Throughout last year, one of the primary complaints lobbed at Warner Bros.’ DC Entertainment–branded superhero movies was the fact that they interconnected in ways that felt forced. As our own David Edelstein put it in his review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, “For a studio to move beyond the ‘franchise’ and ‘tentpole’ stages to the vastly lucrative ‘universe,’ a comic-book movie must at every turn gesture toward sequels and spinoffs, teasing out loose ends, cultivating irresolution.” That film was at once a sequel to Man of Steel and a long exposition for this year’s Justice League. Suicide Squad was premised on the events of the previous two DC movies and ended by teasing Justice League.
They were classic examples of cinematic-universe storytelling, a technique pioneered by Disney-owned Marvel and currently being aped by an array of other studios. But if you found it irritating in the past DC flicks, fear not — the powers that be have heard you and are pivoting away from that kind of storytelling. They’re not blowing their cinematic universe up, but they tell Vulture that they’re deemphasizing it after Justice League.
“Our intention, certainly, moving forward, is using the continuity to help make sure nothing is diverging in a way that doesn’t make sense. But there’s no insistence upon an overall story line or interconnectivity in that universe,” DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson says. We saw this approach used in the most recent DC flick, Wonder Woman, which featured a light framing sequence involving emails sent between Batman and Wonder Woman, but no other tie-ins to anything. Nelson loved this: “There were little nods to Batman v Superman, but you don’t need to have seen it. It’s a great stand-alone.”
“The movie’s not about another movie,” adds DC chief creative officer and president Geoff Johns (there are two presidents, but Nelson is Johns’s boss). “Some of the movies do connect the characters together, like Justice League. But, like with Aquaman, our goal is not to connect Aquaman to every movie.”
Plus, they’ve confirmed reports that they’re launching a side label of movies that are set completely outside the cinematic universe. The first one they’re talking about is a Todd Phillips–helmed drama about supervillain the Joker. “They’re outside the mainstream film universe and they feature different actors and worlds and takes on the characters. They’re most likely all going to be one-offs,” Johns says. “We’ll be announcing the name of it soon-ish, but those films and the approach to those films is going to be a very different approach. The Joker is the only picture to date that is under the banner — it’s a very different take on the character, it’s a very different type of movie, and it’s unconstrained by continuity.”
For more on this new strategy, check out our feature about the past, present, and future of DC Entertainment.