Examining the Role of Deathstroke in the DC Extended Universe

He’ll be the next solo Batman movie villain, but is that all?

Twitter was aflame this morning after Ben Affleck tweeted a video of Deathstroke (aka Slade Wilson) walking out of what appears to be the Flying Fox, the multi-level jet that serves as the Justice League’s mobile headquarters. As speculation about the character’s role in the Justice League movie began to circulate, The Wrap reported that Wilson will feature as the main villain in the Affleck-directed standalone Batman film. Almost a year away from the studio’s next release, this news poses many big questions about the future of the DC Extended Universe.

How will the DCEU set up villains for its heroes’ post-Justice League movies? How will it explain the absence of other Justice League members in those solo installments? Just how long a movie will Justice League actually be? Instead of rambling on about these endless possibilities, I wish to focus on answering, or at least speculating about, the two questions most directly related to the video Affleck posted this morning (seen below).

1. What movie is this footage from?

When I wrote about Justice League set visits in June, Affleck was in London for that film’s principal photography. Last week, The Daily Mail spotted him outside of a nondescript building in the city. He also went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child with Suicide Squad star Margot Robbie and former Glee star Darren Criss.

I’ll get to his companions more in my answer to the second question, but these sightings indicate that his work on Justice League is not yet complete. We already know the film’s main villain is Steppenwolf, the envoy of Darkseid who appears in a deleted scene from Batman v. Superman. If Deathstroke does appear in Justice League, then he probably does so briefly in the end of the movie or in a post-credits sequence to set up the standalone Batman movie. That, or Affleck is making use of his time on the film’s set to generate a concept reel for his own flick. Either way, the villain’s presence on the Justice League’s jet sends an ominous message about the team’s security. The Flying Fox may not escape Justice League in one piece.

2. Who is in the Deathstroke costume?

Given the uncertainty regarding the origin of the video, it is unclear if anyone has been cast yet. The most likely option is that an unknown actor or stunt man wore the suit for this clip, especially if it’s conceptual footage for the future Batman film. Remember, even though he appears in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland was cast late enough that parkour artist actually wore the Spider-Man suit for most of the film. However, leaving it here would be no fun, so let me put on my tinfoil hat while I discuss two possibilities for the man behind the mask.

First, there’s the aforementioned Darren Criss. The justification for this theory is rather tenuous, but I’ll present it anyway. Right now, he is preparing for ElsieFest, the New York-based outdoor music festival he co-founded last year. It’s scheduled for this weekend, so a trip to the UK for the sole purpose of seeing a play that will run for many more months seems like a poor use of time. That is, unless he is in London to conduct a screen test for Warner Brothers.

That would explain his appearance with Affleck and Robbie, two of the biggest stars from the DCEU (though Robbie does also have a residence in London). It would also explain his Instagram post in London from a couple days before he was seen at the Cursed Child performance. Yet, it is a stretch. He’s a little too young for the part and has not been linked to the project in any other way. I wouldn’t take this prediction too seriously unless other support arises in the coming weeks.

Julian Lewis next to the Deathstroke mask via ComicBook.com

Second, there’s 48-year-old Welsh actor, Julian Lewis. In the United States, he is best known for his role as Nelson Mandela’s chief bodyguard in Clint Eastwood’s 2009 film Invictus. ComicBook.com linked Lewis to a mystery role in the DC film in early July. After the video was released this morning, they published another article in which they predict he will play Deathstroke. His age and physical condition are in line with previous depictions of the character, but he lacks the star power that makes Criss an attractive candidate to the studio.

Most versions of Slade Wilson present the mercenary as a middle-aged man, weary after years of assassinations and subterfuge. His character is a suitable match for Ben Affleck’s Batman, the first older depiction of the Caped Crusader on the big screen. Considering Deathstroke’s origins as a Teen Titans villain, the two could even have a history related to Jason Todd, the deceased former Robin whose costume appears in Batman v Superman. That, coupled with the success of Manu Bennett’s version of the character on Arrow, makes him an attractive villain for the Batman movie. Plus, it will allow Affleck to avoid over-reliance on Jared Leto’s Joker, another fan favorite who received his fair share of criticism after the Suicide Squad release.

Manu Bennett as Deathstroke on the CW’s Arrow (via DC)

As I alluded to before, there isn’t a lot of definitive information available about Deathstroke in the DCEU. That is, however, a testament to Affleck’s marketing savvy. He knew he could leak the footage without revealing anything major about the future films, changing the media narrative behind the DCEU just as Suicide Squad begins to leave the public eye. There are a lot of other questions that remain about Deathstroke’s role in the cinematic universe. Among other things, I wonder what his inclusion means for the rumor that the standalone film will take place in Arkham Asylum.

Justice League opens on November 17, 2017. The Batman feature film does not have a release date… yet.