Just a month after Henry Cavill announced his return as Superman, the new heads of DC films, James Gunn and Peter Safran, did the unthinkable and axed Cavill from the role
The enigma that is Zack Snyder has long left the DCEU but for better or worse his films remain the template for all current DC universe films. However, with James Gunn and Peter Safran taking over as heads of DC films the ‘Snyderverse’ is heading towards a hard reset. And it appears Gunn is not shying away from taking tough decisions in an effort to match or even surpass the success of Disney’s money-making juggernaut, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Gunn has positioned himself as the face of the newly rebranded DCU, whereas Safran could likely work behind the scenes. Their first order of business was to address the futures of possibly three of the biggest fictional characters in comic book history, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman — the fabled Trinity of DC.
Batman’s future under Matt Reeves is almost untouchable thanks to the new rebooted standalone universe featuring The Caped Crusader starring Robert Pattinson. Both Reeves and Gunn have confirmed that this version of Batman will not be part of the wider DC films universe. But this leaves Ben Affleck’s Batman created by Zack Snyder in limbo. Gunn’s predecessors had initially convinced Affleck to return after his sudden departure following the tumultuous production of 2017’s Justice League. It was also confirmed that he had a major part to play in 2023’s The Flash which also features Michael Keaton’s version of Batman. 2022 was dubbed the ‘year of the Batman’. However, as a result of the release date of The Flash being pushed from 2022 to 2023, only Pattinson’s iteration of the character appeared on the silver screen. And with Gunn reportedly cancelling Affleck’s cameo in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, it’s all but confirmed that Affleck’s Batman no longer has a future in the new DCU.
The news of Affleck being axed as Batman is not earth-shattering because the actor/director had previously walked away from the role of his own accord in 2017. But the news that figuratively ‘broke the internet’ was of Henry Cavill being replaced as Superman, just weeks after he publicly announced his return to much fanfare. It was also revealed that Patty Jenkins was asked not to move ahead with Gal Gadot’s third standalone outing as Wonder Woman. It’s unclear whether Gadot herself has also been asked to step aside, but the signs are pointing towards a recast of the character.
Within a short span of a month, the DCEU has essentially lost its three big hitters while James Gunn has reiterated that these characters, Superman, in particular, are pivotal to DC’s vision for the next decade. But it begs the question of whether a hard reboot is necessary. Despite the criticism Snyder's first two films (Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice) faced, they raked in over $1.5 billion at the box office and the success of Zack Snyder’s Justice League on streaming services confirms that there is plenty of interest in the universe Snyder created. And if the incredible success of the 2017 Wonder Woman film is also factored into the debate, considering the story was written by Snyder, DC’s previous hierarchy may have been too quick in replacing Snyder with Geoff Johns as creative head — a decision that led to underwhelming films such as the 2017 film Justice League and 2020’s Wonder Woman 1984.
There were already several liberties taken from a creative perspective since Synder’s departure, where storylines and characters deviated or even differed from what was shown in previous films. So a reboot is ‘a’ solution to fix the mess that is the DCEU but it might not be ‘the’ solution. Because despite Gunn’s initial claims that he will listen to the fans, firing Henry Cavill contradicts that claim. And if Gunn and Safran are indeed rebooting the entire franchise it gives audiences a very little incentive to watch any of the previously announced DCEU films releasing in 2023 such as The Flash, Blue Beetle, Shazam: Fury of the Gods, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. And the fact that Gunn is still yet to confirm whether characters from his own film The Suicide Squad and or his TV show Peacemaker are also being recast does not instil a lot of confidence among the fans in Gunn’s decision to remove Henry Cavill. If Gunn is indeed picking and choosing the characters he wishes to recast then he is going to face a monumental task of creating a cohesive universe.
Aquaman star Jason Momoa is already rumoured to play Lobo, an iconic DC anti-hero. And if these rumours are indeed true then releasing Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom could become a pointless endeavour. A more manageable solution would have been to let Snyder finish his arc with a sequel to Zack Snyder’s Justice as a final hurrah for his version of the characters and use the 2023 film The Flash to reset the timeline, just like how it has been done in the past in the comics and critically acclaimed animated films such as Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox and Justice League Dark: Apokalips War. Of course, this is easier said than done.
Gunn and Safran are expected to announce their plans for the DCU in the coming months and Gunn has promised fans that he will create a connected universe spread across film, television, comic books, and video games inspired by the acclaimed animated shows Justice League the Animated Series and Young Justice. This does offer a silver lining for a franchise that has been through several overhauls over the last decade — in what could be described as studio politics, takeovers, greed, and desperation to emulate the success of Marvel Studios under Kevin Feige. Warner Bros. Discovery has arguably the most popular superhero characters in history at their disposal, who have been part of some of the best graphic novels, video games, and animated content. And Marvel Studios’ success with characters who were once relatively lesser-known before 2008 is a painful reminder of how WB and DC have squandered the potential to create a film franchise that could rival Disney’s Star Wars and the MCU.
WB Discovery CEO David Zaslav continues to reiterate that he wants to bring back the studio’s success from the 2000s when WB helmed The Lord of Rings, Harry Potter, and The Dark Knight trilogy. Gunn and Safran’s appointment is viewed as the first step towards that goal. But if the new DCU’s debut film is anything short of spectacular the vocal fanbase will want Gunn replaced, considering Snyder’s films have aged much better than the commercial cash grabs that followed. What makes Gunn’s unexpected appointment perplexing is that he is helming a major blockbuster for DC’s primary competitor Marvel next year as director and writer of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol: 3. While actors have certainly appeared for both brands, the head of a studio making a movie for their main rivals is unprecedented. Of course, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol: 3. was delayed due to various reasons and was supposed to be released when Gunn was fully involved with Disney and Marvel Studios.
Gunn’s calibre as a filmmaker has never been in question, all of his superhero adaptations for both Marvel and DC have been well-received by critics. However, the final scene in Peacemaker’s finale is almost scandalous. And if his pitch for the new Superman movie which he is going to write and direct himself follows a similar template then a backlash from the DC fandom is almost inevitable. He has taken a massive gamble with his decisions so far, and 2023 could be a defining year for DC films.