- First Film Based On A DC Property: Superman and the Mole Men Directed by Lee Sholem (November 23, 1951)
- Retroactively: Adventures of Captain Marvel Directed by John English and William Witney (March 28, 1941)
This post isn’t about Henry Cavill and his departure and return to and second (and apparently final) departure from the role of Superman though that is ultimately what inspired this. What I write here is more about DC films having a group of actors portray a group of characters and then once again deciding to start over. It’s about numerous stated attempts to right the ship or chart a direction.
I’m not calling for the return of the Snyderverse. While I would like something more mature, as executed it wasn’t something that was pulling in Marvel Money and film is ultimately a business. It’s all about the dollar dollar bill y’all. I cannot fault them for wanting to be more profitable.
What this is about is an unwillingness to change direction with what you have. James Gunn and Peter Safran took over DC movies and rather than do something that makes previous fans happy and could possibly bring in new fans as well they decided to start over with a whole new group of actors despite a core and passionate group calling for at the minimum Henry Cavill to return as Superman. People really did seem happy with that.
And it’s not as if James Gunn is unable to change direction with something. He clearly has shown he can do that. The Suicide Squad, a sequel to Suicide Squad, was completely different in tone and execution than its predecessor. It was much more like Guardians of the Galaxy (what they were going for reportedly) than it was, well, Suicide Squad.
I don’t think this move to completely end the Snyderverse and let go any actors connected to it is anything other than a desire to put his own creative stamp on everything that comes. It is to show others (mostly his ultimate bosses) that he knows best and the world will fall in line once they get a taste of his greatness. It connects to his ego rather than giving people what they want.
Why not do that by improving upon what was started with those that were already cast? You have characters and situations a foundation for a fictional universe there. There isn’t so much that came before that you can’t simply move in another direction. You could certainly make Superman lighter in tone and less dark. That could simply be done by making the tones brighter in the movie. Seriously. As much as I enjoyed Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice at the minimum for a character like Superman the visual tones were just way too dark. Turn on the light!
Others can change direction. WW84 was certainly a different film from Wonder Woman. The first was a much more dramatic and a serious take on the character with elements of humor while the second was dare I say campy with elements of seriousness in it. And certainly the villain of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) was nowhere near as dangerous as the villain of Sir Patrick/Ares (David Thewlis).
You could certainly argue that the presence/implication of Darkseid from Justice League (take your pick of the version) makes it difficult to continue with the characters and the universe even if it goes in another direction. Maybe but certainly any further progression with that character could be delayed as it was clear despite it all he had no idea where Earth was. Much like with Thanos you could take a few movies out in order to change directions with post credit scenes or elements in the narrative of those assorted films. By the time he showed it could be something different that flowed naturally from what was.
How many times can you restart something? How many times can you start to build up a fictional universe and then start over? Between Justice League and now there’s been a smattering of films that appeared to be a restart of the DC film universe, but that restart never came to fruition. They don’t get critical acclaim or they don’t generate the money or the general buzz so they’re labeled as complete failures and we begin from square one AGAIN! Eventually it leads to fatigue. Why invest in a first film if there are no more films? The audience has no reason to show.
If the concern is investment versus return then cut costs. Too much money can cause creators to put in everything on screen rather than making decisions about what’s important and what’s not. Cut costs and focus on story rather than impressive visuals. Great stories will get people to show in profitable numbers. You may not make Marvel Money right away (or ever) but you can justify making the movies and building up with the goal of making possibly Marvel Money.
Joss Whedon’s Justice League was a clear attempt at re-doing the DC films in a mold much closer to the Marvel movies. That’s fine. The problem there was it was a Frankenstein of a film. The tone was a mixture of what Joss Whedon filmed and what Zack Snyder filmed crushed together under the guiding hand of a guy without the Marvel Marketing Machine behind him to cover up obvious narrative weaknesses in the film as well as his own shortcomings as a creator. The guy has a serious love of butt shots. I guess some directors have a Tarantino style fetish.
Joss Whedon’s Justice League was reportedly hampered by a serious number of studio directives. That certainly didn’t help either, but the main problem was the tone would shift in a single scene. For example having a serious discussion on the threat and suddenly Aquaman became an emotional mess because he had accidentally sat on the Lasso of Truth and was being honest about his feelings on everything. The change of direction should have should have come AFTER that film and not mixed in with that presentation.
My ultimate point is that DC should not have scrapped everything but rather changed direction with that they had. Use the actors and the material that came before as your foundation but head off in a new direction. Do you want lighter and more fun movies? Do that. Build upon the universe that has been started but in a new way. I just think what we are going to get no one will want at this point and that’s unfortunate because there is so much untapped potential in the DC comics. The continual changes are a disservice to fans that become invested and the creators involved and ultimately treats the fans as if they will consume anything.