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March 22, 2024


If you’ve been keeping up with film news lately, I’m sure you’ve been hearing a lot about James Gunn and his new position at Warner Bros. If you haven’t, then let me tell you: Mr. Gunn has been put in charge of rebooting the DC Cinematic Universe… or the DC Extended Universe… or whatever it is they want to call it these days. And you know? I think it’s safe to say that people are generally pretty excited about this. Gunn, to his credit, has a good reputation with (comic book) audiences since he was the mastermind behind the successful Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy, as well as the director of The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker. It makes sense that fans are happy. DC seems to be in trusted hands.

Honestly, though, I’m a little nervous. Not because I don’t like Gunn (I do), but primarily because, in my opinion, a lot of the recent attempts at cinematic universes haven’t been going very well. I want this new DC universe to succeed, but in order to do so, it needs to learn from all the mistakes some other cinematic universes have been making as of late.

What mistakes, you may ask? I’m going to tell you! Keep reading…


I’ve heard a lot of people speaking ill of the MCU lately, and I get it. I’m not big on their recent output, either. However, it’s interesting that when I hear people disavow MCU projects, they generally say things like “I’m done with Marvel.'' Not “I’m done with Thor,” or “I’m done with Ant-Man;” no… it’s “I’m done with Marvel.” It’s a blanket statement. They’re not giving up on a single character or a specific series - they’re giving up on the entire cinematic universe. This makes sense. In a cinematic universe, everything is connected, so it tracks that if I want to give up on the Ant-Man movies, I also must give up on everything else. If I don’t want to watch WandaVision, Captain Marvel, or Ms. Marvel, then how can I possibly hope to understand The Marvels?


Nowadays, the MCU is releasing more projects than ever before, so it’s no wonder that people are having a hard time keeping up. The thing is that Marvel Studios seems to have forgotten why it was so successful in the first place. It wasn’t the number of projects they made, but the fact that all the projects were mostly well crafted. The entire Infinity Saga lasted from 2008 to 2019, comprising 23 films. That’s about two movies a year, which isn’t a difficult pace for fans to maintain, especially since most of them were quite good. Compare that to Phase Four, which ran from 2019 to 2022. That’s barely four years, but those four years were packed with 18 total projects. Eighteen. I might’ve been okay with that if those projects were still consistently good, but that’s definitely not the case these days. For a cinematic universe to thrive, viewers need to want to keep up with it. If you pump out too many underwhelming projects at once, they stop feeling like event movies and start feeling like homework. It’s better to make a few great movies than a whole lot of mediocre ones.



Let’s switch gears to the recently defunct DCEU, as well as a franchise near and dear to my heart, The Monsterverse. These universes have a lot in common. They’re both mixed bags with some high-highs, low-lows, and plenty in-between. Personally, though, I think the biggest commonality they share is that they’re both tonally all over the place. For instance, let’s compare Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) to the new trailer for Godzilla X Kong. The 2014 film is a grounded, moody, realistic depiction of the legendary kaiju. It takes place in modern day, it features a conventional depiction of the military, and the script went to great lengths to properly contextualise the appearance of the monsters in the film. It feels real. Fast-forward ten years, and now Godzilla is the star of a buddy-cop movie where he teams up with a giant monkey to fight another giant monkey. There are flying cars, monster robots, and the whole thing is set in the hollow earth. These new entries are unashamedly cheesy and, in theory, I’m completely okay with a cheesy Godzilla movie. However, what I’m not okay with are sequels that don’t even attempt to stay consistent with the style, mood, and atmosphere of their predecessors. It makes the interconnectivity feel like an afterthought, and it points to a clear lack of creative focus.


The same problem can be seen when comparing a film like Man of Steel to Aquaman. They’re technically in the same universe, sure, but if you watched them back-to-back, you’d get a case of tonal whiplash bad enough to fracture a vertebrae. I think having stylistic variety is great, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of a universe’s plausibility. For all the flack I’ve given Marvel so far, tone is actually something in which the MCU has a fundamental understanding. Marvel czar Kevin Feige and company knew that if they were going to make a cinematic universe, they had to establish the tone right off the bat, and then choose filmmakers that complimented each other's styles and artistic sensibilities moving forward. You can make different films in the same universe with varying genres and subject matter, but without a consistent tone between projects, things are going to get really messy, really quickly.



It’s no secret that the MCU isn’t at a creative high point right now, as I’ve stated several times already. Fan reception has been generally mixed since Avengers: Endgame, and that movie was released four years ago. With every new MCU project, it becomes harder and harder to understand where they’re headed. Finally, it dawned on me that Marvel Studios probably doesn’t even know. Come to think of it, I’m not sure any of the current cinematic universes know where they’re headed. Star Wars is on a vague path towards another prequel that’ll take place before The Force Awakens. Marvel was on its way towards the Kang Dynasty, but that seems to be falling through after the Jonathan Majors scandal. Both The Conjuring Universe and the Monsterverse seem to be playing things by ear, with very little in the way of a confident roadmap for the future.


The interconnectivity of these universes seems to be resulting in a few crossovers and cameos here and there, but none of it seems to be leading towards anything nearly as ambitious as Endgame. Phases One through Three of the MCU were all leading to Thanos, a world conquering force to be reckoned with, and that was something audiences were extremely excited about. There were no major course corrections necessary, no huge plans to be changed. However, we’re starting to see how cinematic universes strain under the weight of faulty planning. If you want people to be interested in where your cinematic universe is heading, it needs to be heading somewhere interesting. If the interconnected storytelling isn’t leading towards some sort of payoff, then there’s no real point in it being interconnected in the first place. This leads me to my final, and most important point…



Let’s talk about Sony’s Spider-Man Universe, or the SSU for short. I’ve also heard a few people call it the Morbi-verse, but I somehow doubt that name is going to stick. Starting in 2018 with Venom, this cinematic universe has gone on to give us such classics as Morbius, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and, of course, the recent dumpster fire that is Madame Web. I bring the SSU up because, if there is one thing it is actually good for, it would be proving that, sometimes, cinematic universes aren’t always a great idea. Sony has been attempting to set up a Spider-Man universe WITHOUT SPIDER-MAN!! for the better part of a decade now, and it’s far from the only bad cinematic universe idea that’s been attempted. Plenty of studios have tried and failed to emulate the success of the MCU. Ghostcorps wanted to make a Ghostbusters cinematic universe, Universal wanted to make a classic monster movie universe, and Hasbro has been trying for years to make a GI Joe/Transformers crossover happen. The big difference between these ideas and the MCU, is that, on a conceptual level, the MCU actually makes sense.


Marvel has access to a lot of different, marketable superheroes, all of which already have plenty of potential for crossovers, cameos, and spin-offs. They also have a near-century of untapped source material at their disposal, readily available to be adapted. Sure, it might not last forever, but if every project was handled properly, the MCU could theoretically go on for decades without ever running out of content. Just because the idea of a cinematic universe worked for one studio doesn’t mean it’ll work for another. If you don’t have the material to support a cinematic universe, then why make one? 


…and this brings me back to James Gunn, who is now in charge of one of the only other franchises out there that can unquestionably support a cinematic universe. DC isn’t suffering from a lack of source material, characters, or creative talent. Under the right guidance, I believe that this new DC universe might finally be able to rival the MCU, but only so long as it manages to avoid the pitfalls that other universes have fallen into. With proper planning, clear creative direction, and an emphasis on essential, quality filmmaking, this new DC universe might just be a hit.

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