In an attempt to carry over the moodier, more grounded tone of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and serve as a counterpoint to Marvel’s lighthearted fare, Warner Bros. initially built its shared DC Universe around the less family-friendly vision of Zack Snyder. In theory, this was a great way to differentiate its offerings from the deluge of superhero content flooding the market. However, the execution resulted in divisive results and a sense that there was money left on the table at the box office. After the critical and commercial shellacking Justice League incurred, not to mention the soaring heights of its recent Wonder Woman movie, WB made a strategic shift away from the darker vibe of its early DCU efforts.
Thus far, that has yielded Aquaman—which became the highest-grossing DC movie ever, earning nearly $1.2 billion worldwide—and next week’s Shazam!, which has been drawing widespread praise (though not everyone has loved it). But for those who fear that DC Films will only produce quip-laden blockbusters with comedic slants from here on out, don’t fret. It seems the studio is willing to dip a toe back into more mature material.
“I think that DC has the same idea we do now, which is every movie that they make should have the right tone for that particular character,” Shazam! producer Peter Safran explained to IGN recently. “Shazam is such a fun character; he is all about wish fulfillment. He is fun and funny, and that is the tone that you should have for the film. Aquaman has got a fantastical element. Wonder Woman’s got her thing. I think they realize each tone has to be specific for each movie.”
He continued, “Listen, there are certain characters like Batman, like the Joker—that dark tone is perfect for them. It’s what you really want to see.”
Filmmaker Matt Reeves is currently putting the finishing touches on his script for The Batman, with casting is expected to commence soon (Ben Affleck’s tenure as Batman is finished, as is Henry Cavill’s run as Superman). Reeves previously helmed the critically acclaimed final two installments of the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, big blockbusters that were praised for their somber and adult tones, even if the trilogy capper may have suffered at the box office because of it.
As for Joker, director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix are set to deliver an R-rated crime drama that takes inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s catalogue, which is about as dark as you can get (we’re high on the film’s potential). It is intended to be the first movie in a series of DC-based movies separate from the shared DC Universe. If it’s a hit, expect the studio to unveil a new banner dedicated to stand-alone, filmmaker-driven genre experiments built around comic book characters—something of an “Elseworlds” division.