Director, writer, and now creative executive James Gunn has teamed up with producer Peter Safran to lead Warner Bros.’ (WB) DC Studios division.
Whether or not the entire universe is fully rebooted remains to be seen, but Gunn’s upcoming announcements should paint a clearer picture.
In any case, the pressure is on for comic book movie veteran Gunn and his colleague Safran. Superman is one of the world’s most iconic heroes and the upcoming reboot needs to be both a critical and commercial success in order to please Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) executives.
The Unmatched Pressure of DC’s Superman Reboot
This will be DC’s third iteration of Clark Kent/Superman to hit the big screen during the 21st Century. Not to mention two renditions over on The CW between Smallville and Superman & Lois.
2013’s Man of Steel and the continuous DCEU that followed after it was Warner Bros.’ first attempt at reaching the universe-building heights of the MCU.
However, unlike the MCU, which utilized five solo films leading up to a culminating Avengers movie, the DCEU jumped straight from Superman’s introduction to multiple crossover events in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League.
Outside of the Batman franchises, DC has continually been the second-rate comic book movie company.
Of the top 10 highest-grossing comic book films of all time, only 2018’s Aquaman makes its way on the list. The other nine spots are filled by Marvel Studios productions from the past decade.
At this point, it’s not even a competition, Marvel owns the movie market.
The upcoming Superman reboot will be the beginning of an attempt to change that and reshape what it means to be a part of the DCU.
Based on Gunn and a report by Variety, the film will focus on a young Clark Kent working at The Daily Planet in Metropolis, but will not be an origin story.
In a story following the young hero, finding the right actor to replace Cavill will be critical to its success. Marvel actors like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlett Johansson were key factors in the success of their characters and the movies they’ve been in.
Over the past decade Warner Bros. has had varied results, but in general has lowered the value of DC, one of the studio’s largest pieces of IP.
In order to regain the interest and trust of DC fans and moviegoers, Gunn must write, produce, and possibly direct an incredibly effective Superman film that audiences latch onto.
Unlike Marvel Studios, which has the freedom to produce projects with mediocre reception (Eternals, Thor: Love & Thunder, She-Hulk, etc), DC is on a short leash with fans, especially in terms of universe-building.
Due to the amount WBD CEO David Zaslav has mentioned Superman and Gunn has teased the character, DC Studios clearly wants Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow to be a staple of the new DCU.
How the New Superman Can Succeed
One of the best life lessons is to learn from one’s mistakes. In this case, Warner Bros. has a lot of mistakes the studio can learn from.
This is not the first time WB has attempted to begin a cinematic universe, starting with a Superman film.
Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder, became the DCEU’s first film in 2013. The superhero movie had a mixed reception, many critics weren’t thrilled with the darkness of the film, especially following the city-crushing finale between Kal-El and Zod. Plus it never received a proper sequel and likely never will.
The muted colors also received plenty of backlash, especially comparing it to the 1970s-80s Superman films starring Christopher Reeve and directed by Richard Donner.
However, just brightening the suit and getting Clark to smile more often isn’t going to win over audiences that easily.
At the root of the character, Kal-El is an alien, impersonating a human, that has god-like abilities unknown to Earth before his arrival. Despite the universal awareness of the character, he’s actually not the easiest hero to write a story around that audiences can latch onto.
Gunn’s idea of scrapping an origin story is a good start, Man of Steel is the epitome of an origin movie, following nearly every stage of Clark’s life until he finally puts the suit on nearly an hour into the film.
This follows a similar formula to recent superhero successes in The Batman and Spider-Man: Homecoming. The first films in a new franchise, but their origins are either assumed or only briefly mentioned.
It’s going to be a tricky transition to navigate, especially when compiling the facts that many fans loved Cavill’s rendition of the character and four other DC films are releasing this year, which all have the potential to worsen the general audience’s interest in anything related to the comic book company.
It’s going to take more than curled dark hair and ruby-red underpants to reignite many fans’ love for DC films moving forward.