[18 June 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
One of the hottest rumors going around Hollywood right now centers on Warner Bros. and their plans to put out numerous DC-themed films over the next few years. It’s a move that many in the comic book fanbase have been longing for and yet never thought they’d see.
If the story pans out (and there’s always an “if” with such web exclusives), we will be inundated with cinematic product, beginning with Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice in May of 2016, a Shazam movie two months later, followed up by Sandman during Christmas of the same year. Then, 2017 will be equally overflowing with a Justice League film proper (May), a Wonder Woman stand-alone (July), and a Green Lantern/Flash pair-up (the Holidays). Add in an official Man of Steel 2 for May of 2018 and you’ve got quite the ambitious schedule.
At first glance, this seems like an obvious answer to Marvel’s measured movie output. Ever since taking back control of its creative direction (sans the series owned by other studios), the four panel filmmaking king has forged a wholly functioning dynamic which sees properties planned out well in advance, each one tied into a specific universe and phase to be explained and exploited.
The Avengers make up one, so do the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy. There’s even a third realm which will see Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, and other characters considered. DC hasn’t dared dive into its back catalog. Outside of a certain Dark Knight, its efforts haven’t been than successful. Man of Steel gave DC hope, and now it looks like the company is going overboard.
It looks suspiciously like a studio, seeing huge returns for a rival company, clamoring desperately to play catch-up. That being said, it seems almost impossible for Warner to work this out. Marvel has three different studios handling its output, and as Hitflix pointed out when it first discussed this potential decision, three major league blockbuster style films in each of the upcoming years is a risk, both creatively and commercially.
Fox is free to do what it wants with X-Men and The Fantastic Four, while Columbia is counting on Spidey to set its strategy. With Disney all-in with the various Avengers projects (through its deal with Marvel Studios), it’s all very David vs. Goliath…which seems odd when discussing billion dollar properties with a seemingly endless box office appeal. While many believe we are reaching maximum density when it comes to this genre, the international numbers indicate otherwise.
So where does this leave things? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that DC and Warner can work out the various schedules for these massive tentpoles and turn around a title like Wonder Woman while prepping both a Justice League and Green Lantern/Flash film. Considering that these movies are meant to be both independent as well as part of the planned coming together of these iconic heroes, that’s a lot for a moviegoer to comprehend.
Given a familiar frame of reference, let’s say that Marvel decided to unleash Captain America 3, Hulk 2, and another Avengers filn all within months of each other. Not only would the strain on the producing studio be monumental, but there’s a real potential for audience fatigue. By the time the third film in as many months arrived, the foreign market would probably be more important than the domestic numbers. That’s definitely the case right now.
The other big issue is quality. So far, aside from Christopher Nolan, few in the DC camp have crafted dependable entertainment. There are just as many fans of Superman Lives as there are Man of Steel, and Warner has given the main complaint—director Zach Snyder—control over the most important movies in the mix. Snyder is taking on the Justice League intro Dawn as well as said epic proper.
No other filmmakers have been confirmed for the rest of the projects, though Joseph Gordon-Levitt is rumored to be taking on Sandman as his next acting/directing gig (after Don Jon). Now, Disney has determined that there can be several stand-alone films while its revamp of the whole Star Wars universe gets the new trilogy treatment, and it’s not unheard of for many films to be in the pipeline at once.
But it’s really not a question of “how”, but more a curiosity of “why”,
Why does DC and Warner want to do this now? Are they afraid of falling farther and farther behind their cinematic rivals, watching as audiences make X-Men and Iron Man billion dollar babies? Are they afraid that if they don’t strike while this particular fire is good and hot that they will be left holding a lot of potential goodies with nowhere or no one to sell them to?
Perhaps they’ve sat down with sources and recognized the need to get off the fence and go all in on DC. Maybe they know more about the international market than we do, understanding that almost anything with flash and pizzazz will sell big overseas, no matter the domestic malaise.
Of course, the story could also be bogus, floated out into the media to gauge reaction and criticism. Even Marvel has the occasional misstep (the whole Edgar Wright fiasco) and perhaps the suits are struggling to see what will work and what won’t. As usual, Messageboard Nation has lots of advice to give.
Of course, if Dawn of Justice tanks, or any one of the numerous casting choices (including the recent announcement of Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa as Aquaman) fails to ignite the fanbase, we could be looking at a wish list, nothing more. There are already grumbles about Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and the Green Lantern will require a revamp after the disaster debut of Ryan Reynolds in the role. Of course, there are tempting TV properties (Arrow, a Flash spin-off, the Gotham prequel) to add to the confusion.
Indeed, nothing is set in the DC universe. There’s no control for this particular creative experiment. It’s all in, or merely media gossip mongering. There’s little wiggle room. Of course, if DC gets this right, it can stand next to Marvel as one of the major forces in the superhero film genre. If it doesn’t, it will be back to the drawing board, and back to second place in the comic book race.