The Marvel Cinematic Universe is in the doldrums. Ever since the so-called ‘Infinity Saga’ ended with 2019’s ‘Avengers: Endgame’, many MCU movies and shows have struggled to recreated the pre-Endgame magic. Not including the two specials from Marvel Studios, we saw three movies and three TV shows, and with an exception of ‘She-Hulk’, they all were disappointments (to this scribe, at least. You may differ). It appears James Cameron’s prophesised so-called ‘Avengers Fatigue’ is finally here. Clearly, too much of anything, even MCU, is bad. Marvel Studios and its parent company Disney decided to expand the MCU by launching a half-dozen (or so) TV shows to support the new streaming service Disney+, and it has had the reverse effect. MCU feels smaller somehow.
MCU’s loss is DCEU’s gain?
Meanwhile, the rumours of MCU’s demise, exaggerated though they may be, can augur well for DC Extended Universe or DCEU. While the MCU started with 2008’s summer release of Jon Favreau’s ‘Iron Man’, the DCEU’s beginning came half a decade later in 2013 with Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’, and it has only played catchup since then.
Starring Robert Downey Jr in the role, ‘Iron Man’ was a runaway, unexpected, hit. The superhero was not a well-known one among film audiences, and frankly neither were the Avengers that came later for the general audience who were not comic book readers. But Marvel Studios, with Kevin Feige at the helm, had trust in themselves and the cast (even Robert Downey Jr, who was pretty much persona non grata back then due to his substance abuse issues run-ins with the law) and crew that paid off.
The challenge in front of ‘Iron Man’ was also ‘The Dark Knight’, Christopher Nolan’s grownup oriented ‘The Dark Knight’ was more of a crime thriller than a full-fledged superhero pic. But the Dark Knight trilogy, featuring Christian Bale in the role, was its own self-contained universe. And it was not until ‘Man of Steel’ that DC really looked into building a cinematic universe.
Starring Henry Cavill in the role of Superman, the film was a standalone film that was supposed to eventually lead to the formation of the Justice League. But the film was poorly received, and Snyder’s gloomier Superman was rejected by fans. The film was a decent commercial success and received mixed critical reviews. The next two releases — ‘Batman V Superman’ and ‘Suicide Squad’ — were even more heavily panned by critics and disappointed at the box office as well, the former especially when it had the main three DC superheroes. While the next, ‘Wonder Woman’, was a huge success, the joy was ruined by ‘Justice League’ later that year, grossing about $650 million on a budget of an incredible $350 million
The biggest reason DC films are a mess is there has been a lack of unifying vision throughout the DCEU history, with nobody like Feige to oversee the films and the cinematic universe. And no, Zack Snyder is not it as his vision was already roundly rejected by both critics and fans. And I am saying it as somebody who loved ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’.
DC Films, that rudderless ship, is no more. Make way for DC Studios, a new studio that has filmmaker James Gunn and producer Peter Safran at the helm. That happened in October this year. David Zaslav, the chief of Warner Bros Discovery, had been looking for a suitable person to lead the next phase of the DC film universe.
Is DCEU’s future bright under Gunn and Safran?
Absolutely. Gunn has been in the Marvel and DC) superhero business since he helmed 2014’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. it is a credit to his writing and filmmaking that some of the obscure characters in the comics populated the cast of one of that year’s best superhero movies. The film featured a found family of the galaxy’s biggest rejects, two of whom were not even human, and one of them was a robot. And yet infused with his unique brand of humour, solid writing, and a talented cast of actors and voice actors, the film became a huge hit and also impressed critics.
His next for Marvel Studios, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2’ was an even bigger commercial success.
After being banned by Disney for controversial old tweets, Gunn switched sides to DC. He chose a soft reboot of the 2016 movie ‘Suicide Squad’. The film, called ‘The Suicide Squad’ marked Gunn’s return to films with a bang. It released in 2021 and starred a huge cast of actors Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, Alice Braga, and Pete Davidson.
Apart from ‘The Suicide Squad’, Gunn also wrote and directed a John Cena-fronted spinoff series called ‘Peacemaker’ for HBO Max, which was also received well.
As we have seen already, Gunn is really good with the superhero genre, possibly the best around right now. He grew up on a steady diet of comics, and has repeatedly shown an uncanny knack for crafting moving stories with multiple, varied characters forgetting their differences and coming together for a common goal. With ‘Peacemaker’, he proved that he is good with sole characters as well if it allows him to dismantle the character in his own way and instill his irreverent humour.
DC movies have suffered for a long time without any skipper to direct things. There have been competing visions, execs who have disagreed over the direction the properties should go in, and so on. What the company needed at this time is somebody exactly like Gunn: who has a proven track record in the genre and is a geek and knows these characters well. Under Gunn and Safran, the future of DC films is bright.
What to expect from DCEU in the future?
Earlier this year, it was confirmed that Henry Cavill will return to the role of Superman. He appeared in the role in the post-credits scene of ‘Black Adam’, basically challenging the man in black for a fight. We should see the return of Justice League, since except for Ben Affleck’s Batman, every other character has already got or is getting their own solo movies, and can face a common threat by teaming up in a JLA movie. We know Zaslav wants DCEU to go the way MCU went — multiple superheroes versus one big supervillain.
DC already has Darkseid, who appeared in ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’. Gunn and Safran have also promised the “Biggest Story Ever Told across multiple films, television shows, & animated projects,” which does make it look like the DCEU is going to be more unified from now on.