There’s no secret about it: the DCEU – Warner Bros’ superhero mega-franchise that was designed from the ground up to compete with the Disney-owned MCU – is floundering. Man of Steel never quite got off the ground the way that it was meant to. Batman v Superman ate up most of the remaining good will that fans were willing to give the series. Suicide Squad was somehow even more abysmal than that. People love Wonder Woman, but it was definitely a case of ‘too little, too late.’
By the time Justice League came around, its broad base of movie-goers had abandoned it, causing it to lose upwards of $150 million dollars during its theatrical run according to some particularly pessimistic estimates. The movie that was supposed to finally put the DCEU on equal footing with the MCU – to finally give them a movie to compete with The Avengers (admittedly five years too late) – was an unquestioned flop for the studio. Between what they pumped into its initial photography, its protracted post-production, its advertising and its distribution, it lost the studio that made it an obscene fortune in revenue. Even more optimistic observers put Warner Bros’ losses somewhere around nine figures.
Now, there was plenty of blame to go around for the movie. Between its inconsistent tone, diametrically opposed directorial visions, cancerous post-production, heavy-handed studio interference, cheap-looking visuals, toothless script and conceptually questionable lineup (including the least interesting version of Aquaman straight from the 90s, a tonally mismatched Cyborg from the most recent comic reboot and a complete lack of Green Lantern), it was guaranteed from the moment it hit theaters that it was never going to work.
Warner Bros is now desperate to dig themselves out of the hole they’re in with these movies. The intellectual properties that they’re based on is still a goldmine in the right hands, but the studio has consistently proven itself inept at making it work for them the way that Marvel has made their considerably less-iconic heroes into a new cornerstone of the Disney entertainment empire. And to right themselves, there is apparently nothing that they’re unwilling to do.
They’ve already fired Geoff Johns from his perch at the head of the DCEU, replacing him with budget-friendly president Walter Hamada, who cut his cinematic teeth on extremely profitable horror movies like The Conjuring and It. They’ve a whole mess of non-canonical DC movies that are planned to exist completely separately from any kind of shared continuity. They’re also planning a forced reboot of the entire franchise with Flashpoint, which will presumably erase any movie not named Wonder Woman from the new DCEU and allow them to recast all of their increasingly uncertain actors (such as Henry Cavil and Ben Affleck).
It also warrants mentioning that they’ve been shedding both confirmed and rumored projects with wholesale abandon. From Lobo to Deadshot to Justice League Part II, seemingly everything not nailed down to the floor is getting thrown out with the rest of the franchise. Curiously, however, Cyborg, the solo movie for the least compelling member of the ill-fated Justice League, is still in the works.
Even when he was introduced in Justice League, Cyborg didn’t make any sense. His backstory was ostensibly that he got into what should have been a fatal accident around the time of Dawn of Justice. During that movie’s climax, all of the ancient alien technology on the planet “lit up like Christmas,” which allowed Victor Stone’s father to use a Motherbox to fuse his son’s body with machinery, thus saving his life and transforming him into a superhero.
The problem was that it made zero narrative sense on its face. Just before the climax of Dawn of Justice, the events of the movie are awkwardly stopped in order for Zack Snyder to shoehorn in studio-mandated mini-trailers for all of their upcoming movies, including one for Cyborg. In security footage that Lex Luthor had in his possession long enough for it to be tracked down, stolen and viewed by both Batman and Wonder Woman, we see a recording of Stone’s father saving his life and turning him into Cyborg – events that, by Justice League’s own admission, hadn’t happened yet. The fight between Batman and Superman hadn’t happened yet, so the footage could not possibly exist yet.
The rumor that Cyborg the movie is going to be an origin story only further complicates this. It is a major plot point – our literal introduction to the character – that after he became a cyborg, he also became a shut in. Ashamed of his appearance and increasing distance from the Human condition, he shut out the outside world and did… nothing. Nothing, that is, until the events of Justice League, making that movie in no uncertain terms his protracted origin story.
There is no way for Warner Bros to follow this line of narrative reason and have it make any amount of sense. Then again, when your tentpole franchise is this thoroughly rotten, maybe you just have to abandon any sense of continuity and try reimagining everybody from square one. Worse comes to worse, Flashpoint’s just going to reboot everything anyway.