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Where does the DCEU go from here?

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The box office success of Aquaman, following on from the well-received Wonder Woman, has put the Warner Bros/DC franchise back on the map, after the financial and critical busts of the Justice League movies. As of the 9th January 2019, Aquaman has earned $268,594,515 at the box office against an estimated $200 million budget. Once merchandise is factored in (Aquaman even had an online slot released in Europe), then the bosses at Warner are likely to be breathing a sigh of relief and no longer hovering their finger over the DCEU destruct button on their Batmobile.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the success of two largely stand-alone films, set apart from the other caped superheroes in the DCEU, suggests that the Justice League concept has a problem. And the recent announcement that Planet of the Apes director Simon Reeves is set to direct yet another Batman reboot later in 2019 suggests to us that Warner know what that problem is. Batman (or at least Batfleck) is just too dark for the Justice League. He just doesn’t come across as the kind of guy who would team up with The Flash, Superman and Aquaman to fight bad-CGI villains like Steppenwolf. And the thought of him meeting Harley Quinn seems pretty ridiculous. Is she going to use the “why so serious, son?” question on him, as Affleck looks on grimly?

Plus, Chris Nolan’s Batman is now how most of the public know the character (with Adam West and George Clooney’s nipples trailing behind), so watching Affleck just feels wrong to most cinema-goers.

The Justice League doesn’t work with Batman in it, and we think he is going to be retired as the lynchpin behind the group. But the question then arises whether DC’s attempt to copy the Marvel universe is doomed already. Marvel spent over a decade and a dozen movies carefully introducing the characters together, with overarching themes and similar tonality which made meet-ups between them seem believable. In contrast, do you remember how Batman met Superman? They were introduced by Mark Zuckerberg* at a party, fer crissakes! Is the DCEU as a coherent universe even a viable product any longer? Maybe not.

If Marvel-style universe-building isn’t going to be an option for DC, then at least we can look forward to some quality characters who can be allowed their own movies with their own tone. Aquaman is a fun, light-hearted character, especially with Jason Momoa in the role. Sticking him in the same story as the brooding Dark Knight was always going to feel incongruous but watching him throw his trident at bad guys is just pure entertainment.

Similarly, Wonder Woman’s own stand-alone movie allowed us to learn about her intriguing backstory, as well as enjoying a slice of historical adventure. The sequel will be set in the 80’s Cold War, and this might become a theme for the character, as she prevents mankind from killing itself again and again.

Whatever the future of the DCEU, it seems that it won’t have Batman in it, and there must be serious questions about whether it will even exist in a coherent, Marvel-style way. But frankly, that’s a good thing. After all, we go to the cinema to be entertained – and each of the DC characters can do that on their own.

*Jesse Eisenberg is always playing his imaginary version of Mark Zuckerberg, even while killing zombies.

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