This weekend brings us what feels like the first true installment in the long-awaited DCCU movie franchise. If you’re not familiar, “DCCU” stands for “Detective Comics Cinematic Universe.” This isn’t the first time DC and parent company Warner Bros. has made a push to unite their comic book properties on the big screen. You can go all the way back to the ill-fated Superman Lives to find the first inkling of the idea. In that movie, which would have been directed by Tim Burton, Superman would have died at the hands of Doomsday and at his funeral, Michael Keaton-as-Batman would have attended. That movie was originally scheduled for 1998 but of course was canned mid-way through development.
Actually you can go all the way back to 1995 when Bruce Wayne, in Batman Forever, mentions to Dick Grayson that “the circus must be halfway to Metropolis by now.” It was a throwaway line but it established—even with a wink—that there was a larger universe out there, even if WB, at the time, had no intention of doing anything with it. A more overt reference was made in 1997’s Batman & Robin, when George Clooney’s Batman tosses out a “this is why Superman works alone” at the beginning of that travesty of a movie. But other than winks and nods and nothing-mentions, the real first attempt at showing a big screen team up between DC’s finest heroes was Wolfgang Petersen’s 2002 “Batman vs. Superman.” The basic outline of the plot is very similar to what is about to release in theaters. Batman would have been an older hero in retirement who comes out of seclusion to take on Superman, whom he believes to be a danger to mankind. The movie was, of course, cancelled before filming ever got underway as WB got cold feet about attempting such a giant project.
A few years later Warner Bros. greenlit a Justice League film directed by Mad Max guru George Miller. The script ended up being a bit of a mess, with the burden of having to introduce so many heroes in one movie (it would have seen at least Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Flash and Green Lantern all in major roles) and once again WB pulled the plug before filming got underway. Instead the production studio decided to focus on solo projects for Batman and Superman, which would become Superman Returns and Batman Begins. Of course what happened next is very well known: Batman Begins (2005) was a good success, Superman Returns (2006) was a bad disappointment. Chris Nolan was given a second chance with The Dark Knight, but Bryan Singer was not allowed to follow up on his Superman franchise.
After The Dark Knight took the world by storm, DC and WB pushed ahead with what they thought would be the first in a series of interconnected DC-universe movies: Green Lantern. Hopes were high for it to be a new Warner Bros. property, and plans were also put into place for a new Superman movie (dubbed “Flyby”) to be directed by JJ Abrams (both Brandon Routh and Henry Cavill tried out for the part of Superman too – image courtesy of ThinkMcflyThink). Instead, Green Lantern was a major bomb, both critically and commercially, and Warners once again got cold feet, scrapped their plans for a DCCU and parted ways with Abrams.
Starting back at square one, Warners focused their attention on getting Superman back on the big screen. Two years later, after dozens of failed scripts and ideas, and one failed movie, Superman finally returned to cinemas with the full confidence of the studio behind him. Technically this was the beginning of the DCCU, but at the time it was understood that if Man of Steel bombed, then the DCCU would die with it and the studio would simply sit on their hands for a few years before bringing back the only bankable star they had: Batman.
Instead, Man of Steel was a success. It wasn’t a perfect movie, and critics and fans had a few key things to complain about, but it was a competent enough movie that DC/WB felt prepared enough to forge ahead. Keep in mind that plans for a DC-shared universe predate the Marvel Cinematic Universe by a decade, but DC wasn’t blessed with an instant-hit like Iron Man to kick things off. So while DC toiled away in first gear, Marvel was hitting the ground running. By the time DC was ready to greenlight a Justice League film, Marvel had already broken the box office with The Avengers. DC was in desperate need of playing catch-up. Fortunately for them, they had an ace up their sleeve.
DC knew, once they finally were able to get their universe off the ground, they could compete with Marvel, for one key reason: DC’s heroes are bigger and more timeless. Warner Brother’s doesn’t need to spend a decade establishing their properties, the way Marvel did. Fans already know who Batman is, who Superman is, who Wonder Woman and Aquaman are. With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC is jumping straight into the Avengers game, putting at least four well-established heroes on screen with only one of them (Superman) being given a stand-alone movie in preparation. But DC can afford to do that, and by doing that, they can instantly catch-up to Marvel’s MCU and even the playfield with only two movies in the tank.
So what is in the tank for the DCCU?
First up, and coming this weekend, is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This movie will, fairly or not, be called DC’s version of Marvel’s Civil War. Like Civil War it will be a quasi-Avengers/Justice League movie, with heroes on both sides fighting one another. Early reports for the movie are mixed, so it likely won’t reach the level of popular frenzy that Civil War will hit when it releases in May. Still, it’s expected to be enough to keep the DCCU dream going.
Later this year comes Suicide Squad, featuring a merry band of bad guys working for a secret government program on a secret government mission that may or may not be “kill the Joker.” I’ve stayed spoiler free for the most part, but there’s a definite Guardians of the Galaxy-like irreverant vibe to it that hopefully will help it to find an audience. Ben Affleck’s Batman himself is rumored to cameo in the picture.
Currently filming with a release date set for next year is Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot’s feminine hero (and the first female-led Superhero movie ever) gets her debut in Batman v Superman, but her real coming out party will be this movie. It’s expected to be, in part, a period picture, set during the first World War.
Later in 2017 will be Justice League: Part One. Again, fair or not, the comparisons will be made to Avengers: Infinity War (Parts One and Two) as both will be two-part ultimate team-up films uniting the heroes around a world-threatening event. The plot to Justice League is unknown; even the big bad the team will be taking down is being kept under wraps for now, but what we do know is the lineup: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, Flash, and possibly Green Lantern and Shazam (more on them in a bit).
The Flash and Aquaman get their first big screen movies in 2018. Right now Flash is starring in his own CW TV show, but Warners has said that there will be no crossover between their TV and their film properties. It could be the case that the show is off the air by 2018 anyway, making any consternation from fans moot. Aquaman has always been a bit of a joke (he’s the Echo the Dolphin of superheroes) but Zach Snyder is an outspoken defender of the character in general and in the way he will be portrayed in the DCCU, so we’ll see. He gets a cameo in Batman v Superman and that’ll be our first understanding of how he’ll be presented in his own movie.
Leading up to the second-part of the Justice League movie, in 2019, will be the Dwayne Johnson-led Shazam. Johnson actually will be playing Shazam’s longtime rival Black Adam. The Rock was given his choice of either character and chose the anti-hero, so it probably won’t be a one-off appearance. I’d expect Black Adam and Shazam to join the Justice League in their second movie.
After Justice League Part Two, 2020 is expected to bring Cyborg his first stand alone movie, and then later that year Green Lantern will return to the big screen. After the bomb in 2008, it’ll be interesting to see where they take the character in the DCCU, and whether they go with Hal Jordan as the hero or one of the other earth-bound protectors like John Stewart.
One thing is certain, Warner Bros. has a very ambitious schedule of movies, with films in the pipeline for the next five years, essentially. Somewhere in there is certain to be a Ben Affleck-directed solo-Batman movie, but though that’s expected, it has not been officially announced and given a release date. Also there needs to be room made for another stand-alone Superman film, as the flagship of the DCCU certainly has plenty more villains to play around with.
This weekend brings us more than just an epic clash between two of comics’ biggest heroes. Batman v Superman is the launchpad to what Warner Bros. hopes to be their next cash-cow franchise. After years of getting cold feet, starting and stopping movies, and seeing films disappoint at the box office, a lot is on the line this weekend. As a fan of DC and of comic book movies in general, I’m hoping Batman v Superman lives up to the hype and sets the DCCU off on the right track.
Here’s to this weekend!