Edit by Dalan Overstreet
So, there was big news this week in the worlds of Film and Comics. Henry Cavill, the man we’ve all come to know as Superman in the DC Extended Universe, has reportedly exited the role. This comes after “talks” between Cavill and Warner Bros. went nowhere. This news blindsided most DCEU fans and tolerators alike, but left us asking an all too familiar question: DC, what the Hell?
It is no secret that DC has stumbled with its cinematic universe. Man of Steel made a profit, but wasn’t the launching point a Superman film should’ve been, especially following the end of The Dark Knight Trilogy the year before and when compared to the MCU’s Iron Man in 2008. Batman vs Superman was one of the most divisive movies in recent memory and Suicide Squad was one of the most despised adaptations of the past five years. Justice League was a disaster and may now be the highest-grossing bomb ever. The only true bright spot through all of this has been Wonder Woman. Seriously, DC, what the Hell?
Well, “the Hell” may be a lack of a true vision, or at least a commitment to one. You see an arc with Superman in his journey through heroism. In Man of Steel, he has to decide if humanity is ready for a Superman. In BvS, the conflict centers around what kind of hero the World needs Superman to be. Following his death in BvS, we see a world in chaos in Justice League, with hope only returning when Superman arrives to pretty much single handedly defeat Steppenwolf. The narrative is far from perfect, but at least it’s there.
Other than Superman, there isn’t a character with an arc that is carried faithfully between films. I mean, Batman is a maniac in Batman v Superman. Then, after recognizing Superman’s humanity through their stupid mother connection and witnessing him sacrifice himself in the fight against Doomsday, he became a more light-hearted quip machine. It isn’t the most believable bit of character development.
The other members of the Justice League have even less. Wonder Woman became a less naive hero while still maintaining her faith in mankind in her solo movie, then didn’t build on it at all in Justice League. After his first three minutes of screen time, literally everything The Flash said is a joke. Aquaman was just there because the mother he had no connection with would have fought in his place if she were still alive. Cyborg was set up as reluctant ally, but by the middle of the film was down for grave robbing to revive the dead.
If done more effectively, it would be clear the overarching theme of the DCEU is Heroism. Does the World need heroes? If so, should those heroes act without boundaries? These are far from bad ideas to explore in comic book movies.
However, there was no real connection made. We are introduced to superheroes through Superman. The problem is we didn’t see the other heroes as they were introduced to Superman and, more importantly, how they were affected by his arrival before they met. It seems that DC was far more focused on letting us know these characters are in the same universe than giving those characters any experience.
Really, the characters we see most affected by the arrival of Superman were the members of the Suicide Squad. After Supes’ death, the team was formed as a countermeasure to Metahuman threats, because I guess Captain Boomerang is capable of taking out all-powerful beings. Still, even these characters are not given much, with the only threat being a result of creating the team itself. Through everything, nothing with the team changes. After meeting one another and saving the World together, not one character is altered by the ordeal.
Most concerning is that there doesn’t seem to be a larger narrative in place. After The Avengers, Marvel was clearly building towards a conflict with Thanos. Ideally, after using Steppenwolf in Justice League, DC would be working to establish Darkseid. Seriously, what was the point of emphasizing such a marginal character with no direct connection to any JL member if it wasn’t to lead somewhere larger? “Ideally”, was the key work as that thread seems almost dead for now. In DC’s defense, there was an after-credit scene that teased the Legion of Doom. Still, speaking as a fan for this, who wants more of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex?
If you look at the DCEU’s film slate, it doesn’t give much clues on where the franchise is going. Movies in production include a Harley Quinn solo, Nightwing, Gotham Sirens, and a Black Adam solo. Other than Wonder Woman ‘84 and Suicide Squad 2, there doesn’t seem to be any solid plans for sequels. Another reason to suspect the studio just wants as many characters in play as soon as possible.
It is no mystery why actors like Cavill can’t see a future with DC. Other than Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, there doesn’t really seem to be anything concrete in place for anyone else. We are also hearing rumors Ben Affleck may also exit. This one isn’t particularly new, but given Cavill’s departure it seems far more certain. DC needs a cohesive plan for its universe that emphasizes the depth of its characters as opposed to the quantity of characters, and it needs it five years ago. Until the studio nails something down, be ready for more “what the Hell?” in the future.