The Snyderverse is finished. Sure, the last remnants of DC’s current failed attempt to create an interconnected comic book universe will still be released in theaters but with little fanfare. Maybe Shazam: Fury of the Gods, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and perhaps even The Flash will be fun blockbusters, but there’s no doubt they represent the end of an error.
Earlier this year James Gunn, director of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, and prolific-producer Peter Safran were announced as the new custodians of the DC Universe. And with that news, for the first time in more than five years, I'm actually excited about the future of DC movies again.
As you might expect, the Cult of Snyder took the news pretty hard. And just this month Gunn was forced to put out a statement acknowledging that there will be a “period of turbulence” and that “difficult and not-so-obvious choices” will be made in the wake of persistent uproar from a very vocal minority.
The final fate of a few of the characters introduced in DC’s first Extended Universe remains unknown, but there’s no doubt that Zac Snyder’s original vision hasn’t just been put on ice, it’s been buried six feet under. And while some mourn the decision to fully abandon Snyder’s plans, if DC ever truly wants to compete with the juggernaut that is Marvel this could be the turning point that we look back on in years to come.
The Snyderverse failed to launch
When Zac Snyder was given the keys to run the DC kingdom back in the early 2010s, he wasn’t a universally popular choice. After all, Snyder has always been a divisive filmmaker. However, his work on 2009’s Watchman did prove his chops when it comes to adapting comic books for the big screen. Unfortunately, 2013’s Man of Steel was not a movie capable of shouldering the heavy burden of launching an interconnected movie franchise capable of competing with The Avengers.
Comic book purists questioned Superman’s wanton destruction of Metropolis in the film’s final act, and the ending was also criticized by some long time fans of Supes. But if Man of Steel endured a tepid reaction, it was nothing compared to the fallout that followed the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016.
DC’s attempt to rush straight into a big crossover movie that encompassed both a showdown between the Dark Knight and the Last Son of Krypton, as well as introducing a slew of new characters including Wonder Woman, Lex Luther and GCI-monstrosity Doomsday was an abject failure. The film performed significantly below expectations at the box office and its critical reception was equally bruising.
The release of David Ayer’s tonally confusing Suicide Squad a few months later did little to convince anybody that the DC bigwigs had a well-considered long-term plan in place. But at least 2017’s Wonder Woman provided a glimmer of hope, and still stands as one of DC’s best efforts over the last decade. Sadly, any hope of recovery was well and truly put to rest by Justice League crashing into theaters in November 2017.
By this point, Marvel was a well-oiled machine turning talking raccoons and Ant-Man into global names; conversely, DC couldn’t even get its key players right. Of course, the film’s troubled production shouldn’t be glossed over, and neither should the tragic death of Zac Synder's daughter during this period which resulted in Avenger's director Joss Whedon stepping in to finish the film. Nevertheless, audiences widely rejected Justice League and it ended up grossing even less than Batman vs Superman.
The increasingly confusing state of DC
Following the failure of Justice League, DC Studios has spent the last six years making increasingly strange decisions. Primarily it has released a string of movies that try to be both wholly standalone and part of a shared universe. Although, there have been no more crossover films since Justice League. In fact, in many ways, the DC universe of the last half a decade feels barely connected at all.
Characters from Snyder’s films including Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Ezra Miller’s The Flash have stuck around. But new blood has also been offered up in the form of Shazam (Zachary Levi) and Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson). Plus, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn got her own spinoff movie and reunited with a new look Suicide Squad for a slate-wiping semi-sequel directed by none other than James Gunn himself after he was briefly fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 by Disney.
DC’s output in the last few years has ranged from pretty excellent (Birds of Prey, The Suicide Squad) to downright awful (Wonder Woman 1984, Black Adam) with a couple of mediocre movies thrown in for good measure. But the slate has become not only stale but also lacking in cohesion. There's little connective tissue between each new movie, and the few scenes or lines that do hint that all these films take place in the same continuity stick out and usually feel tacked on.
The increasingly messy timeline has been complicated further by DC also opting to create movies that exist outside of the DC Extended Universe. As much as I highly rate 2019’s Joker and 2022’s The Batman, it’s hard not to feel the existence of these movies only muddies the water further. Could you imagine Marvel opting to make a standalone Iron Man movie that exists in its own continuity just a few years after the first Avengers movie?
Adding another wrinkle was the release Zac Snyder's Justice League (a.k.a the SnyderCut) after years of online campaign from passionate fan. This four-hour long exercise in self-indulgence was heralded as proof that Zac Snyder’s original vision was the correct path for DC to tread all along by evangelists, but really all it did was confirm what many of us had been saying for years: The DC universe needs a hard reboot.
These characters deserve better
I’d considered myself more of a Marvel guy — sorry, but the universe with Spider-Man will always win in my books — but even I can appreciate that DC is fortunate enough to possess some of the most iconic superheroes in history. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are a heck of a trio to build your franchise around.
I desperately want to see Superman and Batman clash in a movie that is worthy of both their names. Wonder Woman needs to continue to inspire a generation of young female viewers. The Flash should be played by an actor that isn't making headlines for the wrong reasons. And heroes as-of-yet unexplored on the big screen like Batgirl, Nightwing and Starfire deserve a chance to prove to general audiences why they’ve been delighting comic book readers for decades.
DC has a truly impressive roster of heroes to draw from, but we've only seen brief glimpses of what can happen when they feature in movies worthy of their name. Now I want to see a large-scale franchise a dozen movies deep that lives up to the full potential of these super-powered beings. And I’m keeping my fingers tightly crossed that James Gunn (and Peter Safran) can deliver on the vast potential of a well-established interconnected DC movie universe.
I should also note that I wouldn’t be against some of the successful elements of the old DC Universe being retained. Henry Cavill is definitely out as Superman — a bizarre situation after he confirmed his return as Clark Kent just a couple of months ago — but there are reports Jason Momoa could be recast as Lobo, and it’s highly unlikely that John Cena’s Peacemaker is going anywhere (Peacemaker season 2 is already in the works).
I definitely favor the vast majority of what’s come before being disregarded but there is a small handful of elements from the Snyderverse that could still be retained without any complaints from me. Although, I also wouldn’t be against a total reboot either. Successfully weaving parts of the old with the new is likely to be a tough needle to thread, and holding into the past could stunt Gunn and Safran’s plans before they’ve even had the chance to fully reveal them.
The Gunnverse needs instant success
In a lot of ways, Gunn and Safran’s arrival on the scene couldn’t have been better timed. The once seemingly-invincible Marvel Cinematic Universe has started to look a little vulnerable. Complaints of Marvel fatigue have risen in 2022, and there appears to be a growing sentiment that Disney is oversaturating its own franchise with non-stop content hitting movie theatres and its Disney Plus streaming service.
Now is the ideal time for DC to come along and offer a credible alternative. Frustratingly, 2023 will be a lost year for DC as the final films greenlit under the previous leadership are already scheduled for release. However, if Gunn and Safran put their plans into place quickly and strike while Marvel looks a little shaky, I feel there is a real opportunity for DC to challenge for the comic book movie crown.
Of course, it’s vital that this time the foundations are rock solid. The mistakes of the Snyderverse cannot be repeated. The new-look DC needs to slowly build up its universe by properly establishing its core players before throwing them all together into a big team-up movie a là Justice League. Marvel has laid down a proven blueprint that shows how to craft a successful shared movie franchise — there’s really no shame in following it.
Of course, whatever happens next, it’s going to be fascinating to see it all unfold. And even if I’d still consider myself more partial to Marvel, I really do hope that Gunn and Safran can turn DC Studios into the comic book movie-producing powerhouse it should be. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats, and DC firing on all cylinders can only be a good thing for everybody.