DC movies can’t ignore lessons from The Batman or Joker if it wants to succeed

The Dark Knight and Catwoman look out over Gotham City in The Batman
Warner Bros. Discovery should go against the cinematic universe grain. (Image credit: HBO Max)

DC has two new creative leads – but a comment by Warner Bros’ CEO David Zaslav has us worried that old mistakes could be repeated in the next chapter of the comic book giant’s film division.

During an investor call on November 3, Zaslav praised the company’s new co-chairs of DC Studios, James Gunn and Peter Safran, saying: "They have a powerful vision and blueprint that will drive a more unified creative approach that will enable us to realize the full value of one of the world’s most iconic franchises” (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Unified. Creative. Approach. It’s hard to tell exactly what Zaslav means here, but it raises some warning flags about DC dismissing hard-learned lessons from its past.

Much of the failure of early DC movies was in their stagnant, gray aesthetic – led by the creative vision of Zack Snyder, a perfectly capable filmmaker who nonetheless should never have been allowed to dominate DC’s creative palette. The result was a series of creatively unadventurous films, including Justice League, that felt desperate to maintain a connecting thread, instead of allowing individual movies to shine in their own way.

DC’s greatest (and most recent) successes have stemmed from a willingness to try new things, allowing a myriad of distinctive creative visions free reign with different IP.

Todd Philips’ Joker movie was an immediate cult classic, charting the iconic villain’s origin story with Oscar-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix – a far cry from the story-light action flicks Snyder had been overseeing – and set to get a highly-anticipated sequel, named Joker: Folie à Deux, in 2024. Matt Reeves’ recent detective noir The Batman, too, shows the level of originality and ingenuity that can be born when different directors are free to embrace their own aesthetic.

Harley Quinn aims two handguns at some off-camera guards in The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad is a great example of giving creators the license to make a movie in their image. (Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/™ & © DC Comics)

James Gunn’s reset of The Suicide Squad, a couple of years after DC’s disastrous first attempt to bring the team of anti-heroes to the screen, is also a clear example of a need to change creative direction at regular intervals. We’re already seeing worrying signs of this in DC’s insistence on tying Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller into a growing roster of superhero flicks in ways that simply don’t work (see this excellent Polygon article for a full run-down), including the recently released Black Adam.

Marvel is obviously the clear winner when it comes to establishing connected cinematic universes, and DC can only stumble when attempting to compete head on. That said, while Marvel’s ability to tie disparate stories together is both engaging, it’s also a key weakness, requiring a huge content commitment for fans who want to keep track of who’s who in every film. If DC focuses harder on popular characters and movie series, allowing them to stand on their own, it opens the door for more creative risks and the kind of tonal variety Marvel sorely lacks.

We’re hoping that Gunn and Safran’’s appointment helps to mitigate any tendencies towards homogeneous filmmaking that Zaslav is expressing. After all, the pair have been instrumental in turning DC’s film fortunes around, helming not only The Suicide Squad but also the Peacemaker TV show for HBO Max, which is one of the best HBO Max shows around. Let’s hope they continue their streak.

For more DC-based content, read our ranking of every Batman movie to date, or find out how much an HBO Max subscription currently costs. Well, until the streamer gets a price hike in 2023.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.