For DC Comics in general, Batman and Superman have long been the most prominent and popular characters to come out of the popular comic book publisher’s titanic repertoire. Thus, when DC finally took the brave step towards challenging the ubiquitous Marvel Cinematic Universe with their own Extended Universe, anticipation was high.
Off the back of Christopher Nolan’s astonishingly good Batman trilogy, Zack Snyder was hired to kick off the DCEU, directing its first offering – 2013’s Man of Steel. Considering the tone that Snyder has honed in 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch, it looked as if Man of Steel would look to expand on the dark palette that Nolan has executed so well with the Batman trilogy. However, the DCEU’s first five films, with the exception of Wonder Woman, have failed to live up to the same critical plaudits piled on the MCU despite doing well at the box office.
And now with Henry Cavill’s confirmed exit from the Superman role and Ben Affleck’s yet-to-be confirmed but expected withdrawal from Batman, it seems as if the musclebound battle between Marvel and DC has finished before it even really started. The departure of one of the DCEU’s most important individuals, let alone two, is disastrous on the surface considering that the DCEU is on the ropes already.
“DC thrive when they step away from Marvel’s algorithm for success. Wonder Woman provided the 21st century superhero era with its first solo female hero in Wonder Woman – something that, at the time, Marvel had failed to implement into their Cinematic Universe.”
However, with the DCEU clearly struggling, and a number of intriguing, singular projects in the pipeline, this potentially disastrous news could be the turning point that DC badly needs. Although not a part of the DCEU, the announcement of a Joker origin story with Joaquin Phoenix playing the titular role offers an exciting vision of what DC, with or without its Extended Universe, could grow into. Elsewhere in 2019, Wonder Woman, the most well-received hero from the DCEU, returns in Wonder Woman 1984 in November and Shazam will make his debut in the DCEU with a standalone feature coming in April. Cyborg and The Flash’s first solo features will arrive in 2020 alongside a new Green Lantern film.
Crucially, no plan for another Justice League-style ensemble is featured among DC’s ongoing or rumoured projects and perhaps this combined with the strategy to release a number of separate, standalone films can help DC bridge the gap between themselves and Marvel. As Wonder Woman showed, DC thrive when they step away from Marvel’s algorithm for success. Wonder Woman provided the 21st century superhero era with its first solo female hero in Wonder Woman – something that, at the time, Marvel had failed to implement into their Cinematic Universe. By stepping away from the Marvel model and directing all of their energy into crafting a solid film that doesn’t overtly concern itself with the nuances and complications of the Extended Universe, Wonder Woman provided the DCEU with its first major critical success.
“Affleck wasn’t a great fit and Cavill was arguably chosen on a cosmetic level as he exudes the clean, chiselled masculinity associated with Superman. The likes of Hamm, Gosling and Jordan are superior actors, and alongside the revered Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker, could outmuscle the current Marvel crop.”
The exits of Cavill and Affleck and their coincidence with the arrival of Joaquin Phoenix also illuminates a huge chance for DC to change direction drastically. No disrespect to Cavill, but his performances as Superman have often been described as stiff and lacking charisma and as for Affleck, he not only had to struggle with living up to Christian Bale’s Batman but also overcoming a severe miscasting. Affleck just isn’t the right type of actor to portray the Dark Knight. But the acquisition of Joaquin Phoenix is nothing short of inspired. Phoenix is one of the most consistent and versatile actors of his generation and possesses the qualities necessary to match and possibly even better Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as the Joker.
As news of Cavill and Affleck’s respective departures spread quickly across the internet, naturally the potential successors begin to power the rumour mill. Ryan Gosling, Matt Bomer, Michael B. Jordan and Darren Criss have all been linked with Superman whereas Jon Hamm and Kit Harington have responded to rumours that they’ve been approached to play Batman. Noticeably, all of these actors and their respective approaches contrast hugely with that of Cavill and Affleck. All have excelled in character actor roles and genre films and would offer new and intriguing pivots on these well-worn heroes. As previously mentioned, Affleck wasn’t a great fit and Cavill was arguably chosen on a cosmetic level as he exudes the clean, chiselled masculinity associated with Superman. The likes of Hamm, Gosling and Jordan are superior actors, and alongside the revered Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker, could outmuscle the current Marvel crop.
Christopher Nolan nailed the aesthetic with his Batman trilogy but the film was further enhanced by the excellent cast he assembled – Christian Bale as Batman, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, and Michael Caine as Alfred. The list goes on. A DC production hasn’t gotten remotely close to the depth of talent in the Batman trilogy and hearkening back to that near perfect era for superhero films might just put an end to the wilderness DC find themselves in. If there’s one thing that DC can take simultaneously from Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Marvel it’s their casting. Marvel may not have a Daniel Day-Lewis or a Frances McDormand in their ranks, but the actors look and feel the part. The decision by DC to disseminate their next few films would be a welcomed diversion away from the infinitely linked universe of Marvel. It would make the prospect of an eventual, well-worked coming together all the more sweeter – especially with the tantalising reverie of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker toying with Jon Hamm’s Batman, and maybe even Michael B. Jordan’s Superman. It’s a vision that would have Marvel looking nervously over their muscular shoulders.