This post contains spoilers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad.
At the climax of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Superman has literally fallen into the arms of his love, Lois Lane. The ending is far from romantic, however, as Batman and Wonder Woman stand beside the slain hero, heads bowed mournfully. Who knew this downer of an ending would act as an analogy for the entire trajectory of DC Comics on film?
If this seems melodramatic—as melodramatic as killing off your title character in the second movie of your new cinematic universe—imagine how it must feel for Affleck. Here’s a guy coming off a best picture Oscar for Argo, and then starring in one of the most critically derisive comic-book movies of the last 10 years. Cue the YouTube lampooning:
Seriously, the last time Affleck donned a superhero costume in 2003’s forgotten Daredevil, it actually scored better with critics. So you can understand why Affleck, who also appeared in the noisy and critically loathed Suicide Squad, would be hesitant about jumping back in the Batmobile for another outing in a solo movie he’s supposed to write, star in, and direct.
It’s clear Warner Bros. is hedging a lot of bets on the film, going as far as delaying Justice League 2 from its June 2019 release date in favor of The Batman. But if Warner Bros. was smart, it would stop focusing solely on Batman and start focusing on the other heroes in the DC universe.
According to fans, May’s Wonder Woman is more anticipated than Justice League, the gang’s-all-here superhero ensemble slated for November. The best-case scenario is that she lassos a win for the studio, showing that DC characters who aren’t Batman can work on the big screen.
We’re getting solo movies for Aquaman and the Flash, but it hasn’t been an easy road to the silver screen for any of the non-Batman heroes. Wonder Woman lost her original director before Patty Jenkins took charge. The Flash has had two directors depart the project since entering pre-production last year. If the studio wants to develop a diverse universe of enigmatic films, it needs to start trusting its filmmakers and its characters. Batman can no longer be the crutch.
Warner Bros. thought adding Batman after 2013’s Man of Steel under-performed financially would help Batman v Superman reach $1 billion at the box office. That strategy failed, even if Batman v Superman earned more than Man of Steel.
When Affleck talks about his Batman project, he doesn’t mention the previous DC films. He constantly brings up Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy which set the bar remarkably high for the genre. It is clear Affleck doesn’t want to make a mediocre Batman movie: “There’s not enough money in the world to make a mediocre version of Batman worth it,” he’s said.
If The Batman fails, Warner Bros.’ entire house of superhero trading cards falls in on itself before the party starts. That’d be a shame: Imagine how groundbreaking Aquaman could be. James Cameron has talked about exploring underwater depths in a potential Avatar 2, but Aquaman could own that cinematic world. With James Wan in the director’s chair, things are looking up.
Wan has proved he can consistently produce good results with The Conjuring movies. Throw in the action sensibilities he brought to Furious 7, and Aquaman could be a genre-bending win for DC. Most important of all, Wan has said Aquaman will have a lighter tone and not be such a drag: “I just think it’s fun to actually show a really different, cool, badass side to this character. But the same time, let’s not forget to have fun with it.”
To get there, Affleck needs to make Batman sing again. Over the past months he’s gone from being noncommittal (“We still have to get a screenplay and get it together”); to doubtful (“I’m not going to write and direct anything that I don’t think is good enough to be made”); to saying the film is on track to shoot spring 2017 (“We’re on the right track with that and everything is coming together”); to noncommittal again (“It’s not a set thing and there’s no script, if it doesn’t come together in a way I think is really great I’m not going to do it”).
Just this weekend, he complained about wearing the batsuit, and wanting to design a better one.
Affleck may be sweating bullets over the pressure to save DC, but that’s on him. When he was initially approached, he was there to add gravitas to Batman. But when he had concerns about the script, he brought on Argo writer Chris Terrio to polish up the screenplay. He evidently took the film’s critical failure hard.
It explains Affleck’s increased role on Justice League, joining the film as an executive producer. Warner Bros. needs a surefire hit to regenerate the DC brand.
Unfortunately a report from Batman-News last week suggests that Justice League is a “mess.” If those rumors are true you can bet re-shoots are in the film’s future. The same report likewise says that production on The Batman has been delayed until summer, most likely to accommodate Affleck while he fine-tunes the script.
Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad generated a combined $2.3 billion at the box office, but Warner Bros. took the Rotten Tomatoes lashings to heart. The studio swiftly made adjustments, calling it a “course correction,” promoting comic guru Geoff Johns as co-president of DC Films and downgrading producer Charles Roven.
Opening up its comics universe for all it has to offer is what must be done. We’ve watched Bruce Wayne’s parents get murdered enough times.