With the release of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice moving ever closer by the day and the media buzz surrounding the movie refusing to die down, now feels like a suitable time to take a look at the origins and future potential of the DC extended universe. Despite the numerous Batman and Superman adaptations already on the market, Warner Bros. have been reluctant up to this point to go down the same route as Marvel. With a 78-year publishing history behind it, DC comics has created an enormous universe with tons of superheroes and character arcs, making it seem like a somewhat impossible task to try and present even a handful of the most popular figures on-screen.
It doesn’t help matters that the studio’s attempts at opening the DC extended universe to audiences through 2011’s Green Lantern led to a disastrous critical and commercial failure for Warner Bros. as well as the fact that Christopher Nolan’s hugely successful Dark Knight trilogy was made as a mostly separate endeavour from the comic book universe as a whole; shutting the door on many key villains and avoiding introducing figures like Superman and Wonder Woman. This is something that Watchmen director Zack Snyder clearly hopes to change in Batman v Superman, a film which will undoubtedly introduce many key DC figures before the release of Justice League next year.
2013 was a key turning point for Warner Bros. company DC Entertainment as Man of Steel became their true opening movie and Snyder was signed on as the figurehead of future projects. Referred to by the media as Warner Bros’ answer to Marvel’s Kevin Feige, the producer who pieced the rival comic book’s on-screen universe together, Snyder has been tasked with not only directing Batman v Superman, and two Justice League movies but also producing Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Aquaman. Snyder thankfully isn’t alone on his journey and will be assisted by a number of talented filmmakers including Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins who will go down in history as the first female to direct a mainstream superhero movie.
Despite Fox studios putting a spanner in the works with the recent release of Deadpool, audiences and critics continue to complain about how the Marvel movies feel a little bit too similar at times and this is of course something DC could be accused of too once the creation of the universe truly gets underway. It is clear that the filmmakers are going for a darker tone with DC, influenced greatly by the socio-political themes and gloomy colour scheme of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but Snyder has openly stated that each individual director will be given a great amount of creative freedom and will not be tied down to a particular interpretation or style. In studio language this is known as the ‘sandbox’; a rule stating that a franchise must have certain borders around it, mostly set by the studio and source material, but that there is space for each filmmaker to roam free within it. Thus every director will have complete control over their specific area of the sandbox but also be able to interact with others simultaneously.
It’s worth noting that the two Justice League movies, tipped for 2017 and 2019 releases, will essentially be at the centre of the DC playground, in the same way that the Avengers movies are used to bring together various Marvel characters. So in theory every film surrounding these movies should in some way tie into them despite each standalone film honing in more on individual characters. Unlike Marvel, something the DCEU will reportedly be avoiding, however, is tying television spin-off series’ into the cinematic universe. While TV shows like Gotham and The Flash can still exist on the small screen, they won’t be considered as part of the DCEU. They will merely offer differing interpretations on the various DC characters in a similar way that any pre-2013 DC adapted movie also does.
It appears that films like Justice League Dark and a sequel to Man of Steel remain on the shelf for the time being, but Warner Bros. has happily announced a list of their upcoming releases, showing the potential for at least two major DC films released every year up until 2020. While this year sees Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad hitting screens worldwide, 2017 is the year of the first Justice League movie as well as the character-focused Wonder Woman. 2018 will see the introduction of The Flash and Aquaman, but it won’t be until 2019 that audiences will get to see Justice League: Part Two, the same year that Shazam is released. Finally on the rota is Cyborg and unsurprisingly in last place is Green Lantern Corps which Warner Bros. intend to put as far away from the 2011 Green Lantern movie as possible. That’s certainly one way to have comic book aficionados jumping for joy, although only if Warner Bros. actually manage to deliver something worth everyone’s time.