The DCEU needs a few adjustments. Justice League didn't exactly pan out the way that many fans had hoped, and now the cinematic universe is trying to make up lost ground with the development of films like Aquaman, Shazam!, and Wonder Woman 1984. There's plenty of source material for the DCEU to pull from, but we think there's no better source of inspiration than the animated TV shows that DC has produced over the years.
With that in mind, and ahead of the December 21 release of Aquaman later this year, we have assembled a list of elements that the DCEU should straight-up steal from classic DC animation. With so many different points to get to, let's kick things off by honing in on Justice League Unlimited's fluid timeline.
Jump Around The Timeline
With only a few exceptions, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DCEU have both taken to telling straightforward stories that take place on a single timeline. However, when you have characters who exist across the span of generations, there's a lot more room to keep things flexible. Few other universes have embodied that idea better than the classic DC Animated Universe, which simultaneously told the modern day Justice League story, while also offering up Batman Beyond -- a story set in the same universe, following Bruce Wayne decades after hanging up the cape and cowl. Many fans have clamored for a Batman Beyond movie for years, and while that's not the only option on the table for creating a DCEU that hops around the timeline, it shows the appetite for stories that don't just move forward linearly.
Give Minor Characters One-Off Arcs
When the Justice League cartoon transitioned from Justice League to Justice League Unlimited, one of the most brilliant creative decisions made by the folks behind the scenes involved shifting focus to tell broader stories about far more obscure heroes. These often involved one-episode arcs for C-listers like Booster Gold, and some of those stories have gone on to become some of the most beloved tales in the animated DC canon. The DCEU could perform a similar feat by moving away from the franchise model for smaller heroes and instead focusing on digging deep into the DC roster to tell standalone, one-off stories that might not have full series potential. Don't think Martian Manhunter deserves a whole trilogy of movies? Then give us a great one-off with a beginning, middle and ending.
Don't Always Focus On Batman
You would be hard-pressed to find a superhero who is more iconic or well-established in the realm of pop culture than Batman. The masked protector of Gotham City has become a fixture in the DC lore, and he has handily turned into one of the most beloved on-screen superheroes of the modern age. With all of that said, the DCEU has become a bit Batman-centric lately, and the character's exposure in other media like video games and live-action television has caused him to lose some of his luster. We're not saying that the DCEU needs to get rid of Batman, but it should take the Justice League animated series approach by making him a side character whose inner monologue and feelings are never clear. He works best in the shadows, so we should put him there.
Don't Focus On Origin Stories
The tale of how a character became a hero can sometimes stand out as the most interesting element of his/her persona. That said, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited wisely understood that this isn't always the case for DC heroes. While some time was devoted to the origin stories of characters like Black Canary or Green Arrow, the shows really never spent more time than necessary setting up abilities or personalities. This was likely a side effect of the short 20-minute runtimes for their episodes, but the lesson was clear. Audiences are relatively discerning, and they do not need intensive explanations about how a certain hero found his or her way to a cape or cowl and became the figure that we all know and love.
Keep The Storytelling Mature
Don't ever let anyone tell you that superhero stories are just for kids. They most certainly are not. The DC lore has a long history of telling mature stories with dark themes and intellectually stimulating concepts, and that tradition extends to the animated side of the DC realm as well. Properties like Young Justice never shied away from difficult moral and ethical issues in the run of their stories, and the DCEU movies should take inspiration from these shows by similarly engaging in thought-provoking narratives that rise above simple conflicts of good and evil. It's nice to see a giant laser in the sky now and then, but more often than not it's far more interesting to see these characters grapple with complex situations as three-dimensional heroes.
Don't Shy Away From Obscure Stories
The DC universe is chock full of iconic stories that even the most mainstream audiences have become familiar with over the years. That said, there are plenty of obscure tales that could be tweaked or altered to make room for some genuinely innovative storytelling. One such example comes from Batman: The Animated Series, which told the backstory of how Batman got the enormous penny in the Batcave in a classic episode called "Almost Got 'Im." It's not the most famous tale in the Batman canon; not by a long shot. Nevertheless, it remains an engaging and intriguing element of the Batman lore that has endeared many fans of the DC mythos for years. It doesn't have to always be The Dark Knight Returns or A Death in the Family.
Give Every Franchise A Unique Feel
Of all the things that DC's animated properties have managed to get right over the years, this is one that stands out as one of the most important. From the noir detective atmosphere of Batman: The Animated Series to the endlessly hopeful vibe of Superman: The Animated series to the hard sci-fi elements of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, DC has never shied away from giving each hero's solo series a unique feeling and atmosphere. That's something that the DC movies could similarly benefit from. Rather than aiming for tonal consistently between films, we could get a dark, noir story for The Batman, a bombastic space opera for Green Lantern Corps (if that ever happens) or a light-hearted time travel romp for The Flash's solo movie.