Could a DC/Marvel crossover ever happen on the big screen? Dwayne Johnson, currently out and about promoting the forthcoming Black Adam, seems to think so: “Well, I’m always optimistic. I’d like to think that we would see that. My philosophy is anything can get done. Let’s start with the end goal. And if the end goal is to have some sort of crossover that can be compelling, smart, cool for the fans, let’s get a temperature gauge if they’d like to see something like that,” Johnson told Variety this week.
“And then if they do, then let’s create it. I operate my businesses like that. I truly believe that anything can happen. Anything can happen with the right people and place, and the right leadership, having the right conversations.”
Johnson’s probably right when he says that anything could happen. A portal in the multiverse could open up and drag our Earth into some dark alternate reality in which Disney has bought up every studio in Hollywood (as opposed to merely Marvel, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox) as part of a devious plan to feature Batman, Iron Man, Yoda, the X-Men, the Powerpuff Girls and Bananaman in a single mega-ensemble. But in the absence of such events, it seems highly unlikely DC and Marvel’s titans will be meeting on the big screen any time soon – outside of the Lego films.
Partly this is because the two cinematic universes are so different. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was carefully planned from its inception: audiences were introduced to superheroes such as Captain America, Thor and Iron Man in standalone movies before they teamed up in 2012’s The Avengers. Since then, the studio has steadily introduced more and more costumed heroes into the mix like an expert plate spinner adding new crockery. A huge part of its success comes down to basic quality control, but another vital element is the consistent tone. Pretty much any Marvel superhero can turn up in any other Marvel movie or Disney+ series because they are all bright, breezy, occasionally self-referential and lightly irreverent. Directors come and go but head honcho Kevin Feige makes sure every episode looks and feels like Marvel.
DC, on the other hand, isn’t even a universe any more, that plan having been jacked in when Justice League failed so miserably to wow audiences in 2017. Ben Affleck’s Batman, Henry Cavill’s Superman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman may have hung out together but they exist in an entirely different place to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, or the Robert Pattinson version of the caped crusader from The Batman. The introduction of a DC multiverse in the forthcoming The Flash may paper over the cracks somewhat if it ever hits cinemas, but the sense remains that nobody is really in charge.
On an earnings call in August, Warner Discovery CEO David Zaslav pitched the novel idea that DC would benefit if it had someone like Feige to oversee things. Man of Steel, ostensibly the first DC movie of the current epoch, came out in 2013, so it only took them the best part of a decade to work this stuff out.
Some have suggested Johnson could potentially be the central, unifying figure who runs DC in the future, and he seems well up for it. Yet the actor’s fan-focused, “give ’em what they want” approach is the reason DC’s roster of films is so all over the place.
Let’s be clear: there’s nothing wrong with taking a populist approach to superhero film-making. The difference is that Marvel seems to know what its acolytes are crying out for before even they do, whereas DC’s early superhero mashups often seemed to have been put together by Kevin from marketing. More recently, Warner has shown itself capable of cancelling the release of a completed film, such as this year’s Batgirl, because it is apparently more cost-effective never to release it.
DC is able to get standalone, director-led efforts right. No fan would have come up with the distinctly auteurist idea of a Joker movie influenced by 1970s and 80s Martin Scorsese crime flicks. It is highly unlikely any fan forum or Twitter thread could have crowdthunk a Batman movie in which Bruce Wayne is basically a posh Kurt Cobain. Yet both these movies exist in the DC canon, and are wonderful.
But trusting Warner/DC to take joint control of a movie in which longstanding Marvel superheroes also appear? That would be like handing the keys to Star Wars to the producer of The Adventures of Pluto Nash. It couldn’t and shouldn’t ever happen, not while DC continues to deliver such a mercurially uneven roster of films.
Meanwhile, Johnson wants Black Adam to fight Superman next. Let’s hope when that movie gets made there is a reason for its existence beyond the lure of two musclebound lummoxes bashing the bejesus out of each other. And that Kevin from marketing is barred from the writers’ room.