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DC’s Got the Right Idea in Deviating From the “Shared Universe” Formula, but Will It Work?

Everything is going according to plan!

Cinematic universes are all the rage right now, despite that Marvel is the only company to have really made one work up to their level of scale and success—and even that has its flaws. Meanwhile, the DC Extended Universe, despite being adapted from its own interconnected comic book universe, has struggled a bit to find the same footing, despite some fairly successful franchise entries at the box office. Now, it seems like they’re thinking that deviating from the Marvel norm might be the way to go.

The new approach they’re looking at was detailed today on Vulture, where DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson, along with DC Films Co-Chair Geoff Johns, helped them make sense of what has, at times, seemed like a nonsensical strategy from the outside. We’ve heard of a Joker origin movie and a separate Harley/Joker movie, but neither of those seem to have anything to do with each other, which makes it difficult to figure out how they fit into movie continuity. Justice League is on the way to tie things together, but so is a solo Batman movie that has, at times, sounded pretty far outside of what’s going on with everything else.

So what gives? Nelson explained, “Our intention, certainly, moving forward is using the continuity to help make sure nothing is diverging in a way that doesn’t make sense, but there’s no insistence upon an overall story line or interconnectivity in that universe.” It’s actually, oddly enough, more of a comic book take on the concept of a fictional universe, with that Joker origin movie set to be part of a yet-to-be-named side label for movies that are pretty much entirely standalone in nature. Comic book fans are no strangers to one-shots and other stories that don’t fit with regular continuity, but provide different, interesting takes on familiar characters, with continuity as an afterthought, if it comes up at all.

But even their interconnected movies will remain more loosely bound than Marvel’s, as has already been easily visible in the lack of the post-credits “stinger” scenes at the end of DC movies, while Marvel’s have basically become infamous—some movies even sporting multiple scenes. Really, it’s a great idea to let movies stand on their own, even if they do come together at times. Marvel’s dedication to extreme interconnectivity can feel a bit stifling at times, and though it’s an easy example due to already being one of the team-up movies, Age of Ultron specifically seemed to suffer from it. The problem has also popped up for Marvel’s TV outings, where Daredevil’s second season felt more like setup for Defenders than a continuation of the first season’s story.

On the other hand, this is all a bit of PR on DC’s side. In the article, Nelson is very clear that they’re specifically out to combat the notion that things are in chaos with DC movies, so of course they’d have to explain how all is actually going according to plan. But whether there’s chaos or not, I’m all for that plan.

Aside from Wonder Woman, we’ve yet to be really wowed by DC movies, but I’m at least optimistic upon hearing that they’re not just running with the industry’s takeaway from the “universe” concept, which seems to be just “make everything a universe!” How that universe is constructed is important, and I’d be very happy to see one that feels more balanced between the connection and individuality than what Marvel has done so far. That doesn’t guarantee all the movies will be great or even good, but it’s one less hindrance to worry about.

(via email tip, image: Warner Bros.)

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.