After listening to James Gunn’s plans for the DC Universe, I can only thank the superhero gods. This comic book universe has lingered somewhere between “that’s awesome!” and “what the hell?” for ages. Projects were greenlit and then abruptly canceled; whole films were shot and scrapped at the last second. Following Zack Snyder’s departure from the franchise, many creative minds tried to steer the ship in various directions to no avail. Occasionally, a film like Joker or The Batman would surprise us all, followed by something like the awful Wonder Woman 1984.
Luckily, new Warner Bros. hotshot David Zaslav stepped in and handed the reins to James Gunn. While my feelings about Gunn’s body of work are mixed, I think he’s the right man for the job. The man’s a visionary but understands how to connect with general audiences. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 remains one of the great Marvel Cinematic Universe entries, while the recent The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker TV series were unique and fun in their respective way.
Let’s break down why this vision for DCU Chapter 1 – Gods and Monsters is such a smart move.
It’s crazy to think it’s been nearly six years since we saw Superman on the big screen, that cheesy Black Adam cameo notwithstanding. Our boy in blue has sat far too long on the sidelines, despite Henry Cavill publicly stating his desire to return to the role.
While I would’ve loved to have seen Cavill reprise his take on Superman, I get the need to go younger. Plus, while I generally consider Man of Steel the de facto Superman epic, I’m all for a new take on the character that’s more in line with the classic Superman of old.
Why should we get excited? Read how Peter Safran described the character: “It’s not an origins story, it focuses on Superman’s balancing his Kryptonian heritage with his human upbringing. He’s the embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way, he’s kindness in a world that thinks of kindness as old fashioned.”
Bryan Singer and Zack Snyder tried presenting a Superman who fit more within our cynical modern-day society. Each offered a unique interpretation, but even I’ll admit Superman Returns and Man of Steel lacked the hero’s adventurous spirit. So it’ll be interesting to see if Gunn can create an old-fashioned hero relatable to contemporary audiences.
Now, is Gunn the right man to direct the project? I’m not sure. Many (including me) fear that he will apply the same goofy Guardians of the Galaxy aesthetic to every DCU property. So let’s hope he can distinguish between Superman and Polka-Dot Man.
On top of that, J.J. Abrams and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ untitled Black Superman project is still in development, so we’ll get a lot of Superman soon.
I’m glad we’re getting more of Matt Reeves’ The Batman, as his original film set up what could be an engrossing franchise. Will people grow tired of the Caped Crusader? Possibly. Bats will appear in various forms over the next several years via The Flash (with Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck), The Batman II (along with a Penguin TV series), and Gunn’s planned The Brave and the Bold. The Dark Knight has a rich history for filmmakers to draw from, including Grant Morrison’s famous comic book run (which Gunn cited as a major influence). Still, there’s only so much you can do with a single character before inevitably pairing him with Scooby-Doo.
The Brave and the Bold will toss Robin/Damian Wayne into the mix and introduce the Bat-family, which might be enough to entice audiences. We have yet to see a Bat project combine the elements of every big screen Batman — Christopher Nolan’s grounded realism, Snyder’s over-the-top action, Tim Burton’s gothic style, Reeves’ film noir approach, and Joel Schumacher’s campy tone — into a satisfying whole. Maybe The Brave and the Bold can finally deliver the perfect Dark Knight.
Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow
Here is another project I’m excited about, primarily because Gunn describes it as a big, science-fiction epic film. Supergirl is “much more jaded,” which could be fun, especially if she goes toe-to-toe with her more famous cousin. Gunn plans to take cues from Tom King’s Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, which means I have some comic book reading to do over the next several years. No word on whether Sasha Calle will continue the role of Supergirl after the upcoming The Flash.
More Musings on the DCU’s Future
- I’m looking forward to Waller. Despite not loving either Suicide Squad movie, I enjoyed Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, who is complex enough to carry her own show. I imagine this series will give Gunn an excuse to play with even more eccentric villains.
- Gunn mentioned how some animated projects would bleed into the live-action films and likely feature the same cast. This is a great move and proof that he’s building something special and ambitious here.
- Gunn’s ringing endorsement of The Flash (he calls it “one of the greatest superhero films ever made”) mirrors early reactions to the picture. It must be an outstanding film if Gunn uses it to launch the next slate of DC adventures. I’m dying to see it! Of course, there are also the Shazam! and Aquaman sequels, which may also lead to new content. Who really knows at this point? At any rate, I like that Gunn is not throwing out the Snyderverse completely. In fact, Ezra Miller’s Flash may return in later films along with Jason Momoa’s Aquaman. Apparently, the Wonder Woman prequel TV series, Paradise Lost, leaves the door open for Gal Gadot to reprise her role. Does that mean Ben Affleck will return at some point? How about Cavill, who Gunn believes was “dicked around” with by WB? So many questions.
- I really dig the chapters concept. Plus, the subtitle “Gods and Monsters” just sounds cool.
- The Lanterns TV series sounds intriguing as hell. Hal Jordan and John Stewart roaming about the galaxy like cops from True Detective investigating a terrifying mystery? Count me in, especially since the series will tie into the larger narrative. Could we see the return of Darkseid (albeit in a different form)?
- As an aside, I love how each project has a distinct tone and style. Swamp Thing is a horror film, Lanterns is a cop show like True Detective, and Superman is an adventure. Not every hero has to be bright and optimistic or dark and brooding. There’s room for variance and what fits each property the best.
- Gunn was excited about The Authority, which he called a “passion project.” This film will likely allow Gunn to uncork his quirky style without upsetting fans or changing the tone/style of a previously established hero. It’s weird to think that an obscure superhero team might end up as popular as the Guardians of the Galaxy in the next ten years.
Finally, the most important tidbit from Gunn and Safran’s announcement was how they emphasized the need to produce quality over quantity. They plan to release two films and two TV shows per year but promise they won’t put a project into production without a finished script:
“People have become beholden to [release] dates, to getting movies made no matter what. I’m a writer at my heart, and we’re not going to be making movies before the screenplay is finished.“
If DC wants to take over Marvel, this is the way to do it. Plus, it’s the perfect time to strike. The MCU has waned in recent years due to Kevin Feige’s insistence on producing so many movies and TV shows per year. It’s overkill that has led to stale projects and far too many duds. If Gunn holds true to his promise, the DCU might slide in and take over the comic book movie genre the MCU has monopolized for over a decade. Maybe then, Marvel will get its act together and go back to producing quality content for its fans to rally around. “A lot of people are thinking this is Marvel 2.0. It’s not,” Gunn said. Good.