(Warning: The following contains some mild SPOILERS for past movies in the DCEU, as well as some mild speculation as to the content of upcoming projects. Proceed with whatever level of caution your faithful, Batwing-piloting butler suggests to you is wise.)
Now, in the cutthroat world of movie-making, it's strikingly rare to hear a senior executive admit that anything their studio has done was a misstep. With their jobs so often depending on the perception that they can magically make people turn up to movie theaters on a rainy day in February, self-deprecating honesty isn't really the most sustainable approach. For the senior folks at movie studios' parent companies, though, such honesty about their employees' failings is far less forbidden, and often acts to show key stakeholders that they're "on the ball." As such, it's perhaps not too much of a surprise to hear the CEO of Time Warner (Warner Bros.' parent company) directly address just what he thinks the DC Extended Universe is currently struggling with. And, as it turns out:
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes Thinks The DCEU Is Too Dark
Indeed, from the sounds of his comments at the recent Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference, it seems that Bewkes — and thus presumably many of the senior folks at Time Warner — has been less than thrilled with how the DCEU has developed thus far. As he put it:
"We do think there’s a little room for improvement... We can do a little bit better on the creative."
Improvement, he added, that needs to come from a "lightening" of tone:
"The general heading would be that the DC comics characters and their loyal fanbase have a little more lightness in them than maybe what you’ve seen in those movies."
Or, in other words? Don't expect to see the "grimdark" of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad roll over into the next generation of DCEU movies. Here's the thing, though...
Is Excess Darkness Really The DCEU's Biggest Problem?
After all, many fans absolutely loved the darker edges of the three most recent DC movies — and in particular the greater level of maturity they showed — while still expressing concerns about the direction the franchise was heading in. So, while it's certainly reasonable to place some of the blame for Batman v Superman's mild box office disappointment (and the general critical skewering of all of the DCEU's films thus far) on the shoulders of their darkness, there may be other issues at play here. After all, few fans wanted to see a murder-crazy Batman and a dour, joyless Superman, but changing those details (or even the films' general tone) wouldn't wipe away every issue that's been raised by fans concerned for the DCEU's future. In fact...
There Are A Whole Lot Of Other Potential Problems With The DCEU
In fact, so many different criticisms have been raised over the past year or two, that it would be near impossible to discuss them all here. Instead, then, let's take a brisk look at three of the more common complaints leveled against the DCEU, and at whether they're actually just as much in need of being addressed as the franchise's overarching darkness.
The Whole DCEU Has Been Rushed Into Being
Or, rather, the arrival of the Justice League has been. Where Marvel took four years (and five movies) to set up the arrival of The Avengers, DC opted instead to throw the entire (non-Lantern-wielding) Justice League into Batman v Superman, its second feature. With Justice League also firmly on the horizon, and several key heroes not set to get a solo movie until after it arrives (including Batman), there's a pretty solid argument to be made that certain key decision-makers simply didn't have the patience to slowly establish a coherent movie universe in the way that Marvel Studios did between 2008 and 2012.
That, in turn, could perhaps explain why so many fans bristled at the abruptly dark tone of Batman v Superman, or struggled to care about Suicide Squad's leading lights: Without context, and years of careful character (and world) building, it's a whole lot harder to give a crap about gloomy Batmen and expendable villainy. Meanwhile...
The DCEU Has Always Felt Like Zack Snyder's Baby
Which, if you love Zack Snyder movies, is great. If you don't though (and that seems that's a sizable majority of fans at this point), then the entire DCEU becomes somewhat problematic, and tarred with the same Snyder-shaped brush. Marvel Studios' movies, on the other hand, have (for better or for worse) never really felt too much like their directors' films, even when the director in question is Joss Whedon. Instead, there's a consistent, unifying tone and character to the franchise, one seemingly maintained by the Studios' creative (and administrative) head honcho, Kevin Feige.
By maintaining a strong central creative vision for the MCU, Feige can be seen to have given it both a greater degree of unity and to have limited the potentially damaging impact of a miscast actor or poorly suited director. If every film is inherently "Marvel," first, then there's really only so much that a director can re-define it — hence the wide variety of genres in the MCU all maintaining certain tonal similarities... and sharing a similar level of commercial success. The DCEU has latterly opted for a similar approach, bringing in comic book stalwart Geoff Johns to offer a Feige-like consistency, but the absence of such a figure up till now may still be a key factor in the studio's troubles.
The DCEU Is Obsessed With 'Big Moments,' Rather Than Actual Plot Or Characterization
Now, if you want to hear the sound of brain-glass shattering, and suddenly understand the nagging sense of frustration you've been feeling about Batman v Superman this whole time, then I cannot recommend watching the video below strongly enough. In it, intrepid Youtuber Nerdwriter1 argues that the biggest problem with Batman v Superman (and, perhaps, the DCEU as a whole) isn't its darkness, but instead its preoccupation with "big moments," as opposed to "actual, fully-formed scenes."
As he puts it, "all character motivations are subservient to the film's own motivation: to reach the next [big, emotional, likely slo-mo] moment." Where most films are made up of both moments and scenes — the sequences that "dissolve the actors and the soundstage and the costumes and makeup and camera angle into a living and breathing reality" — the DCEU has long been made up of moments, and little else. Which, is actually a pretty fundamental problem. As Nerdwriter1 goes on to add:
"Great 'scenes' function as their own little universes within a film, and good movies should have plenty of them. 'Batman v Superman' runs for two and a half hours with a heaping helping of 'big moments,' and yet I don't quite feel like I've been anywhere. The scene is where awe is loaded into the chamber. Firing the gun without loading can only result in empty noise — a bang, but no impact."
The DCEU, then, may well get far lighter in the near future, with Justice League in particular looking set to be far more conventionally "fun," but if it doesn't adopt a steadier pace, find a sense of overarching purpose, and emphasize "scenes" over "moments," then it's entirely possible that the widespread criticism it has seen so far will linger on.
Still want more on the DCEU's Justice League-centric future, though? Don't worry, we've got you covered right here.
What do you think, though? Is the DCEU really too dark, or are there other problems afoot? Let us know below!
via The Wrap