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News / Life / Entertainment

DC Studios to revamp comic book empire

Franchise seeks to restore order to ‘controlled chaos’

By Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times
Published: February 2, 2023, 6:05am
2 Photos
FILE - Writer-director James Gunn, appears at the premiere of "The Suicide Squad," in Los Angeles on Aug. 2, 2021, left, and producer Peter Safran appears at the premiere of "The Conjuring" in Los Angeles on July 15, 2013. Gunn and Safran, co-chairmen and CEOs of DC Studios, debuted their plans for a revamped and newly unified DC Universe of films and television series, including a new Superman film in 2025, a Wonder Woman prequel and a Batman movie that won't star Robert Pattinson. (AP Photo) (Clay Enos/Warner Bros.
FILE - Writer-director James Gunn, appears at the premiere of "The Suicide Squad," in Los Angeles on Aug. 2, 2021, left, and producer Peter Safran appears at the premiere of "The Conjuring" in Los Angeles on July 15, 2013. Gunn and Safran, co-chairmen and CEOs of DC Studios, debuted their plans for a revamped and newly unified DC Universe of films and television series, including a new Superman film in 2025, a Wonder Woman prequel and a Batman movie that won't star Robert Pattinson. (AP Photo) (Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.) Photo Gallery

LOS ANGELES — James Gunn and Peter Safran know Warner Bros.’ DC film and television franchise has been a mess.

Despite a roster that includes the world’s most famous superheroes — Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman — the comic book movies have not lived up to their collective potential.

The producer-filmmaker pair on Monday shared the beginnings of their plan to restore order to what has lately been characterized by controlled — if sometimes successful — chaos.

The hope is that their eight- to 10-year plan will get the mighty heroes’ storylines back on track and create a unit that can credibly compete with Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios juggernaut by releasing two films and two series a year.

The DC slate includes films featuring Superman, Supergirl, Batman, Robin and Swamp Thing, along with HBO Max streaming shows focused on the Green Lantern (or Lanterns) and the ancestral home of Princess Diana (aka Wonder Woman).

Gunn and Safran, speaking to Hollywood industry press at Warner Bros.’ Burbank studio lot, described an expansive and varied DC Universe, or DCU, that is more cohesive than the disparate tangle of projects that preceded it, while still leaving room for stand-alone, filmmaker-driven ideas. The duo announced 10 DCU film and television projects.

“The history of DC is pretty messed up,” Gunn said. “They were just giving away IP like they were party favors to any creators that smiled at them. And what we are going to do is we’re going to promise that everything from our first project forward is going to be unified.”

The plan comes just months after Gunn and Safran were named co-chairmen and co-chief executive officers of DC Studios in October, giving them control of the direction of the comic book franchise in film, TV and animation. They were hired during a tumultuous period for the studio following the merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery as David Zaslav, CEO of the combined company, slashed costs and issued new corporate mandates to the film and TV studio.

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Unlike the tightly controlled Marvel multiverse at Disney, DC has splintered into many parallel “universes” in film and TV: Greg Berlanti’s Arrowverse of CW television shows; the DC Extended Universe, largely based on the vision and style of filmmaker Zack Snyder; Todd Phillips’ Martin Scorsese-aping “Joker”; and Matt Reeves’ noir-ish “The Batman.” Sometimes they worked, and other times, as in the case of “Justice League,” which replaced Snyder with Joss Whedon, the results were disastrous.

The first phase of DC’s film and TV strategy begins with the animated TV show “Creature Commandos” and the live-action “Suicide Squad” offshoot “Waller,” starring Viola Davis, reprising her role from the films. DC is referring to its first “chapter” of stories as “Gods and Monsters.”

On the film side, their strategy kicks off in earnest July 11, 2025, with the release of “Superman: Legacy,” written by Gunn, which would be the first solo live action movie about Clark Kent/Kal-El since 2013’s “Man of Steel.”

HBO Max shows will include “Lanterns,” featuring both the Hal Jordan and John Stewart versions of the Green Lantern; “Paradise Lost,” a “Game of Thrones”-style look at the politics of the all-female Themiscyra society before Diana; and “Booster Gold,” another character from the comics.

There will still be room for films that exist outside the main DC franchise, like “Joker” and “The Batman.” Indeed, Reeves has pitched the studio “The Batman — Part II,” planned for Oct. 3, 2025. Those titles, however, will exist under their own banner — DC Elseworld.

Gunn and Safran’s overhaul has left some Hollywood egos bruised. “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins posted a long note on social media after the studio turned down her pitch for the third installment. “Black Adam” star Dwayne Johnson campaigned hard for a sequel to his antihero passion project after middling box office returns but couldn’t get the green light.

Filmmakers also felt the ground shift under them when the studio shelved a nearly completed $90 million “Batgirl” film that was planned for HBO Max, under the new corporate strategy that rejected expensive straight-to-streaming movies as financial boondoggles.

Safran defended that controversial decision, which preceded his and Gunn’s arrival. “I saw the movie — and there are a lot of incredibly talented people in front of and behind the camera on that film — but that film was not releasable,” he said.

Before DC takes on its new form, the studio has several movies set for release that are holdovers from the old regime, including “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” “Blue Beetle” and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”

Gunn and Safran said that despite the semi-reboot, there’s no reason why some of the actors in the prior casts — Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Jason Momoa (Aquaman), Zachary Levi (Shazam) — couldn’t return. However, the new franchises will mostly feature new stars in key roles.

Of much interest is “The Flash,” starring Ezra Miller, who has been caught in legal trouble with multiple arrests. Miller, who uses they/them pronouns, pleaded guilty this month to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful trespass in Vermont. They were ordered to pay a $500 fine and a court fee and were placed on probation for a year.

“Ezra is completely committed to their recovery, and we are fully supportive of that journey that they’re on right now,” Safran said.

Gunn pointed to the thousands of people who worked hard to make “The Flash” who have a stake in its release, rather than just one actor. “These people dedicated the last few years of their lives to making something really special,” he said.

“The Flash” comes out in June and features an actress, Sasha Calle, cast in the role of Supergirl. Could that person play the same character in the upcoming “Supergirl” film?

“We’re figuring it all out,” Gunn said.˜

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