In terms of size and importance, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was arguably the biggest film of 2016. And while the movie made over $800 million at the box office, there is no denying that Warner Bros. was taken aback by the critical and fan reaction to the film. This was a major gamble for WB, especially given that by the time Batman v Superman would be unveiled to audiences, production had already been completed on Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman was in the midst of filming, and the Zack Snyder-helmed Justice League was weeks away from beginning production. So when there was considerable pushback over the joyless quality of Batman v Superman, not to mention harshly negative reviews, Warner Bros. had a problem—all of these films had left the station with the assumption that Batman v Superman would be universally embraced.
Major adjustments have since been made at the studio, and while the more lighthearted Suicide Squad is performing above expectations at the box office, Warner Bros. appears to remain intent on switching things up for the DC Extended Universe to come. One of the studio’s biggest moves was installing DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns as the head of a new arm at WB, DC Films. In this role, Johns—who consulted heavily on the previous DCEU films—was given a far bigger leadership role in the universe to come.
And while the first trailer for Justice League promised that the characters of the film will indeed crack a smile, in a new interview with WSJ (via CS), Johns revealed that the timetable of bringing the DCEU “into the light” was moved up in the wake of the Batman v Superman reaction:
“Mistakenly in the past I think the studio has said, ‘Oh, DC films are gritty and dark and that’s what makes them different.’ That couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a hopeful and optimistic view of life. Even Batman has a glimmer of that in him. If he didn’t think he’d make tomorrow better, he’d stop.”
Johns also revealed in the interview that Justice League will indeed address the fact that Ben Affleck’s more grizzled Batman tried to murder Superman and is handling himself in a much more violent way. Moreover, Justice League is said to include fewer of Snyder’s “controversial flourishes” like the extended Knightmares sequences in Batman v Superman in favor of focusing on the film’s plot at hand. That Knightmare sequence may have been a prelude to Darkseid’s arrival in the DCEU. Or maybe it was just an excuse to get visually creative with Batman having bad dreams.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that there has been a marked shift in direction on Justice League, and Johns is leading the charge in making sure that these comic book movies are joyous in addition to taking their characters seriously. And with Joe Manganiello confirmed to be playing the villain Deathstroke in Affleck’s standalone Batman movie, things are certainly about to get interesting.
I’m curious to see if, in hindsight, Batman v Superman sticks out like a sore thumb in the DCEU. There’s been enough time to address issues with Wonder Woman, and The Flash and Aquaman are in development under the tutelage of Johns, so the DC Comics veteran’s influence is sure to be felt. We’ll find out for sure when Justice League opens in theaters on November 10, 2017.