Clearly, the DCEU has done something wrong, as the audience alienation has not been helpful financially. This is evident now more than ever considering that Justice League has become the lowest-grossing film of the series, despite Warner Bros. hoping for it to be on the same level as The Avengers.
The thing is, there's no singular spot where the DCEU went wrong, as the downfall of the franchise has been snowballing for years, picking up seemingly more and more problems annually. Fortunately, Warner Bros. has started to acknowledge the elephant in the room and is working to fix the issues.
With every DCEU release, it seems more problems seem to come up. While this isn't true for every film in the franchise, it is for a good portion of them. The origin of the issues with the DCEU, however, can be traced back to one particular movie:
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Admittedly, there were a lot of issues with this film. However, the most notable issue was likely caused by the extreme decisions of director Zack Snyder, and the presumed lack of supervision by the studio. Snyder is a fantastic story teller, but incidentally works better as an independent filmmaker than a studio filmmaker.
This is evident in the fact that Snyder's cut of Batman v Superman was over four hours long, and he reportedly refused to cut any of it, claiming it was all essential to the story. Considering the studio ordered a movie that was just over two hours long for release, this was an issue. The conflict resulted in the studio cutting the film themselves, with little input from Snyder, making the theatrical release of the film extremely choppy and confusing to people who weren't "hardcore" DC fans.
Had the studio been on top of Snyder and kept a tighter grip on his metaphorical leash, the issues arguably wouldn't have occurred in such extremity. On the other hand, had Snyder shot the film he was ordered to make rather than the film of his fantasies, the issues may not have surfaced in the first place.
Suicide Squad (2016)
The next trip-up of the DCEU occurred the same year as Batman v Superman. While Suicide Squad may have entertained some, it was far from a great film. The critics were harsher on this film than they were on Batman v Superman, and most audiences members will admit their disappointment with the villain team-up. So what went wrong?
Well, this one is most likely on the studio. Warner Bros. seriously tried to rush the release of this film, hopefully to bank off of their anticipated success with Batman v Superman. The biggest flaw that essentially cursed the production was that Warner Bros. gave writer and director David Ayer six weeks to write the script. Anyone who knows screenwriting will admit that six weeks isn't even enough to write a first draft, let alone write a first draft and numerous drafts after that to create a good, finished product. However, Warner Bros. had their deadline, and Ayer had to deliver, even if it was crap.
A while after the film was shot, the "Bohemian Rhapsody" trailer for the movie was released, which the Internet loved. Noticing this, the studio ordered Ayer to reshoot around half of the film to match the tone of the trailer, in contrast to the darker tone of the film he shot prior. The result was a mash-up of fun and goofy action combined with the dark, underdeveloped story that was originally shot. While some people loved it, it ultimately only alienated the fans of the series even more.
Wonder Woman (2017)
Wonder Woman was a welcome change to the DCEU, being the first film in the franchise to have almost everyone be content with. The trick, presumably, was the relationship between director Patty Jenkins and the studio. Jenkins knew what Warner Bros. wanted from her, so she delivered it while still telling a good story.
The film managed to stay under the two and a half hour mark, which is what the studio wanted. Despite this, Jenkins still managed to carry an interesting and moving narrative that also included enough action sequences to get butts in seats. Wonder Woman became the biggest critical success of the franchise, and was certainly a step in the right direction.
Justice League (2017)
The most recent addition to the franchise has unfortunately become the biggest failure for the series, despite having the highest budget. However, it should be said for the DCEU that they did try to cover their mistakes. The studio took a risk keeping director Zack Snyder on board, and it ultimately did not pay off for them.
Snyder was reportedly fired from the project during post-production after Warner Bros. realized that Snyder was repeating his same mistakes and not listening to the studio's demands for the project. In his place, they brought on Avengers director Joss Whedon, which may have made the worsened the final product. While Whedon is a great director, his tone was drastically different from Snyder's, leading to the final cut of Justice League feeling mixed, with some moments being dark and serious, and others being goofy and campy.
Another big issue with this film was the even tighter leash Warner Bros. had put on it. In order to avoid the 4-hour cut debacle Snyder had put Batman v Superman into, they demanded that Justice League be under the two hour mark. While Whedon did manage to keep it under this time constraint, many parts of the film felt rushed and forced. Having an extra ten minutes to flesh out the characters would've been helpful for the story, but Warner Bros. just wasn't having it.
Going forward, Warner Bros. has been making some changes. Bringing back Patty Jenkins for Wonder Woman 2 was a no-brainer for them, and bringing on even more reliable directors like Matt Reeves and James Wan was a great decision as well. Additionally, they pretty much cleared house for their DC producing team, even firing DC President Geoff Johns himself.
All in all, Warner Bros. has seemed to acknowledge the issues in the past, which may lead to stronger films in the future. Wonder Woman was a great film for the series, which showed their future potential, and Justice League was certainly an improvement from Batman v Superman, despite its decline in box office success. Regardless of whether or not you enjoyed each installment in the series, there's no denying that the franchise alienated audiences, which is never a good thing. It's great to know that they've started to acknowledge their issues, and I look forward to the next installment Aquaman, which releases later this year.