Dan Lin, David Zaslav, and the DCEU: Can Warner Bros. Discovery Salvage the DCEU?
With a lot happening in Warner Bros. Discovery, from its planned HBO Max-Discovery+ merger to multiple projects including Batman: Caped Crusader being sold, the company has never been in such a more precarious time than now.
In recent months, old company heads including Toby Emmerich, former chairman, and Jason Kilar, former WarnerMedia CEO, stepped down to make way for David Zaslav, the newest head of the studio. Taking quick leadership for Warner Bros., Zaslav’s plans were mostly unknown until major industry projects like Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt were suddenly halted and scrapped for tax purposes. While many on social media, be it the public or those involved, were left frustrated or disappointed by this decision, this would only be the beginning of Warner Bros. Discovery’s troubles.
Laying the Groundwork
Batgirl, which was originally planned to release this year, starred Leslie Grace as the movie’s titular character and featured Brendan Fraser as Firefly, J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, and Michael Keaton as the returning Batman. Directed by Ms. Marvel faces Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, the film was set to take place within the Keatonverse following the events of The Flash. Unfortunately, due to the company’s labelling of the film to not be big enough for a theatrical release or small enough for streaming, Batgirl was stuck in a perpetual limbo with rising costs on both ends which ultimately caused the film to be cut.
With Batgirl cut and scrapped, the leadership at Warner Bros Discovery quickly turned to lay out their plans in their Q2 2022 earnings call on August 4th, which not only led to heavy criticism, but a rapid fall of shares (a -13.14% drop) that lingers today. However, in that call, Zaslav revealed that the DCEU would be under a similar structure akin to Kevin Fiege’s plan for the MCU and would begin looking for the DCEU’s “Kevin Fiege” for the reset. This was already unfortunate for Walter Hamada, who was almost pushed to leave his position following Batgirl‘s cancellation (though he’ll be staying until Black Adam’s release later this year.)
In lieu of Hamada’s impending leave, WB Discovery began their search for a potential leader who could reboot the DCEU into a Marvel-ized structure and just a few days ago, it was reported that Dan Lin, producer of movies like 2017’s It and the Lego Movie franchise, was being eyed as the DCEU’s new head amidst other names like Joker‘s Todd Phillips. With a list of great directing and producing credits to his name (as well as having a creative mind for DC in general), the possibility of Dan Lin being confirmed to lead the DCEU is almost certain. However, a question remains: will Lin and Zaslav be able to successfully reshape the DCEU into something great, and if so, how will they do it?
Taking a look at the current status of the DCEU, salvaging the old DCEU seems like a hard no.
At the Q2 earnings call, Zaslav told shareholders that the company values a reset for the DCEU and wants to produce “great, high quality films” as DC is top priority. He was also able to get Alan Horn, former Warner Bros. COO and Disney chairman, out of retirement to serve Zaslav under a consultation role. With Horn having close ties with large-scale projects like the MCU, Horn is expected to play an important role within the DCEU (perhaps to forge the DCEU’s new continuity with Lin?)
Besides WB Discovery’s plans for traditional theatrical-cable releases interfering with the salvaging idea, there have also been many controversies that have plagued the DCEU. Earlier this year, the result of the defamation case between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, consequently led to Heard’s role as Mera being bogged down in the sequel to Aquaman. On top of this, Ezra Miller’s actions beginning in 2020, involving rough crowds and disorderly cases, led many fans to believe that The Flash was going to be pushed back. However, Barbara Muschietti has assured fans that the film is promised to release soon with test screenings reportedly high as Miller seeks to compromise with film chairs Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy. Besides this, the massive campaign to restore the Snyderverse still continues on social media following Zack Snyder’s Justice League in 2021.
However, the DCEU is not likely to change its course until after The Flash releases. Several projects including Shazam! Fury of the Gods and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, were shifted further back into 2023 due to Zaslav’s plans to save $3 billion by promising to make movies for the big screen. Peacemaker‘s second season is still being developed by James Gunn thanks to the show’s renewal pre-merger, though fans are still wary of Zaslav’s iron fist. Not to mention, the Green Lantern Corps and Justice League Dark series for HBO Max are still being developed, though there has not been any recent news regarding either project. Hopefully, fans can see these projects coming to light post-DCEU reboot.
The Likely Plan
Since WB Discovery is unlikely to salvage the remains of the DCEU, what else has the company planned to revitalize its biggest cinematic universe? Well, it looks like Warner Bros. might go back to its roots.
Zaslav told shareholders that characters like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman had invested potential regarding their lores within the larger DC cinematic universe as he plans to reforge the DCEU into the next MCU. This is the main reason why movies like The Batman and Joker are getting sequels: Batman, an important cornerstone character of DC, has had potential for many decades thanks to famous comic runs like A Death in the Family and The Long Halloween and fans have seen different takes of the character from Keaton and Bale to Affleck and Pattinson.
Man of Steel was originally supposed to be that stepping off point, with no Superman-focused sequel as revealed by Jay Oliva, animation director and storyboard artist for DC. Originally, Superman’s story (and possibly the story of the Justice League) would play out following Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League, and Justice League 2, though knowing the development problems behind Justice League, things completely changed. However, with Lin and Horn at the helm of a new DCEU, we could possibly be getting more character-centric movies akin to Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Thor all leading into larger-scale events (like Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis.)
We’re already seeing an impact of Zaslav’s plans taking place: Ben Affleck is confirmed to be returning as Batman in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and Henry Cavill is rumored to be returning as Superman in Black Adam. Could the DCEU be bringing back the Trinity for one last time before the reset? Fans will have to wait and find out if this is the last goodbye for this era of the franchise.
A Few Questions
Can Warner Bros. successfully finance the DCEU post-reset? Currently, Warner Bros. faces one of the biggest market cap drops in the entertainment world (approximately $31 billion as of today) as its stock still drops. Rather than moving quickly to establish a new slate, Warner Bros. can only continue developing their current projects including the upcoming Aquaman sequel and Blue Beetle while also reorganizing the new creative structure of the DCEU. With a split in continuity between solo projects like The Batman 2 and Joker: Folie à Deux and the DCEU, the most that Zaslav and the executives can do is to transition the DCEU into Lin’s and Horn’s hands while leaving those solo projects under the main DC brand.
What does this mean for fans who want to see something structurally different from the DCEU? Unfortunately, fans might have to compromise with the structure that we’ve been used to within the MCU. However, building an established universe this late into the realm of franchising does have its benefits and drawbacks. The biggest drawback has to be the fact that the DCEU already has so many established film universes from Donner’s Superman pentalogy to the many Batman movie series and rebooting the DCEU feels like adding another short-ended saga to the long line of DC mythos films.
However, the biggest benefit to this seems to be that some fans are wearing out from the rapid output of the MCU regarding its upcoming phases. Fans could see the DCEU go back to reform the foundational basis like MCU’s first phase and relive that nostalgia, though for how long is what remains unknown. Whatever happens with the DCEU, hopefully the franchise will be more successful than it has been previously and its characters will see the light of day.