This one's for you @EricMcClan.
I have reached a breaking point in the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe vs. DC Extended Universe debate. For nearly two years now I have seen so many sides of the argument but they are all pretty much framed the same way:
"Marvel is killing DC."
"The MCU is how you're supposed to do it. The DCEU should be rebooted."
"WB should seriously consider hiring Kevin Feige to fix their universe."
That last one is the reason this post now exists because I've heard that particular point enough times that I simply can't address my feelings on it properly with social media. No, for something as comprehensive and emotionally engaging as this subject, I needed to blog about it and that's why we are here right now. So let's dive into it, shall we?
Variety recently broke the story that WB will be restructuring DC Films in the wake of the disappointing box office returns for Justice League. Among these changes will be the departure of Jon Berg from the comic book film production division and the future naming of a new person to run point on DC Films with Geoff Johns remaining in an advisory role.
In the wake of this story, for the umpteenth time, it's been suggested on Twitter that WB call up Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios and offer him the position as head of DC Films, even going so far as to say that if they don't do that, then it proves that WB is not serious about getting the shared universe concept right.
Let's start with that assumption. What exactly is getting a shared comic book universe "right?" The idea as with almost everything concerning the evaluation of movies is subjective. There are fans who think everything in the DCEU before Justice League is "right." There are those in the general audience who believe everything in the DCEU since Wonder Woman is "right." There are those who believe that the DCEU has done nothing right and so on and so forth. The point is that "right" is not a universally objective term in any sense, even if we are talking "financially right." After all, the DCEU has earned more than $3.5 billion worldwide and counting through its first five films. In the real world, it's difficult to consider that "not right," but in the fan world there are many who think otherwise.
The recency of Justice League's box office earnings is the trigger for this different mode of thinking as $573.2 million earned in its first 20 days is a far, far cry from previous expectations. Sure enough, you don't have to go far to see an article using a variation of the sentence "Justice League was expected to be DC's version of The Avengers," noting the $1.5 billion that movie hauled in worldwide in 2012, a feat that Marvel Studios has yet to eclipse since then, just for the record.
It is that financial success, along with the $13.5 billion earned worldwide by the entire MCU as a whole that has many thinking that Kevin Feige is nothing short of "Lord and master of all comic book shared universes." Naturally this should make him a priority for WB since they've been spinning their wheels for the past four years trying to get their shared universe off the ground, right? Wrong. Very wrong actually, at least in my opinion.
A huge reason why Feige's plan works for Marvel is lowered expectations for its characters. Before 2008, no one in the general audience cared one bit about Iron Man, Captain America or Thor. There were no revered prior versions of their characters cinematically and there was no set of standards for any actors or writers to be held up to with regard to how they were portrayed on screen. This allowed Feige and Marvel Studios to set the narrative for the MCU with almost complete freedom and they have enjoyed that privilege for almost a decade now.
This is a privilege that those in charge of the DCEU have never had and will never have because before the franchise existed, WB made billions off of Batman and Superman for 34 years on the big screen. This created at least two generations that grew up with a specific concept of the characters and they latched onto that in the general audience perception, so much that now any change to those characters, subtle or otherwise is soundly rejected by the masses and especially the critics. While the DCEU has been quite prosperous on the whole for WB averaging $736.4 million per movie, the critical acclaim has only been there for Wonder Woman, with the other four films in the universe garnering polarized criticism at best and so much of that comes from displeasure at Batman and Superman's portrayals quite clearly. Wonder Woman having had no prior cinematic version was largely unencumbered just like the characters in the MCU have been. DC was able to set her narrative from the beginning and it is the only time that they have been able to enjoy that privilege.
Now, looking at the different sets of expectations on each shared universe just from a perception standpoint, are we confident that Feige's "brilliance" would translate to DC so easily? Would he truly be able to apply his methods from the MCU to the DCEU organizationally in a seamless manner? Would his leadership at a division that he has been a part of since 2000 well before the MCU existed, work just as well with the "Distinguished Competition?" The easy button answer is yes, but if things were truly easy then we wouldn't even be having this debate, would we?
The fact is that WB and Marvel Studios despite the fact that they both create comic book movies are in very different studio situations with their properties and resources and to assume that one approach would work for all is not paying attention to everything else in between. If WB were to bring Feige in, he would be either be changing course from what DCEU has already done while still adhering to the continuity of everything from Man of Steel to Justice League, OR he would be rebooting the DCEU entirely. Both scenarios present challenges for him. Changing the course of an existing shared universe is much different than starting one from scratch and just because he did the latter doesn't guarantee at all that he can handle the former, especially at a different studio. If he reboots the franchise, now he's got fans of the DCEU, many of whom already hate him, ready to call him the devil for being the instrument of the DCEU's destruction. That would also be revenue lost from the potential of the actors you already have in the DCEU like Gal Gadot or Jason Momoa, because rebooting the franchise would almost certainly mean their departure, as well as Patty Jenkins director of Wonder Woman's departure potentially as well. She did after all leave Feige once when he wanted her to direct Thor: The Dark World.
On top of that Feige is fan of Marvel, not DC. The last thing that DC needs right now to run their universe is a gun for hire, even if it is someone with success at building shared universes. The point person for the DCEU should be someone with a passion for DC that also understands the business of making movies. Just because Feige has Richard Donner director of Superman (1978) as an idol doesn't make him passionate about DC. He is where he belongs, where his passion is the strongest and it shows in the results the MCU produces.
Furthermore, the time has come to stop treating the MCU and what Feige does as the gold standard of how to do shared cinematic universes. There is no question that what they have done is wildly successful, but to act as though it is the only way or even the best way to do it is simply shortsighted. They did it first and they deserve credit for that, but the circumstances of how and why they had to do it the way they did do not apply to every other studio, nor should they. Should the DCEU have started its shared universe with any character other than one of The Trinity? Especially when two of those three characters have already proven success at the box office in the past? Is a string of solo movies truly the only way to introduce a team-up? The general audience actually doesn't think so considering that the audience and user scores for Justice League on several sites are significantly higher than that of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Suicide Squad. Perhaps that comes from the perception that families feel comfortable actually attending Wonder Woman and Justice League as a unit, whereas the three movies prior to that usually meant the kids stay at home since no parent wants their children to see Batman smash Superman over the head with a kitchen sink or The Joker torture Harley Quinn with electroshock.
The bottom line is that suggesting that WB inquire about hiring Feige to helm the DCEU is just another easy button answer to WB's situation without giving consideration to everything else important surrounding it. It's very much the same thing that sports fans do when their team sucks and they see a successful team win it all with a great revival story. Everyone wants that coach or that general manager or that owner right then and there, completely ignoring the situation with their own team and not taking into account the potential pitfalls and perils that come with bringing a person like that in. All you see in this case is the critical acclaim and the dollar signs and you want it for your own franchise. I get that. I want that for the DCEU as well, believe me but there is a much better way to do that than simply trying to steal the guy from one of the other franchises that by the way is in a perfect situation for him and really would be stupid to leave it now.
How about WB doing this the actual "right" way and finding their own Kevin Feige? Maybe it's not Geoff Johns who is already Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics and a writer. Maybe it's a producer that has been part of the WB/DC process for a number of years and has a true passion for DC but has been around long enough to know how the business of movie production works and has his or HER own plan to take the shared cinematic universe concept to the next level in a way that not even "Lord and Master Feige" has thought of yet. Wouldn't that be a better solution? Or are you really suggesting this because you're convinced that WB's decisions that haven't worked are more than just misfires and are actually the sign of incompetence at the highest level? An incompetence that by the way is earning nearly three-quarters of a billion on average per movie released through only its first five movies. Perhaps the suggestion of WB calling Feige is less about their confidence and more about your own, or lack thereof for what WB/DC has done to this point. That may well be the case and you have every right to feel that way, but that doesn't mean that your idea is the best way for WB to show how serious they are about getting the DCEU "right," in my opinion.