Henry Cavill finally shaved his mustache, but the results were less than smooth. Nearly a week ago, several media outlets broke the news that Warner Bros and Cavill were rumored to be parting ways concerning his role as Superman. This is a massive blow to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), especially since the character was resurrected in 2017’s disappointing “Justice League” following his death in the equally derided “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016).
Even with the installment of a new president at the start of the year, DC Films couldn’t get their act together enough for Cavill to stay the course. With five films already released and nine more in production, the DCEU can’t precisely race back in time to course-correct their inconsistent quality output. What matters now is picking up the pieces in the wake of a cape abandoned. With that said, here are some solutions that could rescue the reputation of the DCEU’s sinking, stinking and now shrinking franchise.
Perhaps the most significant error on DC’s part was attempting to mirror the Marvel Cinematic Universe formula. By the time Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” was released, the MCU was already seven films, five years and two phases deep into its unraveling. With airtight continuity leading to a massive payoff in “Avengers: Infinity War,” it’s clear that the MCU is a behemoth whose elongated comic book storytelling is indomitable. Any attempt to copy such layered craftsmanship is guaranteed to pale by comparison. And yet, DC Films was arrogant enough to think Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy contained an endless leftover supply of goodwill.
The final nail in the DCEU’s coffin was Joss Whedon’s inclusion as the writer and eventual director of “Justice League.” His staple brand of brevity among comrades in the face of doom was awkwardly inserted, culminating in some suspect personality alterations and strained to plot. Coming off the critically acclaimed and financially successful “Wonder Woman,” “Justice League” simply proved to be out of its depth during the baton hand-off. Stringing together movies that simply work better isolated from each other smacks of desperation in an attempt to duplicate a competitor’s achievements.
Warner Bros needs to understand that “Suicide Squad” was no money-making anomaly. Despite its awfulness, it made a fortune precisely because it was its incarnation free of connectivity pressure. Harley Quinn’s introduction and the slew of new characters (to DC non-comic book fans) that complete her coterie made it a must-see event. In sum, the DCEU would serve itself better by focusing on standalone features. Enriching such adaptations as much as possible without the constraint of being tied to other films would bolster the franchise’s worth.
There’s also the matter of the growing disconnect between thespian and superhero role. With Disney’s Marvel, it can be argued that comic book heroes have been replaced with megawatt celebrities reveling in cosplay. However, at least that approach is consistent across the board. With the DCEU, there’s no plan other than having the actors mold their performance to relic iterations of a character. Thankfully, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot took their time to hammer down the significance of Wonder Woman in contemporary pop culture. She’s entered our cinematic landscape at a time when a woman’s independent strength – not her outward appearance – is what the masses consume for inspiration in their lives.
The other male directors, producers, and writers attached to the DCEU couldn’t entirely tear themselves away from the old modes of commercialization and binary gender coding. Jenkins and Gadot are so far ahead of the curve with 2017’s “Wonder Woman” that it’s no surprise that “Justice League” feels like an old action figure weathered after years of playtime. If the DCEU can find a way to take each hero and correlate their struggles to the ones we face today – obviously on a much bigger scale and not blatantly ripped from the headlines – the actors will, in turn, find themselves easing into a role they can connect with. The most beloved superheroes, after all, are those who exhibit attributes closer to humanity than a deity.
Finally, there is nothing grim about a universe inherently embracing its dark side. There’s a lot more nuance in the shadows that the DCEU could capitalize on but confusingly avoids. Tonally opposite of its hyper, bouncy archnemesis, Marvel, DCEU forgets that its innate seriousness is the reason why its hero lineup was the most trusted once upon a time.
Before brooding anti-heroism became deservedly synonymous with toxic masculinity, the gravity of any doomsday situation was better conveyed by DC heroes. The Justice League and the villains that take up the mantle of vice against them fight with more profound intensity and stronger sense of purpose. One side prioritizes justice over attention-seeking theatrics while the other is so consumed by their disillusionment towards a society that becomes anarchic monstrosities. If the creatives behind the DCEU can tap into this endless strife and take measures to define those on opposite ends wholly, there’s a lot to be excited about moving forward. Upcoming projects like “Birds of Prey” and “New Gods” – helmed by directors who appreciate the specificity of character and the motivations that make them so compelling – appear to be the hopeful trampoline forces that can propel DC back into proper orbit.