It seems funny, given the current box office dominance of The Dark Knight, that, just three weeks ago, Batman publisher DC Comics was having a high-level summit with its sister company Warner Brothers to come up with a more consistent strategy for bringing DC's wide catalog of superhero properties to the big screen. According to a recent article in Variety, "Warners has never had such a strategy, and there have long been complaints the studio has been slow to exploit a potential treasure trove of franchises. And while the studio is basking in critical love for The Dark Knight, it has watched studio rivals rake in big bucks from Marvel Comics characters, and Marvel itself get into the tentpole business."
In recent years, Marvel Comics has had a two-front strategy for their movie adaptations, which has involved either a). licensing their biggest name superheroes (Spider-Man, the X-Men, Fantastic Four) to a variety of movie studios, who then control the franchises and give Marvel a percentage of the profits or b). producing their own adaptations of their characters under their Marvel Studios imprint - a venture that was largely made possible by the financial success of the Spider-Man and X-Men films - and striking deals with studios to distribute the final product. Those in-house Marvel features include such recent releases as Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, which attracted a lot of press for their attempts to create a cohesive Marvel film universe by having characters and plot elements crossover from movie to movie. Marvel's apparent master plan is to quickly produce several films staring some of their biggest characters - characters that Marvel still owns the film rights for, such as Captain America, Thor, and Ant-Man - and then having those heroes team up with the previously established Iron Man and Hulk for an Avengers movie, scheduled for 2011. For those who don't know, The Avengers is Marvel's version of the Justice League - their all-star super-team - and the company hopes that such an epic team effort could potentially be the star-studded Ocean's Eleven of superhero movies.
Aside from the apparent risks in Marvel's plan - one shudders to think how much the Avengers movie will cost to produce or what will happen to the plan if the Thor or Captain America movies tank at the box office - it has, so far, won wide support from fans, and the general scuttlebutt is that the DC/Warners summit was largely about how the two companies could work together to emulate Marvel's recent successes in creating an inter-connected film universe. However, no real details have emerged from the summit, but that can't stop us irresponsible denizens of the internet from speculating, now can it?
After discussing it for an obscene amount of time (and generally making our non-comic-fan co-workers almost tremble with shame and pity), the MovieRetriever staff have come up with our own take on how - if we were handed the keys to the kingdom - we'd shape the future of DC Comics superhero movies. Take notes, Jeff Robinov, Alan Horn, and Dan Didio, and be sure to send the Hound his residual checks when the money starts rolling in. So, without further ado...
OUR PLAN FOR THE FUTURE OF DC COMICS SUPERHERO MOVIES:
1. Leave Batman and Superman alone... for now.
This might be a no-brainer, but, since The Dark Knight is probably going to end up as one of the highest grossing movies in the history of ever, it'd probably be a good idea to not rock the boat that Christopher Nolan set sail with Batman Begins. To put it simply, the Bat Begins franchise works, and works beautifully, so trying to shoehorn in references to other DC properties would only get in Nolan's way. And, while Bryan Singer didn't really deliver a homerun with Superman Returns, we really believe that - given his success with the X-Men movies - the guy deserves a second chance. ONE more chance, that is. We don't want anymore of this "Superman as the messiah" or "loving tribute to Richard Donner" BS. If Singer's next Superman isn't a Wrath of Khan-esque jump forward in quality, kick him to the curb and find a director who can deliver.
BUT, since both Batman and Superman are SUCH huge icons, regardless of whether or not Singer and Nolan return, they really should function as stand-alone movies above all else - not just a set up for a Justice League movie - and there really shouldn't be any major DC crossovers or anything else that takes the focus away from the titular heroes. We wouldn't object to the occasional passing STAR Labs or Oracle reference, but, due to their icon status, the Bat/Super franchises need to stay separate, but equal to the rest of the DC universe. If the next Superman movie ended the same way Leterrier's Hulk did - with an awkwardly tacked-on final scene about "putting a team together" - it would be almost sacrilege. That doesn't mean that Batman and Superman reference can't show up in other movies (or even possible Bruce Wayne/Clark Kent cameos... more on that later), but the solo franchises should stay solo for now.
2. Complete the DC Trinity
DC is now publishing a weekly comic called Trinity that focuses on the three major points of the isosceles triangle that is the DC superhero universe - Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. But which of these things is not like the other, at least, in terms of movie adaptations? That's right, Wonder Woman is the last of DC's big three to make it to the big screen, and her presence is sorely missed. While WW has never been as successful as Bats or Superman, she is probably THE biggest female icon in comic book history, and, if DC/Warners wants to have a complete film universe, they NEED to finally greenlight a Wonder Woman movie and it needs to be treated just like the recent Bat/Supes franchises - as a stand-alone movie targeted at revamping the character for modern audiences. While we'd love to see Joss Whedon's plans for a WW movie - the Buffy creator spent more than a year working on a script until it was ultimately rejected by producers - we'd be happy with ANY forward motion on a Wonder Woman movie at this point. Having the trinity of DC heroes finally complete on the big screen is so important that we'd probably rank it as a higher priority than working on yet more Batman or Superman sequels at this point. Who would we like to see tackle a Wonder Woman movie? If we can't have Joss, what about script by WW comic book scribe Gail Simone and Juno scripter Diablo Cody directed by Girlfight's Karyn Kusama? Kusama and Cody are already working together on the horror movie Jennifer's Body, staring Megan Fox, an actress whom many lonely, lonely men would love to see in the star-spangled bustier. (We'd wait until after we see Jennifer's Body to make our final call on that particular piece of dream casting.)
3. Second-Tier Heroes Equal Crossover Potential
While the universal DC icons - Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman - really do need to exist in their own closed-off film universes first and foremost, that doesn't mean that DC's next tier of superheroes can't have a little crossover fun. Fortunately, DC has a solid tier of B-list heroes - heroes that fall just under the big three in popularity - who could definitely support some crossover moments in their own films. Our picks for the next DC big three are The Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman. These movies can be quicker, more fun, funnier, and more self-referential than any Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman movie simply because they don't come with the same icon baggage. Batman carries so much global recognition and history on his back that a Batman movie could never have the same shoot-from-the-hip, irreverent fun tone as Iron Man, but a Green Lantern movie totally could.
At the moment, Everwood creator Greg Berlanti is slated to write/direct a Green Lantern movie, Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin is set to direct The Flash, and Aquaman... well, it's being talked about more and more thanks to Entourage lately. All of these movies should a). copy several of the world-building techniques that Iron Man used (character crossovers, location crossovers, etc), and b). try to be better than Iron Man, which was fun, but not much else. Warners should use these movies to build the infrastructure of the DC movie world. The Flash movie NEEDS to feature DC's wide spectrum of super-villains (no one does a rogues gallery better than the Flash) and show off some of the police procedural aspects of the DCU as well (we'd love cameos by the Gotham PD, Green Arrrow, Amanda Waller, the Oracle, the Calculator, etc.). The space-cop extreme, Green Lantern, can give us an introduction to the more cosmic aspects of the DC universe, showing us its myriad alien races (Martin Manhunter cameo?) and giving us a glimpse of the interplanetary threats that might work beautifully in a Justice League movie (more on that later). And an Aquaman movie - while, admittedly, hard to pull off - could show us a superhero tale set against a visual backdrop that's been previously unexplored in past hero flicks (underwater) and give us a nice outsider character to act as our avatar as he tries to find his way in the strange DC world. These movies can do the heavy lifting for almost the entire DC film universe, using their unique characters to establish the boundaries of the DC world and setting the stage for bigger, more world-spanning features in the future.
In terms of who should make the second-tier DC movies - we're closeted Everwood fans, so we're cautiously giving Berlanti the benefit of the doubt on Green Lantern. Dobkin makes us VERY nervous about The Flash... do we really want a movie about the world's greatest speedster to have the same vibe as Fred Claus? We're not saying The Flash can't be lighthearted - it should be - but the project definitely needs a more visually interesting director. What about Joe Carnahan, D.J. Caruso, or Paul Greengrass? (Greengrass would never do it, but we'd love for him to bring the energy of the Bourne movies to The Flash and, perhaps, finally lighten up a bit.) Aquaman is all about finding someone who's comfortable balancing technical challenges and character development. If we can't have James Cameron, what about Pirates' Gore Verbinski?
4. Third-Tier Characters Equal More Experimental Fun
OK, now that we've taken care of the icons and used the B-listers to set the stage for things to come, it has to be said - DC could really have a lot of fun with some of their lesser-known or less iconic properties. Case in point: we really like what we've heard about Supermax so far. For those unfamiliar, Supermax is a proposed DC movie from David Goyer and Justin Marks that follows the popular DC hero Green Arrow as he's framed from a crime he didn't commit, thrown into a prison filled with super-villains, and then has to fight to survive, escape, and clear his name. Granted, the final product might be terrible or never get off the ground, but we love that the movie isn't your typical superhero movie - we're SO sick of origins - and that the format allows the story to focus on DC's wide body of D-list perpetually-busted bad guys. It sound a million times more interesting to us than some stupid "How I Became the Green Arrow" movie, and we'd encourage DC to keep moving in that direction. Another experiment that might work - a Wachowski Brothers' Plastic Man movie. Internet nerds know that a leaked early version of the Wachowskis' Plastic Man script has been online for years now (you can read a copy here), and it's filled with wacky ideas and a really interesting take on the traditionally goofy-as-hell superhero. Sure, the script needs a rewrite and, ideally, Warners will be able to convince the Wachowskis to make the movie fit in with the rest of the DC film universe - particularly since they lost Warners so much money on Speed Racer - but the potential for, again, not-your-normal superhero movie seems almost too good to pass up. These non-traditional superhero flicks might be a welcome respite to moviegoers after the recent superhero stampede at the box office and still allow DC to establish new aspects of their film world on the big screen.
Intro for the 1979 Plastic Man cartoon, very much in the style of the popular Super-Friends series.
5. Justice League Animated
One would assume that all of this superhero world-building eventually has to lead somewhere. With Marvel, it's definitely leading up to the Avengers movie, a big live-action crossover that - let's be honest - has some insanely high expectations to live up to. How do you get a crossover like that to bring together all of the disparate elements of all the solo films and still deliver as a high-octane, FX-heavy superhero throwdown? It's going to be a big challenge and, in our opinion, DC shouldn't adopt Marvel's same game plan.
Here's what we'd like to see - a Justice League movie, directed by George Miller, done totally in motion-capture CGI animation. Why animated? There are several reasons. First, scope - fans will expect a Justice League movie to have everything and the kitchen sink. They're going to want all of their favorite heroes, using their powers constantly, and fighting intergalactic threats that are massive enough that it makes sense why the most powerful beings in the universe would have to team-up to take them down. We're simply not convinced that can happen in live-action. Iron Man was a fun time, but that was rumored to cost $180 million on its own, and there was only one bad guy and no Captain America or Thor. Animation gives the story a limitless canvas, which won't be hampered by location shooting, FX, or Robert Downey Jr.'s paycheck. We want to see Superman throwing moons at bad guys, Batman taking down world conquerors, and Metropolis under siege in a Justice League movie, and that simply isn't going to happen - or, at least, it's not going to happen well - in live action.
Second, in terms of the casting, it'll be much, much easier to bring together the actors from all the separate DC movies for a few weeks of blue-screen motion capture than trying to coordinate their schedules for a giant cross-global film shoot. Their motion-capture-animated physiques won't exactly resemble their live-action counterparts, but it'll be much easier, the original actors can still play the roles, Superman can fly for the entire movie without breaking the bank or keeping Brandon Routh in a harness for three months, and, most importantly, the film will have its own very cool, very unique visual style. Third, George Miller - who was set to direct a Justice League movie before the Writers Strike this year - has wide experience with motion capture animation, having directed the Oscar-winning Happy Feet. Fourth, any team-up of this size is going to have to be fairly family-friendly to make a profit and fit tonally with the myriad of marketing tie-ins that you just know that Warner Brothers will have planned. It'll be much simpler to make a Justice League movie tonally consistent and appealing to youngsters as a CGI animated feature.
And, finally, fifth, why the hell not? If Marvel is going the live-action route with Avengers, why should DC do the same thing? They should try something new and exciting and that can really do a superhero team-up movie justice. Let's all remember - the crappy Fantastic Four movies... live-action. The beyond-cool Incredibles... CGI. 'Nuff said.
So, that's how the idiots at MovieRetriever would handle the future of DC Comics' superhero movies. What do you think? Are we, in fact, morons? Could you do a better job? Are you man or woman enough to share how you'd do it better?
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