James Gunn DC Slate Q&A: Flash, Aquaman, Crossover, More
There’s a new DC Universe in town and it’s being run by James Gunn and Peter Safran. Tuesday, Warner Bros. announced the initial slate of projects coming from DC Studios, which will attempt to relaunch and recalibrate not just DC movies, but TV shows, games and more. It includes a new Superman movie, a new Batman movie, and much, much more. The announcement opens up so many questions—and we have some of the answers.
io9 was among a group of journalists who spoke with Gunn and Safran about their DCU, and here’s what they had to say about, well, everything. New movies, old movies, new actors, old actors, continuity, you name it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
James Gunn, why did you want to do this?
James Gunn: I wanted to take care of these characters. And we all know it’s been a fucked-up road for many of them for the past few years, and things haven’t been together—and I really thought, it is a challenge, but I think it’s a possibility to create something really wonderful with these characters. I can’t go into politics. I can’t do anything with science. So the only thing I can do for this planet is to create stories about love. And that’s what I think that we can do over the next eight to 10 years.
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So what exactly is DC Studios?
Peter Safran: DC Studios is just a standalone studio production entity. And it’s unprecedented because it’s the first time ever that all film, all television, live action, animation, and gaming is all centralized under one creative vision. So that was a big deal for [Warner Bros. CEO David] Zaslav, was the idea of creating a standalone entity where there could be a unified creative vision and, you know, everything centralized under James and myself.
What were your thoughts on DC movies before you came on board?
Gunn: The history has been shit. It’s been a real fucked up journey for DC. I think that there was basically no one minding the mint and they were giving out IP to any creatives that, you know, smiled at whoever was in charge. There was never any real power given to the people in charge. And so somebody could always go over their head and do whatever they wanted. And, you know, we had the DCEU, which then became the Joss Whedon Justice League, but it also became the Snyderverse, which became this. And we have Wonder Woman and we have Wonder Woman , which doesn’t even match what happened in Wonder Woman one. And then we have the Arrowverse and even us, coming in with The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker. And then all of a sudden Batmite is a real guy.
DC has four films scheduled for release in 2023. How do those fit in?
Gunn: I think that we’ve gotten lucky with the next four movies, frankly, because we have Shazam, which leads into Flash, which resets everything, which then goes into Blue Beetle, which is totally disconnected. He can totally be a part of the DCU, [and that] goes into Aquaman, which leads into Superman, our first big project.
When does the DCU canon start and will actors come back?
Gunn: The one thing that we can promise is that everything from … our first project [Creature Commandos] forward will be canon and we’ll be connected. We’re using some actors from the past. We’re not using other actors from the past, but everything from that moment forward will be connected and consistent.
Is this a multiverse?
Safran: The DCU is a multiverse, but we’re going to be focusing on one universe from that multiverse. And if something isn’t DCU, we’re going to make that very clear.
How will it be clear what’s DCU and what isn’t?
Safran: So strictly adult fare like Todd Phillips’ Joker, or kids animation like Teen Titans Go!, we’re going to make it very clear that those are DC Elseworlds just the same way you can do it in the comics
Can you say what actors may or may not be returning?
Gunn: We’ve talked to Gal [Gadot]. She’s up for doing stuff. We’re not sure what we’re going to do with that. All I can tell you really right now is Henry [Cavill] and Ben [Affleck] are not part of this universe.
Note: At this point, Gunn and Safran did say Affleck had spoken to them about this world and may try and direct something in the future. Also, obviously, that Viola Davis would return as Amanda Waller and John Cena as Peacemaker.
Is Jason Momoa going to play Lobo?
Gunn: Jason will not play two characters.
Safran: Jason always thought Aquaman was a trilogy, in his own mind. But he also loves Lobo. He’s been very clear about that, too. He’s never going to play two characters, but…
Gunn: We’ll figure it out after Aquaman 2.
What happened with Henry Cavill?
Gunn: It’s important to say that Henry Cavill was not fired. Henry was just not hired to be Superman in Superman [:Legacy]. There was never a deal there for another movie.
Any chance for Michael Keaton to return as Batman?
Gunn: We are a multiverse, still. But the main thing that we’re focusing on right now is creating the universe that people can kind of put their feet into. And then out of that, if we want to have multiverse takes, [we can]. Which I actually know one of the things we’re working on is a multiverse tale.
Did you have to make changes to The Flash to set all this up?
Safran: We had input on it for sure, but there was nothing we had to do in order to set up.
Gunn: Can I also say The Flash is fucking amazing? Like it’s one of the best superhero movies I’ve ever seen. Andy Muschietti did an amazing job and I’m really excited for everybody to see it
Will Ezra Miller be back as the Flash after that?
Gunn: Let’s see what happens.
Safran: Ezra is fully committed to the recovery right now. And, you know, we talk to them. We’re in constant contact [and] when the time is right, we’ll have the conversation with them and decide what’s best for them personally.
Where does The Suicide Squad fit in?
Gunn: Some things are like a rough memory of what happens in the DCU, but once we hit Superman [:Legacy] anything can be changed.
So how is the DCU different from the MCU?
Gunn: I think that we have a lot of differences. I think that one of the reasons why I love DC is it really is another universe. It’s an alternate world. In Marvel generally, it’s New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and then every place else in the world is a fictional universe for some reason. Here at DCU we have Metropolis and Gotham and Themyscira and Atlantis, and all of that is sort of another fictional universe. And this is the world that we’re creating.
We’re coming into a world where superheroes exist and have existed for some time in one form or another, and that’s the universe. And so we are telling a big, huge central story. Except for, I think, we’re a lot more planned out than Marvel from the beginning, because we’ve gotten a group of writers together to work that story out completely. But we’re also creating a universe that is like Star Wars where there are different times, different places, different things, [and] like Game of Thrones, where characters are a little bit more morally complex.
Who is helping you build this overarching saga?
Gunn: Tom King has been my partner throughout all of this. He was giving me answers to shit before I took the job. So me, him, Christal Henry who worked on Watchmen and is doing Waller, Christina Hodson who wrote The Flash. Drew Goddard, who you guys probably know. Jeremy Slater, who just did Moon Knight. That group of people we’ve been meeting with and, you know, putting all of this together.
DC has announced slates before—why should fans trust this one?
Gunn: The biggest difference is I’ve done it. So I started Guardians one with a story of what that trilogy was, where it started and where it ended. And that story is just the smaller version of doing this. I’ve been inside a company that did it very well, [but] it’s very different than us. Marvel didn’t have everything completely worked out ahead of time. But they did a lot of things really well, one of which is not giving up. And I really love that about Kevin [Feige] and Lou [D’Esposito] and the whole gang. I’ve seen them turn bad movies into okay movies, okay movies into good movies, and good movies into great movies because they do not fucking stop. They give it whatever it needs to make it as good as it can possibly be until the 11th hour. And they’ll be editing the day before the premiere. It’s a lot. Too much.
Are you sticking to a specific order of release with these projects?
Safran: Many of the projects are already being worked on, but we’re remaining flexible and we’re going to adjust because we’re never going to put a project into production before the script is right. So this is a general timeline, but there will be flexibility.
Gunn: And [the announced slate] is not the order of things happening necessarily. It’s a very rough order. And also we are actually developing a few other things as well. But for one reason or another, we can’t say them.
How does that flexibility work with a shared universe that’s one story?
Gunn: There are some things that are very much a part of the central story. And there are other things which are more, self-inclusive stories, sort of like how Guardians of the Galaxy has its own stories of this outside of the Marvel Universe … they’re all connected. But the things that are part of that central story are going to need to come out in the order that we want them to come out. So we’re just going to have to focus on those things.
Safran: There are certain tentpoles both on the film and the television side that are imperative to the storytelling, and those ones will make sure [are released in order].
Gunn:: And that’s why we’re hiring writers and getting writers together for all of that stuff now, so that we can start developing the stuff that’s going to be ready with plenty of time
How do you decide what’s a TV show and what’s a movie?
Gunn: It’s all story-based. To us storytelling is 100% king. So if it’s a story… that’s more complicated, like the [Green] Lanterns story is more complicated, like the Waller [story], or [if] it’s more of an independent TV vibe like Booster Gold, in a way, then that’s more suited to television. So it has to do with tone. It has to do with storytelling. It has to do with is it something that we can tell in two hours and 10 minutes, or is it something that we need, you know, seven, eight, nine hours for? And we certainly debated with a couple of these where they fit better. But ultimately, this is where we landed.
How are you deciding what something will be rated?
Gunn: It depends on the story. I mean, we’re going to give every story what it deserves. Some things we know. Superman [:Legacy] is definitely something that we would like to be PG-13. I’m going to make sure of that. Other things like the Waller TV show are little bit more mature. And we have other things that are a little bit more aimed towards young women or kids, that are still within this world that kind of feeds everything back into the Supermans and the Braves and the Bolds that everyone gets.
So how many releases are you looking at per year?
Safran: Probably two movies and probably two HBO Max series.
Are these 10 projects everything in chapter one?
Safran: We haven’t announced everything in chapter one. There’s some stuff that comes beyond this. So let’s just say it just it’s too early to talk about that, but it becomes very clear what the story is.
Gunn: This is half of it.
Will these chapters end in big cross-over events like Marvel?
Gunn: Everything is crossing over throughout. These characters are all interacting throughout the different stories. It doesn’t mean always, you know; Brave and the Bold may just be Batman and Robin and the characters involved in that. But I know a lot of other times the characters cross over. I know in Creature Commandos one of the main characters shows up in Waller.
How much do you have planned out?
Gunn: We’re not making it up as we go along… The 8-10 year plan is two chapters and there’s an ending to our basic story that we tell there, but it’s not the ending of the universe. So, now, will Peter and I be here beyond that time? [Laughs] I’m already tired. It’s been two months. But those first two chapters are worked out, and then it can go on from there.
Since this is a reset, why did you decide to do a shared universe vs. standalone films?
Safran: We think that what the audience really appreciates and needs is a connected universe. I think that minimizes audience confusion and maximizes their connectivity to it across all the platforms.
Gunn: I think that I think that it’s something that people love. I know from my own experience, but again, we do have Elseworlds tales we’re telling. The bar for an Elseworlds tale is going to be higher than the bar for something in the DCU. Not that we’re not always going to have a higher bar, but it’s got to be something really special for us to tell that story outside of our regular continuity and to spend the money on it to make it.
Will the movies and shows be visually cohesive?
Gunn: I think it’s important to say that even though this is all a connected universe, it’s really important to me that the individual writers and directors that are on the projects give their own self-expression to it, just like they do in the comics. Everything doesn’t always look the same. Everything doesn’t always have the same expression. Different artists bring remarkably different looks and feels and tones. This is not the Gunnverse… I want each project to have the feelings of the individual artist that’s working on it and to give them a lot of freedom.
Is there a worry audiences might be confused with yet another DC reboot?
Gunn: We have a lot to prove. It’s going to be up to us to show the audience what our universe is, how this is connected, [and to] clearly demarcate what is DCU and what is Elseworlds, and to move like that going [forward]. So it’s going to take some time.
Safran: It’s going to take some sort of explanation. But we’re very confident that by the time Superman: Legacy comes out that people will understand what the DCU is.
Though this is a shared universe, will the stories stand on their own?
Gunn: I want people to understand the story no matter who walks in. If somebody turns on the first episode of Booster Gold, even if it’s connected to something else, I want them to basically understand what’s going on. If Superman is in The Authority and they go in and they watch The Authority, I want them to be able to understand basically what’s going on in The Authority without seeing Superman. That’s important for me. To make these movies work in and of themselves, and by themselves, and not have them be completely dependent. Now, there’s always going to be small confusions and things when you tell a big story like this. That’s unavoidable. But for the most part, it’s really important to me that each individual project is understood by somebody going to see it and only it.
Will actors play the same role in every medium?
Safrin: Yes. They will also have to go back and forth between film and television because there’s no demarcation for us. If John Cena is playing Peacemaker in the movie, [he’s] playing him in the TV series as well. So that’s a very important part of what we’re doing. So there’s no audience confusion. There aren’t multiple people playing the same role.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.
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