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Judging by early critical response to Suicide Squad, it’s looking possible — if not likely — that it’ll end up following the lead of the studio’s earlier Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice with a successful opening weekend fueled by fan excitement and curiosity, followed by a quick drop-off as word of mouth spreads.
To put things mildly, that’s not a good look for Warner Bros.’ attempt to use the DC Entertainment properties to build its own version of Marvel Studios. When 2013’s Man of Steel is factored in, it will mark three successive movies that ended up defeating their own pre-release buzz through bad reviews and a divisive product. (And the less said about 2010’s Green Lantern, the better.)
Instead of demonstrating a viable filmmaker-centric alternative to Marvel’s top-down style of movie production, the initial releases from what’s become known as the DC Extended Universe have perhaps done exactly the opposite, making audiences long for the cookie-cutter comfort of seeing Robert Downey Jr. charm his way through his seventh appearance as Tony Stark. At least with Marvel, you know what you’re getting when you put your money down.
It’s clear that Warners and DC are aware of the problem — Geoff Johns and Jon Berg taking the reins for future projects and the behind-the-scenes drama of Suicide Squad are two indicators that the studio knows that something isn’t right — but less so that there’s a solution on the horizon. Sure, the trailers for Wonder Woman and Justice League look good — but trailers can be deceptive, according to those disappointed in Suicide Squad.
That said, the fact that there even is a Wonder Woman or Justice League on the horizon could be taken as a victory of sorts; what other franchise could have such publicly stalled starts and manage to get five movies in without delay or a pause for retooling? The accelerated rate of release for superhero projects — another way in which Warners is attempting to match the Marvel model — has pushed the studio into a space where work on the fifth movie in the series was underway before the second was even released, ensuring a series of movies that, under more traditional means, may not even exist.
The question becomes how sustainable the current model is. To some degree, Suicide Squad was seen by fans to be a chance for Warner Bros. to redeem the DC movies following Batman v. Superman; will Wonder Woman become something similar in light of the reception for Suicide Squad? And if that movie doesn’t satisfy the fanbase, will attention shift to Justice League, and then whatever movie follows Justice League if that, too, should disappoint fans? Can the endless expectation of what’s next maintain enough of a level of excitement to continue to greenlight future projects if every single WB/DC movie underwhelms?
At some point, surely, one of two things has to happen: Either Warners refines its formula for projects already in the works and finds something that pleases the mass superhero audience out there, making a movie that pleases critics and audiences alike, or else, eventually, the studio has to pull the plug on the DC superhero universe as it currently stands and attempt to do something else with the properties. In either case, the unknown factor is time: how long before the studio arrives at either of these destinations?
For now, those fans who enjoy Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and the distinctly odd, off-kilter appeal of the DC Extended Universe as is should enjoy it while it lasts. Unless there are better-than-expected long-term box-office results for Suicide Squad, things aren’t going to stay like this forever.
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