Is 2017 The Year DC Will Set the Course Straight?

Justice League Poster - H
Warner Bros.
Can 'Wonder Woman' and the rest of the 'Justice League' convince skeptical audiences that Warners has a Marvel competitor of its own?

2016 wasn't the easiest year for fans of the DC Entertainment superheroes who wanted to see their favorite characters on the big screen. Sure, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice brought Wonder Woman to cinemas for the first time ever, and Suicide Squad introduced a whole new team of (anti-)heroes — and they made plenty of money doing it. And yet … it would be a stretch to say that either movie was a slam dunk, let's just say.

I write that as someone who liked both, to varying degrees, and who loves the characters involved. That doesn't change the fact that both BvS and Squad were movies that, to be polite, divided critics, and left general audiences unsatisfied. More importantly, they were a one-two punch that left audiences unconvinced that Warner Bros.' attempts to build a competitor to Disney's all-conquering Marvel Cinematic Universe would succeed, given its rocky beginnings. With the next two installments in what's become known as the DC Extended Universe due in 2017, is there a chance that things could be turned around?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer, however, is less likely to make Warner executives or movie audiences as happy as the short version.

That the next DC movie will be Wonder Woman helps immeasurably; Gal Gadot's take on the iconic hero was one of the highlights of BvS for most critics, regardless of how they felt about the rest of the movie, and the character's first solo outing is something that's eagerly awaited by fans and critics alike for a number of reasons.

Beyond director Patty Jenkins' clear enthusiasm for the project, and the colorful palette she's brought to initial trailers — a noticeable, and welcome, difference from the all-too-dark colors of Zack Snyder's Man of Steel and BvS — there's the fact that it'll be the first solo superhero movie anchored by a female lead since 2004's Catwoman (2006's My Super Ex-Girlfriend, if you're being generous, even though the movie was technically centered around Luke Wilson's Matthew), something that arguably opens up a new audience for the genre, and one of the few places where Warners can be said to be breaking ground Marvel hasn't just yet.

Assuming that Wonder Woman is as good as people want it to be, though — and that's not necessarily a safe assumption; remember the disappointment people felt with Suicide Squad when it didn't live up to expectations brought on by the early trailers? — there's still a complication lying in wait with the second DC movie of the year: Justice League.

Justice League will be the real test for the DCEU. It's a direct continuation of the two most controversial movies in the franchise — Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — directed by the same man behind both movies. It'll be an easy movie to ignore for those who have already made up their mind about Zack Snyder's vision for the DC cinematic universe, and therefore it has the most work to do to prove naysayers wrong.

The brief glimpse audiences have seen suggests that the movie will try to do that, if nothing else; the teaser that debuted at San Diego Comic-Con showed more humor in a couple of minutes than either MOS or BvS managed in their entire runtime, tackling accusations of those movies' humorlessness head-on. Post-BvS, the character arcs are primed to shift away from the grim violence of the earlier movies as heroes learn from the sacrifice made by Superman, so there's a chance for the tonal change that non-fans claim to want, as well.

Even with such changes — and assuming that they're made to a degree that would satisfy those complaining the loudest about the franchise as it stands — it's possible that it won't be enough to change anyone's mind. Snyder's trademark visuals, another target of derision from earlier installments, will still be in place, and all subsequent movies will forever be hurt by the events of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman that so incensed fans (Superman killing Zod and the hyper-violent Batman, respectively; the latter movie's "Our moms are both called Martha" scene didn't help, either). No matter what Justice League's screenplay is like, it's possible naysayers will continue to complain about the movie being too visually dark and that it's not the "real" Superman nonetheless.

And all of that is with best-case scenarios, of course. It's just as possible, after all, that both Wonder Woman and Justice League will continue the trend of all DCEU movies to date — of being enjoyably flawed, imperfect movies where the execution isn't entirely successful, but there's something to be applauded about their ambition in the first place — and fail to win over new audiences at all. But in a world where both Wonder Woman and Justice League are drop-dead classics, it's still possible that the combined impact of both movies will still not be enough of a change from what's gone before to change the overall perception of the DC franchise as a whole.

This shouldn't seem like an entirely insurmountable problem for Warners, though. Even if 2017 doesn't change the way the audience en masse feels about the DC properties, that isn't to say it's an impossible task, just a superhuman one. After the reception of the 2016 movies, it feels fair to suggest that the only way is up, up and away.