Where are we today?
On Friday, news broke that director Matt Reeves had walked away from negotiations with Warner Bros., with whom he'd been discussing taking on The Batman. See, Ben Affleck stepped down as the director of the film in late January, and that now meant that arguably the most important film on the DCEU slate was now without a leader. A little over a week ago Variety stated that Reeves was set to direct the film and that it was only a matter of hammering out the deal itself. Apparently, those talks hit a wall and Reeves is out.
From what I hear, it all comes down to control. Reeves wants to make the film that he wants to make. If he signs on, he wants to be left alone to make The Batman as he sees fit. Warner Bros., though, has officially gotten cold feet about allowing their DC filmmakers that kind of freedom.
Let's recap how the WB has moved away from their traditionally "filmmaker-driven" approach, and have ended up wanting to emulate the collaborative, TV-style, team approach employed by Marvel Studios:
- 2005: Batman Begins comes out, directed by Christopher Nolan, and successfully reboots the Batman franchise.
- 2006: Superman Returns comes out, directed by Bryan Singer, and is only a soft success. While it makes more money than Batman Begins, it also cost much more to make (though, not as much as you've been led to believe). The reviews are positive, but the studio questions whether letting Singer make the film a continuation of the Christopher Reeve franchise was a wise decision.
- 2008: They get on the Nolan Train, let him make The Dark Knight and allow him to make his Batman films set in their own world with zero connection to the greater DC Universe, despite their initial hopes of Christian Bale's Batman one day appearing in a film with Brandon Routh's Superman.
- 2012: The Dark Knight Rises comes out, the capper to Nolan's Trilogy, and he's allowed to essentially end the franchise. In an unprecedented move, in modern day Hollywood, Warner Bros. gives Nolan the freedom to "retire" a character that had made them literal billions of dollars.
- 2013: As a consolation for ending the Batman franchise, Nolan signs on to "shepherd" a reboot of Superman, known as Man of Steel. The film, like Batman Begins before it, is a full-on reboot. While it's reviewed poorer than Superman Returns was, it makes some considerable money. Nolan departs the DCEU.
- 2016: Man of Steel director gives us Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film that creates a whirlwind year at the studio. It's ravaged by critics, it's given a mediocre Cinema Score by fans, and it fails to live up to its gargantuan box office potential.
- 2016: Suicide Squad comes out to virtually the same reception, directed by David Ayer. Since the budget was smaller, and the expectations weren't nearly as high for the villain-centric DC spinoff, it's considered a moderate success for the Warner Bros., but it doesn't exactly redeem them for Batman v Superman.
Johns, though, is in a precarious position. While he was promoted to the CCO position in summer of 2016, none of the films he's overseeing will be seen until end of 2018. James Wan's Aquaman (October 2018) will be the first film to be produced entirely under the watchful eye of Johns. Wonder Woman, which is set to come out in a few months, is actually a product of the older WB/DC philosphy; So is Justice League, which comes out this November.
Things are truly in a precarious place at the moment. After Justice League, a year will go by before we see another DC movie (the aforementioned Aquaman). The film that was supposed to follow-up JL, and come out a few months after it, The Flash, has lost two directors and recently ended up being sent back to the drawing board for a page-one rewrite. The Batman is having trouble getting off the ground, and Justice League 2 has been delayed. In theory, Warner Bros. has taken some steps towards correcting the course of the DCEU, but the future seems totally up-in-the-air at this present juncture.
Add to that the near-constant rumors that Affleck is looking to abandon The Batman entirely, and you wonder if the whole thing might end up getting scrapped/rebooted soon.
This is what brings us to the pivot point that is the purpose of today's column...
What if I told you that during the production of Man of Steel, Nolan was convinced to come back and guide the DCEU as a whole? And that he was going to direct Justice League for them? Some of you may recall that Umberto "El Mayimbe" Gonzalez even reported a scoop to that effect in March of 2013, three months before Man of Steel came out.
While it never came to be, and people were quick to call him out on his "fake scoop," I discovered that he wasn't wrong at all. At one point, during the production cycle for Man of Steel, Nolan was offered a ton of money and he was going to stay on as the "shepherd" of the DCEU for the foreseeable future. He was going to direct Justice League for a 2016 bow, and the next step was getting Bale back onboard (or possibly deciding to go with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's "Robin John Blake" as Batman).
But then something happened...
Nolan saw the film that Snyder and David S. Goyer ended up making and he was disgusted.
It's been said before, by Goyer and by Snyder, that Nolan wasn't a fan of the whole "Superman killing Zod" thing. That's on public record. The original plan was for Superman to send Zod back into the Phantom Zone via that big black hole over Metropolis at the end of their climactic battle. Snyder and Goyer had to convince Nolan that the killing was the better option, and he eventually came around and signed off on it. Still, when he saw the final cut of the film and experienced how the whole thing played out, Nolan decided to abandon ship.
It's interesting to think what might have been had Nolan been happier with Man of Steel.
Everything post-Man of Steel would've looked very different. The Batman/Superman movie that Warner Bros. had dreamt of since 2003 probably wouldn't have resembled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there likely wouldn't have been a Suicide Squad, and the Nolan/Bale Batman continuity would still be alive, meaning this whole The Batman fiasco would be a non-factor.
That brings us back to today. Reeves wants the kind of leeway that Warner Bros. used to be known for, yet the studio is now incredibly gun-shy about their old approach. The studio, which has been increasingly reactionary with its decision-making these last few years, really wants filmmakers to sign on who'll "play ball" and work with the team, in much the same way as Marvel's directors do.
But is it too late? Considering how long it's going to take to find out whether the new philosophy is going to save the DCEU, and how they can't seem to get directors onboard for The Batman and The Flash, will the studio decide to cut its losses and start from scratch somehow? We'll just have to wait and see.
For now, we can just wonder what might have been had the studio been more hands-on with Man of Steel, and had told Snyder that he had to stick with Nolan's outline instead of allowing him to forge his own path. After all, Nolan had a sterling track record and Snyder's last two efforts for the studio were Watchmen and Sucker Punch, which had both underperformed (or flat-out flopped).
Oh, these pivot points...
They give us so much to think about.
Stay tuned, right here at El Fanboy, for further Bizarro DC Chronicles, as these next couple of years are going to be a doozy. I'll also be touching on this subject in tomorrow's episode of the El Fanboy Podcast. It's available on iTunes, so be sure to Subscribe!
Until next time, mis fanboys!