The autopsy on the DCEU to date deserves a coffee table book to be written about it. A tale of nervous yet seemingly incompetent suits. The final cut being taken from directors and handed to trailer makers. On-set bullying. Post-production inquiries. A fan movement and a boardroom struggle leading to a 4-hour mega release on a new streaming platform. Still, the battles raged within the executive offices of Warner Bros. and AT&T. Political moves were made, attempts to stifle were publicized.
You could make a movie out of the making of the movies.
Chris Terrio saw it all. He worked with Ben Affleck on the Oscar-winning Argo and this propelled him into the DC Universe. It started brightly for him, but Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker did not go according to plan.
What did they all have in common, according to Terrio? Rushed productions, behind-the-scenes trouble, and studio interference.
In a major Vanity Fair feature, Terrio told all about his time in the DCEU. When the Ultimate Edition of Batman Vs. Superman delivered an improved, but still not perfect, movie it was clear something had happened. Terrio said things started to go bad even before that. As early as the title announcement:
“I heard [the title] and I thought, It just sounds self-important and clueless in a way. Tone-deaf. The intention of the film was to do something interesting and dark and complex, not quite as Las Vegas, bust ’em up, WWE match as ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.’”
Then he saw the final film and, to his horror, key character developments had just been completely left out and the movie was butchered:
“So this house of cards that had been built in order to motivate this clash between America’s two favorite heroes made no sense at all.
That was what happened with ‘Batman/Superman.’ The movie was always was going to be dark. There were always going to be people who just didn’t want to see that version of a comic book world, and I get that. But what hurt was the criticism that the script was not coherent, because when I turned in the script to the studio – which they, by all accounts, were happy with – it made sense.”
Did Warner Bros. learn from this that they needed to stay away from too much creative decision-making? Not at all. They accelerated it. First, they cut Suicide Squad to pieces and totally changed the tone, mood, approach, and story. Terrio says the mood at Warner Bros. was fearful, and panicked suits were just making bad decision after bad decision.
Then Justice League happened:
“I went into such depression when the film was taken away and rewritten.
But I didn’t even feel entitled to be depressed, because Zack and Debbie [Snyder] were dealing with their family tragedy. Measured against that, losing the film that you wrote seems like nothing at all. But it did hurt. It hurts to think that I cared so much about these characters and worked on nothing else for a very long time.
When those personal touches were removed from the film in the 2017 version, I was silent because I couldn’t really say anything, but of course it hurt. All that remained was a dinosaur skeleton of what had been a great, lumbering beast.
It might’ve been a big, unruly beast, and obviously, it’s four hours and the movie is maximalist and it’s operatic and, sure, it’s a little crazy, but I think the movie is crazy in the best way.”
He closes out by saying that he requested that his name was removed from the final movie as he wanted nothing to do with it, but it was too late.
Original cinematographer Fabian Wagner also spoke about the trials of DCEU with Indiewire and absolves himself of all blame. He was nowhere near it once Whedon took over:
“I think the guy who did our second unit did most of it. I was actually shooting a movie in the same studio space where they were doing the reshoots.
so I only dropped in on the set once, which was a strange experience. It was very different than what I had experienced with Zack, so I wasn’t there for long. And obviously, I knew how many days they were reshooting [seven weeks], so that kind of sets off alarm bells. You think, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of,’ you know, ‘How’s that going to work?’”
Wagner says his reaction to the theatrical cut was the same as Christopher Nolan and Deborah Snyder. He was devastated.
“This was a huge movie for me. It was an amazing experience to work with the Snyders and the whole team. I had a great time on that set, so to watch that movie was horrible.”
What’s next for the DCEU? Who knows? And with the same people in charge, does anyone really care?