It's hard to ignore the forest for the trees on a week like this, when the comic book movie "rivalry" between Marvel and DC is in such acute focus. As of writing this, Marvel Studios has just seen the record-breaking success of the Avengers: Infinity War trailer, even while Warner Bros.' controversial Justice League movie begins to fade out of the pop-cultural spotlight.
With Marvel launching the Avengers 3 trailer on the heels of its star-studded 10th anniversary celebration, the realization of what a decade in the business of building a cinematic universe has meant for Marvel, as compared to DC, hits hard. Right now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is headed to the box office-shattering milestone of a crossover earned over ten-years of storytelling, while the future (or even the name) of the DC Extended Universe is back where it began: at a crossroads of uncertainty, where there's more talk about what could happen, rather than an actual plans.
Back At The Crossroads
It's okay to be DC movie loyalist and fan; I've been on the side of defending Zack Snyder films like Man of Steel, and Batman v Superman (The Ultimate Edition) since they hit theaters. It's okay to enjoy those films for their depth and complexity, even when others see a drab and boring superhero film - or to see complicated modern depictions of your beloved DC heroes, when others just see them being "ruined." If art is meant to invite different interpretation and debate, then Zack Sndyer has indeed been a master artist while making his DCEU films, so whatever side of the love/hate divide you're on, it's a reasonable side to take.
However, what's not reasonable is going to a place of delusion in blind defense of your side: right now, it's clear that the DC Films brand has little to no momentum.
Wonder Woman 2... that's the only real, tangible, project propelling the entire DC Films brand, at the moment. Jason Mamoa's Aquaman was a breakout character in Justice League, but until (and unless) we see something show-stopping from James Wan's first Aquaman trailer -which wasn't even ready to go for Justice League, by the way - there is currently nothing tangible on the DCEU radar to be excited about for the next year.Even if characters like Aquaman, Shazam and Wonder Woman have successful film franchises, the shared universe brand still hasn't been firmly established in any real way, shape, or form. Justice League was a "Frankenstein-ed" mess of a film that seemed totally at odds with itself, in terms of style and tone, and that conflict seems to be the very definition of what this DC Films brand currently is.
Matt Reeves' Batman movie is nothing but a vague mess of contention regarding Ben Affleck's future in the role; There's already talk of a Flashpoint movie being bing used as a curative soft-reboot of the DCEU timeline (already? Really?); and there's even considerable confusion about whether projects are hitting the DCEU shared universe, or the lineup of standalones DC/WB is also developing. Not even the lineup of regularly-teased "in development" films can be counted on, as it seems as though plans like Black Adam, Suicide Squad 2, Gotham City Sirens, and a Joker/Harley Quinn film all seem to morph and change by the week.
Take what's happening over at DC/WB right now, and compare it to what's going on over at Marvel Studios. Leaving all of the advancements and/or drawbacks of Marvel TV on the sideline: the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are diversifying themselves (literally and figuratively) and are still crushing it both critically and financially. Even the lighter comedic releases of the 2017 slate (Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok) all made more than $800 million at the worldwide box office, despite all being sequels (or the second reboot of an exhausted franchsie). Justice League will be hard-pressed to clear that mark during its theatrical run, despite all of its star-power and budget.
Personally speaking, used to fight hard as I could for the DC Films perspective in the online flame-wars - but it's getting really hard to swing that sword. There doesn't seem to be a point to the argument of "MCU vs. DCEU," for two very clear reasons:
- Whatever monumental success the DCEU has had, it's been doubled in number and consistency by Marvel's (with the sole exception of Wonder Woman).
- There's nothing remotely solid or promising about the status quo or future or prospects of the DCEU, to even hold up against Marvel's upcoming slate.
Marvel will soon be gunning for DC's only front-running leg (female superherosim with the cosmic-set adventure of Brie Larson's Captain Marvel, which will also introduce a potential new over-arching enemy for the entire MCU - thereby potentially introducing an exciting new Phase of the MCU before the highly-anticipated Avengers 4 finishes off the era that the highly-anticipated Avengers: Infinity War will start to close. The sheer lucrative potential and excitement of Marvel's rumored next phase eclipses anything that DC is actually doing now! There is officially no relevant contest left between the two, anymore.
...DC Has Hope
As a loyal DC fan, I have to end on a note of hope: Not all is lost!
Wonder Woman was meant to mark a turning point in the DC Films brand, with creators like DC shepherd Geoff Johns and filmmakers with more creative control like Patty Jenkins ushering a much different era than that of producer Charles Roven and Zack Snyder. The differences showed in a film like Wonder Woman (both in the actual film and its reception), and if anything, Justice League represented the inevitable schism between what the DCEU was (Snyder's Director's Cut), and what the studio now wants it to be (the Whedon edits) - a violent transition that nearly tore the film (and maybe the fanbase) apart.
But there is still hope.
Batman and Superman are characters now poised for more fan-friendly re-invention; Suicide Squad 2 can easily improve upon the first one's flaws and create a sustainable franchise; Aquaman and Wonder Woman 2 now have front-loaded momentum; and big stars like Joe Manganiello and The Rock keep those "in development" projects like Deathstroke and Black Adam on the tips of tongues. A successful director like David F. Sanders (Annabelle: Creation, Lights Out) can strike unexpectedly with a concept film like Shazam, and Flashpoint can offer an alt-universe event film that brings lots of new viewers to the table (Jeffrey Dean Morgan Batman FTW!).
...Oh there we go again, talking about what the DC Films Unvierse could do. My bad.
Avengers: Infinity War opens in theaters on May 4, 2018. Thor: Ragnarok is now playing in theaters. Other upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe movies include; Black Panther on February 16, 2018, Ant-Man and the Wasp on July 6, 2018, Captain Marvel on March 8, 2019, the fourth Avengers movie on May 3, 2019, the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming on July 5, 2019, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in 2020
Justice League is now in theaters; Aquaman arrives on December 21, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Wonder Woman 2 on November 1st, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020