Marvel Studios and DC Films are about to have a multiverse war. This is great news, seeing as solid competition means filmmakers from both sides of the comic book adaptation juggernauts will be forced to up their game and innovate their franchises with each new title. However, there is no denying that Marvel Comics and DC Comics movies are about to find themselves competing with a similar design. In the first major battle, Marvel Studios won the war which called for ensemble films to bring together popular characters into a shared universe which culminates in sharing the screen all together. Now, DC seems to have struck first in the second big showdown with what has been the biggest story in geek news of this new decade.
From 2008 through 2019, Marvel Studios lead the charge as the box office. Disney released the biggest movie of all time in the form of Avengers: Endgame, the sum of several characters coming together on the big screen for a cohesively told story, albeit imperfect in total. Heroes arrived together after their own outings at the box office, each of which hauled in hundreds of millions of dollars in their own efforts (some more than others), before raking more than $2 billion at the worldwide box office.
On the DC side, Zack Snyder attempted to build his shared universe by quickly launching Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman into films together and tying it all together with Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg in Justice League. His efforts, originally planned to be laid out over the course of four films were never clearly revealed to audiences. A home release Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman would prove to be better than the theatrical cut Warner Bros. distributed and Justice League became a muddled mess (a similar outcome as David Ayer's Suicide Squad) which lead to fans unrelentingly calling for Snyder's vision to be released. DC Films seems to have finally found a stride between both filmmakers and studio with recent titles like Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Shazam!, and Birds of Prey, and they're finally going to put the Justice League controversy to bed by releasing Zack Snyder's Justice League on HBO Max.
In the wake of Avengers: Endgame and Zack Snyder's Justice League, both Marvel and DC are on their own respective horizons of uncharted territory. Marvel will have to prove to its fans that continuing the Marvel Cinematic Universe's journey is worth more time. DC will be eager to show of that their roster of characters is just getting started. In both cases, the franchises seem to be diving into multiverse stories.
Earlier this year, news of Michael Keaton returning to play Batman after 30 years away from the role came out (and just yesterday, it was revealed Ben Affleck's Batman would be in the same movie). It might be the geek news story of the decade. It's a role which was thought to be going to Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a Thomas Wayne Batman from the Flashpoint story in comics but as Warner Brothers continues to shift away from Zack Snyder's work, they also shift away from the cast of Batman v Superman. Keaton will be playing a continued version of the character he portrayed in two films for a Flashpoint movie which will only loosely follow the comic book storyline but will, more importantly, introduce the multiverse stories to moviegoers with thrilling levels of nostalgia inherently attached.
In this sense, DC has a major leg up on Marvel heading into this next round. DC's history in film and television rolls deeper than Marvel's. Names like Christian Bale and Grant Gustin are very recognizable and often synonymous with Batman and The Flash, respectively. In fact, Gustin's Barry Allen has already been connected to Ezra Miller's version of the character during CW's Crisis crossover ever, a moment which the upcoming Flash movie had already planned for. "That would be too much of a surprise if I suddenly saw that on TV," The Flash movie writer Christina Hodson told me in January.
Brandon Routh also reprised his role as Superman from Superman Returns for the CW's TV event and the concept of the multiverse is running full and well.
With Robert Pattinson and Matt Reeves making their own Batman film in what is expected to be a standalone effort for the Caped Crusader, a fully realized Gotham is on the way with no obligation to abide by a previously existing canon. Reeves sinking his teeth into a full-on Gotham City is an exciting notion. Meanwhile, the multiverse perhaps giving Pattinson's Batman the opportunity to co-exist with other DC heroes only tops that off.
As DC has struck first on the news and story front with the Keaton talks and Ezra Miller / Grant Gustin connection, Marvel's chance to regain the lead in a mutliverse war presents itself in a few forms.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a couple strokes behind DC's movie franchise on the multiverse front. Marvel introduced the idea of the multiverse in Doctor Strange before Spider-Man: Far From Home expounded upon the concept only to frame such a narrative as a lie from Mysterio. Marvel Comics fans (and the many who watched Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) know full well that a multiverse works similarly to how Mysterio described and now the idea is present for the $1 billion worth of mainstream audience brains which watched Far From Home -- but Marvel has not gone all in on it in the MCU's canon just yet.
Execution efforts aside, the possible advantage for Marvel comes in the timing of it all. With titles like WandaVision and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness both arriving ahead of The Flash, Marvel can find themselves beating DC to the multiverse punch with the content. However, unless the stories include the likes of Tobey Maguire and Hugh Jackman reprising their roles as Spider-Man and Wolverine, respectively, there is not much else Marvel has to offer in terms of incorporating alternate franchises into the multiverse. This seems to be of interest to Feige, seeing as he has approached Professor X actor Patrick Stewart about working on something at Marvel Studios, but neither Stewart nor Jackman seem interested in reprising their roles after Logan. According to ace scooper Umberto Gonzalez on ComicBook.com's Comic-Con show, a potential return for Maguire is deemed "inaccurate" by sources in the know.
For now, the dream of Jackman's Wolverine, Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, and others standing with the likes of Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Mr. Fantastic, and more is just a dream which could only be brought about by a multiverse at this point and it could be Marvel's secret weapon. However, it's a secret weapon which need not fire any time soon as fans have been given an ample amount of Iron Man content, even after his death (see: Spider-Man: Far From Home's villain inspiration) and the stories will have to be far enough removed from the grand finales in Logan and Avengers: Endgame. By that point, will these actors have any interest (or physical ability in the case of now-51-year-old Jackman who regularly gets shredded for his X-Men role) in such a return?
It is hard to imagine any other weapon Marvel's arsenal with the cross-generational hype level to match that of Keaton reprising his Batman gig from 1989. Marvel's popular Netflix characters are loosely already in MCU's main universe canon (depending on who you ask, admittedly) and no one is really clamoring to see Lou Ferigno play the Hulk again or to get Chris Evans back into his Johnny Storm role.
DC previously found a stride in small screen content through Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Doom Patrol, and Titans. Go as far back as Smallville, if you will. Marvel saw peaks and valleys in content with Agents of SHIELD and built a strong fanbase through Daredevil, Luke Cage, The Punisher, and Jessica Jones. However, DC already tied their big and small screen properties together via the multiverse as mentioned earlier. Marvel has merely thrown a couple of cameos from Samuel L. Jackson and Jaimie Alexander on to Agents of SHIELD and otherwise kept the works of former TV head Jeph Loeb and studio mastermind Kevin Feige starkly separated. Still, connecting would neither require a multiverse nor garner a tremendous buzz.
DC is already on track to create tremendous cross-generational buzz in the upcoming multiverse war. Michael Keaton's return as Batman has been the geek news story of the year. Marvel's opportunity to counter, either by incorporating the X-Men and Deadpool worlds in a well-executed manner or leveraging Sam Raimi's directing of Doctor Strange 2 to get Tobey Maguire back in the suit (don't get me started on how epic a live-action Spider-Verse movie with previous and existing Spider-actors could be) seems to be the best available option to head into this battle -- unless Feige and company want to head into entirely new directions with new universes, something which seems to be drastically different from where DC is headed.
In the end, it is all going to come down to execution. Marvel can start to explore new territories in the multiverse (like the alternate universe where the popular Miles Morales resides, for example) while DC lays out a story which incorporates its popular and sometimes nostalgic properties - or vice versa - and whichever studio's filmmakers pull off their stories better can win the box office battles.1comments
The only real winner of the multiverse war in the next decade is undoubtedly going to be... us!