5 Tips For BuildingThe DC Superhero Movie UniverseAfter the success of Marvel's The Avengers, we've seen DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. actively taking steps towards building a shared movie universe for their lineup of superheroes. While details on the exact nature of this endeavor are still taking shape, we do know that DCE/WB wants (needs) superheroes to replace Harry Potter as their fiscal centerpiece. The defunct Justice League movie has been dusted off, and while Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises might not mark the beginning of the DC Movie Universe (DCMU), Zack Snyder's upcoming Superman reboot Man of Steel very well could. However, Marvel didn't just jump from the success of Iron Man to the Mega-success of The Avngers: there were missteps and growing pains along the way. While it can be intimidating to have to follow a successful act, we have five suggestions that could help the DCMU give the Marvel Movie Universe a (literal) run for its money.
Pick a ShepherdAfter the success of The Dark Knight, it was rumored that Chris Nolan could "godfather" the DC Movie Universe, starting with his story and producing credits on Man of Steel, possibly leading to a directorial job on Justice League. With The Dark Knight Rises ending Nolan's take on Batman, it remains doubtful that the acclaimed filmmaker will hang around to manage the board for DC/WB in the same way that Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige oversaw the construction of that universe. Of course, DC has other strong contenders for the job: Bruce Timm being one of them. If you don't recognize the name, Timm has been the prominent mind behind the DC Animated universe - starting with Batman: The Animated Series in 1992 and continuing through the current line of (often excellent) direct-to-DVD animated features. There is arguably nobody better than Timm when it comes to telling an authentic DC superhero story onscreen. While his work has largely been in animation, Timm is a well of knowledge and insight that could be tapped to build a DC movie universe. At the end of the day: Kevin Feige proved that having a shepherd is the best way to steer a shared cinematic universe. DC/WB just needs to tap the right guy (or gal) to lead the flock.
Form a Small CircleSure, movies are collaborative endeavors that involve hundreds of people, but sometimes a small cabal gets things done more efficiently than a big team. Once DC/WB has a shepherd leading the way, they should keep their creative circle small. Marvel had some serious shakeups with their directors and writing teams during their "Phase 1" Avengers rollout, and are learning that sometimes, fewer cooks are more effective in the kitchen. DC/WB has big names already in its stable: Chris Nolan, Man of Steel director Zack Snyder - other talents like Bruce Timm, longtime DCU director Lauren Montgomery (Wonder Woman), Writer/director Greg Berlanti (Green Lantern, The Flash), Jonathan Nolan, acclaimed comic writers like Grant Morrison and DCE Exec/comic book writer Geoff Johns (Green Lantern). Basically, the writing and directing talent for the DCMU is already in house - all that's missing is studio trust (example: Berlanti and J. Nolan have both been in line to direct some DC movie projects). Think about this: Marvel has parted ways with all of the "big-name" directors who helmed their lead-in films; so maybe utilizing a small circle of in-house talent would save DC/WB a lot of headache in the long run.
Tie the Branches TogetherDC Superheroes has been tearing up the competition when it comes to cartoons - especially when it comes to animated features on the home video market. Not only should DC/WB be tapping the minds behind that successful animation branch for their feature films (as we keep suggesting) - they should be tying all of these lanes together into one big shared universe. Marvel scrapped their acclaimed Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes cartoon - in order to reboot it as a more direct extension of the movie universe. See, DC? The competition is already learning this tactic. With DC having a vastly superior animation branch, this multi-platform extension should be a no-brainer (and let's not forget the success of Smallville and the buzz surrounding the upcoming Green Arrow TV show). Unfortunately, Nolan's Batman films are (currently) the only successes on the film front. That's all to say: A DC multi-platform shared universe is already there in loose form, and has been successful on all fronts. Just build bridges between the different properties and you're golden! TV Green Arrow in a Justice League movie? Movie characters guest-starring on the TV shows? Second-tier characters and side-storylines getting animated features? Heck, we could play in that sandbox all day long. But god help the men and women who have to tie it all together for Justice League...
Change the FormulaThe Marvel films have been great - but they have also unfolded according to a pretty strict formula (comedy/action, three-act/three-battle story arc). But the formula works, so why change it? Because any comic book fan will tell you: DC is not Marvel. Different heroes, different worlds, different styles and tones. The intrigue of The Justice League is just how different the respective characters truly are: a Wonder Woman film and a Batman film should be nothing alike, as each character and their mythos have a different tone and feel to them (dark/gritty vs. sword and sandals mythological epic). Take a page from the book of Nolan: don't be afraid to make bold creative choices; make art (not just entertainment) out of your superhero films; chase that next Oscar nomination, even. If Green Lantern demonstrated anything, it's that maybe the Marvel approach just isn't a fit for DC heroes. However, the game has changed. Things are different now. The Avengers upped the ante. Some would say DC/WB needs to at least entertain the possibility of switching things up and jumping into a Justice League movie sooner before later (possibly after a Batman/Superman movie) - launching the lesser-known characters in their own films after the fact.
Learn from the CompetitionWhile it's important to know where and when to do your own thing, it never hurts to study the competition, either. Marvel Studios had both great success and some serious missteps while learning how to build their cinematic universe; DC/WB would do well to note what worked and what didn't - where tactics should be imitated, and where to diverge and build their own brand, in their own way. Take the lessons that Marvel had to learn the hard way: maybe big-name directors aren't always the best way to go; guys with both comic and TV/Movie experience can be assets (Joss Whedon, Bruce Timm); standalone films need to be able to truly stand alone; a well-picked star can carry the franchise (and that star need not be a young guy). Go big, and you can go home happy (read: rich). I would still maintain that DC superhero films need to have their own distinct tones and styles - and at this point there's still question of how soon to do a team film - but regardless of those issues, there is still plenty to be learned from the path that Marvel blazed - and will continue to blaze, as they enter "Phase 2" of their own movie universe.
What Are Your Ideas?We've laid out some ideas for how the DCMU could be built - but there are tons of DC superhero fans out there who have been sitting on their own ideas for how this movie universe should be built, which characters should be included, which stories should be told, and whether or not characters like Batman and Green Lantern need to be rebooted for the shared universe. So let's discuss:
- Which characters should be in the DCMU?
- What kind of ideas (or grand visions) do you have for a Justice League film? Your favorite solo character film?
- Should Man of Steel be the launch pad for the DCMU?
- Who should play some of the other DC superheroes?
- Which writers/directors would you like to see involved?
- Can the DCMU ever be greater than the MMU?