Well, it appears that our long national nightmare ended this week, and we finally have not one, but two men running DC Studios, perhaps newly rechristened to signal the dawn of a new day under Warner Bros. Discovery.
Despite my gracious offer to run the joint myself, James Gunn and Peter Safran have been hired to be the new DC bosses, sharing Co-Chairmen and CEO titles, and with their arrival, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is now to be referred to as the DC Universe (DCU), because why not? Gunn ends his Marvel connection with this four-year deal, his final projects there being the Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas Special hitting Disney+ soon, and next spring’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3. That’s it. From now on, he’s exclusive to DC. Huzzah.
Much was made of the search for someone to run this show (I may have mentioned it a time or two), as new WBD boss David Zaslav wanted someone like Kevin Feige (and apparently even asked him, though he politely declined, naturally) to run the DCU and try to make it even remotely competitive with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) — something that, I think it is important to note, is rather rare, though there are exceptions to that rule.
Interestingly, the fact that the MCU has stumbled some since the end of the Infinity Saga in 2019 seems to have allowed DC to gain some ground on its comic book rival. The opening weekend of Black Adam appears promising, even though most critics would beg to differ. I saw it myself over the weekend and thought it was fine — hardly the pile of garbage the Zack Snyder movies were, but not terribly good, either. I actually thought it was better than both the Thor and Doctor Strange sequels that hit theaters over the summer, and Dwayne Johnson’s take on the superpowered anti-hero was solid, even if the movie around him was just meh. Still, Black Adam and the sequel it sets up feel like a step in the right direction for the DCU, which has struggled with cohesion.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this announcement about Gunn and Safran taking over all things DC — including film, TV, and animation — happened after Black Adam‘s enormous first weekend and the equally important news that Henry Cavill will be returning for a new Superman movie. I’ve written about this before, and talked about the fact that the actor clearly had no need for the Man of Steel, having forged a career on his own, and that the studio likely needed him more than he needed it. He asked for a major payday to return, but former DC head Walter Hamada balked, knowing full well that Cavill wouldn’t move the needle much. But when Johnson flexed his muscle (and his star power) and insisted that Superman had to make an appearance in the Black Adam mid-credits stinger, the character’s fate was sealed — Warner Bros. would pay up, and Cavill’s Superman will be part of Johnson’s future in the DCU. You can almost hear the manager they share (Dany Garcia, Johnson’s ex-wife) celebrating.
Cavill’s return, by the way, attracted negative responses from the usual gaggle of idiots, many of whom were pissed that he would come back to DC without Snyder, and insisting that this was a great betrayal of the man who cast him in the high-flying role in the first place. I swear, the continued nonsense spewed by this sad bunch of “fans” is as good an argument as any for the nuking of social media. There is not one good thing that comes from these entitled trolls, and the fact that they find reasons to be offended even in the face of good news — how dare DC and Warner Bros. continue to keep Snyder away from their most prized properties despite his continued incompetence even while they reward one of his few good casting decisions? The nerve of this company! — should tell you everything you need to know about them. But I digress.
I think there are a couple of things to examine here about the Gunn/Safran hiring that make me more than a little optimistic. The first is that Safran was apparently offered the role first, with the idea that he would be the only man in the top spot, but he demurred, wanting there to be a creative face alongside him. Enter Gunn, whose comic book bona fides are well-established by now. Like him or not — and I happen to enjoy his work — there is no denying he is well-versed in the material and even minor DC characters. The fact that he did such a good job with the Guardians movies would be enough for plenty of people, but he also nailed The Suicide Squad, and his Peacemaker series on HBO Max was far better than other DC-related TV shows. It still is, for that matter.
That’s the kind of thing that instills confidence in fans like me, who want their superhero movies to be of a certain quality. Matt Reeves got Batman right, and with someone like Gunn in the top spot at DC, the studio should be able to attract more top talent. Feige convinces prestigious filmmakers to make Marvel movies, and there is not one reason why Gunn and Safran can’t do the same for DC.
Think about it. DC has an incredible opportunity here to take Superman in a new direction, with a willing and excited actor (Cavill) who just about everyone agrees is great in the role. Don’t settle for another visuals-and-spectacle-over-story hack, someone who is going to rely on city-destroying action sequences and a fundamental misunderstanding of the character because you think it’ll make money. Get somebody who understands and even reveres the character like Reeves does the Caped Crusader, and make a Superman movie that rivals the first two Christopher Reeve flicks of yesteryear. (A reminder, Reeves was the first director of a Batman movie who actually read the comics. Neither Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, nor even Christopher Nolan did that growing up.) Pay the audience respect, and not only will they show up but they’ll do so in droves.
Safran’s understanding that he’s a bottom-line guy and not to be trusted on his own to do creative justice to DC’s stable of IP, combined with Gunn’s clear and obvious trustworthiness in that very area feels like a good fit for everyone involved. Gunn and Safran may not have even officially started yet (their first day is Tuesday), but for the first time in a long time, I believe that DC might just have its eye on the ball regarding its lineup of heroes, especially with regard to Superman.
I think the most important thing to consider here is that, while Zaslav may not win a popularity contest among DC fans because of his hard-and-fast commitment to the bottom line and his drastic and aggressive cancellation of several projects, he is very clearly aware that he is sitting on a gold mine with the DC library. That’s why he spent what was no doubt top dollar to hire a couple of skilled miners who instill plenty of confidence in a hopeful audience that has grown borderline desperate in recent years.
Zaslav understood that he needed to put a good face on this thing. With this bold move, he has reassured a majority of fans that he does, indeed, get it. In the end, he might just wind up being the biggest hero of all.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for more than 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.