In an attempt to create an original DC universe, James Gunn may find that going in a more mature direction will help set it apart.
Every cinematic universe needs a theme. Some are stuck in a limbo of becoming too funny and playful with what used to be semi-serious subjects. One of the main things James Gunn needs to decide is what his DCU will look like now that he’s crafting the new DCU. One of the best ideas so far is aiming to be more mature than its MCU counterpart.
For many people, the concept of getting a newer, more adult cinematic universe from DC seems like a good idea. They have already been making an attempt. But Gunn may find that attempts are no longer the name of the game. It’s time to step up and make real decisions.
What We Learned From Zack Snyder
People are quick to either hail or destroy the so-called Snyderverse. Snyder has always had a dark sense of things, from the bronze tones of 300 to the rainy streets of Watchmen. He’s a brooding, extreme mind with meaty characters at the ready.
Zack Snyder took Superman from a red and blue-clad Boy Scout and turned him into a viciously protective spouse with no care for collateral damage. He took a grieving Batman and gave him enough PTSD to literally start branding criminals. This is a director whose view of heroes is that they are above heroics and are simply brutes. That being said, Snyder’s version of the DC heroes was more grounded. It was a view into what that life does to people. There was some humor, but that was Whedon’s fault. This view of the heroes set the Snyderverse apart from Marvel in a big way. Perhaps he was on to something.
The Distinction Between Mature and Morose
Gunn should look to Snyder for the maturity of his work. This is the one piece that stands out in relation to the MCU. Tony Stark is a sarcastic playboy who finds purpose and some joy in masking up as Iron Man. Batman is a dark soul who masquerades as Bruce Wayne in an attempt to fit in. However, and this is where Snyder lost the thread, Batman does not need to be horrifically extreme. He needs to be a cautionary tale of what happens when a person lets PTSD go unchecked. The thing about Batman is who he surrounds himself with. The point that Snyder missed is that part of Batman’s maturity is who he chooses to associate with. Gunn can use this while staying true to the character.
The same is true for Superman. At his core, he’s very aware of who he is and how he stands out from those around him. However, his entire life has been filled with love and emotion. He loves his adoptive parents, he’s madly in love with Lois Lane, and he will do anything to protect them, but Snyder took it too far. He made Superman forget about everyone else. The character has to be true to his origins. Superman is not disgusted with humanity. He has a deep love for the human race. At the very least his main goal should be fewer human casualties.
Snyder showed us a version of Superman we were supposed to fear, with raw, unchecked power. But Superman is the hero. He may struggle with this role, but when he’s at his most vulnerable, Lois is there. Or Wonder Woman, or even Batman with a sly dig to get his friend back on his feet.
These characters are human and have motivations. The reason they work is that they balance each other out and have support systems. James Gunn can take the high road and show how an alien can be more human and a potential psychopath deliberately gives himself a support structure. It’s what adults do.
The James Gunn Effect
If Gunn’s first attempt is to follow Snyder or Feige, he’s already dead in the water. But much like Snyder, Gunn has his own pedigree, like Brightburn and The Suicide Squad. These are his view of the superhero. They are a bit bloodier but never lose their charm. They are relatable while being completely foreign. We start The Suicide Squad with Peacemaker being a dick and end up with a show about that character that pulls great numbers.
We love Spider-Man because he’s a whooping little teenager in tights, having a blast swinging through New York. We relate because we all want to do that. But we relate to Batman because we all know how the violent death of two parents can have a dire effect on someone. We understand that a person might push themselves too far. But that person is not a hero. That person is a vigilante who does just enough good to be left alone by police and real heroes.
Where Does Gunn Go From Here?
Gunn will make his universe look and feel however he wants. The hope is that he can find like-minded directors to help. He needs writers that know the source material because you can be damn sure an adult audience will know. Maybe he starts with lesser characters and gradually involves the big three, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, in an effort to build his world. Regardless of the order, it would be wise to look to originality and a different creative direction than his predecessors or rivals expect.