Full disclosure: I haven't been a fan of most of the DCEU's movies. I love Wonder Woman and I really liked Man of Steel (the Zod killing issue was blown way out of proportion), but everything else has been deeply flawed to borderline unwatchable for me. And for the most part, I've resigned myself to assuming DC movies will be bad to mediocre with the hope that I will be pleasantly surprised.
That hope hasn't been much more than a faint flicker until now. Some of the (very) recent developments with DC films, as well as a solid Comic Con showing, have me finally feeling optimistic about the future of DC movies. The trials and tribulations of Warner Bros.' DC movies are many and they aren't out of the woods just yet. But like Superman rising from the grave after his battle with Doomsday or the sun being reignited by Hal Jordan in The Final Night, DC is giving me reason to believe, once again.
Now, my newfound optimism is of the cautious type. I still have many, many concerns about the future of DC movies. I'm not convinced that there is an actual plan in place or guiding vision. I think the damage done by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will take ages to retcon and remedy. The fixation on Batman-adjacent properties is troubling, and I don't think that the market can bear half of the Joker and Harley Quinn films that have been reported or rumored to be in some phase of development. Despite all that, for the first time, I'm finally optimistic about DC movies. Here's why.
There was, if not a total expectation, at least a hope that DC would reveal a revised slate of movies at Comic Con to give fans a better idea of where this universe was headed. That didn't happen. And while I can definitely see this as a warning sign that there was no slate because there is no firm plan, I'm going to choose to look at this as a positive. There are seemingly countless DC movies in the works at the moment but announcing all of them now would be setting the universe up for another failure. DC has overpromised and underdelivered before, so better to just focus on the next three movies hitting theater screens and go from there. Focusing on Aquaman, Shazam!, and Wonder Woman 1984 shows confidence in them, and allows fans to get excited about those titles instead of getting too far ahead. It also allows DC to do more fine-tuning if need be, once the studio sees the reaction to those films.
Not only did DC forego announcing some overly ambitious slate, but also it didn't seem to force the interconnectivity of its universe. Aquaman, Shazam! and Wonder Woman 1984 seem to all stand largely on their own. We know that Aquaman doesn't have major cameos, Wonder Woman 1984 is set in the past and Shazam! is an origin story. It's possible that these movies will have more connective tissue than I think, but overall, it seems like they won't be forced to do the heavy-lifting of universe building. DC's best movies so far (in my opinion) have been Wonder Woman and Superman's solo efforts, so recognizing that and letting these movies breathe is a smart move. There is also the fact that DC knows that its only unequivocal success is Wonder Woman. She is already getting a sequel, and WB paid Patty Jenkins what she deserved to bring the filmmaker back. Learning from past mistakes and leaning in to what does work is the hallmark of growth.
At long last, Comic Con gave us our first look at Aquaman, with a full trailer that showcased the magical underwater world that will be brought to life in James Wan's film. Aquaman has historically been the butt of jokes, but this movie looks to show how epic this character can be. Game of Thrones comparisons have been made and there seems to be some major fantasy-esque mythology at play in this movie, and that's exciting and different. Aquaman will introduce us to a beautiful world populated with wild creatures and as we've seen from Black Manta in the trailer, DC isn't being fearful about going comic-booky with the weirder characters. So Aquaman could do for DC what the Guardians films did in the MCU. I still have concerns about the dialogue in the trailer, some of it was a bit cringeworthy for me, but overall it's impossible not to want to explore Atlantis.
Going in to Comic Con, I fully expected to be blown away by the Aquaman trailer but to be mixed on whatever we saw from Shazam! So imagine my surprise when the trailer that I loved the most was the one with the least action. Shazam! looks like an absolute blast and I couldn't wipe the smile off my face watching the trailer. It captures how awesome it would be to become a superhero in a way that perhaps only the first Spider-Man ever has. It also gives us a fun origin story of a character that is completely different than anyone else we've seen from Marvel or DC. Lastly, Shazam! is DC's tonal shift made manifest. I personally don't think Zack Snyder's dark tone was the problem with the DCEU. But the execution of films with that tone was lacking. A lighter and brighter DCEU might still fail, but Shazam! shows that this new direction opens up a fun, exciting new world of possibility that's at least worth a try.
Ironically, perhaps the DC movie I'm most intrigued by isn't a part of DC's cinematic universe at all. Todd Phillips' Joker is fascinating. There is something of a Han Solo quality to the Joker origin film, as in, "Do we need it?" I'm not sure, but with Joaquin Phoenix on board and Robert De Niro circling, I definitely want to see it. The low budget, gangster film, separate from the shared universe, is awesome not just in its own right but because of what it represents. Joker shows that DC knows it has stories to tell that don't have to connect to some larger overarching plan. If there is a great story to tell with DC characters and talented people who want to tell it, WB is willing to make it happen without forcing it to fit in a cinematic universe. Whether these stories are part of some DC Dark or DC Black label remains to be seen, but the possibilities are exciting and endless.