To understand the DCCU’s failings, we must examine its nearest rival in Disney-owned Marvel. Why is one group of superheroes flying high while their gritty DC cousins are plummeting? There are many potential reasons for this, but for the sake of this rant, I’ll stick to two; character development and platform distribution. All three of the DCCU films released so far feature a complete and total lack of character development. This issue was noticed by many fans and critics back in 2013 with the first DCCU film, Man of Steel. But Hollywood is an industry, and Man of Steel brought in $668 million on its $225 million budget. So if you’re Warner Bros., why change what isn’t broke? Whilst the DC funds may be full, their integrity well is running dry.
This is where Marvel comes in. Disney bought the company in 2009 for around $2.5 billion and has been pumping out hits ever since, making its money back many times over. Disney’s filmmaking arm produces humorous, action-packed and internationally translatable superhero movies for the global market. These feature films showcase Marvels more child-friendly characters like Spider-Man and Thor, whilst Netflix allows them to reach a broader, older audience of old school fans with multiple series like Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, full of all the sex, violence and ‘curses’ necessary to do the characters’ justice.
Hollywood is an industry and Man of Steel brought in $668 million on its $225 million budget
DC, contrarily, doesn’t have a clear path to follow to allow its diverse characters to shine in their right environments, or to bring them together for the right reasons a la Captain America: Civil War. In past films like The Dark Knight, Constantine, and V for Vendetta, DC gave these ‘darker’ characters the space and time needed to flesh them out. Now they have sadly abandoned this model. In both Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad, Synder and Ayer respectively seem to have just googled DC toy sales and converted those figures into two messes of films, all in the name of ‘fan service’ – a phrase which here means “Hey, we know the stuffy critics will hate it, but the fans will love seeing the shiny stuff.” This patronising attitude will only further alienate audiences, and it’s clear that it needn’t be that way. Look at the portrayal of the Holocaust in the X-Men series or the vile, very un-kid friendly Killgrave in Jessica Jones for examples of how heavy topics can be successfully incorporated into a ‘superhero’ universe.
So, can the DCCU be saved? Only time will tell, but I truly think we have reached a crisis point after only three films. Perhaps both Wonder Woman (directed by a woman, which is a step forward) and Justice League will be revelations, but with the pre-production issues facing the untitled Batman sequel (currently releasing May 2018, but with no script or director), the prognosis doesn’t look good. My advice to Greg Silverstein and Warner Bros.? Call up Simon Kinberg, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Christopher Nolan, and ask for immediate help.