James Gunn becoming co-CEO of DC Studios could be what it takes for Warner Bros. to finally fulfill the original plan for the DC movie universe. While the DCEU had been without a plan for several years, the franchise started with a much stronger vision, not only for the story, but also for the way the filmmakers would work together. Unfortunately, that plan quickly fell apart thanks to a lot of behind-the-scenes drama, culminating in the re-shoots of Justice League in 2017.
Next Man of Steel, the DCEU would embrace the bold creative visions of unique directors like Zack Snyder, David Ayer, Patty Jenkins and James Wan. Producer micromanaging, rewriting, re-recording, and studio-mandated edits teased most films after Man of Steeland the pretense of being a director-driven franchise was abandoned when Joss Whedon replaced Zack Snyder on Justice League. Fortunately, James Gunn can hold the key to Warner Bros. Discovery that finally delivers on the original promise of the DCEU.
The DCEU would be directed by the director
While the jokes about the DCEU being shady weren’t entirely inaccurate, there was a lot more variety in the first handful of DCEU movies than many people appreciate. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman and that of David Ayer suicide squad were significantly different from each other, and even those of Zack Snyder Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, despite the obvious similarities, they have different tones, genre influences and color palettes. Aquariuswhich was also being developed in this era, was clearly even more unlike anything else in the franchise when it came out.
The approach was sort of counterprogramming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was developing a reputation for having a “house style,” with many complaints that the films were too similar. The DCEU would not only be different from the MCU, but also different from itself. While the films maintained a certain continuity in character and storylines, the films were all meant to reflect the unique inclinations of their directors. While elements of that strategy still apply today, the DCEU has failed to deliver on its original promise.
Why did the DCEU fail in its original plan?
Despite initial claims that the DCEU would be “director-driven,” a shaky start to the franchise due to low rotten tomato ratings and below expectations at the box office (though all films still qualified as blockbusters), Warner Executives of Bros. panicked and started interfering with the movies, ordering massive rewrites and reshoots for both suicide squad and Justice League, pushing Snyder out of the franchise completely. While the DCEU still hires directors who put their own stamp on the films, ultimately the films all fit into a much narrower spectrum of tone and content, aimed at a more mainstream audience.
Warner Bros. continued to lose faith in the directors, and even after the failure of Justice Leaguestudio executives continued to meddle with the films, particularly calling for film rewrites and re-shoots Birds of prey and the fantastic emancipation of one Harley Quinn. James Gunn famously got complete freedom with The Suicide Squadbut the DCEU’s history of trampling its directors is still a looming shadow.
Despite launching the universe and playing an influential role in charting the DCEU plan and producing other DC movies, Snyder wanted to focus on directing and never had an official studio role on par with Kevin. Feige’s Marvel Studios role. So while he had wide creative leeway in the early days of the DCEU, he had much less leverage to back off against the eventual demands to change Justice League.
How James Gunn’s New Role Will Fulfill The Original DCEU Vision
One of the most surprising aspects of Gunn being hired as one of DC Studios’ co-chairs is the fact that the studio hired a real-life filmmaker to fill a role normally taken by executives who are not that experienced in writing or directing. One of the most infamous issues in all of Hollywood has always been the conflict between creatives and executives, and executives usually have all the power. While the other co-CEO of DC Studios, Peter Safran, will lead the business side of the operation, Gunn is responsible for the creative development of the DCEU. With a filmmaker in that role, especially one willing to push boundaries like James Gunn, DCEU directors will have a much stronger advocate in their corner than in the past.
While Gunn himself is known for a fairly specific style, anyone familiar with his pre-Marvel work knows that he is far more stylistically diverse than just Guardians of the Universe and The Suicide Squad. In addition, as a producer, Gunn has overseen the production of films that are not in line with his recognizable style, such as the dark Superman remake, Brightburn. Placing a filmmaker like Gunn as a studio co-lead is a bold statement by Warner Bros., because you don’t put a filmmaker like James Gunn in a studio executive role unless you want an executive with James Gunn’s cinematic sensibilities.
Gunn began making transgressive films for Troma Entertainment, known for its edgy film brand. Although his more modern films have been mainstream blockbusters, he still pushes the boundaries of genre convention in both Guardians of the Universe and The Suicide Squadeven Peacekeeper. If David Zaslav and Warner Bros. Discovery wanted a studio executive to oversee a conventional blockbuster franchise of DC characters, they wouldn’t have made James Gunn responsible for its development, or given him the power to isolate directors from other studio executives.
The historic mismanagement of the DCEU by Warner Bros. executives may make it hard to think that yet another board change will finally solve a decades-long problem, but the big wildcard that comes with appointing James Gunn to head DC Studios means they are finally learning from past mistakes. At a time when the DCEU is finally healing after all the damage caused by Joss Whedon’s Justice League in 2017, James Gunn is exactly what the DCEU needs to fulfill that original director-driven vision.
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