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A new report from Birth.Movies.Death says that director James Wan (“Furious 7”) may be leaving the Warner Bros’ DC Comics’ super hero film “Aquaman,” right on the heels of the announcement that Seth Grahame-Smith has left “The Flash” movie over creative differences (news that was tellingly dumped late on a Friday night). Suffice it to say, we’ve been hearing the same, much of it last night when BMD’s report was first published. Is Wan leaving? Well, there is certainly some larger cracks starting to show in the WB/DCU facade.
We’ve said it for a long time now, even complained and moaned about it, but copies of someone else’s successful template often fail because they are creatively bankrupt. Warner Bros. didn’t fast track their DC Universe and vast super heroes intellectual properties after “Man Of Steel” because it seemed finally time to make “Aquaman” and “Wonder Woman” movies. Their motives were two-fold: thirst for the $9 billion-plus empire Marvel created with their Marvel Cinematic Universe and feeling the pressures coming at them from all sides, including media, shareholders and CEOs who couldn’t understand why the owners of one of the biggest comic book companies couldn’t do for DC what Marvel had done for its movies.
Desperately behind, “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice” was essentially the first (or second film if you count “Man Of Steel”) film in the DCU and comparatively, Marvel by that point had already made twelve movies and grossed $9.1 billion dollars (which is now the highest grossing worldwide franchise ever). Now of course, Warner Bros. tried earlier, falling flat on their face with “Green Lantern,” but ‘Batman v Superman’ was only marginally less embarrassing in terms of how it was perceived by most.
Now, Warner Bros. tried to save some face in the public before the release of their flagship film and the bold announcement of their 10-film-deep franchise — announced before one picture was even made — dismissively implying Marvel’s films were too light and silly, while touting their seriousness and suggesting their films were filmmaker-driven while Marvel’s were simply cookie-cutter assembly line jobs.
Be that as it may, all of the passive aggressive assertions backfired. The serious, somber tone of ‘Batman v Superman’ was broodingly unentertaining and so grim and silly that Zack Snyder failed to prove he was an auteur all of a sudden, especially with the film’s incoherent narrative sense that felt like a series of mini-episodes and commercials for other films rather than an orderly or meaningful storyline.
There’s never just one way to skin a cat, but Marvel earned their way to “Avengers,” setting up that landscape with a solo film for each character before the big team-up movie. Are they masterpieces? No. Did they mostly work creatively and financially for what they were? Yes. But lagging behind in the race, ‘Batman v Superman’ felt like a cheap shortcut to getting to a “Justice League” film as soon as humanly possible (‘JL Part 1’ is already shooting now).
And while ‘Batman v Superman’ has made $856 million worldwide so far, it’s looking like it may fall short of $900 million. It’s underreported budget actually hovered close to the $400 million mark, and its marketing spend was one of the highest in Hollywood history. It’s a film that could one day become profitable with DVD and various ancillaries, but that day isn’t imminent.
Regardless, if ‘Batman v Superman’ would have cracked the $1 billion mark (which it won’t) and its fans and the studio championed this benchmark, nothing could take away from the negative narrative and critical drubbing that marred the movie’s release.
Now word is spreading that Warner Bros. is getting worried about what comes next and that confident poise they showed in early interviews has all but evaporated. The impact of it all? BMD says James Wan is starting to feel the pressure of performing with “The Conjuring” and is starting to feel trepidation about the entire project. In fact, the rumor is that Wan feels like he doesn’t need “Aquaman,” but Warner Bros. needs him, and if this turns out to be a huge hassle, he could easily walk away from the project unscathed (he already has two WB films coming out that should be prominent 2016 summer films: “The Conjuring 2” which he directed, and “Lights Out,” which he produced).
We’ve been hearing much of the same: Warners has been battling with Zack Snyder over “Justice League,” and they’re now reassessing and second-guessing their entire plan (one that Snyder helped put into place). Additionally, we’ve heard the euphemism of Seth Graham-Smith departing over “creative differences,” is bunk and that the writer/director (who has never helmed a feature, let alone a super hero blockbuster) was let go from the project.
Essentially, Warner Bros. are panicking because they’re already locked into a deal with Zack Snyder for two “Justice League” films that could cost nearly a billion dollars. With no real way to course correct from Snyder, the company cannot afford another failure as loud and expensive as ‘Batman v Superman’ and so they are taking all precautions necessary, including making sure their films are air-tight, often at the expense of the filmmakers’ patience. Will James Wan walk from “Aquaman”? Considering WB going into alarm and consternation mode, we would not be at all surprised to hear the official news.