|Source: Warner Bros. Studios|
At the time I am writing this piece there is a great deal of concern stemming from Warner Bros. Studios regarding the future of the DC Comics Cinematic Universe. Beginning a story arc with 2013's Man of Steel, followed by 2016's Batman v. Superman, and most recently Justice League, the DC films have not lived up to expectations (Note:Even though 2017's Wonder Woman is a DC film it is not considered a direct sequel to the films mentioned so I am not including that in the string of films being discussed here). From a box office perspective, the first two films performed well in terms of earnings but well under the numbers projected for them (Batman v. Superman suffered one of the most precipitous drops in earnings from week one to week two in recent memory). Justice League, currently in the second week of release, performed a disturbingly low $93.4 million in its opening week (projections estimated an opening total of $110 million). In a time when most superhero films bring in totals of $120-$160 million on opening weekends, the totals for Justice League indicate to the studio that they should prepare for another disappointment- a term that makes studios decide that things need to change moving forward.
In all three of these DC entries we have had the lead characters of Superman and Batman played by Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck respectively. While there has been plenty of speculation and skepticism about Affleck's desire to continue to play Batman, the future is yet unknown for Henry Cavill as Superman. According to reports Cavill is still under contract with the studio to play Superman one more time (a total of four films), but if there is a true need for change to get the DC film universe back on track then Warner Bros. maybe inclined to alter the terms of that agreement and look to recast the part. In my humble opinion this would be a big mistake.
Divisive is certainly a most appropriate word to describe the DC film universe. Some of the die hard fans defend the films to the core, then there are others who think that the films are an unending pile of problems that continue to build on top of each other. A portion of the people who do not like the films lay some of the blame on Director Zack Snyder who was hired to be the point man for the DC universe. Snyder's success with 2007's 300 and 2009's Watchmen (both DC stories adapted to film by Snyder) was enough for Warner Bros. to believe that he was the perfect choice to spearhead the birth of a new DC universe that could compete with the phenomenal success of the Disney/Marvel series of films. While the plan seemed good in lieu of his previous success, the final results did not align with the original vision. Man of Steel under performed in ticket grosses and received mixed reactions from critics and fans, so Snyder suggested that Batman be added to the mix as a means to create unbelievable excitement for the next chapter. Warner Bros. was so sure that Batman v. Superman would be a box office monster they swiftly green lit production on Justice League before BvS was even released in theaters. Sadly, the reactions and ticket sales were once again below what was envisioned but by then it was not conducive to pull the plug on the current production. Justice League was delayed and ultimately faced script rewrites and re-shoots to try and change the tone and aesthetic from the last film. So far even those sweeping changes have not mustered the improvement in public reaction to the films that were hoped for.
|Source : Warner Bros. Studios|
Now we are left with a future of uncertainty and more questions than answers. Only two things have been confirmed so far which were announced as plans to improve the state of the DC universe- 1) DC Comics writer/guru Geoff Johns was promoted to DC Entertainment's President and Chief Creative Officer 2) Warner Bros. has announced that the upcoming DC films will be more focused as independent, stand alone films for their heroes instead of emphasizing the need for a "shared universe", meaning the inclusion of multiple heroes in each film (Wonder Woman was the first step in this new direction which, again, is why I did not include it in this discussion with the other films). With Aquaman and Batman already set to have their standalone films made in the same manner as Wonder Woman, Superman has been left in a stasis of sorts. His only stand alone film thus far was Man of Steel which was a solid origin story for the character but it's underlying intention was to really be a springboard to build on for Snyder's intended universe. What Henry Cavill needs- and quite frankly deserves- is a solid, well written, well directed Superman film that can not only let him shine in the role but also represent the true embodiment of Superman as we have come to know him over the 75 plus years he has been in our culture.
As I previously stated, Man of Steel was a film I really enjoyed but it's concept was to offer a view of Superman in a modern, more "realistic" setting where people would show greater concern if Superman really existed among us, past iterations (particularly the Christopher Reeves films) offered the point of view that people were quicker to accept him as a hero than as a potential threat to humanity. While I feel that was fine within the framework of one film, that concept compounded in BvS and ultimately led to him sacrificing his life for the safety of many. The point here is that this version of Superman has had to spend most of his time defending himself from people's perceptions, not displaying himself as a hero to humanity. I firmly believe that Henry Cavill could give an epic performance in the right setting, if given the chance.
The largest obstacle that Cavill faces is the audiences association of his Superman to the previous films. Most fans agree that his portrayal of Superman is spot on, even if the film as whole is lacking. What we need to hope is that the top brass at Warner Bros. feels the same way. It would be easy for someone to say "well he has been Superman in three films and none of them did well so we should change everything", and they would be justified in thinking that way. But what would be equally gratifying is if these same people were willing enough to see that a few structural changes could improve what is already in place as opposed to breaking it up. This scenario reminds me of the 1979 film Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In the time the film was produced it was made on a budget of $46 million dollars, which was an astronomical sum in that time. The film went on to gross $139 million dollars which, while profitable, was underwhelming in comparison to the projections Paramount Studios had for the film. While disappointed, they did not abandon the idea of continuing the franchise, they in fact decided to make another entry that had a new director, a more limited budget, and an overall new approach. Do you think that Paramount considered replacing William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy just because The Motion Picture was not as revered by fans and moviegoers as expected? Fortunately they did not and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan went on to not only be wonderfully successful, it is considered by many as the very best of all Star Trek films. It is my belief that a similar result can be nurtured for Superman- make changes in the approach and direction for Superman and you can take this iteration of the character from good to great. The core pieces are there, there just needs to be enough faith from the decision makers to see things the same way.
Let's hope for the fans, and Henry Cavill's sake, they see things the way we do.