A Dead Batman? How DC’s Lack of Messaging Doomed The DCEU
Before we get started, I’d like to draw an important distinction when it comes to one key term that’s going to be central to today’s thesis:
When I refer to the DCEU, I’m referring to the original wave of DC films that were set in a shared universe. Those would be Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Justice League. The term itself was never official, and was merely a nickname invented by a writer for Entertainment Weekly, but it stuck. To this day, people still call it that, so I will refer to that era of DC films as such.
When I refer to the DCU, I’m referring to DC’s cinematic future. Why? Because over the last year or so, the folks who actually work for Warner Bros. and are developing new DC films for the studio, have referred to it as either “the DCU” or “the DC Universe.” And no, I’m not about that Worlds of DC stuff.
And it seems fitting that there should be two names for the DC franchise, since Justice League seemingly marked the end of one chapter and we’re now turning the page and moving into a new one. It’s a heck of a lot easier than going biblical with something like BC/AD, even if I’m sure some of you think that would be apropos.
So please keep that in mind as we get into today’s big topic, as it’s centered on that now-concluded chapter of the DC film franchise, and not its upcoming slate of movies that hope to pivot and reposition the brand in a new and different direction; Keeping what’s perceived to have worked from the previous chapter, while chucking and retconning what it thinks didn’t work.
“A Dead Batman? How DC’s Lack of Messaging Doomed The DCEU”
By Mario-Francisco Robles (@I_AM_MFR)
Over the weekend, news broke that director Zack Snyder had intended to depict Batman’s death in the five-part arc he wanted to tell had he been given the chance to complete his cinematic DC saga. It’s been a frequent topic these last few months that Snyder never intended for his DC Extended Universe (DCEU) films to be the basis of a long-lasting shared universe, but rather a self-contained story told across several chapters. This revelation about his plan to kill off Batman further cements that.
It came up, as these things tend to, on Snyder’s preferred social media platform Vero. When a fan, using a piece of artwork depicted Superman carrying a slain Batman, references that this could have been part of Snyder’s original plan, the director replied “Of course.” This got tongues wagging all over the place, for a number of reasons.
While I went on a brief tweet storm about how this could explain why Ben Affleck seemingly got cold feet about staying on as Batman once the studio decided he was no longer getting killed off (which may become its own piece), the aspect I’d like to discuss is one I’ve been trying to bring light to for quite some time:
DC Entertainment’s lack of clear messaging, how it’s hurt the brand, and how it doomed the DCEU.
Earlier this year, I wrote a two-part report about DC’s public relations issues and how they intend to handle them from now on. But this insight into Snyder’s plan reveals just how horrendous the problem really was.
See, I’ve gone on record as saying that one of the main reasons people who disliked Snyder’s DCEU movies is that they thought this was supposed to be DC’s answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). They thought these films, and these depictions of these iconic characters, were going to be the basis for a franchise that would last 10+ years and would become their ultimate end-all, be-all representation for the foreseeable cinematic future. If you’re someone who wasn’t a fan of Snyder’s takes on the DC mythology, that was a very tough pill to swallow and it probably made you stark, raving mad.
But what if you’d known, from the outset, that this was more or less one giant Elseworlds tale? If DC Entertainment had made an effort to clarify that these films weren’t the start of some everlasting shared universe, but rather just chapters in a self-contained story that would conclude by 2019 with Justice League 2, wouldn’t that have taken the edge off?
I’ve argued many times in the past that Snyder is more of a niche filmmaker- an acquired taste who’s films will be passionately loved by a small subset of fans, rather than someone with big broad sensibilities who wants to please general audiences. With that in mind, had we known that he was simply sharing his own unique spin on these beloved characters, knowing full well that the studio would give us more traditional takes on them once his arc was complete, I’d argue that a ton of the upheaval these last two years could have been completely avoided.
With each new insight Snyder reveals, it’s clear that things were going to get majorly reset once he was done. And the reset button they were going to press was more than likely going to be a Flashpoint movie that came out after Snyder’s story was concluded, which would then give way to a more traditional DC Universe.
It would’ve been a very bold and ambitious thing to do. A gamble, for sure, because it meant the studio would have to hope that audiences embraced Snyder’s standalone story for long enough to get to Flashpoint, but it would’ve been groundbreaking and refreshing in an anarchic way fitting of the company that gave us The Joker.
Instead, the studio allowed journalists and bloggers (which aren’t the same thing), to refer to Snyder’s DC movies as the start of a Cinematic Universe. They allowed people to unknowingly misrepresent Snyder’s intentions for these films, and to constantly compare them to their chief rival, Marvel.
All it would’ve taken was a simple statement. Something along the lines of:
“Everyone is comparing what we’re doing to our friends over at Marvel Studios. Please know that this is not the case. Similar to the freedom we gave Christopher Nolan to produce his Dark Knight Trilogy his own way, these films are telling one singular, standalone story, with its own beginning, middle, and end. This is Zack Snyder’s vision, and we’re happy to support him as he unveils each chapter in it.”
That would’ve ended the comparisons. That would’ve given pause to the people who rejected Snyder’s vision. This would’ve created a culture behind the scenes where the studio felt compelled to support Snyder in finishing up his story, his way, knowing he’d be passing the baton to someone else once his fifth chapter was completed.
Instead, what we got was mass hysteria. When mainstream audiences didn’t spark to Snyder’s vision, and when the folks who cover these films noticed Snyder’s take was risky and polarizing, it created a sense of dread and panic as everyone thought they’d be stuck with these representations forever. Remember, Snyder’s films presented a DC landscape that included:
- A dead Clark Kent alter ego, a dead Jimmy Olsen, and a dead Dick Grayson
- A grizzled, older Bruce Wayne on the brink of retirement- as opposed to in his prime
- A Wonder Woman who hid from humanity for 100 years
- A Superman whose debut to the people of earth felt more like an epic tragedy than a triumph
- A Batman many purists think is too much of a killer
As far as building blocks go, many people did not want a DC franchise where all of the above was the case- which is why they so passionately decried where Snyder was taking things. But if they’d simply known that this was all temporary, and that this was just one story they could later discard from their minds to make way for more traditional takes, perhaps the angry mob would’ve left their pitchforks at home, enjoyed this Elseworlds tale for what it was, and let Snyder finish his story.
Since the studio opted not to clarify what the plan was for these films, they instead had to deal with people freaking out, and with general audiences and critics being less than thrilled with what Snyder was building- which resulted in box office receipts that didn’t live up to studio expectations and culminated with with Warner Bros. trying to do some very dramatic, very disturbing course-correction.
Isn’t it a shame to see how avoidable this all was?
The other takeaway here is that maybe the studio was too hands-off with Snyder in the early going. It’s possible they didn’t necessarily know what he had in mind, that they were just letting him do his thing, and then realized too late that his plans didn’t mesh with what they wanted. Maybe they thought he was laying down the foundation for a shared universe, but didn’t realize until they saw the rough cut of Batman v Superman that he was taking things down a very different path. Remember, that was when everything changed, their support for him ended, and their hands-off approach notoriously shifted to a suffocatingly hands-on approach.
So could this also be evidence of an epic breakdown in communication between a studio and the filmmaker they’ve entrusted a valuable IP with? Maybe.
But whether it was a failure to communicate his plan to the public, or a failure to communicate between Snyder and the studio, this whole situation was quite a mess.
Here’s hoping that the next wave of DCU films, which will come from a DC Entertainment that’s under the new leadership of Walter Hamada- a man who seems determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past- turns the page on all of this ugliness and ineptitude. I’m pulling for Aquaman, Shazam!, Wonder Woman 1984, and Joker to make us all forget about how poorly mismanaged these last few years were.
What do you think of the conclusions I’ve reached? If you’re someone who disliked Snyder’s DC films, would it have softened your disappointment to know that this was just a standalone story that would soon be over? If you’re someone who loved where he was going with things, do you think it would’ve kept the studio off his back if it had been made clear that this was more of a Dark Knight Trilogy type of situation as opposed to an attempt at making an everlasting MCU-type universe? Let me know in the Comment Section below!