The release of Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad has polarised critics and audiences, a solid start at the box office might look good on paper, but the wealth of negativity surround the movie doesn’t bode well for the future of the DC Shared Movie Universe.
I realise that the title of this article suggests that the DC Shared Movie Universe was once on track, but Man of Steel wasn’t developed to be the first instalment in a wider connected plan. In a bid to catch up with Marvel, Warner Bros crammed several movies worth of characters into Batman v Superman, and the end results were a deeply jumbled narrative with some of the worst writing/acting/special effects and direction seen in mainstream cinema.
Dawn of Justice made $871 million worldwide, in most circumstances, this would be deemed a big win, it’s $200 million up on Man of Steel and way more than the first Captain America, Thor, Ant-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy grossed throughout their respective theatrical runs. BvS cost somewhere between $250-$300 million to produce, then add at least $150 million for marketing and take into account that US movies only keep 41% of overseas ticket sales (before cinema rental costs), there’s not much left in the way of profits. Costing a more reserved $175 million, Suicide Squad does stand a chance of making a few bucks, but the negative word of mouth might scupper those odds dramatically. The front-loaded $133 million US launch set a new August record and outperformed Guardians, yet Suicide Squad is already following in BvS’ footsteps with steep drops over the weekend thanks to the lukewarm critical response.
While this brings into question the current costs of the movie industry, Marvel has yet to lose money or face unfavourable reviews on a project and spent more than eight years building trust with audiences. To be clear, Warner Bros hasn’t lost money (yet) in the DC universe, their movies just don’t make very much profit and critics seem to loathe them.
I’m not going to pretend that Marvel gets it right every time, Thor: The Dark World, was repetitive and Marvel as a whole HAVE to do something about their villains. Tom Hiddleston is the only well developed bad guy the MCU has produced; the rest have all been generic villains with generic designs on world domination. For all Marvel’s missteps in that department, BvS reintroduced Lex Luthor as an irritating nerd and proceeded to squander The Joker for a pointless appearance that served no purpose to the plot. I get it, this was an introduction to Jared Leto’s take on the character, but did it have to be so redundant. After all his ‘method acting and on set antics,’ it’s a crying shame that Leto’s Joker has no depth and is as superficial as his tacky bling.
On the small screen, a connected DC universe has been successfully up and running for years with Arrow, Flash, Legend of Tomorrow and the recently acquired Supergirl. Tyler Hoechlin (the kid from Road To Perdition) has been cast as Superman for a recurring role on Supergirl’s second season. Unlike Marvel’s TV offerings that exist within the MCU, DC has kept the two entities separate with no plans to merge its TV heroes with their movie counterparts. For the most part, I like what the TV DC universe is serving up, and they’re less restricted with who they can include which creates genuine mystery over what characters show up. The Netflix arm of Marvel has carved out a harder edged corner of the universe, whereas poor old SHIELD gets stuck with dancing around the movie events and a botched attempt to introduce the Inhumans.
So, can Warner Bros and DC sort their collective shit out and give us an awesome movie? The answer is a resounding maybe. The trailer for Justice League showcased a lighter tone, granted it felt like Zack Snyder watched Civil War and ripped off the Tony Stark/Peter Parker scene for his Bruce Wayne/Barry Allen sequence, but it at least tried to recant the darkness of its previous entries. The Wonder Woman trailer was better than the entirety of BvS, but this is where I have a big problem and it’s so big I need to start a new sentence. The trailers for Suicide Squad were pretty good, a playful anarchic vibe and banter suggested that Warner Bros had learned their lessons with no sign of the melancholy tone of BvS. Even with reshoots, Suicide Squad didn’t deliver the movie the trailers promised and as such, they have lost credibility when it comes to trailers.
The most frustrating thing of all is that fans like me are always going to be curious to see what DC comes up with next, and with filmmakers like Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) and James Wan (The Conjuring, Furious 7) onboard I am hoping for better things. Then again, David Ayer is a respected filmmaker, and there’s not much evidence of his usually keen eye in Suicide Squad. Without sounding disrespectful, you could have told me any number of directors made that flick, and I wouldn’t have known any different. Unproven filmmakers helm plenty of big studio movies; Marvel has occasionally struck gold using this method even though the Edgar Wright/Ant-Man situation still hurts.
I loved Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and I firmly believe every character should be treated with the same amount of integrity that Nolan displayed. As a result of playing catch up, the new DC universe hasn’t been kind to its superheroes and has chucked them around in a scramble to get something ready for a release date. I genuinely wish that Warner Bros had gone with a Man of Steel 2 and a Batman reboot BEFORE the two iconic characters sort of (but not) fight. BvS had to work as a Man of Steel 2, a Batman reboot, a precursor to Justice League and Wonder Woman PLUS deliver the title grudge match. How the fuck can any movie fit all that in and not be completely terrible? I’m not defending the film, but it was clearly a doomed endeavour from the start, and not one single Warner Bros executive piped up and said: “actually Zack, the story makes no sense and it hurts my insides when I watch it”.
We’ll have to wait and see how much Suicide Squad makes before labelling it a financial disaster, but regardless of its box office total, it’s another poorly received movie that has done the shared franchise some serious harm. After three chances to get it right, I would rather see Warner Bros pull the plug on this iteration of DC and start again.