While we stand on the eve of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s big history making finale that will bring together more than 10 years and more than 20 movies, a lot of questions still remain about the franchise that has come to be known as the DC Extended Universe. The initial trilogy of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League were originally meant to set the stage for a larger interconnected film universe, but as DC superhero movies continue to be produced, we’re seeing less and less focus on them as being part of a whole and more focus given to the idea that each movie is a standalone story. Which has led to one final question. Is the DC Universe already dead?
This question became all the more relevant just in the last few days as people attached to the production of both Wonder Woman 1984 and The Suicide Squad, both followups to existing, and hugely successful, DC movies, tried to separate themselves from the idea that they were, in any way, “sequels.”
Now, let’s be serious, both of these films are sequels. They are stories that will be about (mostly) the same characters that will follow from events that took place in a previous film. Call them what you want, but they are sequels.
However, the fact that Warner Bros. seems nervous about using the word, even for parts of the franchise that have been successful, is telling to say the least. They want the audience to view them as separate films as much as possible.
This is also clear in the rest of the DC slate that we know is on the way. In addition to The Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman 1984, we have Shazam!, a standalone film which, as far as we know, only makes passing references to the fact that other DC heroes exist, Birds of Prey, a film that will include one popular character that we’ve seen before, but will also introduce several new ones, a Batman movie that won’t include Ben Affleck, and thus could very easily not be part of the existing universe at all, a Joker movie that we know for certain is not connected to the version of the character played by Jared Leto in Suicide Squad, and a sequel to Aquaman, a movie that itself made only a brief reference to the fact that it starred the same character who was in Justice League. One wonders if an Aquaman producer will come out of the woodwork to tell us Aquaman 2 is not a sequel.
Other movies that we think might show up eventually, like the Flash movie, have also seemingly moved away from any focus on the connected universe. While it had previously been announced that we were going to get a Flashpoint movie, and that would almost certainly be a film that would include other DC universe characters, the more recent word is that the Flashpoint idea has been scrapped.
If the DC film universe didn’t exist at all, and there was just a Suicide Squad movie franchise and a Wonder Woman movie franchise that were separate from each other, then, of course, we’d be calling these movies sequels. It would be insane not to do so. I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason Warner Bros. is trying to draw a line between the previous films and the next ones is because both Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad were made when the DC Extended Universe was very much part of the future of the franchise, but as these sequels are being made, it’s not.
Justice League gave us a post-credits sequence that teased the formation of the Legion of Doom, yet, as of now, we don’t have any idea when such a movie might happen. There’s been no official announcement of a Justice League sequel or any sort of a clear road map that would indicate that any of the first three existing movies (and the plotlines they teased) are going, well, anywhere.
To that end, we also know that there are apparently no talks about making another Superman movie at this point. That might be the clearest indication of all that drastic changes have been made. The single most popular comic book character in the history of time and space has no project in the works at a time when comic book movies have never been more popular. Add to that the fact that there’s no guarantee the character will have the same actor if and when a movie does happen, and it seems that the character who was the linchpin of the DC universe to this point might be officially gone.
The DC film universe took something of a gamble when it was first rolling out. Rather than take Marvel’s route and give each major Justice League hero their own film first, they went right for the team up, introducing the entire main squad in only the franchise’s second film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and following that one up in short order with Justice League. Warner Bros. and DC were all about the continuity before, so the fact that they’re not now shows a major change in plans.
With the success that films like Wonder Woman and Aquaman have seen, it’s far from surprising if the plan is to put the breaks on the entire connected universe thing. While both films are technically part of said universe, they’re still largely standalone stories. Even if you haven’t seen any of the other DC films, you can enjoy them, and people did.
Certainly, we don’t need major crossover events for the larger universe to remain persistent, we don’t even need cameos. At the same time, it’s part of what we’ve come to expect from the cinematic universe. It’s also part of what makes the films so successful. We did’t need to see The Incredible Hulk in the most recent Thor movie, but doing that sells tickets, so you’d think DC and Warner Bros. would be seeding the movies with similar things in order to keep fans excited about the universe.
Instead, it just feels like the plan is to take the few parts of the universe that have been strong hits with fans, Batman, Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, etc, and continue these franchises on their own. Maybe they technically exist in the same universe, but it doesn’t feel like that fact is ever going to be important again.
At this point, DC has films on the release schedule clear through the end of 2022, and none of them, not even the rumored ones, so much as hint at the film universe being part of the story. So, we have to ask, if these characters are supposed to be part of the same world, but we never see what that means, does it even count?