DC fans have had a mixed year. We've had two major blockbuster hits — Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad — and both met mixed reception. Some fans are furious over the critical response (there was even a petition to shut down Rotten Tomatoes!), and others are getting pretty protective. They don't need to be. For all the flak the DC Extended Universe is getting, the reality is this year should be viewed as a real success. Here are five reasons why!
1. The DC Extended Universe is a reality!
DC characters have a rich history in film; the first modern superhero movie was 1966's #Batman, and both #Superman and the Caped Crusader have stood proud and tall in the box office. Since 2008, though, #Marvel has seemed to dominate the market. Iron Man saw Marvel begin to build a Cinematic Universe like nothing else in movie history, with their various superheroes coexisting in the same world — and teaming up in successful blockbusters like 2012's The Avengers and 2016's Captain America: Civil War.
Incredibly, the idea of a shared superhero universe was one that DC had toyed with over a decade before Iron Man. Some plans for the aborted Superman Lives! project had included Michael Keaton reprising his role as Batman, tying Superman Lives! in to 1989's Batman and 1992's Batman Returns. In 2006, DC toyed with the idea of launching a cinematic universe off the back of Superman Returns, but that film's poor box office performance again led to a change of plans. The same happened in 2011, with Green Lantern failing to perform well enough to form a solid foundation for the DC Extended Universe.
But it's finally happened. Launching off the back of 2013's Man of Steel, the DC Extended Universe will draw together some of DC's most iconic superheroes — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg — in next year's #JusticeLeague. Meanwhile, Suicide Squad has already introduced us to a cast of characters who nobody had ever really expected to see on the big screen.
To be sure, the DC Extended Universe has launched to real controversy — #BatmanVSuperman and Suicide Squad were both savaged by critics — but it's here. No longer do DC fans have to watch Marvel race ahead with the concept of a shared universe; now we have our own universe to celebrate too!
2) Popular Portrayals of Key Characters
Dawn of Justice introduced us to the DCEU version of the Trinity. Continuing the story of Henry Cavill's Superman, it also introduced us to Ben Affleck's Batman, as well as Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. The good news is, while Cavill's Superman still hasn't persuaded all fans and critics, Affleck's Batman and Gadot's #WonderWoman are universally celebrated.
Affleck's success is pretty ironic, given the Internet reacted with fury when he was originally cast as the Dark Knight. (Another irony: he was briefly considered for the role of Superman in the aborted 1998 Superman Lives! project.) Meanwhile, Gadot's tremendous performance has left everyone eagerly anticipating next year's Wonder Woman, which will introduce us to the island of Themyscira.
Over in the comics, another character has become a central figure for DC: #HarleyQuinn. In fact, DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee recently described her as their "fourth pillar" (the other three being the Trinity, of course). To add to the excitement, Harley's DCEU debut in Suicide Squad is generally viewed as one of the highlights of the film. Margot Robbie absolutely nailed the sexy, sassy character, and has become a firm fan-favorite!
The DCEU is going to build on these successes. DC has already commissioned a solo Batman film - likely called The Batman - and Ben Affleck isn't just starring in it; he's heading up the project! The same is true for Margot Robbie, who's going to be in charge of a Suicide Squad spin-off involving some strong female characters.
3. Lesser-Known Characters Getting Their Chance to Shine!
You don't realize how ground-breaking Suicide Squad is until you remember that it's the third instalment in the DCEU. Three movies in, DC Film has chosen to release a movie that focuses on a whole host of characters non-comic-book fans will never have heard of. Sure, the film featured cameos from Ben Affleck's Batman and Jared Leto's Joker, but the real stars of the show were Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn and Will Smith's Deadshot. As I've already mentioned, Harley Quinn's popularity is growing; but how many non-comic fans would be talking about Deadshot?
DC Film is set to continue this trend. The main villain of Justice League is a character called Steppenwolf, and the film is also going to introduce us to Joe Manganiello's Deathstroke.
This is one major difference between the DCEU and its rival Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel waited until Phase 2 before introducing lesser-known franchises (think Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, or Phase 3's Black Panther and Doctor Strange). In contrast, DC Film chose to release Suicide Squad a year before Wonder Woman! That makes DC's future direction a lot harder to predict, and means we're in for a wild ride...
4. Geoff Johns Takes Charge
Even as we celebrate the DCEU, we have to admit that it's not been smooth sailing. Warner Bros chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes admitted to shareholders:
“We do think there’s a little room for improvement. We can do a little bit better on the creative... The DC Comics characters have a little more lightness in them than maybe what you saw in those movies, so we’re thinking about that."
The good news is, it's clear that the right lessons are being learned. Warner Bros. has set up a separate sub-studio, DC Film, that's now responsible for the DCEU. The President of DC Film is none other than Geoff Johns, a much-loved comic book writer who's the leading light of DC Comics's current "Rebirth" success. Johns has an understanding of the characters that has effectively transformed DC's comic book range, leading to comic book sales not seen in 20 years.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that Johns is DC Film's equivalent of Kevin Feige. Where Feige tends to chart out the long-term direction of the MCU, with directors bowing to his overarching vision, Johns is known for a much more consultative approach. With "Rebirth", he met with the creative team of each comic and helped them chart their book's future direction. We should see directors retaining a lot of freedom under Johns's direction, while his understanding of narrative and characterization helps them avoid missteps.
5. Box Office Success
Contrary to popular opinion, Dawn of Justice performed admirably at the box office; it made $855 million worldwide. Many critics consider that disappointing, as they expected the film to exceed $1 billion. I freely admit that I agreed with them - until I did the math. Adjusted for inflation, only ten superhero films have ever exceeded $1 billion at the box office. In fact, Dawn of Justice is literally the 11th-best-performing superhero film of all time. Considering that it's only the second film in the DCEU, that performance is pretty remarkable.
Suicide Squad is performing even more impressively. The film's coming to the end of its box office run, but currently stands at a whopping $720 million. Although it's attracted criticism, Suicide Squad has outperformed Man of Steel ($691 million after inflation), X-Men: Apocalypse ($534 million), and even Iron Man ($655 million after inflation). Internationally, more people have seen Suicide Squad than saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
That performance becomes even more remarkable when you remember that it was an untested brand. We know the strength of the Superman and Batman brands; for their third film, DC took the chance of throwing an unknown quantity into the mix, and the box office result has been a tremendous success.
I'm not going to waste my time pretending DC hasn't had problems this year. My purpose in this article, though, is to point out that there's no reason to get protective or pessimistic about the future of the DC Extended Universe. The DC Extended Universe has hit the big screen, and it's already a juggernaut, building up an unstoppable momentum that leaves me tremendously excited. I gladly maintain that the future is bright for DC, and I for one couldn't be more excited to see what comes next!