Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe was, on the whole, a failure. Fans can debate the merit of the individual films, but from a pure business and franchise standpoint, Man of Steel didn’t reboot Superman as significantly as WB hoped, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice didn’t perform near well-enough to officially launch the interconnected universe, and Justice League—the film this was all supposed to be building toward—bombed as the lowest-grossing DCEU film thus far. That’s not to say there wasn’t promise. Ben Affleck earned high praise for his portrayal of Batman, Suicide Squad was a financial hit, and Wonder Woman and Aquaman were genuine successes. But as far as the DC Extended Universe goes, Warner Bros. is pulling back on the whole “interconnected universe” idea, thus scrapping the plans that were put in place during the making of Batman v Superman and Justice League.
This much has now been confirmed by Warner Bros. chief executive Kevin Tsujihara in a new interview with the LA Times, where he asserted that the upcoming slate of DC movies will not be focused on interconnectivity:
“The upcoming slate, with Shazam, Joker, Wonder Woman 1984 and Birds of Prey, feels like we’re on the right track. We have the right people in the right jobs working on it.
The universe isn’t as connected as we thought it was going to be five years ago. You’re seeing much more focus on individual experiences around individual characters. That’s not to say we won’t at some point come back to that notion of a more connected universe. But it feels like that’s the right strategy for us right now.”
Indeed, Shazam! features zero characters we’ve seen before, and Joker recasts the titular role with Joaquin Phoenix instead of Suicide Squad’s Jared Leto, with director Todd Phillips taking a one-off approach to the character with a gritty, 70s-set story. This is in stark contrast to something like Suicide Squad, which was meant to build out the interconnected universe established in Batman v Superman and even featured a cameo by Affleck’s Batman, tying his story to Leto’s Joker.
While Warner Bros. has clearly been fumbling around when it comes to finding the right track, Tsujihara points to Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman as the film that finally pointed the way forward for the studio:
“What Patty Jenkins did on Wonder Woman illustrated to us what you could do with these characters who are not Batman and Superman. Obviously, we want to get those two in the right place, and we want strong movies around Batman and Superman. But Aquaman is a perfect example of what we can do. They’re each unique and the tone’s different in each movie.”
Going forward, it feels like Warner Bros.’ approach is to find a good story and a filmmaker with a specific vision, not find a way to connect the dots. Which explains why James Gunn is writing and directing The Suicide Squad, which will reportedly reboot that franchise somewhat, and Matt Reeves is firmly rebooting the Batman franchise with a new actor in the lead in The Batman.
As Tsujihara says this isn’t to say they won’t bring that connectivity back eventually, but I think Warner Bros. finally realized it was folly to try and catch up with/copy what Marvel Studios has done with its interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe. A better track is to do something Marvel can’t do, which is wildly diverse standalone films like Joker. With Aquaman a smashing success and Shazam! looking to be yet another tonally diverse addition to the DC library, the future looks bright. Finally.