Fixing the DCEU

It’s an open secret that the DC Extended Universe has been a bit of a mess. Between inconsistent tones and an ever-changing plan behind the scenes, DC has not yet managed to launch a fully integrated shared universe in the way that Marvel has. But what if the tables had been turned?

What follows is a vague outline of how an MCU-esque DCEU might look, if it was guaranteed from the start to be successful. The timeline of releases and character sequels remain identical to the current MCU, with one exception. It ends with the final Justice League. Full disclosure: some of these will be more fleshed out than others.

The Flash (originally Iron Man)

In a world where superheroes already exist, Jay Garrick is a technician for STAR Labs. When an expirement with heavy water vapors goes awry, he gains super-speed which he uses to battle crime on the downlow, particularly a pair of villains calling themselves Captain Cold and Captain Boomerang. The Captains are defeated and thrown in a maximum security prison with cells directly next to each other.

Mid-Credits Scene: The Flash is approached on a rooftop by Batman to discuss joining the Justice League

Martian Manhunter (originally The Incredible Hulk)

When Martian J’onn J’onzz finds himself suddenly teleported to Earth, he must find out why. Mixed in are a series of flashbacks to life before this event where his twin brother Ma’alefa’ak grew up a as risk to those around him. J’onn eventually finds the man responsible for the teleportation – Dr. Saul Erdel – who has spent several decades messing with Martian eqiuptment he doesn’t understand and the two verbally hash things out.

Mid-Credits Scene: Ma’alefa’ak sets out from Mars on a mission to find and kill J’ohnn

The Flash 2 (originally Iron Man 2)

A masked vigilante known as The Pied Piper has appeared and is fighting homphobic attacks with more violence than Jay deems necessary. As he prepares for a wedding to his beloved Joan, he seeks out to reform the Pipers ways, bringing into question the morality of vigilantism and doubting that his own methods are enough.

Mid-Credits Scene: Captain’s Cold and Boomerang watching a news report of the Piper’s antics with great interest.

Wonder Woman (originally Thor)

Having recently buried her mother who passed due to old age, the daughter of The Cheetah in the throws of grief vows to finally take down Diana Prince. Mixed in are a series of flashbacks to the early days of Diana’s heroism battling the original Cheetah which parrallel her becoming her own woman just as the new Chettah needs to. Ends with Diana returning to Themyscira to see her own mother.

Mid credits Scene: Bruce Wayne visiting his parents graves before spotting Clark Kent leaning on a tree and goin over for a hug.

Superman (originally Captain America)

Bizarro, under the influence of Lex Luthor, is committing crimes in the name of Superman. Lex uses this to bolster his campaign for mayor, promising a curb on superheroes and, whilst Bizarro is defeated, Lex still wins the vote.

Mid Credit Scene: Bruce and Clark in a coffee shop in the aftermath of the election, discussing what happens now.

Justice League (originally Avengers Assemble)

Ma’alefa’ak finally arrives on Earth to kill his brother and the League must band together to stop him from destroying the city in the process. The group currently is Batman, Superman, The Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Wonder Woman (who has returned from Themyscira ).

Mid Credits Scene: The group in their Hall of Justice toasting to a job well done before a news flash of another Arkam Asylum mass-breakout. Batman sighs.

Flashpoint (originally Iron Man 3)

The Rouges (consisting of Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, The Pied Piper) accidentally kill Joan in a nasty crossfire and Jay tries running back in time to stop it. He succeeds but when trying to return to the present jumps several years into the future where all is not as it should be. Serves as an introduction to upcoming Flash Wally West.

Mid Credits Scene: Jay visiting the Rogues to forgive them

Wonder Woman 3 (originally Thor: The Dark World)

Having finally escaped the prison he was trapped in by the Gods, Ares (God of War) seeks to destroy them but, in order to reach the Gate to the Fourth World, he must first get past Diana. She weakens him greatly but ultimately he makes it through, being imprisoned once again in his weakened state.

Mid Credits Scene: Phobos and Deimos, sons of Ares, learn of their father’s fate and vow revenge.

Superman 2 (originally Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Braniac, a genius intellect from a distant galaxy, has come to Earth seeking to destroy the last son of Krypton believing it to be in the best interests of the universe. He quickly forms a partnership with Lex Luthor but the Man of Steel prevails and banishes Braniac to the Phantom Zone with a device Bruce Wayne helped him to build.

Mid Credit Scene: Lex uses the technology left behind by Braniac to send a signal into space: “The last Kryptonian is here. Come get him.”

Green Lantern Corps (originally Guardians of the Galaxy)

New Green Lantern Kyle Rayner is due to be initiated after concluding his training with current Green Lantern Hal Jordan. During the cermony, news arrives that the leader of each Corps has been kidnapped by Sinestro and the Yellow Corps, so Kyle and Hal embark on a mission to save them. Hal sacrifices himself so that the Green Lanterns can win the climactic battle.

Mid Credit Scene: Steppenwolf recieves news from a lackey that the last son of Krypton has been found but they’re having trouble narrowing down the location. Steppenwolf is unpeturbed and decries that the hunt will begin.

Justice League: Tower of Babel (originally Avengers: Age of Ultron)

Having successfully aqquired Batman’s information on the Justice Leagues greatest weakness through nefarious means, Ra’s Al Guhl uses it to incapacitate them and hold nations to ransom.Though the League eventually come out on top, Batman quietly decides to leave the group for his wrongdoings.

Mid Credit Scene: None

The Atom (originally Ant-Man)

Former thief David Cross has used his prison time to develop a time travelling suit which he uses under the name Chronos to steal artifacts from time. When trying to steal a more sophisticated time travelling device from STAR Labs he accidentally uses it on himself and The Atom (Ray Palmer) who happened to be trying to stop him. What follows is a fight through time as they blip between years. Features a cameo from previous Atom Al Pratt.

Mid Credits Scene: Older Al Pratt answers the door to a shocked Ray Palmer, his nephew, before nodding and inviting him in as they have much to discuss.

Death of Superman (originally Captain America: Civil War)

A seemingly unstoppable being known as Doomsday lands on Earth looking to kill Superman. After a lengthy battle that is well televised by reporters Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, the two take each other out leaving the world one superhero down.

Mid Credits Scene: The Justice League, out of disguise and at Clark Kent’s wake. Bruce has his arm around Ma Kent.

Zatanna (originally Doctor Strange)

Renowned magician Zatanna Zatara’s former student Nicolas Nolan, under the name Nick Necro, is using his own fame to search for books on Dark Arts. Concerned, Zatanna goes to confront him, only for him to escape and finally gain the power he was seeking. After a lengthy battle, where Zatanna calls in help from Necro’s old boyfriend Constantine, he is consumed by the darkness and perishes.

Mid-Credit Scene: Zatanna and Constantine, in Hell, ensuring that Necro is properly contained

Green Lantern Corps 2 (originally Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2)

News reaches the Green Lanterns that Steppenwolf is on a galaxy-wide rampage. They endevour to stop him, coming across several planets he’s laid waste to before a final battle ensues. During a classic villain monolouge, Steppenwolf unviels that his family are aiming to wipe out Kryptonians once and for all and, once defeated, crawls back to his uncle Darksied.

Mid Credit Scene: Kyle Gardner enters the Hall of Justice, only to find it empty. Bruce Wayne approaches from behind and Kyle informs him of the danger that’s coming.

Shazam! (originally Spider-Man: Homecoming)

Young orphan Billy Batson’s life is turned upside down when a wizard grants him the powers of Shazam. As he confronts his newfound powers, and he tries to hide them from his new foster family with the help of his adoptive brother, he faces off against Dr Thaddeus Sivana.

Mid Credit Scene: Sivana in prison is confronted by the talking space worm Mr Mind

(Yes, this is straight-up the version that actually came out. They nailed it on that one.)

Wonder Woman 3 (originally Thor: Ragnarok)

Having travelled home to Themyscira, to cope with the passing of Superman, Diana and the rest of the Amazonians are attacked by Phobos – son of Ares. The entire island must band together to take down him and his brother Deimos.

Mid-Credit Scene: Diana gets a phone call from Bruce while lying on the beach to tell her he’s found a way to bring back Superman…and he’s in Britain.

Constantine (originally Black Panther)

Diana and Bruce travel with Zatanna to Britain where they meet John Constantine, who has agreed to travel to the Underworld to retrieve Superman and return him to his physical body. This is a task he must undertake alone but it’s filled with multiple perilous encounters, although he eventually succeeds.

Mid Credit Scene: Superman, with a mullet, choosing his black suit and flying up for the iconic shot in front of the sun

Justice League Vs Darksied (originally Avengers: Infinity War)

Darksied, ruler of Apokolips, has finally arrived on Earth to claim Supermans life. The Justice Leauge manage the best they can but as each of them are incapacitated, it becomes clear that they’re going to lose and Wally opens the Gateway Between Dimensions sending a desperate call for help.

Mid Credit Scene: None

The Atom 2 (originally Ant-Man 2)

A mechanical genius named Xotar from the year A.D. 11,960 has travelled back in time to prevent the accidental death of an ancestor at the hands of The Atom, believing that it will improve the future of his family. Using his skills, he crafts mechanical assistants, an exo-suit and more to take him down. After The Atom wins the climactic battle, Time Police appear to take Xotar away.

Mid-Credits Scene: Ray is in his lab when he picks up a major anomaly on his scanners…the arrival of Darksied.

Lobo (originally Captain Marvel)

Intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo is hired from the far end of space to kill Santa Claus but continues to stumble upon previous DCEU villains. Ma’alefa’ak, Braniac, Legion, and Steppenwolf all get on his bad side and end up a little worse for wear because of it. He does eventually have to end up on Earth, killing Santa.

Mid-Credits Scene: Lobo literally wanders into the middle of the Crisis event, recognising Darksied with whom he has old issues.

Crisis on Infinite Earths (originally Avengers: Endgame)

Darkseid learns of the Gateway Between Dimensions and does all he can to get to it but he must face a hoarde of heroes from across the multiverse. Features people from pre-DCEU DC films and shows as well as new castings of as yet unseen variations of characters. Because this is the very last installment, no holds should be barred and everyone should be considered expendable but Darksied should be defeated. Kill 2 original JL members at most.

Mid Credit Scene: A thanks from the cast for the last 10 years


The DCU Begins

“The future of the DCEU is about to change”. These are the now immortal words spoken by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, prior to the release of his passion project Black Adam – part of the DC Extended Universe of films. He meant that his character was so integral to the ongoing story that it would be a character introduction as major as Thanos to the MCU but this isn’t exactly how it panned out. The film was a box office bomb but it doesn’t mean that the statement itself would end up being false…because cancellation is a form of change. Not long after the release of Black Adam, it was announced that the DCEU, a franchise started by 2013’s Man of Steel and featuring 12 films of questionable canonicity, would no longer be continuing in its current form. Director James Gunn and Producer Peter Safran were being brought in as co-heads of DC Studios, the replacement for DC Film, with the first part of their grand vision for the series finally being unveiled this past week.

This slate of releases, titled Gods and Monsters, includes 5 films (Superman: Legacy, The Authority, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, and Swamp Thing), 4 live-action TV series’ (Waller, Lanterns, Paradise Lost, and Booster Gold), and an animated series (Creature Commandos). It’s a really interesting mix of properties, with some being ones that many people may never have heard of, and there are reasons to be excited. Swamp Thing is a particular favourite while Supergirl will notably be the first attempt to portray the character on the big screen (in live-action) since 1984’s Supergirl. However, it doesn’t end there. Much like the MCU currently does, all of these projects will exist within one shared universe and will notably share the exact same actors. This will also apply to the animated shows as well, which is something that the MCU has not yet managed but that Star Wars has been doing for quite some time. 

As iterated, there are plenty of reasons to be excited. Some of these are fan-favourite characters, it’s promising a grand story and the pairing of Gunn/Safran is a safe bet however there are reasons to be anxious too. Primarily, there is the current state of Warner Brothers which currently owns DC. Since taking over as CEO in April 2022, David Zaslav has seemingly made it his mission to destroy the company. Content is being pulled from the streaming service HBOMax with reckless abandon while projects that were near completion are being written off for tax purposes. This is on top of the already notorious history of Warner Brother executives meddling heavily in the production of their films – particularly the DCEU. Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman may not have been popular with the masses but it was executive backpedaling that really killed any of the cohesion in the so-called Snyderverse. Of course, this isn’t a new thing, they famously threw director Joel Schumacher under the bus for Batman and Robin – a film that turned out exactly how they wanted. It seems fair to have faith in Gunn and Safran, who have earned it over their illustrious careers, but at the end of the day, they are still reporting to Zaslav.

Despite unveiling a large number of properties (10 in total), no indication was given as to how quickly their production was to begin. Whilst this may bother some, it actually demonstrates that, despite ideas of grandeur, they likely won’t be rushed. This is often the primary issue with companies attempting to build cinematic universes – too much, too fast – and there is plenty here to keep audiences entertained over at least a few years. The only given date was for Superman: Legacy, which Gunn is already writing and will be released on July 11th, 2025. At one film and one series per year (which is the bare minimum and unlikely to be the final schedule), this is 5 years of content which gives plenty of time to adapt future plans where necessary and to begin production of further installments. It’s also worth noting that the DCU is not the only thing in store with the releases of Joker: Folie A Deux and The Batman Part II still scheduled for October 4th, 2024 and October 3rd, 2025 respectively. There’s also the next couple of series of Teen Titans Go! And Superman and Louis, all of which will keep that DC bone itched until their major franchising can begin.

There’s this notion that something can be too big to fail and it’s one that’s been applied more and more to franchises like Star Wars or the MCU. The DCU currently does not have that luxury because they are, in essence, starting from scratch. DC/WB have spent the past two decades building a portfolio of separate film and television releases with arguably the biggest achievement being the CW Network’s Arrowverse, composed of Green Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, and Batwoman. It is through these shows that the iconic storyline Crisis on Infinite Earths was brought to the screen, which featured cameos from the likes of Burt Ward (Batman: The TV Series) and Robert Wuhl (Batman 1989). It’s one of the company’s crowning achievements. This Arrowverse isn’t dead as such, it just seems to have run its course, although there has been no confirmation of its fate either way. It seems like it won’t be a part of the DCU and that, even if it does continue, it is likely destined for the Elseworlds label like The Batman Part II and Teen Titans Go!. Until now, DC/WB has very much been throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks but with a shared universe across all visual mediums, they’re placing all their eggs in one very risky basket. 

The DCU is an exciting prospect. If it works, it could one day make DC the powerhouse of media that they want to be. However, it’s going to take time, patience, and no shortage of good faith from viewers. The final installments of the DCEU are still to come with Shazam: Fury of the Gods and The Flash, before what James Gunn described as a Universal Reset followed by the release of Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. All four of those are due for release this year and in that order. When this new vision finally begins, let’s hope that this week’s general buzz of excitement from fans hasn’t worn off.

Good luck DCU, you might need it.

DC: The Continuity Joke (Part II)

By 2013 the Marvel Cinematic Universe was in full swing, with 2012’s Avengers Assemble taking the world by storm. The team over at DC/Warner Bros hoped that they could pull off something identical, leading to the launch of the of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) with 2013’s Man of Steel. This was a gritty version of Kal-El’s origin story, akin to the Dark Knight trilogy, and would see him saving Metropolis from fellow Kryptonian General Zod. The film was a box office success, making more money than any of the previous Superman titles, but many felt that it lacked the joy and excitement of… well… earlier Superman titles. There are hints of what was to come, including a LexCorp building, a Wayne-Tech satellite and an open Kryptonian stasis tube in the Fortress of Solitude. These allude to longtime Superman villain Lex Luthor, masked vigilante Batman, and Kara Zor-El aka Supergirl.

It would be 3 years until a follow up feature appeared with Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film introduces Ben Affleck as Batman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman while pulling plot elements from comic book storylines The Dark Knight Returns, and The Death of Superman. It also attempted to introduce Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, in a move so universally despised that they retconned his name to Lex Luthor Junior. Batman Vs Superman (as it became known) was mauled by fans for a variety of reasons that include an over-abundance of plots and abruptly killing Superman (but not really). There is also an abundance of references to the larger universe that this film is hoping to build in to. We get a sequence dedicated to the almighty villain Darkseid, some Joker graffiti on a Batsuit, and cameos from the rest of the Justice League on some CCTV footage at S.T.A.R. Labs. For a more in-depth analysis of where this movie succeeded, and where it didn’t, I recommend checking out MovieBob’s video Really That Bad: BvS [HERE].

The third entry in the DCEU- 2016’s Suicide Squad– would be a financial success but a miss with fans. It sees the formation of the titular team in their battle with The Enchantress and her brother Incubus. Many felt that the film was ugly, and had a plot that was all over the place. Many also took issue with the casting of cult leader Jared Leto as The Joker who was abusive to his co-stars, sending them dead animals under the guise of method acting. Ultimately his presence in the film lasts just under 8 minutes and didn’t add anything to the plot, meaning that none of the trauma was worth it. The one part of the film that many agreed to be the best aspect was Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, while others also approved of Will Smith’s enthusiastic portrayal of Deadshot. Suicide Squad featured cameos from both Affleck as Batman and Ezra Miller as The Flash, as well as mentioning that Harley Quinn assisted in the murder of famed sidekick Robin.

So far, the DCEU seemed to be flailing its arms in the hopes of producing a film that was a hit both financially and with fans… which would finally arrive with 2017’s Wonder Woman, which was DC’s third female led film, after Supergirl and Catwoman, but the first for the DCEU. Meanwhile, their rivals at Marvel were still to provide their first. The story follows our titular heroine as she attempts to prevent World War One, which she believes was started by Amazonian villain Ares, as she falls in love with pilot Steve Trevor. At both the beginning and end of the film, she is seen communicating with Bruce Wayne, however the biggest DCEU link comes during the epilogue where her assistant Etta appears to be searching for a Motherbox. As she had done for many decades, and continues to do, the character of Wonder Woman sparked criticism for either being too feminist or not feminist enough. Is she a symbol of strength for women, or a detriment to their image? As a man, I can’t say for certain, but I urge you to look at the joy she brings to young girls dreaming of a better future. Tell me that isn’t worth it.

What happened next is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting things to happen in the cinema industry in a long time. Since before the release of Man of Steel, the DCEU had always been leading to a team-up film and in 2017 it finally arrived. Justice League sees the formation of the titular team as they battle Darksied’s henchman Steppenwolf, who has come to Earth in search of Motherboxes. These Motherboxes would terraform the Earth into somewhere more akin to Darksied’s homeworld Apokolips. Along the way, Superman is resurrected and a larger universe is alluded to. During a flashback to Steppenwolf’s first invasion of Earth, he is fought of by a group consisting of the Green Lantern Corp, whose Green Lantern character is still to appear. Perhaps most importantly the end-credits scene sees the appearance of Lex Luthor Junior and Deathstroke as they plot to form the Legion of Doom. According to reports, Warner Bros were critical of how the film was being made under Zack Snyder, as BvS, which he was also behind, had not met up to the studio’s standards. This supposedly led to numerous re-writes of the script while they were still filming. This would be enough to damage any film, but post-production was where things would really seem to fall apart. Following the unfortunate passing of his daughter, Zack Snyder would leave the project and would be replaced by Joss Whedon whose job would include scripting original scenes and over-seeing any re-shoots. Unfortunately for Justice League, Henry Cavill was filming Mission Impossible: Fallout at the time and was contractually obligated to keep the moustache he had grown for the role. This would lead to editors attempting to CG it out of any re-shot Superman scenes, but despite all these issues, Warner Bros refused to move the films release date. The response from critics and fans was almost unanimous, with many finding the screenplay to be poor, the pacing to be all over the place and the CGI to be sub-par. According to reports from crew-members, including the actors themselves, this was not the film that Zack Snyder had shot. This lead to people calling for a release of the ‘Snyder Cut’. I am, of course, extremely simplifying events here because the story of Justice League’s production could be a written piece itself.

In 2018, a love for the DCEU would re-surface with the release of Aquaman. It sees the hero coming under attack from his half-brother Orm of Atlantis and having to defend both the land and the sea. It was praised for the cinematography, as well as it’s entertainment value, however some felt that there was too much CGI. Whilst Aquaman is a part of the DCEU, there are no references to it – bar a namedrop of Steppenwolf – which allowed the film to focus on itself. It would choose to set up a direct sequel instead, with the survival of villain Black Manta.

2019 gave us the widely praised Shazam! which sees young Billy Batson being granted superpowers by a dying wizard. Along with his new best friend (and brother through adoption) Freddy, he must face off against the powerful Doctor Sivanna. As a mix between Superman and Big (a comparison the film was designed on) the film was heralded as the most fun project from DC to date while the message of found family was especially hard-hitting for some. There are references to previous instalments here, with Freddy owning a Batarang and a bullet that bounced off of Superman as well as newspaper articles depicting the defeat of Zod, and Superman’s return. They aren’t a focal point of the film, and depict events that have been comic canon for decades, meaning that Shazam! can still stand on its own. Again, they choose to set-up a direct sequel instead of a larger universe with the appearance of alien worm Mister Mind. It’s ok, I had to look him up too.

Thus far the DC productions had been rated 12, but 2019 would give us the first 15 rating with Joker. Telling the story of failed stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck as he slowly descends into the madness of Batman’s most famous villain, it was received well. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in the titular role received heavy praise as did the score and cinematography. Joker is a stand alone film, completely unconnected to the rest of the DCEU allowing it to take place in the earlier era of Gotham history. The film’s ending sees the iconic deaths of Bruce and Martha Wayne which would lead to their son Bruce becoming Batman. With another solo Batman venture in the works, starring Robert Pattinson, many wondered if the two films would connect, but we have been assured that they will not.

Before diving into the final film of this piece, I feel it is important to divert into the realm of television for a moment. 2012 saw the release of the CW show Arrow, starring DC superhero Green Arrow. From here the show would spin-off into The Flash and Supergirl, among others, leading to the birth of the Arrowverse. These shows would have crossover events on a yearly basis and in late 2019 they adapted the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline. As you might expect, it saw an infinite amount of Earths being destroyed, but the important part here is that we got to see those Earths which included the Gotham of Batman ’89 and the 60’s Adam West show as well as the San Francisco of DC Universe’s Titans in its opening minutes. From here, the crossover event would take us to Smallville, the short lived 2003 Birds of Prey, fellow CW show Lucifer and even HBO’s Watchmen, but perhaps the most important cameo occurred in part 4 where Ezra Miller appears as his version of The Flash. This moment of Flash meeting Flash can only occur because they are both running through the speed force, but on top of that, this is the first time that anyone has called Ezra’s Flash “The Flash”. If this is acknowledged in his solo film it could have major repercussions wherein the DCEU and Arrowverse would be directly linked. As a result, every other version of every DC character we have ever seen will exist inside one massive multi-verse.

This finally brings us to 2020 where DC would release another 15 rated venture with Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn, later shortened to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. Having finally broken up with The Joker, Harley finds herself at the mercy of every person in Gotham that she ever wronged. While trying to survive, she encounters other women who are seeking emancipation and eventually forms the Birds of Prey. Harley directly references the plot of Suicide Squad as well as pointing out a mugshot of fellow member Captain Boomerang meaning that the events of that film have taken place, but there is nothing to suggest a larger story beyond that. Whilst it didn’t perform at as well at the box office as Warner Bros had hoped, and despite being released early to Demand services due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the film is currently sitting at a modest haul of $201 million worldwide.

As I write this, the future of the cinema industry is uncertain. The COVID-19 pandemic continues and there is no telling when anybody who isn’t working an essential job will be allowed to return to work. Wonder Woman 1984 is ready to be released whilst The Batman and The Suicide Squad have had to put a halt to filming. The future of DC includes projects like Black Adam and Batgirl as well as sequels to both Aquaman and Shazam! which may or may not tie into the DCEU. They may even be attempting a soft reboot of the entire idea, but that remains to be seen.

The Story Continues…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Superhero Rights: The Story So Far

A Tangled Web (ORIGINAL)

In 1986, Marvel Film Studios made a decision that almost ruined them and continues to have a lasting impact to this day- Howard The Duck: The Movie. This live action telling of the anthropomorphic ducks story was so poorly received that Howard wouldn’t be seen again until 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Even then, his return was met with almost unanimous backlash from fans. The biggest blow-back came financially, with the film only making $38 million from its $37 million budget and on top of this, interest in Superheroes was dwindling. In order to save the company from bankruptcy, they would sell the rights of some of their most famous characters to rival studios. X-Men and the Fantastic four as well as Daredevil and Electra made their way to 20th Century Fox while The Incredible Hulk ended up at Universal . Finally, Spider-man and almost all of his character roster went to Sony, which brings us to the 2000s.

In 2002, director Sam Raimi brought Spider-man to the big screen for the first time. Featuring the origin of our titular hero, born Peter Parker, and the Green Goblin, born Norman Osborne, Spider-man was a huge success financially and with fans. Both Mary Jane Watson, his love interest, and J. Jonah Jameson, his boss, would make their appearances. Despite Tobey Maguire clearly being 26 years old playing a teenager, his performance was well received, leading to a sequel in 2004.

Spider-man 2, for the longest time, was the gold standard against which Spider-man films were measured. The film featured Doctor Otto Octavious in a heartbreaking origin story as well as James Franco continuing his story arc as Peters best friend  Harry Osbourne. The film was given more praise than the first leading to the third and final installment in 2007.

Spider-man 3 was not the perfect landing that many had expected. The film featured fan favourites Venom and Sandman as well as The New Goblin, but many decreed that this was too many characters to try and focus on. Though there are those, like myself, who have a softspot for Spider-man 3 it was the last time we would see Tobey Maguire don the suit of the web slinger.

While Spider-man 3 was hitting cinemas across the globe, work was already beginning on Spider-man 4. Sadly, disagreements between Sam Raimi and Sony, as well as the pressure to deliver a perfect film, and various writers being unable to pen a script, Spider-man 4 would never see the light of day. However many of its details, through interviews with Raimi and storyboards, reveal what may have been. Supposedly it would feature The Vulture, The Lizard, Black Cat and Mysterio. As it transpires, each of thee characters had a part to play in Spidey’s future.

In 2012, under a new direction, The Amazing Spider-man hit our screens with Andrew Garfield as the new Peter Parker. Once again we would receive his backstory, but this time featuring Gwen Stacy as his love interest and The Lizard as his villain. It did well enough, garnering mostly positive reviews which praised it for the new direction that the franchise was taking.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 was released in 2014 and was not given its predecessor’s praise. It featured The Green Goblin, Electro and Rhino as well as the death of Gwen Stacey, which was deemed too much by general audiences. It was supposed to be the jumping off point for a cinematic universe, much like the MCU, and the news coverage means that the plans for this universe are not difficult to find. The Sinister Six were to play a huge part going forward but all plans were scrapped and Sony came back to, the now immensely popular, Marvel Studios for help.

By 2015, Sony and Marvel had reached an agreement. Spider-man and all the characters that came with him, would star in Marvel films with Sony having final creative control. There were 2 films still in production at the time of this merger, Venom and Into The Spider-verse, which were both released in 2018, with the latter receiving highly positive reviews.

Meanwhile in the MCU, Tom Holland was cast as Peter Parker and in 2016 made his debut in Captain America: Civil War. This would be followed by Spider-man: Homecoming in 2017 with appearances in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Rather than re-telling Spideys origin story, Homecoming takes place 5 years later and features The Vulture, with small roles for The Tinkerer and Shocker. With Spider-man: Far From Home introducing Mysterio, only Black Cat remains as an unused character of the cancelled Spider-man 4, for now.

Tales of an X-Franchise (Parts 1 & 2) (ORIGINAL)(ORIGINAL)

In the mid 1990s, 20th Century Fox acquired the rights to the X-Men and several other characters from Marvel Studios. They wasted no time in adapting this popular group to the big screen, but it would come off of the back of a prior outing for them. X-Men: The Animated Series ran from 1992 to 1997 on the Fox Kids network and changed the core lineup from the comics. This cast consisted of Cyclops, Wolverine, Rogue, Storm, Beast, Gambit, Jubilee, Jean Grey, and Professor Charles Xavier. Based on the huge success of this series, Fox greenlit a motion picture in which 6 of these characters would initially make the leap.

Released in 2000, X-Men followed Rogue, a mutant with power-draining abilities, and Wolverine (AKA Logan) as they encounter and eventually join Professor X in the battle against Magneto. The cast boasted some impressive names with Thespian Legends Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian Mackellan both signed on. It did well at the box office and went on to spawn a barrage of sequels.

X2: X-Men United hit our screens in 2003 and saw the titular team facing off with Colonel William Stryker, who is on a path for mutant genocide. There are also hints at his past with Wolverine and the Weapon X Program, as well as hints to a more peaceful future. Again, the film did well at the box office, faring even better than its predecessor.

In 2006, the trilogy would conclude with X-Men: The Last Stand. It was an adaptation of the “Dark Phoenix” arc from the comics that also wrapped up our trilogy arc neatly. Though it was more successful at the box office than the previous films, it was met with mixed reviews. Though it was action packed and featured the best CGI of the series, fans felt it was a poor adaptation of the source material. 

That source material had begun with The X-Men #1 in September of 1963. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the plight of these characters was a representation of the same plight faced by many minorities. This was not specific of one group but inclusive of all groups, whether it be race, religion or sexual orientation. When Sir Ian Mackellan was signed on, he wanted to ensure that this was not lost during the adaptation. The angle was more specifically that of the LGBT group which lead to a poignant scene in X2  where Bobby comes out as a mutant to his parents. Wherever the film franchise may have gone from here, the original X-Men trilogy still stands as a perfect allegory for those struggles.

By 2007, it was clear that the X-Men franchise was not slowing down. On the contrary, they were preparing to expand further. The Origins series was devised and would tell the origin stories for some of the most beloved characters with Wolverine, Magneto and Cyclops to be among the first. Being the most popular character, Wolverine was to go first, and so in 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine was released. The plot focuses on Logan as he becomes involved with Colonel William Stryker and the mysterious Weapon X Program. It also featured Deadpool, whose solo film had been in development hell for a decade until being officially cancelled in 2003. His portrayal here was met with harsh backlash from fans, as was the use of CGI claws on Wolverine, which resulted in this being dubbed the worst X-Men movie for years to come. The box office earnings were not enough to justify another Origins film, but was enough to keep the franchise afloat. A solo Gambit film was in the pipeline up until very recently, while the plans for Magneto’s film would find their way into the next project.

Acting as a soft reboot of the franchise X-Men: First Class graced our screens in 2011. James Macavoy and Michael Fassbender took over as Xavier and Magneto respectively, in a story that centres around the formation of the X-Men, as well as the Brotherhood of Mutants. The film also reintroduces us to Mystique and Beast, while the Hellfire Club make their debut led by a villain played by Kevin Bacon. First Class was met with positive reviews, being hailed as a return-to-form for the franchise. The grittier tone and improved special effects were especially praised, leading to 2 sequels in what has been dubbed the First Class Timeline. It does not tie directly into the original trilogy but instead acts as an alternate history. This also marks the first cameo appearance by Wolverine- something that would become somewhat of a tradition going forward.

Though Origins:Wolverine was a flop, a sequel had already been greenlit and hit our screens in 2013. The Wolverine follows our titular hero as he travels to Japan to assist an old acquaintance while struggling with a disappearance of his powers and The Yakuza. Not only does it act as a sequels to Origins: Wolverine but also as a sequel to X-Men 3: The Last stand as Logan copes with Jean Greys death. This leads to cameos by her actress in visions that torment Logan, but these are not the only cameos. Both Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian Mackellan return to inform Logan of a new threat to mutant-kind thus teasing the following film. Positive reviews for The Wolverine mainly focused on Hugh Jackmans performance and the accuracy to its source material.

The following year X-Men Days of Future Past was released. It serves as a sequel to The Wolverine and a semi- sequel to First Class as Logan travels into the past to save the future. This film would mark the final appearances for many of the original X-Men characters in a passing-of-the-baton to their younger counterparts making this, in effect, X-Men 4. It also tries to serve as a ret-con so that both the original trilogy and First Class timeline can exist in the same timeline. Reviews were positive with the films dedication to the source material garnering praise, while the complexity of the timeline as well as the amount of subplots were criticised. Rogue was to play a part in this film but her role was cut from the theatrical release, leading to a lengthier version titled The Rogue Cut also being released on DVD. It clocks in at 2hours 48minutes, 17 minutes longer than the theatrical version.

In 2016 the young mutants would return for X-Men: Apocalypse, the official sequel to First Class, which featured the titular villain attempting to wipe out mankind and claim the world as his own. Despite being the main antagonist, Apocalypses lack of character and poor CG effects were heavily criticised though the film itself was moderately well received. The character of Quicksilver was especially praised for his slow motion scenes and well written attitude. A different actor had played the role of Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron the previous year due to a deal between Disney and 20th Century Fox. Quicksilver could appear as part of the Avengers but only if there was no mention of mutants or the X-Men, leading to him being referred to as an Enhanced.

The original run of X-Men films would officially come to an end with 2017’s Logan. The story follows him as he cares for an elderly Professor X and escaped mutant child X-23 while also fighting off a group known as The Reavers. The comic inspiration- Old Man Logan- was high in gore, leading to concern from fans that the film would be toned down for a 12 rating. This turned out not to be the case and Logan was rated R (15) which allowed for more violence, a decision that was met with praise from fans and critics. They were also pleased with the CGI and the performances, especially those of Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart who finally retired their respective characters. The film drew heavy inspiration from western films and to honour this a black and white version of the film titled  Logan: Noir was released. It has been hailed by many as one of the greatest comic book movies of all time.

In December that year, Walt Disney Company would buy 20th Century Fox and all its subsidiaries for around $52.4 million, meaning that almost all the Marvel properties were once again under one roof . At the time there were still two films to be released- X-Men: Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants. After months of re-writes and re-shoots Dark Phoenix was finally released in spring of 2019 to relatively small applause. Meanwhile The New Mutants was due to be released in 2018 but went through more issues in production than Dark Phoenix which has led to its current release date of February 2020. Given the acquisition by Disney and the box office failure of it is unclear if it will ever be released and if it does how much of an audience it will actually get.

Now here we stand, almost 2 decades and 10 films later. There have been definitive highs and lows for Fox’si franchise but one thing is certain- it’s over. This incarnation of the characters will not return and someday soon we will most likely see them in a new form in the MCU.

The Fantastic Pool (ORIGINAL)

When 20th Century Fox bought the rights to the X-Men franchise in the mid 1990s, they did so along with the rights to several individual superheroes. With X-Men being a success at the box office Fox decided to greenlight projects based on their other characters, starting with Daredevil and Elektra. Part of the initial deal, they ended up being bought by Regency Studios in the early 2000s and were only distributed by Fox. This meant that the first official venture outside of X-Men would end up being released in 2005, between the second and third i films.

 Fantastic Four featured a group of scientists who gain powers during a space storm. While Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm use their powers for good, Victor Von Doom does not. Having gone through several re-writes and directors during its lengthy development the response for Fantastic Four was mainly positive but with several criticisms. Many felt that though the character development was good there were too many plot elements making the film feel ill-paced. Nevertheless it made money and an extended cut of the film was released in 2007 to coincide with the release of its sequel.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer focuses on our heroes as the battle the Silver Surfer and his master Galactus: Destroyer of Worlds. It also features a gimmick in which our heroes can switch powers as well as the return of Doctor Doom. Although the opening weekend brought in more money than its predecessor, in the following weeks there was a drop in box office takings. Mixed reviews cited poor acting and directing as well as poor characterisation as the reason for this drop but the special effects garnered praise. All 4 main actors had signed a 3-film deal but after Rise of the Silver Surfer‘s poor performance Fox got cold feet and cancelled any further sequels.

In 2009 it was announced that the Fantastic Four would be returning and after 6 years a reboot of the franchise hit our screens. Fan4stic, as it was stylised, was a different origin story, drawing from the Ultimate run of comic books. This time the team gained their powers from an alternate universe and find themselves assets to the US Military. Reviews were bad. The film was slated for being boring and slow with no joy or character development. It had been hoped by Fox Executives that i would eventually lead to a crossover with X-Men but this films failure meant that this project and any sequels would never come to fruition.

Before speaking about our last two films I would like to provide some context. The character of Deadpool belongs to the X-Men universe, however I do not count his solo films as part of the X-Franchise. They have no correlation to those films in character or from a perspective of the (admittedly broken) X-Men timeline. Many people choose to see his solo films as part of the X-Franchise and that’s fine, but that is my personal take.

After spending 14 years in development hell and 7 years after his critiqued cameo in Origins:Wolverine, Deadpool finally got his own film in 2016. Although it is far from the first superhero film to be rated R(15) (an honour that goes to 1991s The Punisher) it was a first for Fox who were praised by fans for the decision. Deadpool centres around how our titular anti-hero came to have his powers and his horrific scars in a search for the man responsible. Deadpool 2 would be released 2 years later and features the character saving a young mutant from the time travelling soldier known as Cable. Both films were praised by audiences who loved its accuracy to the source material as well as its humour. Deadpool 2 is notable for featuring the first openly gay superheroes in the form of Teenage Negasonic Warhead and her girlfriend Yukio. There have been many queer heroes in comic books but this would be the first time that this diversity was shown on film. Each film made around $784 million for a grand total of $1568 million between them and would be some of the final films released by 20th Century Fox before their acquisition by Walt Disney Studios in 2017. Rumour has it that Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool will be the only character to make the leap into the MCU but that remains to be seen.

DC: The Continuity Joke (Part 1) (ORIGINAL)

At first, there doesn’t seem like enough content exists to fill a piece on the superhero film rights of the CD Universe characters. Warner Brothers Studio owns these rights and has done since March 1989 with the only caveat being the live action Batman TV rights which belong to 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios). What is interesting enough to write a piece about, though is the history of these films and how it culminated in the DC Extended Universe. The first live action feature film starring any of the characters would be 1966’s Batman: The Movie starring the late Adam West, but would be released by 20th Century Fox. Sadly, it would be their only Batman film, though Warner Bros would go on to make two animated movies based on West’s portrayal- Return of the Caped Crusaders and Batman Vs Two-Face. Whilst Fox owned the live action 1966 Batman rights, Warner Brothers still had the right to make his animated adventures. All 3 of these films would be positively received.

Warner Brothers’ first foray into the live action DC universe would be 1978’s Superman and 1980’s Superman II, starring Christopher Reeves as the man of steel. The original gives us baby Kal-El of Krypton (our Superman) as he lands on Earth in his infancy after the destruction of his own planet. Once grown, he learns to control his powers and fight the villainous Lex Luthor. At the time it was the most expensive film ever made, with ground-breaking special effects. It received hugely positive reviews with Roger Ebert awarding it four stars out of five. The sequel sees Kal-El, living human life as Clark Kent, facing off against one of his fellow surviving Kryptonians- The mighty Emperor Zod- as he attempts to take control of the planet. Shot back-to-back with the first Superman, this one again had spectacular effects and a brilliant story. This duology has gone on to become some of the most iconic pieces of Superman media and media in general. If you’re thinking of a theme song for Superman right now, I guarantee it’s this one. Their follow up, Superman III, would not be as well received. It centred on Clark being split into two bodies by synthetic kryptonite.- one good and one evil. The film was criticised for its re-hashed plot points and slapstick comedy. In an attempt to freshen up the franchise, Warner Brothers released a spin off about Clark’s cousin Kara Zor-El in 1984 entitled Supergirl. It sees Kara coming to Earth in the hopes of retrieving a powerful orb that she had lost but having to fend off a witch. The film was panned for having cheesy effects and for being really un-interesting to watch. This would not be enough to defeat the Superman franchise, with that award going to 1987’s Superman V: The Quest for Peacewhich sees the man of steel facing off against Lex Luthor’s newest creation- Radioactive Man. It would be ridiculed for its poor special effects, and inconsistencies, and would go on to be dubbed by many as one of the worst films ever made.

Having tried their hand with one of “the big two” from DC, it was time for Warner Bros to attempt the other- Batman. Released in late 1989, Batman (dubbed Batman ’89[review here]) see the caped crusader facing off against The Joker. The film was mildly criticised for being too dark, but the performances from Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson were lavished with praise. Bruce Timm would use the look of this film in Batman: The Animated Serieswhich is still praised as one of the best cartoons ever made. Three sequels to the Keaton films would follow. 1992’s Batman Returns saw our titular hero facing off against both Catwoman and The Penguin. It was praised as a brilliant sequel by most, but some still felt it was too dark. It would be the final Batman film from director Tim Burton who would be replaced by Joel Schumacher for the remaining two films. 1995’s Batman Foreverstarred Val Kilmer as The Bat and would see him facing off against The Riddler and Two-Face. It was much lighter in tone but would receive mixed reviews for being overly loud and less entertaining that the previous entries. 1997 would see the last Batman film for a whole decade in the form of Batman & Robinwhich starred George Clooney as the hero and Chris O’Donnell as his trusty ward. The film saw them fighting off Mr Freeze, Poison Ivy, and (for a moment) Bane. It was an exclusively child friendly escapade but was deemed frantic, mindless and over the top by many. It is believed to have killed the Bat-franchise, with a follow up titled Batman Unchained being cancelled. The film would have seen Scarecrow using fear toxin to make Batman believe that The Joker had returned from beyond the grave, with Harley Quinn set to appear as Joker’s daughter.

The next 3 films from Warner Brothers/ DC would be solo ventures. 1997’s Steel saw Shaquille O’Neal playing John Henry Irons- a weapons developer- as he suits up to stop terrorists from using the very weapons he designed. Next came Catwoman in 2004, starring Helle Berry in the leading role dealing with corporate conspiracies. Finally came Constantine in 2005 which saw Keanu Reeves in the starring role as a supernatural exorcist helping to prove a policewoman that her sister’s death was not a suicide. All 3 of these films would be mocked for how ridiculous they were, with poor acting and even poorer GCI. Of the 7 films that followed, only 4 of them would be solo ventures. 2006 saw the man of steel return in the appropriately titled Superman Returns, starring Brandon Routh. The film saw Kal-El once again facing off against Lex Luthor in his attempt to take over America. It was received fairly well, but many thought it was just an average flick without anything that really made it special. 2009’s Watchmen would also be received fairly well, becoming a cult classic among CBM fans. It followed a group of former superheroes as one of their colleagues is murdered and the surprises that it awakens. Any criticism took aim at the 3 hour runtime and the complex plotline. the 2010 release Jonah Hex would be less appreciated. Josh Brolin plays a Bounty Hunter who must take out a terrorist who threatens all life in order to gain his freedom, and it would be a box office failure, making back only $10 million of it’s $47 million budget. Then in 2011 came the infamous Green Lantern starring Ryan Reynolds, which has gone down in history as one of the worst movies of all time. It sees Hal Jordan discovering a powerful ring belonging to the Green Lantern Corp when he is suddenly called to save humanity from the world destroying Parallax. It was seen as boring and the CGI costumes were laughed at, which led to the cancellation a sequel which would have presumably seen Sinestro as the main villain.

It may seem like mostly bad news from the mid 200’s to the early 2010’s, but there was a light in the darkness- Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. It is, to many people, one of the best film trilogies ever made, and practically dominated superhero movie conversations at the time. 2005’s Batman Begins re-introduced us to Bruce Wayne as he suits up as the caped crusader in order to defend Gotham City from corruption and his former mentor Ra’s Al Ghul. This was followed in 2008 by what is considered by many as the best in the trilogy- The Dark Knight. Once again, Gotham is under threat, this time from a man known only as The Joker who aims only to cause chaos and anarchy. The trilogy concluded in 2012 with my personal favourite- The Dark Knight Rises– which has Bruce crippled in a fight against guerrilla terrorist Bane. Never willing to back down from a fight, The Bat must return and face him one last time with assistance from Catwoman.

Over the course of 34 years, there were many ups and downs for the Warner Brothers DC franchise. Some have gone on to become iconic, while some have been abandoned to the voids of history. With the success of Nolans Dark Knight trilogy, the future was looking bright. It was clear going forwards that their movies would need to be dark, gritty and grounded in reality. Perhaps they should also implement the “shared universe” concept that seemed to be working so well for Marvel Studios.

The Story Continues…