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Where to Now 6 Ideas for the DC Movie Franchise
Mania has a plan...
By Rob Vaux
July 24, 2012
Warners has to be happy with the box office returns for The Dark Knight Rises this weekend, but their joy covers up a fairly large problem. Where does the DC movie franchise go from here? Christopher Nolan was pretty much all they had, and while hopes run high for The Man of Steel, it’s holding all the marbles in its hands. If it fails, it may spell the end of DC feature films for quite some time. What else have they got? Green Lantern tanked. Wonder Woman continues to elude adaptation. Green Arrow is locked into the small screen, and I’m not sure fans will line up around the block for a Flash adaptation. Contrast that with Marvel, enjoying an equally triumphant summer and with a full slate of movies in the next three years (including third-tier heroes like Ant-Man and The Guardians of the Galaxy) just laughing in DC’s face. Almost without realizing it, DC finds itself smoked like Christmas ham as its rival laps the field.
How can they fix this state of affairs? Nothing is guaranteed in Hollywood; even the clearest road map can lead to disaster with the wrong project, the wrong director or audience’s changing tastes. But DC has some options to get back in the game, and we have a few ideas we’d like to share. Hopefully, they can help them catch up with Marvel and give us all the comic cold war awesomeness we deserve.
Integrate the Universe… Slowly
DC adaptations have previously shied away from the prospect of a shared universe. That’s a mistake, because it isolates the movies from each other and allows less-than-respectful directors to impose asinine “visions” upon the characters (see Catwoman or Tim Burton’s blessedly aborted take on the Man of Steel). A more disciplined approach will eliminate those unfortunate flights of fancy, and lay seeds for future crossover projects without much up-front investment. DC certainly has its share of characters they can use as a crossover maestro like Nick Fury – Amanda Waller, Lex Luthor and the boys at Star Labs come immediately to mind – and the tidbits add a richness and depth sorely lacking from, say, the Green Lantern movie. Taking the time to develop the background universe makes projects like the Justice League or a Superman/Batman crossover an actively appealing prospect instead of just an overwhelming one.
Of course, those little fanboy details won’t mean a thing if the movies still stink. Which is why they need to…
Find Directors Who Love These Characters
Sam Raimi grew up with Spider-Man on his wall. Joss Whedon knew comic-dom’s history inside and out. Warners needs to trust their heroes to directors with similar passion and respect for the characters. Granted, non-fan directors can still turn in a good film – Christopher Nolan and Bryan Singer were both relative newcomers – but the enthusiasm of a true fan can emanate outward across multiple movies and help talented outsiders find the right tone for their work. Whedon has indicated that he harbors no grudge over the whole Wonder Woman unpleasantness. DC could do worse by dropping him a line.
Make a Proper Wonder Woman Movie
Speaking of Whedon, the inability to bring comic-dom’s greatest female hero to the screen is a massive black eye for DC. Yes, she’s tricky. Yes, Lynda Carter left some big shoes to fill (um, yeah… shoes…). But as the final member of DC’s Big Three, Wondie dearly needs a proper big screen treatment. The longer it goes, the more glaring the absence becomes. With Captain America, Marvel delivered a solid hook: keep her in World War II, with minimal “secret identity” nonsense and a fiendish Nazi to foil. With the right director, it’s a recipe for success… and can make it easier for the canon’s lesser known heroes to break out in feature film format. Without the Amazon Avenger, DC’s film roster will always remain incomplete.
Lay the Groundwork in Other Mediums
While their feature film ambitions flirt with disaster, DC has done quite well in other avenues, particularly television and direct-to-DVD releases. Unfortunately they tend to hinge such efforts around big-budget movie releases (Green Lantern DVDs and an animated series based around the Corps, for instance). Expanding those operations can increase awareness of smaller characters and establish that sense of a shared universe for later films to exploit. Develop the shows with an eye on the bigger picture, but don’t link them so brazenly to an all-or-nothing movie project. Form the base before you build the pyramid: if a show like Arrow does well, it can feed into a larger DC franchise, but it doesn’t have to be yoked to whatever The Next Big Movie is. That allows DC to play to its strengths rather than struggling to catch up.
Let DC be DC
Marvel caught a break with the likes of Sam Raimi and Bryan Singer helming their films, but they didn’t really kick into overdrive until Head Poobah Kevin Feige implemented his grand vision. Marvel movies have worked because Marvel itself has a hand in how they’re produced. DC has to go through the suits at Warners, who have proven time and again that they fundamentally don’t get the characters. That needs to change. A figure like Dan Didio or Geoff Johns could devote the loving care that a DC franchise needs. Better yet, go to Paul Dini and the gang, currently helming DC’s direct-to-video features. These guys love and respect the characters; more importantly, they know how to tell good stories with them. Arm them with a little creative license and DC can get back up to speed surprisingly quickly.
Hollywood rarely thinks in the long term, but Warners needs to keep an eye on the big picture if they want to gain some ground. Rushing into a Justice League movie would be a colossal mistake: smacking of desperation and losing the can’t-miss-it appeal that Marvel cultivated so carefully with The Avengers. DC needs to approach its future movies with an equal amount of thoughtfulness. Start with one or two event movies – good ones – and include distinct but subtle hints at what might come later. Wait for them to succeed, then more forward with more complex arcs. Keep the end game in mind but don’t ask the fan base to wait for an entertaining movie. Give it to them now and then move to the next one. The future might just take care of itself.