Wed. May 22nd, 2024

Ending on a high note for the DCEU was no easy feat – though triumphs, failures, and controversy all played their parts as it concluded with “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”

Aquaman arrived with all of the fanfare fitting its arrival. At that momentous point in comic book culture history, reigning King Jason Momoa came with an elaborate golden trident for its blue carpet premiere in Los Angeles and performed a ceremonial dance along with members of the Maori community members while his wife Lisa Bonet and their kids looked on from behind the wings; stars Nicole Kidman and Amber Heard provided glamour while shouts from photographers were heard throughout; festivities then moved from Chinese Theatre to Roosevelt Hotel poolside afterparty after screening where afterparty celebrations continued after an exuberant screening!

Its success would ultimately reach $1 billion and mark a peak year for comic book films such as Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Five years on, things are very different. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom arrived this week quietly but without fanfare, with an influencer reception at the high-end shopping mall The Grove. Momoa and director James Wan attended, who posed beside a cardboard cutout of Aquaman and director James Wan’s logo as proof. However, no afterparty occurred due to technicalities; technically, the studio considered this screening a “fan screening” rather than its premiere status.

That phrase perfectly captures Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe films’ melancholic narrative arc – series films which ran for ten years propelled multiple actors onto Hollywood A-List rosters and created (both positive and negative) an intense fan base.

At its onset was an era marked by visionary filmmakers like David Fincher, whose time at Warner Bros was all too brief; by films that weren’t expected to do well, like Aquaman, which ended up grossing over $1.1 billion globally; as well as those which weren’t, but should have been, like Justice League; an era during which numerous DCEU movies and projects found themselves subsumed into ever-shifting currents of corporate media and scandal. At times, the tide changed dramatically beyond anyone’s expectation – often without anyone’s expectation or knowledge!

The movie would gross over $1 billion worldwide and was part of an unprecedented run for comic book movies that year, including Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Five years on, things are very different. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom made its entrance with little fanfare this week at high-end shopping mall The Grove through an invite-only pre-screening reception featuring influencers – with Momoa and director James Wan only present, though none above-the-line talent was in attendance beyond posing next to a cardboard cutout of its logo; in other words, it wasn’t even considered an “afterparty.” Officially called an official fan screening rather than a premiere event by studio executives

Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe series films encompassed an emotionally turbulent arc for nearly ten years. They propelled multiple actors onto Hollywood A-lists while producing (sometimes positively and sometimes not so much ) an extraordinary fandom with a fierce loyalty that outdistanced any other medium.

At first, this era was marked by an artist with great potential whose time at the studio was cut short by movies which weren’t expected to make waves like Aquaman (grossing over $1.1 billion worldwide) or should have made waves like Justice League but didn’t – both being significant hits worldwide. At times, the tide did turn unexpectedly, but many times, not in ways any expected.

Filmmaker Zack Snyder often gets praise and criticism for the dark, saturated tones he used throughout the DCEU movies. Yet, its roots can be traced back to Christopher Nolan and former Warners executive Jeff Robinov.

Robinov orchestrated Nolan’s plans to produce several DC movies after his Dark Knight trilogy had concluded and possibly oversee the whole lineup, beginning with Superman. Nolan then hired Snyder to direct Man of Steel and produced and managed this endeavour.

Nolan never quite answered why he didn’t continue overseeing new projects after Robinov left. However, Robinov did provide strong backing through Greg Silverman, who later became Production President after Robinov left in 2013. Robinov ultimately supported Snyder more strongly when the time came, giving Robinov and Silverman full authority for everything Snyder wished to pursue after Robinov left production president duties (in 2013).

Kevin Tsujihara, Robinov’s successor at DC Entertainment, introduced an eye-catching 10-picture plan 2014. This included Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and Green Lantern movies along with Suicide Squad: Shazam! and two Justice League movies announced and scheduled. Then, some studio owners desired the DCEU to become similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, something Snyder lamented and intended to refrain from engaging in.

DC was never intended to become Marvel, and much of their 10-film vision has yet to materialize. Wonder Woman became an international hit, and Aquaman remains the third highest-grossing Warners movie of all time, but Wonder Woman also gave way to an unfavourable sequel that was released during an outbreak and then quietly abandoned; another instalment was announced, then quickly forgotten; The Flash finally debuted this year but received significant pushback from audiences and critics alike.

Warners used its power ring to attract James Gunn back into The Suicide Squad after Disney temporarily dismissed him as director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. 3, earning James Gunn a seat as director on that movie instead. Meanwhile, two major DC movies released during this time weren’t part of their DCEU at all: 2019’s Joker (an Oscar-nominated movie reminiscent of 70s Martin Scorsese films and an Oscar winner); 2022’s The Batman (an excellent crime-saga comparable to Michael Mann films), earned global box office success making $771 million worldwide box office success as well.

What of all those movies and projects which never saw light, the ones which never took form or reached completion? Please take a moment and ponder Ben Affleck’s Batman feature film and Ava DuVernay’s New Gods project (there remains controversy regarding whether she even submitted the entire script to the studio). David Ayer received Gotham City Sirens as an afterthought after Warners took away Suicide Squad’s share. At the same time, Steven Spielberg announced Blackhawk and Joss Whedon Batgirl features got the press attention they deserved. At least, let’s not talk about Henry Cavill and Superman; otherwise, we might see them cry. Also notable was that Dwayne Johnson had not stood in their way by rejecting this movie idea and pushing instead for his movie adaptation, Shazam Vs Black Adam, which many had anticipated but Dwayne Johnson decided against.

Corporate issues were another sideshow: Tsujihara was dismissed amid a sexual misconduct scandal in March 2019, while Warners and DC bounced between owners AT&T (who took control in 2016) and then Discovery (2022). A completed Batgirl movie was hidden away for safekeeping within Batcave, sending shockwaves through creative communities everywhere.

Kevin Feige has described Disney’s acquisition of Marvel as one of the “greatest things that has ever happened to us”. Not only has Disney provided more resources and stability for Marvel, but it has also given Warners’ TV titles stability as they switch owners or studio heads almost regularly compared to Marvel titles.

Everybody wanted DC, yet only some knew how best to utilize its resources; critics and the media would quickly point out any perceived failures.

The making of DC movies accurately reflected their times; Zack Snyder became an emblem of personal cultism at a time when half of America and much of the world elevated divisive figures onto pedestals to which they pledged their lives. These movies became bigger online than anywhere else; an Internet army helped facilitate the creation of SnyderCut, which will likely never happen again.

Aquaman may have made $1 billion worldwide but still doesn’t feel like an iconic cultural reference point (give it time, perhaps?), However, Wonder Woman managed to transcend due to her symbolic bracelets, which directly respond to the toxic masculinity of contemporary times.

One thing that stood the test of time, however, was its casting. A generation grew up believing Henry Cavill to be Superman among Supermen; Gal Gadot made for an outstanding Wonder Woman, while Ben Affleck remains Batman in my eyes despite my best efforts – all three roles being filled by notable actors! Finding such an all-star trio was challenging, but Snyder pulled off their task beautifully. Ezra Miller gave an outstanding dual performance as Flash. However, critics of the film took issue with legal and mental health issues for Ezra and Warners executives, claiming it to be one of the greatest superhero films ever – only setting itself up to disappoint further. Zachary Levi and Asher Angel perfectly captured both voices of Shazam/Billy Batson in Shazam! – an underappreciated delight made outside executive scrutiny through the New Line division that failed to market itself properly at Warner Bros.

A true and lasting legacy for the DCEU may only become apparent sometime later on, just like how Star Wars prequels were initially disliked upon their debut; 20 years later, however, these touchstones of childhood for many people. Who knows what impact DCEU movies will have on those growing up watching them?

In 2018, however, we can take stock more accurately of where things stand. Only one DC movie, Todd Phillips’ Joker: Folie a Deux, is scheduled for release, and there will be only one Marvel Studios film (Deadpool 3), marking perhaps an unprecedented break in genre audience expectations since probably over ten years (we don’t count next year’s Sony Marvel releases like Madame Web, Kraven the Hunter or Venom 3 which always felt like B-sides to more popular releases.).

On DC’s side of things, this break serves to refresh and prepare fans for the launch of DC Studios; the division launched this year by Gunn and Peter Safran. (Strangely enough, lead characters and actors from this summer’s Blue Beetle will carry over into DC Studio’s new era – though why it will happen is yet unknown; maybe time will reveal all?) Gunn’s take on Superman will debut on July 11, 2025, under this moniker. Superman: Legacy will hit shelves shortly after that.

Once then comes, studios, audiences, and fans will know if we are experiencing temporary superhero fatigue or whether its dominance indeed has passed.

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