The date is March 24, 2016. It’s the eve of the release for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and DC is on the cusp of its first step toward creating its own shared superhero universe. One weekend later, the film shatters records at the box office, despite middling reviews that panned Zack Snyder’s directorial approach as joyless and contrived. The week after that, BvS dropped off of a cliff at the box office, and the verdict was in: DC had stumbled out of the gates.
It wasn’t long before the studio’s next project, Suicide Squad, was taken in for a series of pricey reshoots. Just one release into DC’s five-year schedule, things were already looking grim. Fast forward to today, and we’re fast approaching Marvel’s next big project, Captain America: Civil War. That makes the timing for DC/Warner’s latest obstacles felt that much more, having lost The Flash‘s director, Seth Grahame-Smith, due to creative differences. This was exacerbated days later by news of Aquaman director James Wan “feeling a tremendous amount of trepidation” about his own project.
Wan later took to Twitter to emphasize that he wasn’t in fact leaving Aquaman entirely, but did little to refute the reports surrounding his own uncertainty concerning the film. In fairness, trouble with directors isn’t anything new to the superhero genre. Even Marvel encountered similar problems with the likes of Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, and Edgar Wright, three heavyweights that any studio would be lucky to have on board. At the same time, it’s also never had its directorial conflicts overlap in the same weekend. What we’re seeing right now is less an isolate incident, and more a symptom of DC’s larger ailments.
To get a sense for what the problem is over at DC/Warner, we only need to look as far as Seth Grahame-Smith. While the director has yet to comment publicly on his departure from The Flash, it’s not hard to determine where he might have clashed with the studio. Grahame-Smith’s resumé includes Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. These are films that don’t take themselves all that seriously, aka the antithesis of DC and Zack Snyder’s murder-verse. It’s a short line from “point A” to “point B,” showing us an action/comedy director clashing with a studio that proudly enforces a “no jokes” policy for its tentpoles.
That whole approach was immediately thrown out by DC’s Suicide Squad reshoots, rumored to be used to infuse more comedic elements into the project. That being so, it’s hard not to feel like the studio is floundering right now. Batman v Superman fell short of expectations both critically and financially, and that’s for a film featuring its two most marketable heroes. With this in mind, you can understand some level of trepidation from all involved once they start drilling into the next tier of DC characters. The mission to catch up to a Marvel franchise almost a decade in has proven to be far more difficult than originally expected. Now, directors are either jumping ship, or at least feeling like hopping overboard is a viable option.
The next battleground will be Captain America: Civil War, and early returns indicate that it won’t be good news for DC. Marvel has been blazing this trail for upwards of eight years. The studio developed a rhythm for its releases, and a rapport with its various directors. Suffice it to say, the MCU is a well-oiled machine. Over at DC, the machine is more a sputtering mess ready to explode. It’s already leaking directors, and we don’t imagine it’ll be long before things come completely undone.