Something funny happened in 2016:
Warner Bros, while releasing two huge team-up movies that hinged entirely on an intimately shared universe narrative, realized that they’d be better served focusing on better standalone experiences.
While Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice came together as a very obvious universe-builder of a film, introducing Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg into the world established in Man of Steel, and Suicide Squad kept that going by building its plot around a world in dissarray after Superman’s death and bringing together a bunch of the Dark Knight’s rogues and including an appearance by Batfleck, they got cold feet. And for good reason. Both films suffered in the eyes of the public, and a big part of it was how messy and bloated the stories were as the studio was trying to fast-track a shared cinematic universe.
Amidst all of that, a miraculous gem made its way through principal photography and post-production: Wonder Woman. When that film came out in June of 2017, as the next film in the DCU canon, it had practically nothing to do with the world they spent all of 2016 beating the drum about. Wonder Woman would go on to become the DCU’s greatest success to date in the metrics that matter most: Fans loved it, critics loved it, and its domestic box office totals beat all of its predecessors by a hefty margin.
In the wake of Wonder Woman‘s stunning success, the narrative became that Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment were going to use that film as their guide post; They’d focus on standalone films that are only minimally connected to the shared universe they’d spent $700 – $800 Million building (referring to the combined budgets for BvS, SS, and Justice League). In a big spread for Vulture, the heads of DC Entertainment explained that “Moving forward, you’ll see the DC movie universe being a universe, but one that comes from the heart of the filmmaker who’s creating them.” They essentially promised to go back to the filmmaker-driven approach that was once the WB’s hallmark.
But for those of us paying attention, we know that the decision to back away from the shared universe and give each filmmaker they hire enough creative room to tell the stories they want to tell predates Wonder Wonder‘s success. By the time that film came out, James Wan was already waist-deep in production for Aquaman, and Matt Reeves had already been hired to direct The Batman in a way that was not at all reliant on the shared universe after a very public negotiation for creative control with the studio.
Still, it was a nice Public Relations hook to give Wonder Woman credit for being the template for the future of the DCU. It made a lot of sense to hitch their wagon to the Patty Jenkins film since it was the first universally loved experience to come from the DCU.
Apparently Charles Roven didn’t get that memo.
In a recent chat with ComicBook.com, he describes the film’s impact as being not particularly important to how they’re proceeding by saying they were going to make these changes anyway.
“I’m not actually sure that this film (Wonder Woman) makes that big a difference to the other movies. We want to keep the consistency of tone for this film (presumably talking about Aquaman). And, of course, Wonder Woman was in Justice League.
“Warner Brothers has been – even before Wonder Woman came out – developing standalone characters, like they did with the Joker and Scorsese: they’ve got a project, and they’ve got a number of projects with a Batman standalone, and things like that, and each one of them has different directors. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s going to be a commonality of creative synchronicity in what each one of those directors are doing.
“The great thing about that is that that means there will be a constant freshness.“
This is all encouraging, mind you. The idea that the studio is going to get their hands off of these projects and just let the filmmakers they hire make fresh standalone experiences. But it also highlights DC’s messaging issues. They’ve got to get on the same page about how to refer these matters.
As of now, it all gets very confusing when you have some executives referring to a shared universe, while others refer to “standalone” movies; And when you have some of them playing up the impact of Wonder Woman’s success on their philosophy and others saying they don’t think it made a big difference. There’s also the matter of this Joker film, which is said to be the studio’s first foray into completely disconnected Elseworld tales, and all of the questions that come with that.
Hopefully the upcoming Spring/Summer launch of their direct DC news show, which- I’m told- will be part of their streaming network, helps clean things up. After the PR mess- and general misfire- that was Justice League, fans are clamoring for some sort of clarity of vision from the studio.
And considering that Mr. Roven’s credibility was destroyed by Justice League, perhaps he should start adhering to a “No comment” policy when asked about general DC matters. This is the same man who acted like everything was business-as-usual after Batman v Superman, and who claimed that JL was still very much a Zack Snyder movie- Assertions that have all been completely obliterated by everything we’ve seen play out over the last year.
DC needs a spokesperson, and Roven is the wrong man for the job.