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Robert Pattinson’s Batman on Deck, ‘Aquaman 2’s’ $205 Million Budget: The Tricky Road Ahead for DC 

Peter Safran Batman James Gunn Aquaman
Clockwise: Michael Tullberg/Getty Images; Warner Bros. courtesy Everett Collection; Frazer Harrison/Getty Images; Warner Bros. courtesy Everett Collection

At the Marvel Studios panel for San Diego Comic-Con in July, it was clear James Gunn was feeling nostalgic. When the filmmaker took the stage in front of some 6,500 cheering fans to introduce the first look of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” he said to the crowd — and to Marvel chief Kevin Feige, standing just a few feet away — that he’d realized it’d been 10 years since he pitched his idea for the first “Guardians” film to Feige.  

“It’s been a good 10 years, James,” Feige said. 

This week, Gunn is setting off on what could be another 10-year adventure, this time as the co-CEO and co-chairman of DC Studios. Along with co-chief Peter Safran, Gunn is set to present to Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav what he and Safran hope will be the next decade of DC storytelling, threading together a series of films, TV shows and games into one cohesive storytelling universe. 

Gunn and Safran are keeping those plans closely guarded, but they still managed to make waves after news broke on Dec. 7 that Warner Bros. was not moving forward with director Patty Jenkins’ plans for a sequel to “Wonder Woman 1984.” How this happened depends on who you talk to: Insiders at the studio say it’s up to Jenkins, suggesting the filmmaker did not want to take notes on how to fit a Gal Gadot-led “Wonder Woman” movie into whatever Gunn and Safran are planning. But late on Tuesday, Jenkins posted a statement to Twitter saying she was “open to considering anything asked of me” for a third “Wonder Woman” movie and that she “never walked away” from the project. 

“It was my understanding there was nothing I could do to move anything forward at this time,” Jenkins said. “DC is obviously buried in changes they are having to make, so I understand these decisions are difficult right now.” 

Indeed, before Jenkins’ statement this week, Gunn posted his own a lengthy statement to Twitter on Dec. 8 addressing just how challenging those changes are.  

“Peter and I chose to helm DC Studios knowing we were coming into a fractious environment, both in the stories being told and in the audience itself and there would be an unavoidable transitional period as we moved into telling a cohesive story across film, TV, animation and gaming,” Gunn wrote. “But, in the end, the drawbacks of that transitional period were dwarfed by the creative possibilities and the opportunity to build upon what has worked in DC so far and to help rectify what has not.” 

That transition period is no small thing. Warner Bros. has four DC properties on its film slate for 2023: “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” in March, “The Flash” in June, “Blue Beetle” in August and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” in December. Safran is a producer on each film, other than “The Flash,” but these titles were conceived, developed and greenlit under the previous leadership at the studio and at DC Films.  

So now Gunn and Safran must thread a near-impossible needle: They have to decide how — or whether — to integrate these projects into their new DC universe, while also deciding when and how to tell the public about what’s in store for the new DC universe. If they announce their plans too early, any of the legacy titles that are the last hurrah for that iteration of the franchise could be seen as old news before they even premiere. But controlling the flow of news about DC has been a vexing challenge given the voracious appetite for any morsel of information — or anything resembling a morsel of information, even if there’s no truth to it — about what’s next for DC. 

That’s how speculation over Henry Cavill’s future as Superman or whether Jason Momoa will continue playing Aquaman wind-up feeding headlines for days, egged on by the seemingly immortal devotion of director Zack Snyder’s extremely online fanbase, who still hold out hope that his conception of the DC Universe could live on. But at least one core element of the so-called Snyderverse is likely over: A well-placed source says Gunn and Safran are exploring the possibility of incorporating filmmaker Matt Reeves’ iteration of Batman with actor Robert Pattinson into their wider universe. (After this story was published, Gunn tweeted it was “entirely untrue” that he and Safran are considering including Pattinson’s Batman in their DC universe.)

Meanwhile, Gunn and Safran still need to shepherd those legacy titles — as well as Season 2 of Gunn’s HBO Max series “Peacemaker” — to audiences amid widespread belt-tightening across Warner Bros. Discovery. Two sources tell Variety that, before Gunn and Safran took the reins at DC, Warner Bros. co-chief Pam Abdy had to tell “Aquaman 2” director James Wan to reduce his reshoot budget for the maritime sequel, which has already expanded to $205 million over production. Any further tweaks to any of the 2023 movies as to fully incorporate them into the new DC could easily cost millions more. 

Whatever Gunn and Safran’s plans for DC’s future are, it will be at least until 2024, if not longer, before audiences would get to see them on the big screen. Gunn understood that when he tweeted at fans last week. 

“We know we are not going to make every single person happy every step of the way, but we can promise everything we do is done in the service of the STORY and in the service of the DC CHARACTERS we know you cherish and we have cherished our whole lives,” he wrote. “As for more answers about the future of the DCU, I will sadly have to ask you to wait. We are giving these characters and the stories the time and attention they deserve, and we ourselves still have a lot more questions to ask and answer.” 

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