More than a decade has passed since then man of Steel heralded the DCEU, and this week marks ten years since Ben Affleck was there announced to play Batman in Zack Snyder’s film saga. We’re all familiar with the turmoil this endeavor ultimately led to and the seemingly incessant DC restructuring that, in part, ensued.
But first, let’s travel back to the summer of 2013, a simpler but undeniably passionate age. The roar of comic book movie fans circling the newly formed DC Extended Universe this summer was near deafening. Everyone had an opinion, both about it man of Steel and its controversial third act, in which Superman kills Zod, and the cast of Affleck, who still hadn’t quite gotten rid of the spandex stench of 2003 daredevil Still, he should somehow be able to keep up with Christian Bale’s beloved Dark Knight.
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The DCEU was shiny and new, and whether the reactions were positive or negative, everyone had opinions about their future. Fan theories quickly took hold, comic book creators took sides, bloggers discovered they could take control of the narrative early on, and DC fans reinforced their defenses and stockpiled ammunition. In just a few years, they would turn what should in theory be fun (comics! movies! superheroes!) into sheer misery, a war of personal attacks, vengeance, cult mentalities, antagonistic journalism, and career-changing decisions.
Cut to ten years later, and it’s Henry Cavill no longer the man of steelBen Affleck is no longer Batman, Zack Snyder is building universes with him on Netflix Army of the Dead And rebel moon franchises that Joss Whedon is Persona no grata in Hollywood, and the guy who showed everyone how successful the Guardians of the Galaxy can be, James Gunn, just graduated Guardian Trilogy on course for success and is now co-head of DC Studiosnext to Peter Safran.
Together they revitalize the universe as a DCU. And as for the DCEU? Blue Beetle is in the cinema – although unfortunately few seem to know it. Is it the penultimate installment of the DCEU that paves the way? Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom? Or is it the first entry of the DCU? Again, few seem to know the answer to that question, given Gunn’s startling comment that Blue Beetle is the first DCU character, but not the first DCU film. Blue BeetleThe opening weekend of , one of the lowest in franchise history, comes after a string of box office misses, including The Lightning, Shazam! anger of the gods, Black Adamand titles affected by COVID, Wonder Woman 1984 And The Suicide Squad. While Gunn and Safran start their relaunch with one List of film and television projectsPundits Are Wondering: Where Have All The DC Movie Fans Gone?
A decade of ever-changing decisions, executive chairs, overly aggressive critics, and overly aggressive fans has resulted in a split in the DC fan base, the reflections of which we can see all over social media. It’s a swamp even the swamp thing would hate to dip a mossy toe into. There are those who are optimistic about the future of the DCU and wish for a reboot after Gunn and Safran Chapter One revealed in January. There are those who aren’t sure what the DCU actually is, given the mixed messages behind some of the actors and ongoing projects The Suicide Squad-spin-off series, peacemaker, while most won’t. Some lament Snyder’s failure to complete the saga the way he envisioned, but there are others who have persevered, as has the director. There are those who, given the decades of work that have gone into building the DCEU, feel that a fresh start is unnecessary. There are those who have taken a cult-like approach to Snyder’s films, making them (and him) their entire identity, displacing those who were just fans of his films and didn’t conjure up violent images of Eminem’s “Stan” through threats and mobilized bullying. And there are those who have said goodbye to the whole comic book movie thing.
It’s a difficult and often hostile environment for any casual fan to thrive in, and too much work for those, myself included, who are interested in these characters but find the online discourse riddled with pitfalls. Many of them were excited man of Steel and Affleck in the summer of 2013 and found much to appreciate in the aftermath Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) have since taken a backseat, keeping our DCEU fandom in the background while being supplanted by the hashtag brigades and burn book zealots.
While the MCU has managed to create a fairly unified fanbase (albeit not without its own toadies and antagonists), no one really has a precise idea of what DC fans want or who the fans really are. Right now, DC doesn’t even think it’s possible to host a celebratory DCU Hall-H panel at San Diego Comic-Con, certainly not without a plane flying over the city with a banner saying #SellZSJLtoNetflix ( the latest hashtag campaign). .
In all honesty, it’s almost impossible to walk into a theater for the premiere of a new DC movie and feel like you’re there and sharing the experience with like-minded fans, provided you’re sharing the auditorium with something other than empty rows seats. It’s difficult to get excited about DC Films. Unless of course it has something to do with Batman. Fans love Batman. But not Batman as a supporting character in a Flash adventure or Batman as an unseen reference in a Harley Quinn heist. They only want Batman. And if not, then the Joker will do just fine, too. As it stands, Warner Bros. is the safest future bet The Batman Part II And Joker: Folie a DeuxNeither of which are part of the shared universe that makes up the upcoming DCU, and both extend beyond the core fandom of comic book films.
On the one hand, the low turnout for DCEU films over the past year can be seen as a lack of trust in the brand from general audiences and fans, to the point that even the good films please Blue Beetle, are dismissed. But then again, this string of disappointments at the box office perhaps throws a lasso of truth around audiences, showing that DC fans en masse aren’t huge fans of the characters and universe themselves, but are huge fans of the filmmakers when it comes to movies. When we look back at the histories of the highest-grossing DC films and those that created passionate fan bases, behind them there’s almost always a distinctive filmmaker who fits the author’s theory. Richard Donner, Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, James Wan and Matt Reeves are all filmmakers with instantly recognizable styles and directorial traits. Hell, we could even add Joel Schumacher on this list since even his films have found their audience lately. The fact that the lion’s share of these filmmakers engaged with Batman has only cemented his place as the biggest draw for DC fans.
It seems that it’s this factor, and not necessarily the characters themselves, that really separates DC’s film projects from the MCU. The MCU has created a system where fandom is generated by its characters and the directors are mostly secondary. Fans love Spider-Man, but they don’t buy Jon Watts shirts or take an interest in his personal life. But DC’s fandom is propelled by filmmakers being raised to celebrity status, and as such, trust is placed in their choices. It is this rationale that has led to this Black Adam, Shazam! anger of the godsAnd Blue Beetle, all of which were marketed as Marvel-Lite, failed to attract the fan base. Your target audience already had versions of these films in the MCU and the benefits of showing them Black Adam And Blue Beetle While the offerings on offer are commendable, they aren’t big enough in and of themselves. But when Warners puts someone like Matt Reeves or James Gunn behind those titles, then there’s a tie, and everything from unconventional casting decisions to character changes becomes easier for fans to not only accept but defend.
The future of the DCU depends on Warners recognizing that much of this particular fanbase is less interested in cinematic universes and cameo appearances and more invested in filmmakers with distinct, sometimes even controversial, visions. These are films that fans will stand behind, but hopefully in a well-timed way that doesn’t give the impression of being seen fitting into their directors’ family photos. James Gunn certainly seems like a filmmaker who can deliver an inspired version of Superman Superman: Legacy. He has a built-in fanbase that, frankly, matters far less to the general audience at large. Most people just want to see a good movie, and if that happens, a new following can develop. Gunn has gained a lot of trust as a filmmaker, but fans both old and new remain loyal to him legacy, he will need more than a blueprint for the future. He will need a league of filmmakers that audiences can trust.
Warner Bros. isn’t going to win everyone back, and it would be a mistake the studio has made with the DCEU in the past to even think they could. Trying to make films for everyone led to the theatrical version of justice league (2017), a film for nobody. And it will take time to rebuild DC’s fan base, unite the pieces that can be combined and just let go of the rest. Not everyone sells, and it would be absurd to expect a billion-dollar Superman movie from the get-go, but of course we’ve been down this road before. Perhaps the simplest lesson for this current regime comes from the film that spawned a DC cinematic universe in the first place: The dark knight. “Sometimes people deserve a reward for their faith.”
That means being consistent and not changing direction every time some critics and certain sections of the fandom are blinded by nostalgia or throw tantrums when the story isn’t being told the way they wanted it to be. That means determination and allowing the filmmakers to do more than just adapt what is familiar, but also to question what we think we can expect from these films and what we think we know about these characters. The DCU needs to do more than make fans believe a man can fly. It must make them believe that this time there is a willingness to stay the course and see to it that the flight reaches its destination. Only then will the DC film fans be found again.
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