We are three movies into the DC Extended Universe. In the first, Man of Steel, Superman was presented as the first and only metahuman on Earth. In the second, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman has been operating for at least ten years and Lex Luthor presents the “metahuman theory” that posits there may be more than Superman out there. In the third, Suicide Squad, the US government has several metahumans already in custody, one of whom is a six thousand year old demon.
What I’m saying is;
For a studio who initially looked to produce “grounded” superhero epics, Warner Bros has gone weird. That’s not a complaint, at all, but I would like to examine how we got here. To be fair, the DCEU is already that weirdest franchise out there. All of the movies in this interconnected universe have massive problems, each one is made as a reaction to the previous film, but they are all certainly pretty to look at. I’m still having trouble working through my feelings about Suicide Squad and its tonal whiplash.
So how did we get here? Of course it begins with Christopher Nolan.
The Dark Knight premiered on July 18th, 2008. This was two months after Iron Man left an Easter egg scene after their credits that many people missed. Both of these movies lived in our world. One with normal rules and science. The Dark Knight, with its complicated morality and captivating villain, rocked that summer. It’s the kind of one of a kind success that studios can’t help but try to achieve again.
However when The Dark Knight Rises came out in July of 2012, it arrived in a post-Avengers world. Marvel had slowly taken us from a robot suit in Malibu to an otherworldly Hemsworth carrying a magic homing hammer. They created a new kind of franchise, one that nobody else has successfully replicated, and unequivocally won that summer.
In comparison The Dark Knight Rises felt a little bit like a throwback. It’s grounding even hurts it when plot holes open up upon inspection. But for WB, the film was still a financial success and drove their approach to Man of Steel and their introduction to the DCEU.
Meanwhile, the televised DC Universe was slowly preparing us for the much stranger sides of comic books. When Arrow premiered in October of 2012, it was still pre-Avengers. This shows in the first season of the show, one that attempts to capture the energy of the Batman films. Aggressively turning super villains into “realistic” versions of themselves, Arrow season one never quite hit it out of the park.
But season two changes everything.
In Arrow season two, the series introduced its own super soldiers, introduced Barry Allen, and saw him get struck by lightning created in a particle accelerator explosion. After that, The Flash premiered and explained the concept of a metahuman to audiences. The Flash could travel through time and Arrow sucessfully brought a character back from the dead. Suddenly Arrow was fighting magic, The Flash explored the multiverse and met Supergirl, and the Legends of Tomorrow were gathered to protect time itself.
Now we’ve seen a full fledged DC Universe, nobody wants to wait for the movies to get there. So the movies have retroactively decided to start there.
WB has created a DC Universe already in progress. It’s been around for a while. There’s been magic and super science. There’s already a Joker and a whole rogues gallery for Batman. The Flash is out there apprehending people like Captain Boomerang before he even gets his own movie. Wonder Woman fought in World War One.
It’s exciting, and a fascinating experiment overall to see if it will work. Now if they can just make good movies this could all come together.
PS, if you had told me years ago that part three of a DC movieverse would be Suicide Squad, before Justice League, I would have learned to scoff like never before.