For years, DC Films has struggled to catch up to its competitors over at Marvel Studios, which continues to run circles around DC at the global box office. (As of December 2020, Warner Bros. had generated $8 billion in worldwide superhero ticket sales over the past decade, according to The New York Times, compared to Marvel’s $20.6 billion in the same span. Since then, Marvel added nearly $800 million more to that tally with the releases of Black Widow and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.) The era of Zack Snyder may finally be over following the hard-fought release of his four-hour opus, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and now DC seems intent on moving past the Snyderverse. But even critical darlings like James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad struggled at the box office this year, raising questions about what the best path forward is for DC as it continues to look for consistency across its films.
Over the weekend, DC Entertainment shed light on its plans with the second-ever FanDome, a now-annual event in which the studio lays out their future slate with an abundance of trailers, panels, and fan-driven contests. Along with promoting marquee titles like The Batman or Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, FanDome highlighted a number of movies that will head straight to HBO Max, including Blue Beetle, DC’s first Latino superhero film, and shows like Peacemaker and Ava DuVernay’s DMZ starring Rosario Dawson. (After a shaky start for the Warner-owned streaming service, HBO Max’s subscription numbers have steadily grown, and DC figures to be a crucial part of its strategy.) Not unlike last year, the nearly four-hour event probably would’ve benefited from fewer panels, less filler, and way fewer bad puns. But for the second year in a row, DC put together an impressive event that showcased its varied efforts to build upon the success of previous hits with bigger sequels, bolster subscription numbers at HBO Max through film and TV, and improve representation with a growing slate of characters. Here are some of the biggest highlights from Saturday.
DC FanDome got off to a strong start by opening the event with some behind-the-scenes footage of the upcoming Shazam! spinoff, Black Adam. The film centers on the villain and antihero who serves as Shazam’s archenemy in the comics, and cast in the headlining role is none other than Hollywood’s highest-paid actor: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
The Rock is everywhere these days, doing a little bit of everything; I mean, the man has gotten so bored dominating Hollywood that he’s started rapping. The only surprise here is how long it took for the former WWE superstar to end up in a superhero movie. The quick scene shown on Saturday doesn’t give much of an impression of what The Rock will bring to Black Adam—although we do get to see him electrocute some poor guy until he turns to ashes before catching a bullet with two fingers—but the action star who successfully revived a franchise centered on a board game is about as sure a bet as any.
Of course, before The Rock makes his live-action DC debut in July, he’ll voice Krypto the Superdog in the delightful-looking animated film DC League of Super-Pets alongside his buddy Kevin Hart in May. The Rock’s DC takeover starts now.
Only a couple of months removed from the release of The Suicide Squad, writer-director James Gunn is returning to DC for more. On Saturday, we received our first extended look at Peacemaker, the upcoming Suicide Squad spinoff series that will hit HBO Max in January.
Peacemaker follows the events of The Suicide Squad and takes a closer look at John Cena’s “douchey Captain America” after he survives his near-death experience in Corto Maltese. (And by “near-death experience,” I mean that time that Peacemaker took a bullet to the neck before a massive starfish alien dropped a building on him.) The show looks just as wild and absurd as the film, with the trailer boasting moments like Peacemaker getting launched through walls while wearing nothing but tighty-whities, and more importantly, glimpses of his new sidekick, a bald eagle named … Eagly:
The upcoming series will run for eight episodes and explore Peacemaker’s origins. But if learning about Peacemaker’s apparent daddy issues doesn’t entice you, just take another look above at this bald eagle hugging John Cena. Maybe it’ll change your mind.
In addition to all of DC’s upcoming TV, movie, and comics releases, FanDome presented updates to two of its highly anticipated video games: WB Games Montréal’s Gotham Knights and Rocksteady Studios’ Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. Both games were introduced at last year’s event before being postponed due to the pandemic. Since then, Marvel announced its own reinvestment in gaming with a slate of new titles. That’s gotta feel like a twist of the knife for DC, but as the video game space turns into the next battleground for these two competitors, the spotlight on Gotham Knights and Kill the Justice League shines even brighter.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that the games share roots with the Batman: Arkham franchise that began with Rocksteady’s critically acclaimed Arkham Asylum in 2009 before WB Games Montréal took over with Arkham Origins in 2013. A Suicide Squad game has been in and out of development for the better part of a decade, but bolstered by the popularity of the film franchise and stewardship of Rocksteady, now could be the perfect time for it to finally hit consoles. Meanwhile, Gotham Knights, which focuses on the next generation of Gotham City’s protectors in the wake of Bruce Wayne’s death, looks like a perfect extension of the Arkham series.
But while these games will likely fare well against Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy or Wolverine, DC may have miscalculated in omitting one of its most beloved video game franchises to date: Fans were apparently not pleased by the lack of an Injustice 3 announcement.
Moments after Ezra Miller said that the team behind The Flash didn’t “have enough material to make a teaser yet,” DC showed exactly that—a first look at Barry Allen’s stand-alone debut. The Flash draws inspiration from the popular 2011 crossover comic Flashpoint, a story that places Barry Allen in an alternate reality and finds him using his super-speed to breach the nature of time and space. The series was a monumental event in the DC Universe, as the consequences of its story paved the way for the publisher’s relaunch of its entire line of superhero comics, and the film could serve a similar purpose for the DCEU as it moves into a new era of films following Zack Snyder’s exit.
But the focus of the sneak peek wasn’t on the Flash, but rather on the Caped Crusader. And though Ben Affleck is set to reprise his role as the Dark Knight in the movie, the Batman in the brief clip is played by Michael Keaton, who is also set to don the cowl for the first time since 1992’s Batman Returns. “Tell me something,” Keaton’s Bruce Wayne says in a voice-over to open the teaser. “You can go anywhere you want, right? Any timeline, any universe. Why do you want to stay and fight to save this one?”
As Keaton’s dialogue suggests, The Flash will thrust the DCEU into the multiverse, as DC Films attempts to employ a parallel worlds storytelling strategy pulled straight from the comics. Of course, between the MCU’s growing multiverse and the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover event that brought together DC’s Arrowverse on the CW, the concept of the multiverse is nothing new. But as DC Films continues to figure out its long-term strategy after moving on from the Snyderverse, the narrative decision will allow for new franchises, like The Batman reboot, to exist without any concern of stepping on other DC projects. Just as Marvel resolved before its current phase, the multiverse is the future of superhero movie storytelling. It’s now on all of us to keep track of the chaos.
While Batgirl is in its early stages after finding its Barbara Gordon this past July, FanDome welcomed new star Leslie Grace (In the Heights) to the DC Universe in a panel alongside directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (the duo behind Bad Boys for Life), and writer Christina Hodson (Birds of Prey). “In this story, she’s discovering Batgirl for the first time and so, she’s getting to explore a duality she’s always had in her personality,” Hodson explained. “But it’s this whole new side of her personality. A slightly more daring, slightly less law-abiding side of her personality that we get to have fun and play with.”
The upcoming film will be one of the first to premiere exclusively on HBO Max, and will also reportedly feature the return of J.K. Simmons as Barbara’s father, Commissioner Gordon. (Whether Simmons is back in the gym already is unknown at this time, but keep checking Twitter just in case.)
The Animated Series
Animation has long been a staple at DC Entertainment, and there was no shortage of big announcements around upcoming animated TV shows and movies this past weekend. While DC introduced some promising feature-length projects like the anime-inspired Catwoman: Hunted, some of the most exciting animated projects will arrive on the television side. FanDome introduced several highly anticipated shows that will return or premiere on HBO Max, including Harley Quinn, Young Justice: Phantoms, and Batman: Caped Crusader.
Although the third season of Harley Quinn is still missing a release date, FanDome unveiled a sizzle reel that provided a glimpse at Harley and Poison Ivy’s so-called “eat, bang, kill tour,” as the two antiheroes prepare to take on the world together after finally confessing their love for each other at the end of the second season. Will the infamous Kite Man seek revenge on Harley after she stole his almost-wife away from him? Gotham’s newest couple appear to be enjoying themselves far too much to worry about that, but we’ll find out (hopefully) soon enough.
Meanwhile, Young Justice has found a new home at HBO Max. The hit series began on Cartoon Network in 2010 and was canceled in 2013 before being revived for a third season on the short-lived DC Universe streaming service. It’s somehow been over a decade since Young Justice started, and though our young heroes are now elder statesmen in their own rights, the show is back and as good as ever—and, as announced on Saturday, the first two episodes of the new season are already available to stream.
Lastly, DC used a hefty chunk of time during FanDome to promote an all-new Batman animated series: Batman: Caped Crusader. To introduce it, the studio rolled out a virtual panel featuring the show’s producers: J.J. Abrams, Matt Reeves, James Tucker (Batman Beyond), and Bruce Timm, who was one of the cocreators of the iconic Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond. That’s a pretty stacked team to lead the creative process behind a series that aims to lean into a noir-inspired Gotham City and return to some of the roots of Timm’s original Batman series. “My elevator pitch of this show is that it’s more Batman: The Animated Series than Batman: The Animated Series,” Timm said during the preview. “My idea was to say, ‘OK, it’s 1990 again, I get to do what I want this time, and I have J.J. and Matt backing me up.”
Shazam! Fury of the Gods
The unexpected 2019 hit Shazam! is getting a sequel, but fans of the Zachary Levi–starring vehicle will have to wait until at least the spring of 2023 to see it, thanks to pandemic-related production delays. Like with many of the other major releases teased at FanDome that were short on footage, DC eschewed scraping together a full trailer for Fury of the Gods in favor of providing behind-the-scenes content to promote the film. And while little is revealed about the plot, the clip showcases the sequel’s grand ambitions of introducing mythological creatures, traveling to new locations and tackling bigger set pieces than its predecessor. Most importantly, though, the first look at the sequel gave us a preview of its elite duo of villains, Hespera and Kalypso, played by Dame Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu, respectively:
Fury of the Gods is still far away on DC’s release schedule, but the presence of these two actresses will keep the hype on high.
To close out FanDome, DC saved its best for last. Ahead of The Batman’s much-anticipated second trailer, director Matt Reeves and stars Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz stopped by to reminisce about sweaty screen tests and the process behind creating new versions of some of DC’s most beloved characters. Then they debuted a new trailer, which shows Pattinson’s Batman facing the threats of the Riddler (Paul Dano) and the Penguin (Colin Farrell, if you squint through the prosthetics), while also providing a closer look at Kravitz’s Catwoman. This iteration of Batman seems angrier than ever, and Pattinson teased his Dark Knight as still discovering who he is under the cowl. “He doesn’t have as much control over his personality,” Pattinson said during the panel. “The delineation between when he’s Batman and when he’s Bruce is not as clear as other iterations. ... It’s a little bit out of control. He hasn’t completely defined what Batman is, but he gets lost in it.”
The Batman is shaping up to be an exciting reboot to the franchise, one that DC surely hopes can provide a spark as it enters a new era.