Thursday, January 19, 2017

EDITORIAL: Could the DCEU Turn the Corner in 2017 (and What I’ve Learned About Producers)

Hello Readers! A new year has arrived and there is so much to be excited for! This year promises some great independent films, some great films by well-established directors, and boasts an incredibly promising (and packed!) blockbuster schedule. One thing that left many, but certainly not all, with questions from the blockbuster disappointments of 2016 was “where is the DC Extended Universe going to go from here?” I was definitely one of those people with that question. This editorial is going to take a look forward at the schedule DC has for 2017 and how it might turn the corner in 2017 and beyond.

For those worried about the initial tone of this article, this is not a DC hate piece. I liked (but didn’t love) Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I was highly disappointed with Suicide Squad, however. But, what remains in me is a deep love for these characters and a real genuine hope that these movies can be near-universally beloved rather than subjects of controversy.

This new year offers lots of great opportunities for the DCEU to make a major positive impression in the cinema landscape with two mega-movies coming out in 2017. First, in June, we are getting Wonder Woman. This is the first time Wonder Woman has had her own film (a travesty) and is directed by an incredibly talented director in Patty Jenkins. Akin to the other previous releases, this film has also had stellar trailers so far. Then, in November, we are getting the cinematic event film basically every nerd ever has been waiting for: Justice League. This film sees Zack Snyder return for his third outing in the DCEU and brings together all of the most famous superheroes of all time. Love or hate Snyder, it is impossible not to be excited for that.

The big question is: could either of these films be the breakthrough to get people on board with the cinematic universe? There has been lots of talk about shifts in tone for these films and really great buzz coming out of press visits to the Justice League set (although a recent, and very much unsubstantiated, rumor about Wonder Woman being a mess has started to circulate) which presents possibilities to be sure. For me, the biggest possibility for the DCEU to really turn the corner comes as a result of hiring Geoff Johns to oversee and be the head producer for the DCEU.

The lack of a clear producorial vision has been present in the early DCEU films and has shown up in massive late-game script changes and restructuring reshoots which have led to a number of scenes and decisions that have been seen as questionable by critics and general audiences. The hiring of a producer to hopefully shepherd these films more definitively in the early stages will hopefully help to eliminate those issues and put these films in the best position to be broadly successful.

There are two cinematic universes who have done it so well over the past several years that I have learned the significance of a great producer: Marvel and Star Wars. Since 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (headed by producer Kevin Feige) has released fourteen (which is still insane to me) theatrical films to great critical and financial success. Whether or not you personally enjoy their films (I do), the success is undeniable and very much attributed to Feige as a driving force. Similarly, Kathleen Kennedy’s work with Star Wars has been equally impressive. In producing all new saga films as well as (so far) successful anthology spin-off films she has added even more evidence to this growing pile that a talented producer can make all the difference in making these universes successful. Given that the “producer” title is so amorphous, I ignored it for many years. Over the past couple of years, however, I have come to really appreciate the significance and the difference it can make in determining the success or failure of a film, especially in a larger franchise.

I am hopeful that Geoff Johns will be a Feige or Kennedy for the DCEU. It deserves and needs that kind of figure to steer the universe to ultimate success. Johns presents an interesting possibility for the universe as someone so intimately involved with, and aware of, the comics side of DC. He has shown off real talent there and if he could bring that to bear on screen his contributions could be significant. Johns is also a major risk, however. He has not been a longtime working producer. He did produce the failed Green Lantern film from 2011, but otherwise hasn’t worked as a producer. That’s a huge concern, especially if one is expecting him to do a job comparable to longtime producers like Kevin Feige or Kathleen Kennedy. Additionally, the early period of his tenure has not made it appear that he is especially powerful over at Warner Brothers (on a public level at least).

Ever the optimist, I am hopeful that Johns will make the difference. He has some particular challenges in needing to find a new director for The Flash after the recent exit of Rick Famuyiwa and getting both James Wan’s Aquaman and Ben Affleck’s The Batman through their productions this coming year. If he can rise to the occasion, we may have the chance to have another great universe of movies and one I genuinely hope we get to see.

I’m looking forward to the DCEU in 2017, what about you? Have their previous efforts worked for you, or have they missed the mark? Do you think this could be the positive turning point in this ongoing saga? Comment below and let me know!

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