Since its inception, the DCEU (that means DC Extended Universe for the uninitiated) has been maligned by divisive creative decisions, from Man of Steel and its dour depiction of Superman to the buzzsaw editing job performed on Suicide Squad. One of the few choices that has garnered near unanimous praise is the presence of Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Though initial news of his casting was met with a hefty amount of skepticism by fans, his visceral performance in the woefully disappointing Batman v. Superman turned out to be the highlight of the film. A solo film to showcase Affleck’s Batman was a foregone conclusion and sure enough, Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment announced plans for Affleck to write, direct, and star in the tentatively titled The Batman.
Unfortunately, that was the high point of the story. The project has since been hindered by rumors of studio meddling, script problems, and not only Affleck’s departure from directing duties, but possibly abandoning the role of Batman as well. After poor critical reception and poor box office numbers for his latest film Live by Night, Affleck finally announced he would not direct The Batman, which naturally launched a media shitstorm that could’ve derailed the project. Warner Bros. seemed poised to quickly pivot from the backlash when it was rumored that director Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes) was in talks to take over the reigns, only for the pivot to pivot when discussions with Reeves reportedly turned heated, then only to have the story repivot by Reeves officially joining the film.
Now if all that has your head spinning, just imagine being an executive at Warner Bros. Beyond just the trouble with Batman, DC Entertainment’s slate has been a quandary of exiting directors, randomly developing films, moving production dates, and dueling final cuts. This has given fans the sense that DC Entertainment is a completely rudderless ship, with a crack in the hull, and the engine on fire (you get the point). Whatever the case may be, the buck absolutely needs to stop with The Batman. The viability of the DCEU is inseparably dependent on the strength of its marquee character.
From a purely financial perspective, Batman is the undisputed cash cow of DC Entertainment. His films alone have out-grossed the entirety of all other DC Comics film adaptations by a ludicrous margin. It’s not even close. Check the chart below.
And that’s with Batman v. Superman tallied in both columns to split the difference, but let’s be honest, it was more of a Batman film than a Superman one. Furthermore, Batman is a merchandise juggernaut worth nearly $500 million in retail sales. For Warner Bros., Batman means business and the DCEU would find itself at a near insurmountable financial disadvantage should The Batman fail. Yes, Suicide Squad proved a critically panned DC feature can still rake in buttloads of cash, but the Batman brand is far more valuable and needs to be safeguarded from such creative debacles.
Speaking of creative matters, the film’s star is something of an ace-in-the-hole for the DCEU. Not only is Ben Affleck highly regarded in the role, but he has a unique combination Hollywood pedigree and geek credibility. He’s a filmmaker with Oscars on his mantle and long boxes in his basement. Though he’s no longer in the director’s chair, he’s still the top producer on the project and his keen sensibilities on filmmaking and the character are critical to its success. It would be nearly impossible for the studio to recover should either Affleck walk away from the role or should the film be a critical/commercial dud.
Personally, I believe both are unlikely. Even if Affleck actually wants to hang up the cowl, his contract with Warner Bros. would likely prevent him from doing so. And let’s not look down on Matt Reeves. The man is a terrific director who may be better suited to direct the film given his tentpole experience. It’s unfortunate the project is weighed down by so much baggage, because core talent involved is phenomenal. At face value it’s a paring that should result in a smash hit. However, the destiny of Batman isn’t fully in their control.
Before cameras even come close to rolling on The Batman, Affleck will next see action as part of the ensemble in Zach Snyder’s Justice League. Putting it mildly, Snyder isn’t the most reliable auteur and rumors persist that troubles with Justice League are subsequently affecting production on The Batman. The possibility of yet another shaky feature from Snyder should have Bat-fans quivering in their boots. Unsubstantiated or not, rumors like these are concerning because Warner Bros./DC Entertainment have yet to earn the benefit of the doubt. Lately, where there has been smoke there has also been fire. If a subpar Justice League further tempers the hype for a Batman standalone film, then Affleck and Reeves will face an uphill battle to reclaim status for the character.
Whatever the case, there’s few afflictions a stellar Batman film can’t heal. With all the gloom surrounding the DCEU it’s easy to be pessimistic, but there is a silver lining to be seen. With the delays and increased scrutiny comes the opportunity for Warner Bros. to take their time and really get this film right. A measured, methodical production might be exactly what the studio needs to change the dynamic behind their DC features. It’s an opportunity for them to trust in the talent that has assembled and deliver their vision of Batman, free from studio meddling or botched editing jobs. DC has rightfully made Batman the lynchpin to their universe, all the more secure this project needs to be lest the entire vehicle careen into a ditch.
If DC Entertainment is to ever move beyond their troubles and truly become the “Distinguished Competition” we all desire, then they need nothing short of a sensation. The incredible success of Iron Man back in 2008 allowed Marvel Studios to take its fair share of lumps early on in the formation of the MCU, but DC has yet to have such a universally praised film to anchor the studio. Man of Steel is their best effort thus far and — well — just how swiftly are they moving forward with Man of Steel 2? That film was actually a critical and commercial success featuring DC’s other top dog, but a proper sequel has been inexplicably placed on the back-burner.
It would seem Warner Bros. lacks faith in the property, as they due several other stalled projects. That lack of faith in their projects only creates uncertainty for the future, uneasiness in fans, and all around confusion for a studio that wants to break Marvel’s dominance. The DCEU needs something concrete. Batman has to be the sturdy foundation on which a mighty house is built. Should The Batman be lackluster, or not even get made, the DCEU can certainly survive, but it surely can not thrive. As goes Batman, so does the DCEU.
Though developments around The Batman have been both puzzling and frustrating, what both Warner Bros. and fans can feel good about is the passion surrounding the project. It has only been so contentious because Batman is so adored. He is one of the most beloved characters in pop culture with a long legacy of amazing stories spanning over 75 years. The Batman has the potential to be the most true to comics live-action adaptation of the character ever made, which has faithful fans giddy anticipation, but equally nervous. The pressure is high because with the fate of the DCEU hangs in the balance. It’s our opportunity to see if the night is truly darkest before the dawn, or simply a sign all should be put to bed.