It seems like a day cannot go by without some new article comparing Marvel’s connected universe (MCU) with DC’s connected universe (DCEU), for better or worse (usually worse). According to a lengthy article in Vulture, the DCEU moniker was applied by a third-party and was never an internal brand or a corporate mandate. But the problem remains that DC seems mired deep within Marvel’s shadow — it’s also a problem of their own making.
Back in October 2014 Warner Bros. CEO, Kevin Tsujihara, announced a slate of 10 upcoming DC superhero films — a tactic Marvel established with Iron Man 3 in 2010. DC established film-to-film continuity in Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman (2016), and Wonder Woman (2017), which culminates in November’s Justice League movie — again, drawing from Marvel’s bag of tricks. Many fans criticized Man of Steel and Batman v Superman for being too grim and dark, forcing DC to soften the tone in Justice League and add more humor (see: Joss Whedon hired to finish the film).
Whether DC wants to admit it or not, there’s broad, public perception that they’re just copying Marvel. DC disagrees, and now they’re punching back — it’s about time!
According to Forbes, DC is now poised to shift gears and focus on one-off and self-contained films. This implies that after Justice League, we’re more likely to see DC superhero films that acknowledge continuity but aren’t slaves to it. This is smart, as fans are increasingly inundated with trilogies, franchises, and universes — in 2018 a new DC or Marvel superhero film opens almost every month. It’s unrealistic to expect movie fans to see every single film leading up to Justice League when there are five more team-centric, superhero films following the same model (Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Suicide Squad, X-Men, X-Force)… let’s not even get into everything happening with DC on TV, cable, and Netflix.
DC’s chief creative officer, Geoff Johns, is a comic book guy with a plan; he brings years of DC superhero lore to the table and is slowly shifting his superhero films toward a more disconnected scenario. One tool in Johns’ arsenal is DC’s “Elseworlds” brand, a DC Comics book label that essentially publishes “What If” stories, like Superman: Red Son or Kingdom Come — epic superhero tales that exist outside of continuity (and pose exciting questions like: what if Clark Kent landed in Russia or Batman is a geriatric, respectively).
Elseworlds — if this is a direction they choose — enables DC to take risks (like parallel Joker films with different actors playing the same role). If these risks fail (see: Green Lantern), then just recast the part, which is precisely what DC is doing, by the way. When you look at it this way, DC has more in common with James Bond than Star Wars. There have been multiple actors and directors taking on Bond over the years telling independent and isolated stories, but in Star Wars there’s only one Luke Skywalker and there’s only one, 40-year-old storyline — time is obviously running out on that clock!
If DC shifts away from the (supposedly) false DCEU towards a (suspected) Elseworlds, it will be an enormous risk — will audiences get it? Fair question. How many actors have portrayed Batman to-date? Believe it or not, 8 (if you only count live-action films, many more have worn the cowl in video games and animated films or TV). How many Superman actors have there been? See, DC is already more like Bond and this is a direction that they should lean in the future.