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Max’s Penguin Series Looks Great, but it’s the Last Thing DC Needs Right Now

Max’s Penguin Series Looks Great, but it’s the Last Thing DC Needs Right Now

When looking at the last ten years of film and television output for DC, it’s clear to see that the road has been more than a little bumpy. While there have certainly been major successes, such as 2017’s Wonder Woman, 2018’s Aquaman and 2019’s Joker, there have also been a number of high-profile failures.

Last year alone, DC released four feature films – Shazam! Fury of the Gods, The Flash, Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom – all of which failed to connect with audiences in a major way. Because of this building list of failures, DC is rebooting its franchise, with Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn at the helm of the whole thing.

This newly rebooted continuity is being referred to as the DCU, and it will make its big-screen debut with the Gunn-directed Superman (formerly Superman: Legacy) film next year. However, that won’t be the only established DC franchise out there; far from it. DC will also be producing many different standalone films and shows that are entirely disconnected from this DCU, under the banner of DC Elseworlds. The most imminent example of this is the sequel to Joker, titled Joker: Folie à Deux, which is set to release later this year, though it also encompasses other projects like the developing sequel to Constantine, starring Keanu Reeves, as well as animated series like Teen Titans Go! and Harley Quinn.

Another disconnected DC franchise is the Batman series, specifically the continuity established by Matt Reeves in 2022’s The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson. That film is easily one of the best that DC has produced in years, and it’s incredibly exciting that it will be continuing with new installments. That said, the manner in which it is continuing is a bit of a headscratcher.

Instead of a direct sequel, the next chapter in that franchise will be a Max spin-off series centered around The Penguin, played by Colin Farrell. While the first trailer for the series does look promising, and it will likely capture much of the same incredible atmosphere as The Batman, the question still remains why DC is prioritizing a high-budget story about the Penguin at all.

Following The Batman

When The Batman was released in early 2022, it was immediately a much-needed win for DC. After the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the theatrical landscape – and the world more broadly – throughout the preceding years, The Batman was one of the first genuine box office hits of the post-pandemic era. It grossed just over $770 million worldwide, making it not just a resounding success, but one of the biggest hits that DC had experienced in years. And all of that is on top of the incredible reception from fans, critics and general audiences. With all that in mind, it’s no wonder why WB and DC were quick to give the greenlight to more.

However, the sequel film, titled The Batman – Part II, has been slow to come together. Originally announced for a late 2025 release, the film has recently been delayed to October 2026, meaning it won’t release until nearly five years after the first film’s debut. In the meantime, the universe of The Batman is expanding with this Penguin series, on which Matt Reeves serves as executive producer.

While Farrell’s take on the gangster Oswald Cobblepott was one of the best things to come from The Batman, giving him his own spin-off series long before an actual sequel to The Batman is produced is pretty baffling. While the series does look strong, it’s not really something that fans have been hungry for. That’s not to say that a series about Farrell’s Penguin can’t be great, but the timing just seems wrong.

As fans are already growing more frustrated by the continuous delays for The Batman – Part II, this Penguin series is beginning to feel more like a placeholder to appease viewers rather than a genuinely exciting new story. Though it may not have been intended as so by the creative team, the show’s release at this point feels as if it’s meant to just keep the universe of The Batman treading water for a few more years until the sequel film can actually come together.

Related: Superman Reboot Set Image Teases Iconic DC Location, James Gunn Reveals Details of First Scenes

DC Needs to Focus on Core Characters

This isn’t a new problem for DC. After the failure of 2017’s Justice League, WB and DC understandably panicked. In the aftermath, however, DC made the mistake of choosing to refocus more on minor characters rather than its famed A-list heroes. Instead of new projects surrounding characters like Superman, Green Lantern and The Flash, DC instead developed films like Birds of Prey, Black Adam and Joker. While Joker may have been a great box office success, the mentality behind-the-scenes at DC was clearly misguided.

For a little while, it seemed that the guiding mindset at DC had finally gotten back on track, as The Batman hit theaters, The Flash finally came together (though it ultimately disappointed), and Gunn began developing his own new Superman film. However, this Penguin series shows that the flawed idea of giving priority to smaller supporting characters hasn’t entirely disappeared.

WB and DC aren’t the only studios struggling with this, either, as Marvel Studios’ spin-offs like Secret Invasion and Echo have failed to excite MCU fans. Meanwhile, Sony is also struggling in its development of Spider-Man-adjacent films that don’t actually feature the web-slinger, such as Morbius and Madame Web.

Now, The Penguin undeniably looks much, much better than Madame Web. They’re not even in the same league. However, the mindset behind both of their developments is uncomfortably similar. Instead of producing a new story centered on the core character that audiences care most about, they are giving the spotlight to a side character that normally only works precisely because they are a supporting role.

If The Penguin is as great as its trailer makes it out to be, that will obviously be a win for DC fans, as it’ll be yet another great DC story on-screen for fans to appreciate and enjoy. However, it seems to have come at the expense of bigger characters that would both excite audiences more broadly and prove to be stronger successes for the brand overall.

Related: Joker: Folie à Deux’s Reported $200M Budget Shows WB Continues to Learn the Wrong Lessons

James Gunn’s DCU Is Being Established

Finally, another one of the biggest factors in all of this is the coming establishment of Gunn’s new DCU with Superman in the summer of 2025. The DC brand has taken a beating over the last ten years, and audiences have unfortunately begun to think of the DC universe as a lesser alternative to Marvel.

If Gunn and DC really want to win back audiences, everyone needs to be on the same page with clear and exciting storytelling at the center of it all. By continuing to divvy up the DC franchise with stories unconnected to the DCU – such as the Joker sequel and this upcoming Penguin series – it will be much more difficult for casual audiences to differentiate between what is actually part of the new DC cinematic universe and what’s not.

Keeping the universe of Reeves’ The Batman separate from Gunn’s new DCU makes everything unnecessarily complicated. While we understand the desire from Reeves to keep his Batman films (and this Penguin series) secluded in their own creative space, it is ultimately muddying the waters for the entire DC franchise.

Since The Batman just released a few years ago and it was a massive success already, it would be the perfect launching point for the new DCU. Introducing the new Superman, played by David Corenswet, to this version of Batman played by Robert Pattinson would be a major cinematic event that would undoubtedly get audiences excited about DC again.

Unfortunately, the decision has been made to keep The Batman and the DCU separate, with the DCU set to launch its own version of the caped crusader in the new film The Brave and the Bold, directed by Andy Muschietti. While we still don’t think The Penguin is a necessary addition to the broader DC canon on-screen, it would at least make more sense if it was further laying the groundwork for the new DCU. Instead, it’s just another aside that makes the balancing act of juggling multiple DC film universes needlessly more complicated.

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