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DC's risky plan to out-Marvel the MCU explained

Digital Spy (UK) logo Digital Spy (UK) 05/01/2021 Ian Sandwell
a close up of Gal Gadot et al. looking at the camera: DC Films president Walter Hamada has outlined a risky plan to get the Worlds of DC to rival and beat Marvel at their own MCU game. © Digital Spy - Warner Bros. DC Films president Walter Hamada has outlined a risky plan to get the Worlds of DC to rival and beat Marvel at their own MCU game.

Following the critical and commercial failure of Justice League, it seemed as though the creative minds behind the Worlds of DC had made a decision to go standalone in the future.

The shared universe had sped to its team-up movie faster than The Flash after only four movies – and one of those (Suicide Squad) wasn't even really connected to the main storyline. Warner Bros and DC might have hoped for an Avengers-sized smash, but Justice League was anything but, and showed they had gone too big, too soon.

With the movies that followed, the Worlds of DC made a marked step away from a shared universe. Aquaman barely mentioned the Justice League, Shazam! was a completely standalone romp and Birds of Prey dismissed the Joker in the first five minutes.

Add in Joaquin Phoenix's Joker, which took place in a completely separate timeline, and you had a DC universe that was more of a universe of several different series, rather than an overall shared universe.

There's no doubt it worked, as critical reception improved dramatically and while there were still some box-office disappointments, both Aquaman and Joker managed to crack the $1 billion mark. As a result, DC are doubling down on the separate continuity approach – but it's not without its risks.

Gal Gadot et al. posing for the camera: Ben Affleck as Batman, Joaquin Phoenix as Joker, Robert Pattinson as Joker, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman © Digital Spy - Warner Bros. Ben Affleck as Batman, Joaquin Phoenix as Joker, Robert Pattinson as Joker, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

In a profile piece for The New York Times published in late December, Walter Hamada – president of DC Films since January 2018 – outlined his vision for the Worlds of DC's future, and it's certainly an ambitious one.

The aim is to have up to four DC movies a year starting from 2022 designed for cinema release, with an extra two superhero movies being released exclusively on HBO Max. The latter could give the opportunity for riskier characters to get standalone movies, such as Batgirl or Static Shock.

That's a big step up from two DC movies in 2019 or just the one DC movie in 2018, and Hamada is not just looking at the films in terms of the Worlds of DC.

"With every movie that we're looking at now, we are thinking, 'What's the potential Max spinoff?'," Hamada explained. We've already seen the start of that with James Gunn's Peacemaker HBO Max series, which will be a spin-off of The Suicide Squad.

Idris Elba et al. posing for the camera: A still from The Suicide Squad © Jessica Miglio - Warner Bros. A still from The Suicide Squad

You'd be forgiven for thinking that's a lot of DC content from 2022 onwards and that the Worlds of DC was getting mighty crowded. Hamada has a plan for that, though, and he's taken inspiration from the comics: enter the multiverse.

To make all the various movies and TV shows work without the fear of continuity issues or even audience fatigue if they didn't want to watch them all, the Worlds of DC will become a series of (mostly) separate worlds.

While already-established characters such as Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman will continue on Earth 1, there will soon be an Earth 2 which features the likes of Robert Pattinson's Batman. For the most part, these worlds can continue in unison without interrupting the other, but there's also scope for them to cross over, such as in The Flash, which will feature multiple Batmen, including Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton.

(Zack Snyder's upcoming version of Justice League is seen as its own thing in the DC universe now and isn't considered part of this new plan.)

Compared to Marvel's interconnected MCU timeline, where you have to remember who's met who and what happened when, the Worlds of DC's timeline(s) should be pretty straightforward – you'd just need to remember who's from which world.

a person taking a selfie: Confused Tony Stark gif © Marvel Studios Confused Tony Stark gif

What's more, DC has a history of making the comics multiverse work on screen – the TV Arrowverse has multiple Earths. Fans are on board with it and the multiverse has led to some epic crossover events when the Earths and characters have crossed over. If the movies side takes inspiration from the Arrowverse, it could be outstanding.

The worry and the risk for Hamada's grand DC plan is again that they could be going too big, too soon. Marvel – and even the Arrowverse – built up slowly and ensured that fans cared in the characters first and foremost before weaving in huge crossover events and multiple worlds.

Even though it's been hinted at, the MCU still hasn't properly introduced the multiverse and it's only just started to expand its universe with TV spin-offs of established characters (Agents of SHIELD being an early exception). The Suicide Squad might be great, but it's impossible to say right now if anybody will care enough about Peacemaker to watch his own show.

The key will be to ensure this new direction for the Worlds of DC is carefully built and the focus is on the movies themselves, rather than the wider picture. You can't just expect fans to be excited by the scope for different versions of the same character if they aren't invested in any single one of them.

Or as Hamada puts it himself: "If we make good movies, [fans] will go with it."

Wonder Woman 1984 is out in selected cinemas in the UK and will be available to rent digitally on January 13. It is out now in US cinemas and available to watch on HBO Max in the US.

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