The only thing that seems to be coming out of DC’s film department right now is disappointment. It’s a real blow. Clumsily dubbed the ‘DC Extended Universe’, this is a franchise that’s careening downhill whilst engulfed in the fire of bad reviews. On top of the critically-panned Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, two directors have left The Flash in ironically quick succession. Additionally, The Batman has struggled to pin down a director after Ben Affleck – who also stars in the titular role – stepped down from behind the camera last month. There are even reports that he’s close to hanging up the cowl itself. When paired with rumours of trouble surrounding Wonder Woman (even if that’s since been refuted), it’s hard not to think a reset is desperately needed.
Tempting though it is, I’d be gutted if Warner Bros. threw in the towel. The last two instalments were less than stellar, but seeing Man of Steel consigned to the scrap-heap along with them breaks my heart. Despite having problems of its own, the film’s depiction of Krypton is nothing short of breath-taking. Moreover, I maintain that the first two-thirds of that film were spot-on. After a sympathetic journey to find his purpose in life, a now-humanised Superman becomes the hero we know and love once he’s donned his costume. He laughs, smiles and, above all else, does what’s right. But then it all goes pear-shaped with disaster-porn battles and a climax that understandably turned off fans. I’d argue that it only veered off the rails when Clark had his trippy, on-the-nose dream-sequence with Zod.
Similarly, its sequel had plenty of good ideas to work with. No, really. They simply weren’t executed well (though that’s a discussion for another day) thanks to its director and writers who’ve had a stranglehold on things thus far. To scrap the series without giving someone else a crack of the whip would therefore feel wasteful. Considering how the lauded comic scribe Geoff Johns has just taken charge, things may start looking up at last. We should at least see what he does first.
Nevertheless, I wonder what the result would be if they were to call things quits. Perhaps a soft reboot (a la X-Men: First Class) might be the best course of action. Future films could zero in on Wonder Woman’s past, Batman’s career pre-Superman in the 1990s or side-step entirely with new and unknown characters. The already in-production Shazam would be a great place to start, for instance. Introducing a young boy who’s given the power to transform into an adult superhero, it’d inject a sense of wide-eyed wonder that’s in high demand after so much gloom.
If DC followed this path, there’d really be no need to reference prior films at all. Each of the above can happily stand alone.
Failing that, they could even hand off to a new generation like Marvel is rumoured to do after Avengers: Infinity War’s sequel. Maybe the recently-announced Nightwing film – following the original Robin as he strikes out on his own – could be the first step on that road.
All the same, my preference would be for a completely fresh break set in the past. One ace DC has up its sleeve is a long and illustrious past stretching back into the WWII era: the Justice League weren’t the first team to protect our world. Known instead as the Justice Society, this group included Wonder Woman and an elder generation of the Flash and Green Lantern. There’s your ‘in’ for an audience arriving with fresh eyes.
Better still, it featured characters we’ve never seen in cinema before. That includes the mystical Doctor Fate, Sandman (who’s reminiscent of Watchmen’s Rorschach), the original Atom and happy-go-lucky Stargirl.
By focusing on this band of ‘Mystery Men’ and women (as they were known back then), you reverse the mistakes DC has made up until now. To begin with, returning to the Golden Age of comics where heroes do good because they’re upstanding people is something we’re missing in today’s dark, naval-gazing equivalent. Secondly, it’s not obviously a reboot so we’d avoid audience fatigue. As far as they’re concerned, this could fit into the universe they’ve come to know already. If they respond well, you’d then build back up to the present-day cast.
Whether DC has it in them to be so bold is another matter, of course. Changing tack would mean abandoning the many projects already in production. With Aquaman, Flash and The Batman already gearing up, that’d be a wasted investment Warner Bros. may not want to contemplate. However, If Wonder Woman and this autumn’s Justice League hit another critical brick wall it’ll probably be time to call things quits regardless.
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