The Way Forward for the DC Extended Universe

I like the DC Extended Universe. It may not have the critical and box office success of the MCU, but it has still managed to churn out a handful of enjoyable superhero flicks.

However, the water DC Films and Warner Bros. have been swimming in following the 2017 release of Justice League has been murky at best. The film’s failure, coupled with the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement, has fractured any momentum the DCEU was once building towards. With the upcoming release of Matt Reeves’ The Batman, set in its own standalone universe, and Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker an award-winning Elseworlds tale, DC and WB seem to be stepping away from the idea of all of their characters occupying a singular universe.

I’m not against this idea. In fact, I encourage it. I think allowing one-off films every now and then will not only allow for more creative choices regarding casting and storylines, but will help differentiate DC from Marvel. But it’s important to not let the DCEU drown. After all, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman are two of the highest grossing DC Films. Until those characters’ stories are finished being told, the DCEU cannot simply fade into distant memory. And nor should it.

Simply put, the way forward for the DCEU is to look into its past.

Utilize the Characters (and Actors) You Already Have

If there’s one thing the DCEU has going for it it’s that their casting has been spot on. Ben Affleck as Batman sounded like a crazy decision until we actually saw Batfleck in action. Margot Robbie has made the role of Harley Quinn her own. Zachary Levi has the boyish charm and glee that is perfect for Shazam. The actors they have chosen so far to embody these larger than life heroes have been nothing short of perfection.

So why the hell aren’t they using them?

It is absolutely ridiculous that we have not had a proper Man of Steel 2 yet. The talent Zack Snyder assembled to portray Superman and his allies/enemies has been nothing short of inspired. Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, and, of course, Henry Cavill as Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman. Batman v Superman acted as the next chapter for Supes, but fans are still clamoring for another standalone film (without Bats and the other Super Friends thrown in for good measure). Man of Steel 2 should be a high priority for DC Films. It can reestablish Cavill’s Superman as a cornerstone of the DCEU and pave the way for a future Justice League film.

Last year’s Birds of Prey may not have lit up the box office, but there’s still plenty of potential for the superhero team. The DCEU is no stranger to soft-reboots (just ask James Gunn and his upcoming The Suicide Squad) and that’s exactly what should happen here. As much as I love Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, she doesn’t belong in this sub-franchise. It’s time to swap her out and bring in the Birds of Prey GOAT: Barbara Gordon/Oracle. Her days of crime-fighting as Batgirl behind her, Gordon leads the team from behind a laptop as ace-hacker Oracle. The soft-reboot/sequel would also see Renee Montoya suit up as the Question, Joe Manganiello, J.K. Simmons, and Jared Leto return as Deathstroke, Commissioner Gordon, and the Joker, and introduce Lady Blackhawk as the newest member of the team. Manganiello deserves more than quick cameos as Deathstroke, and with the Batfleck solo film cancelled a Birds of Prey sequel is the perfect place for him to pop up in next. Leto’s Joker would return to address Gordon’s transformation from Batgirl to Oracle, and do I even need to give a reason for why we need to see more of Simmons as Commissioner Gordon?

Heck, I just remembered that Birds of Prey introduced Cassandra Cain into the DCEU. She has taken on the mantle of Batgirl in the comics, so if DC doesn’t want to introduce Barbara Gordon for some reason then there is always Cain to use as a workaround.

These are the two films that I think would make the most of the DCEU’s talented cast of characters that are sitting on the sidelines right now.

Don’t Worry About a Big Picture…Yet

The biggest complaint commonly associated with the DCEU is that they tried playing catch up with Marvel too fast. Man of Steel was never intended to be the first instalment of a shared universe (despite the inclusion of Easter eggs). When Marvel’s The Avengers broke box office records and made cinematic universes the next big thing, Warner Bros. quickly announced a “Phase 1” slate of release dates in 2014 for solo films featuring the Flash, Cyborg, and Green Lantern. Well, it’s 2021 and none of those solo films have come out yet. Justice League, originally a two-parter, was butchered upon the departure of Zack Snyder and twisted into something that felt very removed from the previous DCEU films. What should have been a major blockbuster event came and went with a whimper.

Now DC Films does actually look to be taking its time before bringing its characters together for another crossover film. There are no signs that another Justice League film is on the deck (besides the Snyder Cut) with the focus on developing standalone sequels to Wonder Woman 1984, Aquaman, and Shazam!. I think expanding each character’s own individual worlds, similar to how the MCU set up Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, will make future crossovers more rewarding. The addition of films based on Blue Beetle, Static Shock, and Plastic Man being in development also open the doors for a future Justice League film to feature an expanded or different lineup than the one seen in the 2017 film.

Take a Page From DC Animation

The DCEU introducing Blue Beetle, Static Shock, and Supergirl within the next few years allows for DC Films to look back at DC’s previous successes for inspiration. Children of the 1990s and 2000s will no doubt remember the DC Animated Universe, a series of animated television series featuring almost ever single DC superhero. However, it is not the only successful animated universe involving DC characters. The DC Animated Movie Universe was a sixteen film franchise that began with Justice League: War and ended with Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. It brought a number of different characters like the Teen Titans, the Suicide Squad, the Justice League, and Constantine and the Justice League Dark into one shared universe. Granted, animation offers storytelling opportunities that live-action cannot, but it would be crazy for DC Films to not look at where they have had success in the past when plotting its own future.

Specifically, Justice League Unlimited offers the perfect stepping stone for the next team-up film. You have Batfleck and Wonder Woman expand the Justice League’s membership to include new superheroes like Shazam, Blue Beetle, Supergirl, Black Canary, and the Huntress. The setup for a Justice League sequel would be to pick up on the post-credits scene from Justice League which teased Lex Luthor and Deathstroke founding an Injustice League or Legion of Doom to fight the Justice League.

However, it is important to note that the success of the DCAU, and to a lesser extent the DCAMU, lie within their ability to focus on character depth and development over CGI-heavy action sequences. We cared more about the characters and their relationships with one another than we ever did with the fighting. We have gotten to know Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Superman, and Shazam through their solo films, and hopefully we will learn more about what makes Batman and Flash tick in the upcoming The Flash. Once we are familiar with everyone is when DC can let the hammer drop and give us some absolutely bonkers action and fight sequences in exchange for shorter character moments.

Team-Ups Are Where DC Has Succeeded in the Past

Why have we not gotten at least one live-action DC team-up film yet? The comics are riddled with some of the best superhero combos. Green Lantern & The Flash. Green Lantern & Green Arrow. Green Arrow and Black Canary. Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy. Batgirl & Supergirl. Batman & Superman. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. As much fun as solo films are, there is nothing better than seeing two superheroes with wildly different powers working together.

We have seen DC use superhero team-ups for past shows and films. For instance, Batman: The Brave and the Bold (and the comic it was based on) revolved entirely around this concept. It looks like DC is dipping its toes into this route since they have two Batmans and one Supergirl co-starring in The Flash movie, but that feels wrong. I could see a Batman/Flash film, but a Batman/Batman/Flash/Supergirl film feels like you’re overflowing the bathtub. And why not use The Flash to introduce the DCEU’s Green Lantern? Or build on the success of the Arrowverse iterations by having a Flash/Green Arrow film with Birds of Prey‘s Black Canary along for the ride?

It does look like Supergirl and Blue Beetle will be a large part of the DCEU moving forward so perhaps their upcoming debuts will pave the way for Supergirl/Batgirl and Blue Beetle/Booster Gold films in the future. I know for a fact fans have been wanting to see Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn cross paths with Poison Ivy and Catwoman in a Gotham City Sirens film. The audience for such a team-up is clearly there, all DC needs to do is to capitalize on it.

I like the DC Extended Universe. I don’t want it to go anywhere. I like that it could offer the MCU with some healthy competition. This notion that comic fans have to choose between DC and Marvel is ridiculous. They’ve both made some great films and they’ve both made some real stinkers. The MCU may have an edge when it comes to establishing and building a shared universe, but the DCEU has made some strides in recent years. On focusing on standalone films like Aquaman and Shazam!, the DCEU was able to replicate that early MCU feel.

The DC Universe has many different corners and I’m excited to see Warner Bros. explore them over the next couple decades. Hopefully, the DCEU will research its history before making any long-term plans. It’s important to look at the past to see the highs and lows of DC Comics in order to figure out the best course of action would be for the DCEU.

DC doesn’t need to replicate any other cinematic universe or film franchise. All they need to do is steal from their past, but make sure that their new stuff is better than what came before. Because I can always go back and rewatch Batman: The Animated Series or The Dark Knight Trilogy. I want something new, but at the same time something that doesn’t feel like complete departures for the characters. The key is to take it one film at a time, and I’m glad that it looks like DC Films is doing just that.

I’ve listed some ideas that I think could improve the DC Extended Universe. Share what you want to see happen with the DCEU down in the comments.

Author: Marmaduke Karlston

"Wait a minute. Wait a minute Doc, uh, are you telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?"