It’s been the question on the minds of comic book fans ever since Marvel revealed their plan for The Avengers, and the launch of their larger movie universe: will DC Comics do the same? The public had already gotten more than a few (and perhaps more than necessary) looks at Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman in live-action form, most recently with the groundbreaking Dark Knight Trilogy from Christopher Nolan. Would the world need an introduction to DC’s heroes as they had with Marvel’s? Or could DC and Warner Bros. cut to the chase and bring the entire (or most of the) Justice League to the big screen?
Some of us believe that strategy won’t just be a different approach, but one that could work best for DC Comics’ lineup. The plan has worked before, and may better reflect the reality of WB’s situation. With Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel once again showing potential for a new franchise due to its amount of talent and Nolan-esque sensibilities, rumors soon followed of a Justice League film coming summer 2015.
It may seem like fundamentally flawed idea – but here’s why it makes sense for the studio and cast of characters, and why fans should be more excited by the proposition than disappointed.
First off, it’s important to recognize that DC and Warner Bros. aren’t making such a decision lightly in an effort to simply capitalize off of the success of The Avengers (no studio makes this big a decision based on a single factor). The company had plans for building an entire gallery of comic book movies at one point, and have since distanced themselves from most. Instead, they’re putting of all their eggs into one basket, and giving themselves almost three years to create one story with a single creative team.
The plan is risky, but could work. Marvel fans (and those who’ve never read many DC Comics), hear us out.
A Singular Vision
Rather than simply handing out every hero and super-team DC has ever created to a variety of directors and writers, the studio has the opportunity to bring DC’s best creative minds (and WB’s best studio talents) together for one great story. DC/WB creative talents like Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, Bruce Timm, Lauren Montgomery, or any combination thereof have proven their writing skills and knowledge of the characters time and again. That was the idea previously pointed to by our own Kofi Outlaw in his advice for building a DC movie universe, and it’s still the best route.
The assumption that more characters automatically means less story or development was proven dead wrong with Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, and most comic writers know that undercooked ensemble stories are merely a result of poor writing. If DC is taking their time, the opportunity is theirs to tell a strong story, while setting a single tone and style for their universe going forward.
It’s exactly that sense of cohesion that Marvel seems to be seeking after hiring Joss Whedon to oversee their entire “Phase 2”, while not recycling any of the other directors from their ‘Phase One’ projects. Marvel is using an established style from a writing standpoint as well, with Whedon brought in to rewrite both Captain America and The Avengers.
We know DC’s rogues gallery of writers can create a strong narrative utilizing all the heroes assembled, since Justice League stories, and events in particular, have proven to be among the best in the company’s history. Simply look to “Kingdom Come,” “Identity Crisis,” and the community aspects of “Green Lantern: Rebirth” and “Flash: Rebirth,” both written by DCU Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns.
Use a Team to Showcase Individual Heroes
Rather than fast-tracking development on half a dozen origin films in the wake of Marvel’s success – for reference, take a quick glance at Fox’s ever-growing Marvel universe – Warner Bros. and DC are sticking to what they do best. Rather than trying to mimic Marvel, and convince the public that The Flash and Wonder Woman deserve attention (or promise they won’t repeat the mistakes of Green Lantern), they’re just going to prove it.
Warner Bros. needs to prove that the shortcomings of Green Lantern are understood, highlighting the character in a better light (no pun); possibly with a new actor, and with powers and personality more in keeping with the source material. Fans will surely be fine with a smaller role for the hero if he’s treated properly, but there’s no point in making an entire film/reboot/sequel/do-over that nobody is demanding (outside of the most niche fan base).
Asking audiences to pay full price and risk being hoodwinked – again – isn’t fair to them, and isn’t a wise business move. However, a compelling, kinetic GL that fans can recognize, and newcomers can gravitate toward, speaks louder than studio promises.
In a similar way, take the ensemble cast of the Justice League as a chance to prove that Wonder Woman can be a unique heroine, culturally relevant to modern women in a shared a world with Superman. Marvel’s movies have courted female audiences through their oft-shirtless leading men, but the films themselves have offered few women with whom to identify with.
Again, this is a character even Joss Whedon’s failed to launch, and David E. Kelly famously failed to bring to TV. The overwhelmingly vocal male comic book audience and Internet community would be all too ready to attack a Wonder Woman film, for reasons that continue to disappoint and frustrate us (costume, casting, concept, etc). So why fight an uphill battle from day one?
Instead, use a Justice League story to prove that The Flash can work in live-action, and how the his accelerated senses will function on-screen. Since super-speed remains largely unexplored to this point, DC would be wise to first demonstrate that they have a sound approach before going all-in. Even the biggest Flash fans may have trouble explaining exactly where the Speedster’s powers originate, since it’s his personality that defines him. Given that, it would be wise to show the payoff of Flash’s powers before asking moviegoers to grasp the intricacies of their creation.
And finally, use a Justice League movie to introduce a new actor as Batman. He’s the superhero that everyone already knows, but take this chance to show a side of the character Nolan universe never touched. Honestly, it takes minutes for fans to ‘get’ how any director’s incarnation of Batman is different from those previous, and with the billions of dollars that Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy brought in, it’s clear that anyone who has yet to learn Batman’s origin story won’t be learning it in their lifetime.
Bundle Batman in with the League’s other greats and fans will cease debating if the property should be rebooted, why Christian Bale didn’t return, how the new actor compares to his predecessors, etc.. Find a new actor for the part, and let people see for themselves how he stands alongside the rest of the team. The differences between the Hulk, Thor and Captain America seen in Joss Whedon’s Avengers and their lead-up films ultimately added depth – they didn’t break continuity just because the writer and director had changed.
If DC says Nolan’s version is canon, but being expanded upon with a new actor, so be it; the question won’t matter if fans like the new version. We’ve already explained how a new Batman could be more faithful to the comics than Nolan’s, and the points remain. Audiences don’t need to see Thomas and Martha Wayne gunned down yet again – it’s Batman: his origins always remain the same. Why not try something new with the League helping to soften the blow of change?
That’s four massive risks that DC would avoid by foregoing lead-in films and the attached skepticism guaranteed for each. Audiences enter the theater wanting to see Superman, Batman, or the Justice League working as a team, and if handled properly, they may wind up leaving with a new desire to see solo films following each new hero they’ve come to know and enjoy.
Don’t Oversaturate the Market
In Summer 2013, people will finally have their long-awaited Man of Steel. If it’s received well, critically or financially, that leaves two full years (at least) until the rumored arrival of Justice League – plenty of time to build anticipation and buzz. Give Marvel’s shared universe their space, and see if audiences begin to tire of their solo/team-up/solo universe, since the hype can’t feasibly continue to grow.
Captain America 2, Thor 2, Iron Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy, and a S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show will also overlap and interconnect with enemies and powers much less grounded than those seen thus far. With a vastly different array of unproven talent and oddball picks for directors, even Marvel is willing to accept that all their risks won’t lead to flawless successes. And come summer 2015, casual Marvel fans may be required to see over a dozen films just to follow the larger plot.
By contrast, that same summer could see a Justice League movie that hasn’t been rushed, featuring the most recognizable superheroes in the world: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash – take your pick. And best yet, all set within a single story that requires absolutely no homework or lead-ins to understand and appreciate.
Some have immediately claimed that DC’s plot of releasing a single Justice League movie three years from now is a “cash grab,” and nothing else. But it can be seen as just as much a move to distinguish themselves from Marvel, and avoid the churn that is already forming with their properties. Marvel already has plans to release five films by the time that DC will have potentially released two. Obviously, then, DC isn’t looking to bring in fast cash. But they may be looking to launch a shared universe with the same sense of cohesion that it took Marvel half a dozen films to realize is the best approach.
Superman has his lead-in with Man of Steel, Green Lantern has been brought to the public’s attention, for better or worse (and even if Thor had bombed, Marvel would have kept to their Avengers plan). Batman is a household name. That leaves Wonder Woman and the Flash – both characters best known to the public by name alone, making them fitting as support characters (to start).
There’s also no real reason to think an early team-up film is somewhow more likely to fail, assuming the script is solid – especially if DC is committed to taking almost three years to complete it. Marvel was required to prove their individual heroes to the public, and succeeded in building excitement for a team-up. We won’t claim that the marketing draw of any Superman/Batman team-up is automatically as high, but it’s damn close.
Imitation Doesn’t Automatically Equal Success
Simply giving the public more of Marvel’s formula isn’t a wise move from any standpoint, artistically or financially. For all we know, fans may have a mixed reaction to the injection of the Cosmic side of Marvel’s coming Phases, and Guardians of the Galaxy may be too strange to find mainstream success. There’s no guarantee that ‘up’ is the only way to go, especially if Joss Whedon’s future with Marvel comes into question. Come Avengers 2, feelings on the universe Marvel built could be quite different than they are now.
Then again, the Marvel Phase Two films could all be spectacular. But it’s a bit foolish to think that the cultural significance placed into the Superman logo or Batman’s cowl don’t have an appeal all their own. Not to mention that fans will have spent two years since Man of Steel without any of DC’s iconic characters by the time the Justice League film rolls around – meaning rabid fans may only be rabid-er.
Again, it’s the quality of writing and story that fans rely on to know where characters come from, not entire two-hour features. Would a newcomer to The Avengers know the canonical details of Bruce Banner’s backstory? Thor’s? To claim that extended backstory and familiarity is essential in making an ensemble film resonate with an audience is a complete fallacy.
That logic implies that the storytelling and satisfaction of a sequel or threequel is automatically more promising than a single film, whereas the opposite is usually proven to be true. Apply the added pressure of proving why these characters matter immediately – not with an entire film’s worth of plotting – and they’ll have no choice but to define themselves by the differences and similarities to their surrounding heroes.
Forgive us for our optimism, but DC following the exact same formula they always have with comics makes sense. Use the most iconic characters – the ones kids know before they can speak – to bring in fans, and introduce them to new characters they would never have sought out otherwise. Find what works, what doesn’t, and refuse to delay the group adventure fans have begged for since the early days of superhero blockbusters.
If the alternative is introducing every single major player via two-hour films over the next three years… we’ll stick with the Justice League.
We’d love to hear from you on what chances DC stands, and whether doing things differently is such a crime. When all is said and done, comic book fans will have almost a dozen superheroes to enjoy on the big screen, so let’s all stay positive.