Suicide Squad: ‘Shazam!’ is another nail in the coffin for the DCU
Whether you’re currently experiencing a bad case of “superhero fatigue” or are instead feeling fatigued by the overused phrase itself, there’s no question that cinema is currently at peak superhero.
Marvel has been carefully plotting schedules, building an ambitious extended universe, and firing movies out with fairly successful regulatory since 2008 when Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. winged the success of Iron Man with little more than a hope and a prayer – and plenty of improv.
Considering how inexorably huge the MCU has become in the ten years since that film it’s understandable that DC have been watching from the sidelines shrugging off Marvel’s success as something they can easily replicate, catch up with, and possibly even ride the coattails of.
Which is the only possible explanation for the hot mess of a development schedule DC currently have on their hands at Warner Bros. The situation is so bad an insider apparently told The Hollywood Reporter newly appointed DC Entertainment president Walter Hamada has “walked into a shitshow and he’s trying to clean it up.”
According to the publication, Hamada has spent months rifling through all the projects currently in development with a critical eye and has been culling some, elevating others, and optioning big name heroes alongside lesser-known characters who could “pop big” on the big screen.
The sheer volume of projects in development by DC Entertainment at Warner Bros. isn’t just preposterous, it also showcases a studio lacking focus while failing to understand its audience. Rather than concentrating efforts on a specific story or a handful of heroes most relevant or necessary for right now, the studio’s strategy seems to revolve around concentrating on as many as possible. Likely in the hopes that at least one of them will be a big enough success they can finally figure out how to crack this tough nut of Hollywood.
You’d have hoped the surprise $821.8 million worldwide success of Wonder Woman – and the disappointing $657.9 million of Justice League – would have been enough for the studio to figure out why certain films are connecting with audiences and which ones they should probably pursue for their future slate, but DC Entertainment have seemingly taken the opposite route.
James Wan’s Aquaman opened in theaters in December 2018, while the Zachary Levi led Shazam! and the highly anticipated Wonder Woman 2 premiere in 2019.
Then there’s the two Joker features currently in development. Jared Leto is reprising his Suicide Squad role to play Gotham’s Clown Prince of the underworld for one while Todd Phillips is helming another – reportedly to be launched under a new branded label such as “DC Dark” according to THR – that will star Joaquin Phoenix (You Were Never Really Here) in the lead role.
Meanwhile production on The Flash starring Ezra Miller is also scheduled for production in 2019; the Cathy Yan directed Birds of Prey is being developed that will pivot around Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and other iconic female characters like Catwoman, Huntress, and Poison Ivy; and Batgirl has since been given to screenwriter Christina Hodson to work on after Joss Whedon shit the bed on developing a script earlier this year.
But that’s not all! There’s also David Ayer’s Gotham City Sirens and Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s Harley Quinn and Joker romance film that are either still in active development or currently on the backburner depending on what day it is and what news item you read. The final cherry on that steaming shit pile of a superhero sundae is a standalone Batman movie.
The project has long been troubled since Ben Affleck dropped out of directing the film with the actor now speculated as being unlikely to don the cowl of the Caped Crusader for the role. Regardless, Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) has apparently turned in the first act of a new screenplay for the film which suggests the studio is still clinging onto hope of delivering a decent Batman movie in the new era of DC movies.
That slate is a lot. In fact, it’s too much but that’s not to say there aren’t some intriguing ideas within these projects. Birds of Prey could pip Marvel to the post in delivering the sort of female-led superhero movie that female fans of the genre have been patiently anticipating for years while Phillips’s fresh take on the Joker could be exactly what DC needs to reset itself and the DC universe as we know it.
But everything else? We’re not even the vaguest bit excited to see Aquaman or The Flash and as much as we love Batman, the tale feels overdone and beaten within an inch of its life at this point. We need a breather from the current canon and vibe of the DC universe and and DC needs to chill with its current plan and ambition.
Somewhere within that messy swirl of development and production are some legit ideas worth exploring. But we have a feeling that as it currently stands DC are burying the potential for their own universe under masses of overkill that could likely be avoided if they simply refocused their brand and listened to their audience.
As Suicide Squad proved in the brashest most cluttered manner possible, it’s not always a good idea to throw everything into the cinematic pot at the same time and just see what happens. DC needs to learn that less is more and that definitely also goes for their development slate.