Yesterday, fans of DC Comics movies got a shocking surprise when it was announced that DC Films and Warner Bros. are launching a new line of DC standalone films which won't be connected in any way to the DC Extended Universe.
Ever since, there have been a slew of follow-up questions from fans and caveats from Warner Bros. about how this will all be unfolding as well as how it will affect future film projects.
While what we've heard so far has been admittedly intriguing, there's been one big debate that's been building up steam in fan circles: Are DC standalone movies good or bad for the DCEU?
The good news about these DC standalone films is that they offer opportunity for much more creative variety than a shared universe does.
For example, the first film released under this new banner is a Joker origin story that Martin Scorsese will produce and The Hangover's Todd Phillips will direct. That is a very unique creative approach to the character, and one that could never exist in the current DCEU.
DC Comics has a long history of telling great stories that exist outside the main DC Universe continuity; the publisher's "Elseworlds" brand has long been a fan-favorite exploration of different creative visions of DC characters and stories. DC (more so than Marvel) has great potential to tell unique standalone stories.
Sure, some people will point to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as an example of how creative variety and timeline continuity can co-exist, but then again, the MCU hasn't been free of both continuity and creative challenges, with Marvel now using "retroactive continuity" with films like Captain Marvel jumping back in time to establish major continuity that was somehow never referenced or explored before. That's the sort of bending, twisting, and retconning that inevitably comes from having to service a shared universe continuity.
On the one hand, giving fans standalone DC movies offers a seemingly unlimited potential for creative freedom and risk-taking. However, iff mainstream viewers can enjoy great standalone DC movies, why would they continue to invest in the convoluted and often divisive films of the DCEU?
So far, the only DCEU movie that has been an indisputable success in both box office and branding has been Wonder Woman, which is mostly a standalone story, with alone peripheral connections to the larger DCEU, and none of the continuity obligations that tripped up both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. With Justice League trying to find its way through a fog of production woes, it's far from certain that DC/WB's biggest launchpad to the larger DCEU will actually be all that effective.
If Justice League doesn't hit the mark, then the future of the DCEU will be in major doubt. Mainstream viewers might be all but done with the experiment. Some big casting shakeups (Ben Affleck) could come into play if the film fails, and even hardcore DCEU loyalists will have a hard time continuing to put a positive spin on things.
Thereafter, Wonder Woman 2 would be a safe bet, but solo films like Aquaman and Cyborg, or even "mini events" like the Flashpoint movie would be much harder sells. If the DCEU continues to show lukewarm returns, it would be only sensible that DC and Warner Bros. start to invest more in "Elseworlds"-style standalones rather than continue struggling through the DCEU.
Finally, a real pivotal project will be The Batman solo film. We just heard that director Matt Reeves was originally approached to do the film as a standalone story; if the film is going to exist separately from the DCEU, that would be a major blow to that brand. If The Batman is simply a standalone chapter of the DCEU saga, it would be another potential big branding win for that sector of the studio.
Similarly, if this Joker origin story is a breakout hit, then it would make the case for the Batman brand to be taken in a much different direction than the DCEU. After all, Chris Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy (which would fall into the "Elseworlds" standalone sector) has been the studio's biggest success to date. Those fond memories of DC/WB domination surely haven't faded, and bringing things back to those types of wins would be a natural progression.
The Joker origin movie is just taking shape, and The Batman is expected to be in production within the next year. Justice League will be in theaters on November 17, 2017.