JJ Abrams is working on an Elseworlds Superman movie at Warner Bros, separate from the DCU.
This undermines James Gunn and Warner's plan to unify all properties under the DCU.
Aquaman 2 is the last film in the DCEU and is performing decently at the box office.
JJ Abrams is carving his pocket universe at Warner Bros. His planned Elseworlds Superman movie undermines the entire premise of James Gunn and Warner’s DC reboot and their plan to unify all properties under the DCU.
The old DCEU started with such high hopes. Man of Steel (2013) opened a new universe for Warner Bros and comic book movie fans. What started with a supernova ended with a whimper. Aquaman 2: The Lost Kingdom is currently in cinemas and is the official last film in the DCEU. Jason Momoa and his crew are keeping the ship afloat as the film looks to break even at the box office. It’s inching closer and closer to reaching a global total of $400 million. It’s heartening that Aquaman 2 could even reach this meagre amount.
The film was plagued with rumours that all was not well on set during filming due to the scandal surrounding its female lead, Amber Heard, and her legal woes with her former husband, Johnny Depp. Despite poor reviews, the film is keeping its head above water and will surpass the DCEU’s barrage of flops in releases such as Blue Beetle, The Flash and Black Adam these last couple of years.
Although Aquaman 2 will help bring some respect to the DCEU as it collapses, it was too little and too late to save what was once a promising endeavour. After Aquaman 2, Gunn’s DCU will enter the fray and release a new slate of films for Warner Bros and Discovery, beginning with the animated series Creature Commandos in 2024 as the starter and 2025’s Superman: Legacy as the true beginnings of the DCU according to Gunn and co-CEO of DC Studios, Peter Safran.
A Unified DCU?
In 2022, when James Gunn and Peter Safran were announced as co-CEOs of DC Studios, they highlighted the need to unify all DC projects under one umbrella. Except for existing properties such as Joker by Todd Phillips and The Batman by Matt Reeves, everything else would be kept in the same universe under the DCU. However, there was a lingering question surrounding JJ Abrams and his Elseworlds project, announced in 2021, before Gunn took charge.
Would that also be part of the DCU? In early 2024, Gunn affirmed on his Threads social media account that Abrams and acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates would move forward with their Superman project and be separate from the DCU. Why would Gunn and Warner contradict themselves in such a manner after Gunn highlighted that one of his prerogatives with the DCU is to unify all DC projects?
Allowing JJ Abrams to move ahead separately from the DCU with an Elseworlds project about Superman while Gunn is busy with another Superman film is preposterous. It contradicts Gunn and Safran’s claims that they want to unify Warner’s intellectual property. Why make two Superman films with different actors and storylines so close together? That seems like a bad idea.
Gunn was interviewed in 2023 by Variety, and he highlighted that one of the problems of the DCEU was the need for more unity, tying Warner’s intellectual property together. He promises a more unified DC moving forward, saying, “The history of DC is pretty f***ed up. They were just giving away IP like they were party favours to any creators.”
That is an interesting choice of words, especially now that we know Abrams plans to carry on with his Superman film outside of the DCU. Gunn contradicted himself even further when he said, “What we are going to do is we’re going to promise that everything from our first project forward is going to be unified. But we will say that we’ve gotten very lucky inheriting these next four projects.”
Gunn said that Todd Phillips’ Joker and Matt Reeves’ The Batman would be labelled Elseworlds projects. These films pre-dated the DCU and had momentum going forward for sequels. They couldn’t be scrapped and were not part of the DCEU anyway. It makes sense to label them Elseworlds and allow them to move forward.
Gunn is also developing his Batman franchise, starting with Batman: The Brave and the Bold. It’s unfortunate that Robert Pattinson will not be incorporated into the DCU, and there will be one Batman and one Batman franchise. However, Matt Reeves’ vision and aesthetic for his project might align differently from what Gunn has in mind.
Due to Reeves and Pattinson creating their film before the DCU, fans and Gunn are forced to accept that it must exist as a standalone project; perhaps Batman should stay in its realm so that Reeves can finish his version of the story.
Gunn and Warner did not have to greenlight an Elseworld Superman as they did with Joker and The Batman. The DCU was announced when no Superman film was in active development or even filming. The last standalone Superman feature was Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel in 2013, an incredible thought when viewed in hindsight.
When JJ Abrams was touted as producing a Superman film, it seemed fitting to reboot the franchise, but then James Gunn entered the fray, and the DCEU was changed to the DCU. This radical change was necessitated by the failure of the previous regime at Warner to manage their IPs. One of the issues affecting Warner was allowing filmmakers to mutilate comic book properties and needing a unified vision or setting a quality standard across the board. James Gunn came on board to correct this error. Why is JJ Abrams doing the opposite of what James Gunn said he was there to correct?
Warner has not managed Superman correctly. The studio should have let Zack Snyder finish his vision and allow the Snyderverse to run its course. Some course correction was needed, but scrapping the entire project was a radical decision and a self-inflicted death blow. The DCEU was doing well at the box office. Critics kept comparing the financials of Marvel and DC and cast DC’s lower earnings in a negative light.
The critical consensus swirling around the DCEU created negativity for Warner and DC’s brand, but from a financial outlook, the DCEU under Snyder was not as bad as it seemed. Later films, like Justice League, Wonder Woman 2, Black Adam, and Shazaam, received poor box office returns due to poor writing or studio interference. Overall, DC and Warner could have tweaked a few things, and they could easily have fixed their problems.
One of these that needed fixing was Superman. Zack Snyder was criticised for mishandling the character because Snyder made Superman too dark and grim, lacking the hope and optimism of the character’s previous incarnation. If Snyder was allowed to make Man of Steel II and Cavill was paid more, then a great sequel could have gone a long way in stabilising the DCEU. Unfortunately, this never materialised, and Cavill and Superman were left in limbo.
Gunn seemed to endorse another Superman film despite the dangers it poses for the DCU. He again emphasised that Abrams and his film are separate from the DCU, telling Gizmodo’s io9, “Those two things are totally unrelated. That’s an exciting movie. I know that Chantal Nong, who is the executive on that project, is extremely excited about it. So, if it comes in and it’s great, which I haven’t read the script, and if the timing is right, that could absolutely happen. That’s totally unrelated. It would be an Elseworlds tale like Joker.”
If Abrams and Gunn proceed with two versions of Superman, it might confuse audiences and sabotage the character. At this critical juncture, Superman fans do not need two competing iterations of Superman. Gunn must rebuild audience trust by writing and directing a solid Superman movie before anything else.
Gunn has a challenging task; he has to reboot the character for today’s audience while staying true to what makes Superman so compelling. Another hurdle for Gunn is to convince die-hard Man of Steel and Henry Cavill fans that he and Warner made the right decision to recast the character after they did not move forward with Cavill as Superman despite the actor being beloved in the role.
Introducing even the idea of another Superman at this point is dangerous for the franchise. It could derail the DCU just like the DCEU was derailed by studio meddling and poor creative decisions. Elseworlds Superman would pit two versions of the character against one another. Abrams’ Superman would revolve around a black Man of Steel in the 1900s.
Gunn’s Superman would be white and in a modern timeline. How these two disparate versions of the character will affect audiences is unknown. Still, it could fatigue audiences tired of following various interations of a character in different settings and timelines. The Marvels is an example of a work that was negatively affected by the audience needing to follow the plot points between Ms Marvel and Wanda Vision on Disney+.
While the Superman films are not linked plot-wise, like The Marvels was linked to other series and films, audiences might not care for the distinction. They may assume that they have to watch each film to understand the storyline and decide to opt out of investing time and energy into something that does not appeal to them.
The fate of the DCU rests with Superman: Legacy. Gunn must make a banger film that sets the bar for each subsequent release. Another factor to consider is whether Abrams wants to challenge Gunn’s film with his own. If Superman: Legacy is a success, then Abrams will have immense pressure to top James Gunn’s version; failing this, the director will have egg on his face once more. Abrams was heavily criticised for his role in the new Star Wars reboot.
Despite starting strong with The Force Awakens, in the end, the franchise faltered with Star Wars: The Return of Skywalker when it failed to meet audience expectations and suffered a diminished box office compared to Force Awakens. Abrams would be wary of moving headlong into such treacherous creative waters. Rather than hampering Superman’s chances for revival, Abrams should abandon his project for now and allow Gunn the breathing room he needs to establish the character and let Superman fly once more as he is meant to.
What do you think about the DCU allowing JJ Abrams to create an Elseworlds Superman alongside Superman: Legacy?
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