“Batman v Superman” was a complete mess. Then “Suicide Squad,” five months later, managed to redefine what “mess” even means with its endless array of bizarre trailer montages after allegedly being taken away from director David Ayer and completely reworked in the editing room.
“Wonder Woman,” out in June, switched directors in preproduction, from Michelle MacLaren to Patty Jenkins. “The Flash” movie has seen two directors, Seth Graeme-Smith and Rick Famuyiwa, come and go and is currently in screenplay development hell. There were very loud rumors a couple years back that “Aquaman” director James Wan was not happy with his situation and wanted to bail, but he ended up staying on board. For now.
And now Ben Affleck, who was going to write, direct and star in the standalone “The Batman,” has bailed on directing the film.
I’ve been cynical about the state of this burgeoning DC film universe for a while, as the red flags popped up again and again and again. It’s been a long time since there was any good news coming out of the DC/Warner Bros. camp — just turmoil and dysfunction, over and over.
They tried to quell all the anxiety surrounding the DC brand with that corporate reorganization last summer that seemed to position the very popular Geoff Johns, the Chief Creative Officer for DC Comics, as the showrunner on the movies, akin to how Kevin Feige runs the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That was the first moment in the past year where it seemed like maybe these DC movies were in good hands, or could be salvaged.
The other was Affleck taking on creative duties for a standalone Batman movie. It felt like, perhaps, he was in the early stages of taking away the creative reins for the entire franchise from Zack Snyder. Obviously, the DC movieverse no longer has that going for it.
And it’s hard not to wonder if Geoff Johns really is the big boss since the exact same chaos has continued under his leadership. I won’t presume to say I know Affleck’s impetus for walking away from the director’s chair — though the explanation given on Monday left a lot to be desired.
“There are certain characters who hold a special place in the hearts of millions. Performing this role demands focus, passion and the very best performance I can give. It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require,” Affleck said in the statement announcing the change.
That feels like PR-speak, and it’s really difficult to take it at face value. Just as you can rarely take the more standard reason for a director quitting a project — “creative differences” — with the mildness of the term. Since Affleck is still going to be playing Bruce Wayne in the movie, and possibly still have a hand in the screenplay, they need to at least pretend things aren’t in a tailspin.
And maybe they really aren’t in a tailspin. Maybe this change really was just some amenable thing, and all the behind-the-scenes problems of 2016 at DC and Warner Bros. are a thing of the past.
But I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that. After all this craziness, it’s on DC to deliver good movies. Until they manage to actually do that, I’m just going to assume the worst about everything.