Matt Reeves has KO’d a multi-film arc full of DC heroes, and changed the course of the multiverse. This week The Batman officially passed the worldwide box office of Justice League, despite the continuing COVID-related weakness of theater grosses. The film’s success is the final knock-out to the original vision of the DC Extended Universe and to Warner Brothers' dreams of duplicating Disney’s never-ending serialized cross-over franchise MCU model. And thank goodness.
The Batman has grossed $672.8 million, passing Justice League’s $657 million. The Zach Snyder multi-hero 2016 film is still a little ahead if you adjust for inflation, but The Batman has had a very impressive run given the weaker post-Covid theater realities. It’s the biggest earner of 2022.
Zack Snyder’s grand plan for the MCU-ificiation of DC properties wasn’t a total bust. His first big crossover/shared universe film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice grossed a very respectable $873.6 million. But stand-alone hero films, whether putatively in the DCEU like Aquaman ($1.14 billion) and Wonder Woman ($822 million) or completely outside of continuity like The Joker ($1.07 billion) and The Dark Knight Rises ($1.08 billion) did just as well or better.
Stand-alone films are also easier to coordinate, as Warner Brothers has found to its sorrow. Snyder’s daughter tragically died during the filming of Justice League, forcing him to step aside as director. The resulting chaos—compounded by reportedly abusive behavior by Snyder’s replacement Joss Whedon—affected not only Justice League, but a whole slate of future films, including two Justice League sequels, a Cyborg film, and many more.
In contrast, if Matt Reeves' The Batman had tanked, you just go and make a different film. Shared universes are high stakes. And for DC, they haven’t been a particularly high reward.
There are rabid Snyder megafans who will continue to rage against the DCEU demise until Darkseid comes for us all. But for most moviegoers, DC’s decision to move on looks like the right one. Snyder’s desaturated, somber visuals gave his movies a distinct tone from the MCU. But still, it was clear he was imitating a blueprint that already dominated cinema screens. Multi-film arcs, emotional beats built around familiar characters running into each other, storylines about giant purple aliens invading…how much of that do we need?
In contrast, DC standalone films have gone in decidedly different directions. Todd Phillips’ The Joker was influenced by Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and King of Comedy rather than by The Avengers; instead of super-battles, it trudges through a tale of psychological breakdown, poverty, and urban decay. James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is an openly satirical take-down of superheroes and the imperialism of global superpowers. And The Batman is a sprawling emo-goth mope-fest, with Robert Pattinson as the world’s broodiest detective.
I wouldn’t say that any of these films are cinematic masterpieces. They’re still big-budget franchise superhero films, and there’s a limit to how adventurous those can be. But at least they offer something different than the MCU, which is doubling down and doubling down again on cross-promotion, and quips.
Spider-Man: No Way Home, the most successful recent MCU offering, is just wall-to-wall cameos. Heroes and villains from other Marvel and Spider-Man movies are wheeled in and out of the narrative at dizzying speed, each uttering a cute one-liner before leaping aside to be replaced by the next.
A brief appearance by Charlie Cox, reprising his role as Daredevil from the Netflix series, underlines the homogenization. Daredevil doesn’t get to have an awesomely, brutally choreographed fight scene. He just makes a cute MCU joke and then disappears. The Netflix MCU series were gritty, sexy, and very distinct from the MCU films. But the logic of shared universes flattens all. The multiverse makes filmmaking contradictorily less diverse, because when everyone has to exist in the same movie, everyone has to look, and behave, as if they’re in the same (very familiar) movie.
That very familiar movie is very popular; Spider-Man: No Way Home smashed box office records despite the pandemic. But DC is discovering that you don’t need to necessarily exactly imitate the very popular thing in all respects in order to get butts in seats. Matt Reeves says The Batman sequels probably won’t include Superman and other non-Bat-related heroes. As Marvel moves towards more and more integration, DC is moving towards at least somewhat less. For anyone who would prefer to not see exactly the same superhero movie over and over and over, that’s good news.
More From Wealth of Geeks
- Review: ‘The Batman’ Makes a Cinematic Masterpiece Out of Grimdark Mystery
- The Greatest Batman Villains of All Time
- 10 ‘Batman: the Animated Series’ Episodes You Need to Revisit
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: Warner Bros.
Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.