

In 2017, Gal Gadot dons the eagle bodice and Lasso of Truth for Wonder Woman (rumours persist this will back track and offer a historical back story), but the production has already lost a director due to creative differences. Patty Jenkins is currently in the chair whose previous credits include the 2003 Oscar winner ‘Monster’.

Image via DC Entertainment/Warner Bros.

Image via DC Entertainment/Warner Bros.

Ezra Miller (We Need To Talk About Kevin) will be DC’s Flash, surprisingly eschewing the established TV universe Flash continuity (and by extension its counterpart Arrow) in favour of a totally different take on its hyper speedster.

2018’s Aquaman will be headed by ex-Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa and has garnered some unwanted attention due to its unorthodox writing process. Currently TWO scripts are in the works and are being written simultaneously, the best to be selected according to, one assumes, budget and potential box office draw – probably to be judged by fan reaction/box office of everything released up to Justice League Part One.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson will attempt to lay the smackdown on the as-yet uncast Captain Marvel in 2019’s “Shazam!” before we re-unite our heroes and villains for the imaginatively titled: “Justice League Part 2”.

Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and a re-boot of the Green Lantern follow in 2020.

So there you have it, the current line up of DC’s flagship heroes -the fate of which will mainly hang on the shoulders of Batman v Superman’s success at the box office. DC may have seemingly entered their cinematic universe “backwards”, but their commitment to creating and delivering the DCU is clear. Until March next year we wait with bated breath. We’ve had the Dark Knight movies we deserve, now we want the DCU we need. Or something like that.

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