By all accounts, Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe, now three movies in, has struggled to find the same kind of critical footing as Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe. Since its debut in 2012’s Man of Steel, DC flicks have been roundly slammed by fans and critics alike for being too dour, dark and nonsensical. This criticism has only intensified with this year’s releases, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. The consensus seems to be that movies about children’s characters in colorful pajamas shouldn’t be quite so hopelessly dark.
When comparing the “Big Two” comic companies’ film output, and considering how Marvel is so successful and DC isn’t (critically, at least), one thing stands out – Marvel has Kevin Feige, an executive whose primary job seems to be not just making sure movies get made, but distilling what makes the characters appealing in the first place and getting those qualities to come through onscreen. Both companies have been criticized for heavy-handed studio interference at times, but the fact is that Marvel seems to make movies people want to see and DC makes movies people don’t really want to see but will see anyway because they have Batman. So, after the critical beating BvS took in March, Warner Bros. shook things up a bit. One big change they made was to install Geoff Johns as the creative head for their film franchise.
Johns is no stranger to DC or its properties. He’s been involved in almost every DC TV adaptation of the last decade and before that has written lauded runs on books like The Flash and Green Lantern in the comics (among others) and a critically-panned run on Justice League (but hey, pobody’s nerfect). Installing him in a position to oversee the DC films makes a lot of sense – if Warner Bros. is looking for “Kevin Feige of the DC Universe,” Johns seems to fit the bill perfectly.
All of which is getting at the fact that Warner Bros. is, at least subtly, trying to rebrand the DCEU as something a little more lighthearted and a little less “comic books are SERIOUS, mom.” That’s something we’ve started to see in promotional material for upcoming films – Comic-Con footage of both Wonder Woman and Justice League seemed to have a sense of humor about them and directors realized that colors are a thing. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Johns discussed the changes, noting that the DC Universe is an inherently hopeful place:
Mistakenly in the past I think the studio has said, ‘Oh, DC films are gritty and dark and that’s what makes them different.’ That couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a hopeful and optimistic view of life. Even Batman has a glimmer of that in him. If he didn’t think he’d make tomorrow better, he’d stop.
Speaking specifically about Zack Snyder’s upcoming Justice Leauge, Johns says that movie will directly confront the version of the character portrayed in BvS, which saw Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight straight-up murdering dudes left and right (when he wasn’t torturing them by way of bat-shaped branding). That’s something that’s at odds with most interpretations of the character – like most superheroes, he has a code that bars him from killing anyone, even his deadliest villains. Johns says JL will also focus in more on plot and character – presumably aiming to fix another point of contention about BvS among fans. That movie – also directed by Snyder – had a tendency to allow the plot to meander, perhaps best personified in an extended dream sequence featuring Batman in a post-apocalyptic wasteland that had almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie.
Obviously, those comments don’t mean much if you can’t back it up, and it will be a few months before we start to see if that’s the case for Johns or not. Wonder Woman is the next DCEU slated for release, and that’s not until June 2. Following that is Justice League next November, so it’ll be a little more than a year before we see how Johns’ Batman comments play out. Until then, if you’re starved for decent and lighthearted live-action stuff featuring DC characters, all of the CW’s shows come back in October. We heart they’ve even got Supergirl now.