Warner Bros. and DC originally announced their plans for a shared universe in 2014. The plan was to created a media universe of their iconic characters that would rival what Marvel Studios had successfully created. This was the year after Zack Snyder’s reboot of Superman, Man of Steel, had performed well at the box office, but divided audiences. The original Warner Bros. / DC plan was to release two films per year from 2016 to 2020, in order to create a true cinematic universe out of DC characters as they have done in the comics for decades.
And yet, after six movies of varying levels of performance, where do things stand for the DCEU today? After the failure of Justice League and the love for Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman and James Wan’s Aquaman, it’s clear DC fans want fun, inspiring superheroes on the big screen. And judging from the trailers so far, the next DCEU film is going to be exactly that.
In less than three weeks, Shazam! (the original Captain Marvel) will be released starring Zachary Levi as the title superhero character, with Asher Angel playing his young counterpart Billy Batson. This film is expected to strike a lighter tone than previous DCEU films, think ‘Big’ meets ‘Superman’, but I’ve been hearing that it may have a darker take than the movie trailers portray. I’m also hearing we can expect a cameo from the ‘Man of Steel’ himself, but that it may not be what you expect.
Reports from early test screenings are getting us some positive vibes, and coupled with what Geoff Johns has said about the film, I think it’s going to be a winner:
“I keep saying [Shazam!] is like if Roald Dahl created superheroes,” said Johns. “It’s inspired by Phantom Tollbooth and Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter, like doing a real, fun, family-centered, emotional, magical character-driven story with these crazy characters that have no manual on what it is to be the Champions of Magic.”
Combined with Aquaman‘s recent success at the box office, and it’s starting to look like Warner Bros. may finally get the DCEU superhero franchise back on track. We’ll know much more if that’s likely when Shazam! hits theaters on April 5th.
Wonder Woman 1984
And after being delayed by 9 months, Wonder Woman 1984 is wrapping up production now and is scheduled for release on June 5, 2020. Wonder Woman marked a major turning point for the DCEU when it hit the big screen, with wildly positive reviews and massive box office, so anticipation is high. Wonder Woman still stands as the biggest domestic grossing DCEU film, (with Aquaman being the biggest with its $1billion+ global gross.)
Director Patty Jenkins returned to direct and wrote the story with Geoff Johns which will fast-forward in time and take place in 1984, hence the title. Kristen Wiig is playing the main antagonist, Cheetah and somehow Chris Pine returns as Steve Trevor. No idea how they’ll pull that off, although when the television show from the 70’s did the same thing (bringing Wonder Woman from WWII era to the modern era), Steve Trevor as both father and son, were both played by Lyle Waggoner.
But before Wonder Woman 2 is released, we still have a weird one-shot film, slated for October 4, 2019. It’s simply called ‘The Joker’. In the wake of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, and with Wonder Woman proving to be a massive success, Warner Bros. began changing up its DCEU plans. A new division was created at WB that would develop and produce one-off DC Comics adaptations not connected to the DC Extended Universe, allowing filmmakers to try something radical, and not worry about setting up a franchise or fitting into an established timeline. The first of these is a Joker origin movie directed by Todd Phillips.
But the lead actor would not be Jared Leto, who portrayed the “clown prince of crime” in the Suicide Squad movie. Nope, WB reportedly wanted Leonardo DiCaprio, and when Leo passed they moved on to Joaquin Phoenix, who eventually signed on after prolonged negotiations. Zazie Beets and Robert De Niro will co-star along with Brett Cullen as Thomas Wayne. This one is expected to be a gritty, hard-boiled crime picture set in the early 1980s. I think it will be insane.
Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Next February will see another of these types of films, but in all likelihood much more connected to the DCEU proper when Birds of Prey is released. This film was moved ahead of Suicide Squad 2 and Gotham City Sirens in terms of production order, as star/producer Margot Robbie helped secure a female director for this female superhero team-up film. Warner Bros. hired Asian-American filmmaker Cathy Yan to direct.
This film was reportedly already in place before Suicide Squad was even released. Will this be a redemptive arc for the violent sociopath?
This team-up film has a screenplay from Christina Hodson who also recently wrote Bumblebee. The publicized title is: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)— and it stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, and Ewan McGregor. The film is scheduled to hit theaters February 7, 2020.
Speaking of Gotham City, Ben Affleck is no longer the Dark Knight. As he told Jimmy Kimmel last month:
“I tried to direct a version of [Batman], [I] worked with a really good screenwriter, but kinda just couldn’t come up with a version. Couldn’t crack it. I thought it was time for someone else to take a shot at it. And they’ve got some really good people.”
The Batman, is coming (without Affleck) in June of 2021. Matt Reeves is writing and directing the film, which will focus on a younger version of the character and hone in more on the detective aspects of the character. Filming is scheduled to begin near the end of this year.
The Suicide Squad
But elsewhere in Gotham City, Suicide Squad 2 is still moving forward. The first film scored an Oscar and was the fourth best-performing DCEU film. Warner Bros. hired a beleaguered James Gunn to write a script and it was later revealed that Gunn would also be directing this film, which is now been titled The Suicide Squad.
And yet, it’s described as more of a reboot than a sequel, including either very few or perhaps even zero returning characters from Ayer’s initial film. Director David Ayers is out. Will Smith confirmed that he’s out, but Warner Bros. wants to bring Margot Robbie‘s Harley Quinn back. Filming is due to begin in September 2019 with a release date scheduled for August 6, 2021.
When Aquaman hit theaters in December 2018, it surprisingly became the highest-grossing film of the DCEU thus far, topping out at over $1.1 billion globally. With that in mind, Warner Bros. set about getting the wheels in motion on a sequel, though director James Wan cautioned that he wouldn’t move forward on it until the script was right. The studio has now set a December 16, 2022 release date to give the film enough time to develop, and Aquaman co-writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick has been tasked with writing the screenplay. Wan hasn’t committed to directing Aquaman 2 just yet, but this one is no doubt a priority for Warner Bros. given the popularity of the first movie.
So what about the other Justice League characters?
As for Cyborg, the Victor Stone film we were promised is never going to happen and Warner Bros. has zero interest in that story thread. That includes featuring Cyborg in a supporting or cameo capacity in another hero’s movie. Apparently the studio doesn’t care about making any more projects with Ray Fisher. Fans will simply have to get their ‘Cyborg fix’ via the Doom Patrol TV show, where the character is played for laughs by Joivan Wade.
Man of Steel 2
And where is the long-expected Man of Steel sequel? Actor Henry Cavill reportedly demanded director and script approval from Warner Bros. for Man of Steel 2 during the last round of contract negotiations. But the future is looking bleak and neither Cavill’s management nor Warner Bros. is updating anyone on the current status of those negotiations. The DCEU franchise’s announced slate runs until 2021, and unless Warner Bros. moves their DC properties around, any Superman sequel might be a bit of a wait for fans. I think at this point, DCEU fans would just be thrilled to know that the project is moving forward with Cavill back as the titular hero. No such luck so far.
Many fans of the Flash television show were bummed when Warner Bros decided to hire a different actor to portray the scarlet speedster than Grant Gustav, who at the time was wildly popular. Of course it isn’t unusual for the television version of a character to be portrayed by a different actor in a movie, but this was a time when the Flash was the number one show on the CW.
The original plans for the Flash film in April 2015 were for Phil Lord and Chris Miller to write a story treatment with the hope that they would direct, but the duo departed to take the helm of Solo: A Star Wars Movie instead. Ezra Miller remained attached to star, having been cast as The Flash for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and in October 2015 Seth Grahame-Smith was hired to write the script and direct. Grahame-Smith was then removed from the project in April 2016, with WB wanting to take the film in a different direction. Rick Famuyiwa was hired as his replacement, but by August 2016, Famuyiwa departed the project over creative differences. While the film was supposed to start filming in early 2017, Famuyiwa’s exit threw a wrench into WB’s plans and the studio opted to slow things down while Miller went off to shoot Fantastic Beasts 2.
After a page one rewrite, the studio revealed in July 2017 that the film would be titled Flashpoint, indicating the story will be adapting the famous comics arc that sees Barry going back into the past to save his mother’s life, thus creating an alternate timeline -- a la the opening of the first 5 seasons of the Flash TV show. Speculation suggested that this Flashpoint twist could allow Warner Bros. to “fix” some issues in the DCEU by altering the timeline.
However, the latest news being reported that the film’s star was unhappy with John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the directors currently attached to the project (and known for Spider-Man: Homecoming). While they were interested in a lighter, more playful take on the Flash, Miller wanted something darker. So in an effort to keep the project moving forward, Miller has teamed up with comics-scribe Grant Morrison to script a new story altogether. And according to The Hollywood Reporter, they only have until May to persuade WB to approve their script since that’s when Ezra Miller’s contract expires.
Is it possible that Warner Bros. no longer wants Ezra Miller to be the Flash so they’re just delaying until past May? We’ll see.
There are still several other announced projects that may or may not connect to the DCEU proper, but are still being developed by Warner Bros. such as the aforementioned Gothan City Sirens, as well as more well-known properties. Some of these include Batgirl, Green Lantern Corps, Supergirl, Nightwing, The New Gods, DC Superpets, and even another Joker movie set to star Jared Leto and even a much talked about Harley & Joker movie.
So is the DCEU getting rebooted, or simply retooled as the market and the fans dictate? At this point, I don’t care what actors or directors or writers are in the roles, I just want entertaining stories. Isn’t that what we ALL want?