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Could The 'Elseworlds' Franchise Doom The Future Of The DCEU?

Take a look at the roster of upcoming movies set in the DCEU, and it's clear that Warner Bros. has big plans!

By Max FarrowPublished 7 years ago 5 min read
'Kingdom Come' [Credit: DC Comics]

Take a look at the roster of upcoming movies set in the DCEU, and it's clear that Warner Bros. has big plans! Indeed, starting with Martin Scorsese's Joker movie, the DCEU is set to branch off into an Elseworlds label, where we'll see alternate versions of our favorite characters negotiating drastically different worlds.

On first glance, it’s a bold and promising move. After all, Elseworlds will allow directors to broaden the scope of Warner’s superhero output, since it frees them from both the narrative and stylistic constraints of the shared universe model. How cool will it be to see the likes of Kingdom Come or Superman: Red Son brought to life on our cinema screens? As exciting as this is though, there's also a danger that a trip into DC’s Elseworlds could spell doom for Warner's superhero efforts if they aren't handled correctly.

It Might Be Too Early In The Game For Alternate DC Realities

'Superman: Red Son' [Credit: DC Comics]

Whether we’re seeing superheroes in quirky new contexts (Gotham by Gaslight) or deconstructionist tales (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), the Elseworlds label provides fans with the chance to see our favorite iconic characters be shaken up and re-envisioned outside of their pre-existing canon. Part of the allure in these stories is the way we can compare and contrast, say, a Victorian Batman with our 21st century one. However, where movies are concerned, the eclectic freedom of Elseworlds could also be quite limiting.

Sure, a live-action Gotham by Gaslight could succeed, since audiences are already familiar with the ever-popular #Batman, but what if these Elseworlds films need to include — or heavily focus upon — more obscure characters like #Shazam?

Could parallel versions of heroes like Shazam and Martian Manhunter work, or even appeal to audiences if there’s no established cinematic version already in place? As of #JusticeLeague, we’re only five films into the DCEU; Outside of the main team, there’s very few characters remaining that could be given the parallel world treatment successfully. Therefore, starting an Elseworlds saga so early in the #DCEU’s development might mean that Warner Bros. have very few avenues to go down.

If They’re Unconnected, Will That Mean Audiences Are Unconcerned?

Additionally, by using Elseworlds tales, Warner Bros are clearly trying to differentiate their output from Marvel’s shared universe model. However, if they are going to utilize left-field characters, concepts and less-familiar story arcs, this might be problematic — especially if they have little to tie them all together.

Without wanting to restart the always-raging and ever-tiresome Marvel/DC argument, lets cast our minds back to when the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was announced. Because the team were so obscure, everyone was confused. Who were they, and why weren't #Marvel choosing this over the rest of their B-list properties? Clearly Kevin Feige and co. saw something special in this bunch of a-holes, and as we know now, their faith paid off to millions of dollars worth of box-office takings.

Yet whilst this success is clearly due to the talent of James Gunn, Chris Pratt et al, it’s also thanks to Marvel Studios’ savvy maneuvering beforehand. Indeed, many of the MCU’s offerings have been linked by the threat of Thanos (Josh Brolin) and the Infinity Stones. Like any good TV show, audiences have been encouraged to “tune in next week” so that they keep up to date with the ever-changing goings on in the #MCU.

Without any overarching narratives, or touchstones for these singular Elseworlds movies to hark back to, the new cinematic label may struggle to garner the same amount of momentum or interest as the main DCEU. This will certainly be the case if they center around lesser-known characters. Certainly, even standalone superhero movies such as #WonderWoman still contain connections to the wider DC universe, and this movie-making model is still very much in vogue. Audiences may then wonder why they should care or pay to see a film if it isn’t part of an overarching narrative. Which brings us to the last and most important point...

Too Many Realities Might Muddle The Movie Universe

'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

When the Hollywood Reporter disclosed rumors that Leonardo DiCaprio was being courted for the Joker solo movie, they were quoted as saying that:

“...executives are acutely aware of the risks of audience confusion...”

However, it seems that these execs may not have fully grasped the situation. With #LeonardoDiCaprio being eyed for a new #Joker in a new universe, what becomes of Jared Leto's version? You see, having two cinematic Jokers in such a short space of time may simply bamboozle general audiences. How do we know this? Well, we’ve already experienced something similar this year with Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Indeed, with two versions of Spider-Man appearing on our screens in the space of five years, many casual moviegoers couldn’t get their heads around the sudden change. Sure, we hardcore fans may know the ins and outs of the Sony/Marvel deal, Andrew Garfield’s firing and Tom Holland’s appointment, but the majority of the audience don’t, and we shouldn't expect them to. Heck, this writer came out from seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron in the local multiplex and overheard several cinema-goers wondering aloud why Batman didn’t help Cap and co. out in the climax of the film.

This isn’t to say that non-fans should be ridiculed by any means. In fact, it’s completely understandable that people don’t appreciate the intricacies of #comicbook lore. As it stood, Sony Pictures had to work very hard to emphasize just how fresh and different Spider-Man: Homecoming was to its predecessors (thanks in part to an Iron Man-heavy marketing campaign). Even then, Homecoming’s box-office was notably sluggish to start out with, before good word of mouth and the international markets helped it along.

The bottom line though, is that by depicting several versions of #theJoker (or any other comic book character) on our cinema screens, it may mean that casual cinema-goers are dissuaded from watching either of these films through sheer confusion alone. Plus, on the off chance both iterations of Joker character reach our local multiplex, things could become mighty awkward say, if audiences prefer one version over the other. Heck, we've seen the beginnings of this already through Jared Leto's response to the Elseworlds news.

In addition, as much as we love Batman, the more we keep watching him fight the same old foes, the more he'll produce diminishing returns. Elseworlds could refresh Bats a little in each of his cinematic outings, but having too many versions of the same characters may exacerbate the over-saturation of an increasingly populated genre. And this would be a bad thing for superhero movies in general.

'Justice League' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

A cinematic DC Elseworlds holds a lot of promise in theory, that much is certain. But realizing it is going to be a very tricky process, and the franchise undoubtedly needs to be handled delicately to ensure that the Elseworlds label succeeds and garners a widespread appeal.

No matter how many times a film is "made just for the fans", hardcore enthusiasts of these properties can't save a movie with their admission fees alone. It doesn't matter how closely an adaptation of Kingdom Come follows the comic book if it a) isn't a well-made film or b) doesn't sensibly align with the rest of Warner's shared universe. If 2017's poor summer box-office has shown anything, it’s this: if audiences aren’t sure what a film is about — or they don’t like the look of it — they won’t pay to see it. And when that starts to happen with #superhero movies, well, studios won't develop any new ones for us to enjoy.

(Source: The Hollywood Reporter)


About the Creator

Max Farrow

A fanatical film-watcher, hill-walker, aspiring author, freelance writer and biscuit connoisseur.

These articles first appeared on Movie Pilot between Jan 2016 and Dec 2017. Follow me on Twitter @Farrow91

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