James Gunn’s plan for the DCU seems overly ambitious and messy at best
It’s been a long and turbulent journey for the DCEU since its inception in 2013, with many ups and downs in numerous films over the past decade. Warner Brothers have long attempted to replicate the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for their own roster of heroes with the DC Extended Universe, but the franchise has encountered hurdles at every step.
Whether it was a family tragedy, behind-the-scenes drama, entirely separate film cuts, or a very public and very disturbing breakdown of one of your main stars, DC’s Extended Universe is little more than a failed experiment. Dwayne Johnson’s selfish passion project Black Adam was supposed to be the savior of the franchise, but it ended up being the final nail in the coffin, having barely scraped past the box office and reaping poor critical reception.
One of the main criticisms of DC was the lack of leadership and direction provided at Marvel Studios by its chief creative officer, Kevin Feige. It’s a problem that’s plagued DC for nearly a decade, but the entertainment world was turned on its head last year when it was announced that James Gunn would be spearheading a new era of storytelling for DC alongside producer Peter Safran.
Gunn is loved by comic book fans for his Guardians of The Galaxy trilogy set in the MCU. The director first made his mark on DC in 2021 with The Suicide Squad, which culminated in the spin-off series Peacemaker, arguably the strongest project to emerge from the DCEU.
Putting him at the helm of DC largely calmed the always-vociferous fan base on Twitter, but sentiment soon soured when it was announced that the new regime at DC would bring big changes. Chief among them was the abrupt end of Henry Cavill’s time as Superman, although he recently returned in Black Adam’s mid-credit tease.
The consensus is that Cavill never really got a fair shot at the role, and it looks like he never will. It seems likely that Ben Affleck’s take on Batman is also finally over, with the future of some key cast members like Gal Gadot and Zachary Levi uncertain at best.
These sweeping changes made it clear that James Gunn has a very clear vision for what is now referred to as the DCU. The head of the newly created DC Studios has been fairly transparent about his vision for characters like Superman, and has regularly responded to the backlash and outcry of the changes on social media. He’s made good on his promise of a partial reveal of the first phase of DC’s new ongoing storyline, and it’s… interesting?
Titled Gods and Monsters, the first chapter of the DCU will feature a new Superman movie, a True Detective-inspired version of the Green Lantern Corps, and animated spin-off shows. It’s worth noting that this is only a partial reveal and that there will certainly be more projects announced over the years, but it’s a pretty lackluster stream of projects for a fresh start for DC.
The two biggest projects on the agenda are the new Superman and Batman movies. Superman: Legacy is based on Grant Morrison’s acclaimed all-star Superman series and will feature a screenplay written and likely directed by Gunn. The new version of the Man of Steel will focus on his younger years while balancing his Kryptonian heritage with his human responsibilities and life.
The Brave and The Bold will see the dynamic duo, Batman and Robin, work together in live action for the first time in over 20 years. The film is based on the Son of Batman storyline and will introduce Damien Wayne as Robin. It’s important to note that this film is completely separate from the story told in Matt Reeves’ Bat-Verse. The Batman: Part Two will now carry Elseworlds branding to separate it from the DCU continuity.
Putting two of DC’s heavyweights at the forefront of this new era is a logical step, but the rest of the board feels a little scattered. Viola Davis will return as Amanda Waller in a self-titled spin-off series, and Wonder Woman’s homeland of Themyscira will be explored in her own show Paradise Lost. Lesser-known heroes in DC will also take responsibility for Gunn’s vision for the new DCU, with TV shows focusing on Booster Gold and the Creature Commandos.
Both Gunn and Safran have made it clear that DC’s Trinity – consisting of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman – will play an active role in the early days of the DCU, but will primarily serve to support new characters. It’s a risky strategy to marginalize some of DC’s biggest names in favor of some of DC’s more eccentric and unknown characters.
However, if the goal is to sever all ties to the DCEU and establish the DCU as its own thing, then this slate reveal does just that. To be fair to Gunn, it’s important to note that he’s a genuine fan and has built a reputation for taking lesser-known characters and producing quality content that makes them household names. The Guardians of the Galaxy roster was a far cry from the superstars they are now prior to their MCU debut in 2014.
While there’s no doubting his writing skills, his habit of putting the spotlight on the underdogs probably wasn’t what fans expected from DC. The key aspect of the DCU, however, is its approach to storytelling. The franchise will focus on a massive arc – although it’s not clear what the gist of it is – told across film, television, animation and games. But is that the right strategy?
Marvel took this approach in Phase 4, which started the Multiverse saga, and it didn’t exactly work out. Once upon a time, Marvel could do little wrong in the eyes of moviegoers, but their latest slew of films and TV shows have been heavily criticized for their quantity over quality approach.
It’s also made the MCU increasingly inaccessible, and with a new show or movie sometimes being released weeks apart, keeping up with the overarching storyline has become a chore and many are hoping for a return to that tighter approach from theatrical releases that made up the Infinity Saga. Following scathing fan feedback, Marvel has reportedly decided to extend the pauses in Phase 5, delaying or canceling projects in development altogether in order to return to a quality-over-quantity approach.
Ultimately, Marvel and DC are competitors. DC is expected to take note of recent criticisms of the MCU and offer an alternative. Instead, Gunn will take the approach to a new level in Phase 4 for DC’s first chapter. It all seems a bit too, well, like comics, to be honest.
An event in DC and Marvel Comics can be teased for months and sometimes years in their numerous titles down their entire line. It’s a huge commitment for the reader that they’re sometimes happy to make, but will this approach work for the casual viewer or moviegoer? We have already seen that this is not the case.
Throwing games into the mix is another level of engagement that fans just might not be ready for. Remember, EVERYTHING is canon. Gunn has been very vague about what his actual plans are for playing in the DCU, but has made it clear that they will feed into the overall storyline.
It comes out as a red flag. How big will the games be? Will these be AAA titles or will it be indies thrown into online stores? Paying $70 for a game to keep up with the story is a sizable investment compared to buying a movie ticket.
More worrying is the idea that these games will be released between shows and movies. It seems like wishful thinking. Game development, especially for a high-quality title, can take years and will make it very difficult to fit into the schedule of DC’s planned releases.
Gunn’s plans for games in the DCU will give many of us Vietnamese-style flashbacks to the old days of cheaply produced and soulless movie tie-in games. Remember Sega’s early attempts at adapting the Phase One MCU films? If you’ve blocked it, it’s probably for the best. They weren’t great.
Of all the moving parts of the DCU, gaming seems the least thought through, and it would be surprising if it made it into chapter one at all. To avoid a significant step backwards for superhero games, Gunn and Safran have to think long and hard about which stories best fit the medium, which development teams best suit each title, and whether it really fits into the overarching vision for the franchise. It’s not a job anyone would envy.
There’s still a while to go before DCU 2025 officially kicks off with Superman: Legacy, and it’s likely that Gunn will continue to hold some cards close to his chest while feeding fans information on Twitter. It’ll likely be around Comic-Con that we’ll get a full reveal of the DCU’s first roster, plus more details on what to expect, who’s involved with the franchise, and more about the overall story and arc.
While Gunn’s plans may seem a little chaotic, his passion for these characters and the world of DC is clear as day. His plans may not work out, but he makes an honest attempt to steer a much-maligned and troubled franchise with years of baggage in the right direction. In a way, he’s the bravest man in Hollywood right now.
https://twinfinite.net/2023/02/james-gunns-plan-for-the-dcu-seems-overly-ambitious-messy-at-best/ James Gunn’s plan for the DCU seems overly ambitious and messy at best