It’s been quite a couple of weeks for fans of the DC film oeuvre – officially branded as the DC Extended Universe – that began seven years ago with 2013’s Man of Steel and has suffered its fair share of setbacks since.
First came the implausible-sounding news that director Zack Snyder’s original vision for team-up movie Justice League – completed and partly reshot by Joss Whedon in 2017 after Snyder stepped away following a family tragedy – would finally see the light of day courtesy of new streaming platform HBO Max, with tens of millions of dollars being offered up to complete the unfinished opus.
This was followed a little over a week later by reports that Henry Cavill is in talks to play Superman/Clark Kent again – albeit in cameo form rather than in a new solo film, with Deadline suggesting Aquaman 2, Shazam 2 or the Dwayne Johnson vehicle Black Adam as potentials for his next appearance.
All of this was a far cry from where we found ourselves just a few months prior – Snyder’s involvement in future DC projects post-Justice League was uncertain, Cavill had apparently hung up his cape for good, and Warner Bros. had given up on their Marvel-aping shared cinematic universe and were focusing instead on standalone comic book projects like the more offbeat Joker.
“The universe isn’t as connected as we thought it was going to be five years ago,” Kevin Tsujihara, CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment, told the Los Angeles Times last year. “You’re seeing much more focus on individual experiences around individual characters. That’s not to say we won’t at some point come back to that notion of a more connected universe. But it feels like that’s the right strategy for us right now.”
Clearly, for whatever reason – possibly the disappointing box office of the more standalone Birds of Prey had an impact – that strategy has now changed, with Snyder back in the employ of WarnerMedia (owners of HBO Max) and Cavill’s Supes hopefully getting another shot at living up to the potential we saw glimpses of in Man of Steel, only for it to be squandered in subsequent sequels by a severe misjudgement of tone (he’s Superman, for heaven’s sake, let him smile!) and unconvincing CGI moustache removals.
But this decision to backtrack – to re-embrace not only the idea of a DCEU but Snyder’s specific vision for it – begs a rather large question, the answer to which could have significant ramifications for the future of DC’s movies: with Snyder’s cut of Justice League now set for release in 2021, which version of that movie should now be considered canonical?
Snyder die-hards (Sny-hards?) would certainly make an argument that his take on the film should be regarded as the One True Justice League – and the fact that HBO Max are sinking $30 million (at least, with some reports suggesting it might be more) into this new version suggests that WarnerMedia might feel that way too.
How then might this affect these promised future appearances from Cavill’s Superman? Though we won’t know for sure until we see the Snyder Cut just how dramatically it differs from Whedon’s version, the abundance of material in the released Justice League featuring a digitally-shaved Cavill, plus the absence of certain key elements teased during the film’s original shoot – including an appearance from Superman’s black suit – suggest that many of the character’s scenes were retooled, reshot or dropped entirely.
The climax to Justice League – which sees the Man of Tomorrow team with his fellow heroes to vanquish villain Steppenwolf – is also thought to have been dramatically altered, with a planned tease of uber-baddie Darkseid being removed, while the post-credits scene featuring a race between Superman and The Flash was purely a Whedon invention. All of which is to say that Snyder’s cut might take Superman on a very different journey, and leave him in a very different place, than Whedon’s did.
The decision on which version of Justice League is considered definitive could have huge ramifications for the future of Cavill’s Superman – and indeed, Ben Affleck’s Batman. With filming underway on a new outing for the Dark Knight under director Matt Reeves, it had been assumed that we’d seen the last of Batfleck, with Robert Pattinson taking up the cape and cowl to play a new version of the character who stood apart from the DECU.
But if the original Justice League being restored means a return to Snyder’s original vision, could we see a return for the DCEU’s Batman after all? Even with franchise outliers like Joker having set a precedent, it might seem totally absurd and irrational for there to be more than one Batman on Warner Bros.’ books – but then, not so long ago, the near-mythical Snyder Cut of Justice League actually getting released felt every bit as improbable.
Even when it comes to superhero blockbuster cinema, we live in unprecedented times…
Find something to watch tonight with our TV Guide