Let’s go back to 2013. We had already had the first 7 films of the MCU and naturally, all eyes turned to DC to see what they had up their sleeves. The Dark Knight Trilogy was over and done – and Green Lantern had been a commercial and critical disaster in 2011.
In 2013 Warner/DC unleashed the first film of their own cinematic universe. Man Of Steel – a new take on the legend of Superman.
Henry Cavill’s performance as the heroic Kryptonian was well received – but the reception the actual film had was mixed. Most of its shortcomings were blamed on its controversial director Zack Snyder.
It was a far more serious, sombre affair than other big-screen Supes adventures. Instead of a rousing superhero yarn – it was more of a straight science fiction thriller. Many hardcore DC fans rejoiced (including myself) because it took a lot of inspiration from the 1986 Post Crisis Reboot spearheaded by writer/artist John Byrne. It even took its name from the inaugural comics mini-series that started it all Superman: The Man Of Steel. Which is well worth a read by the way.
General audiences who had not read the comics were largely unaware of this and wondering why they weren’t seeing a Richard Donner style superhero romp – or something akin to what Marvel was putting out. Most controversial perhaps was Superman killing his enemy Zod with his bare hands at the end.
The film was a box-office success. Perhaps not quite as much as Warner would have liked but still justified a follow-up. However instead of shying away from the elements that had made the original film controversial Snyder doubled down.
Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is where things got really contentious in 2016. Cavill continued to do excellent work as Superman – and Ben Affleck wowed audiences with a new interpretation of Batman. A jaded, violent and angry Batman. Branding his quarry by burning his emblem into their flesh.
Naturally, this put him at odds with Superman. Under his human guise of reporter Clark Kent, he was investigating Batman’s nocturnal activities and was determined to see him put out of action. But Batman had a score to settle with Superman. As we all know, Batman is secretly multi-billionaire Bruce Wayne. A great many of Wayne’s employees were killed in Superman’s battle with Zod. Something Wayne was unwilling to forgive.
With Jesse Eisenberg’s supervillain, Lex Luthor manipulating events with a Shakespearean relish the stage was set for a confrontation between DC’s two most iconic heroes. And Snyder used the opportunity to introduce the wider cast of the DC movie universe with an extended role for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and cameos from Ezra Miller’s Flash, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg.
To say the film polarised audiences is an understatement. Affleck received almost unanimous praise but the movie itself did not. It was criticised for trying to cram too much exposition and world-building into one film whereas Marvel had done it in a handful. There was a feeling that it was just bombarding the audience in order to get to where it was going quicker. And of course, the “MARTHA!” scene which needs no explanation from me. It was a dark, difficult and complicated movie which delved into the psychology of superheroes and ended with Superman’s apparent death at the hands of Doomsday.
Maybe families were expecting something a bit more fun for their Easter cinema trip. And Marvel was there, of course, to pick up that slack with the similarly themed Captain America: Civil War in which they addressed the same kinds of topics in a more audience entertaining manner.
Panicked at the initial reception to BvS, Warner went into damage control mode. Later in 2016, they released Suicide Squad. We now know the version of this movie we got was not what writer/director David Ayer had intended. A Frankenstein style botch job full of reshoots intended to turn it into DC’s version of Guardians Of The Galaxy. Margot Robbie’s debut as Harley Quinn really is the movie’s only real notable contribution to the burgeoning cinematic franchise.
Critics were not kind and rightfully so. Jared Leto’s performance as The Joker was skewered as was the film’s story, tone and garish visual aesthetic. It made fairly decent bank at the box office but it absolutely bombed critically. Not even the most hardcore of fans could find much good to say about it.
In the summer of 2017 things were looking up. Gal Gadot reprised her role of Diana Prince in director Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman which FINALLY got the critics onside with almost universal acclaim across the board. Coupled with record-breaking box-office success it was finally the break these movies needed.
But success is fleeting and can be as easily taken away as given. Later in the same year, Justice League was released with pretty much the exact same problems as Suicide Squad had been plagued with. Zack Snyder had left the project at some point during the production due to family circumstances and Joss Whedon was brought on board to finish the project. If what we are hearing now is true – he basically rewrote and reshot almost the entire thing.
The movie was a disaster and an absolute embarrassment to everyone involved. It seemed that DC was OVER. That the experiment had failed. With Aquaman well into production things were looking grim.
But the hardcore fans out there who LOVED the movies wanted to see the original vision – and a grassroots campaign started where they demanded to see the movie that MOS and BvS promised.
In 2018 writer/director James Wan’s Aquaman was an unexpected box-office smash grossing well over a billion and dominating cinemas over the Christmas period turning Jason Momoa into a star.
This, coupled with Shazam! in the Spring of 2019, proved that DC movies could be fun on their own merits without trying to ape Marvel – but DC was in a bit of a scrappy state.
There was no doubt that the quality of the movies was improving but where was this all going? Ben Affleck had left the role of Batman and was not involved in the new movie being prepped by director Matt Reeves. Robert Pattinson will be the caped crusader in that adventure when we finally see it.
Henry Cavill’s role as Superman looked uncertain.
It was a frustrating time for DC fans. Especially as Marvel was out there SMASHING it with Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Marvel was proving it COULD be done. So what was the damn problem?
At the end of 2019, something very interesting happened. Writer/director Todd Phillips’ Joker was released to huge success earning Joaquin Phoenix and Academy Award for Best Actor. This was unprecedented and, even though it wasn’t an official part of the DC films, it was a much-needed shot in the arm.
In early 2020, Birds Of Prey (and the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn) came and went without much fanfare. But as the world began to succumb to a worrying pandemic there was at least some good news to make lockdown a bit brighter for DC nuts like me.
On TV the Arrowverse shows aired Crisis On Infinite Earths which was an EPIC crossover event. In these shows, The Flash is played by Grant Gustin and existed apart from the films. However, there was a surprise cameo from Ezra Miller’s version of the character in a mind-blowing scene which reveals the mechanics of a DC Multiverse. A concept that DC fans are not unfamiliar with.
The possibilities this opened were unlimited and in just a couple of minutes of screen time, the entire nature of ALL of DC’s screen adaptations were changed. There were no reboots anymore. There were DIFFERENT UNIVERSES. Further exemplified by Brandon Routh reprising his version of Superman from Superman Returns along with Tom Welling from Smallville.
It seemed a floodgate had been opened. Soon, news came that HBO Max would be showing Zack Snyder’s original cut of Justice League in 2021.
Ben Affleck had been wooed back to the role of Batman for The Flash movie along with Michael Keaton! And apparently, Affleck might be getting his own limited series on HBO Max!
Along with Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, Shazam!, Aquaman sequels and Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam movie – things could be better than ever before. Multiple versions of different characters played by an array of different actors, created by a variety of artists across TV and Film. All linked together by the connective tissue of a multiverse.
And with Henry Cavill apparently signing a pretty hefty contract we may finally get Man Of Steel 2.
Things right now are looking pretty good. DC has overcome its setbacks and has emerged stronger than ever before delighting scores of disappointed fans.
Let us just hope they stick the landing.