The tone of a DC movie has varied since practically the beginning of the modern era of superhero movies that began with Superman the Movie, directed by Richard Donner. From that light and campy adventure and its sequels, they shifted to dark and gritty in the form of Tim Burton’s Batman films, and then back when Joel Schumacher took over.
Christopher Nolan brought Batman back to form in 2005, making billions in the process after three films. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of that success was an identity crisis for DC’s film brand.
Darker stuff sold well so it became the mandate for Zack Snyder rebooting Superman. Results weren’t what Warner Bros. was hoping for and the Extended Universe built around them became an unmanageable mess. Snyder was relieved of his duties before long, leaving the studio to salvage what they could.
Thankfully, it all worked out in Snyder’s absence. Aquaman’s profitability opened the door to a regression back to lighthearted fun continuing with Shazam!.
However, one outlier is Joker, out later this year, which Marc Maron swears — as far as fun and lighter go — is not that kind of movie. In fact, it might lean heavily into the area of mental illness.
Given that, some are left wondering if the U-turn in tone is only temporary. Are they headed back to the gloomy, nebulous abyss where families die in the gutter and life only makes sense when you force it to?
Not entirely, assures Peter Safran, producer of the Conjuring franchise and Shazam! as well as James Wan’s Aquaman. At the red-carpet premier for The Big Red Cheese’s solo feature, Safran said it would depend on the character, each having their own needs:
“I think that DC has the same idea we do now, which is every movie that they make should have the right tone for that particular character. Shazam is such a fun character. He is all about wish fulfillment. He is fun and funny, and that is the tone that you should have for the film. Aquaman has got a tone, fantastical element. Shazam is fun and funny. Wonder Woman’s got her thing. I think they realize each tone has to be specific for each movie.”
If something calls for a darker take then there will be one, Safran continues:
“Absolutely. Listen, there are certain characters like Batman, like the Joker, that dark tone is perfect for them. It’s what you really want to see. So absolutely.”
His remarks echo similar comments by WB bigwig Toby Emmerich that his studio’s policy will be character and director focused from now on. Emmerich and former Warner CEO Kevin Tsujihara added the corollary shared universes aren’t the priority and they will stop doing things the Marvel way.
Individual DC movies will now be as different as DC can be from Marvel and moviegoers can appreciate their opposing tones equally this April and in October.