How can DC save its cinematic universe

I posted this blog originally in the Spring of this year. Well, a lot has happened since then. In the opinion of many fans, Warner Bros. and it’s DC entertainment branch have thrown down the gauntlet by unveiling a film slate to compete with Marvel. Yes, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern, and even the Suicide Squad are all heading to the big screen. …We hope.
Some of the challenges I posed to WB/DC on this list have been met. Others have been ignored. Some have yet to be addressed. Yet despite significant movement on the DC Cinematic Universe, Marvel’s recent announcements of far more obscure characters getting their own movies was met with more fanfare.
So lets go down the list and see where WB/DC has succeeded, where it’s failed, and where glimmers of hope still exist.

1. Don’t keep this movie under wraps

Fans doubt that Ben Affleck will make a suitable Batman. They say that Gal Gadot doesn’t have the range or physique to play Wonder Woman. Okay, WB, prove us wrong. Shut us up the only way you can, by bombarding us with pictures and set videos.
The casting of Eisenberg just goes to show that WB/DC is desperate to repeat the out-of-left-field success of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Ask anyone who defends this movie why and they always go back to, “Well, who knew Ledger would be a great Joker!” And while this may be true, the difference this time around is that Ledger’s Joker was the star of a sequel to the universally beloved Batman Begins. Eisenberg’s Luthor will be the star of the divisive Man of Steel.
Normally studios try to keep big movies like this under wraps, but Warner Bros. plan of attack should be to walk us through their decisions. Show us why these actors are the right choice. Make us believe. Show us the costumes, the sets, the vehicles. You don’t have to give away the plot, but neither do you have to treat the movie like it’s a matter of national security. Show us why your decisions are right and we’re wrong.

2. Give the fans a bone, cast someone we’ll love

Affleck, Gadot, and now Eisenberg are all left field casting decisions no one would have predicted. Okay, Warner Bros., you’ve made your point. You’re thinking outside the box, fine. Now it’s time to make the fans happy.
You need a win. You need to give us something that all the fans can rally behind, something that only the hardcore trolls will throw a tantrum over. Give us Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern and watch how suddenly the Internet will light up with rosy, warm glowing feelings of love for this movie.
There is likely to be more characters in this movie, with rumors springing up left and right of Metallo, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. This is WB/DC’s chance to make the fans happy and get them excited for this movie again. Time to play it safe.

3. Make Arrow canon

Stephen Amell wants in, guys, and you should let that happen. Arrow isn’t the greatest show of all time, but it’s a solid hit and the fans love it. If you make Arrow canon, suddenly you have a way to test characters out before they make it to the big screen. Think about it: Black Canary, Deathstroke, the League of Assassins, Deadshot, and most importantly the Flash have all been introduced on the small screen. There’s no reason to create a separate universe for the big screen.
DC shouldn’t steal Marvel’s playbook, but they can learn a lesson or two from them. Between Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the upcoming slew of Netflix shows, Marvel is tying their big screen world to the small screen. This kind of cross promotion is simply good business. For too long has DC’s television hits like Smallville been unable to use characters like Batman for fear of “confusing the audience” with the Dark Knight’s film counterpart.
Green Arrow isn’t a big enough character to warrant his own movie right now, but his success on the small screen could translate to Amell being a perfect candidate in the Justice League movie.

4. Be different from Marvel

Most people are telling WB to steal Marvel’s formula. I disagree. Marvel does Marvel movies better than anyone, but the pantheon of heroes and villains at DC are vastly different from those at the rival company.
Taking their cue from the Dark Knight trilogy isn’t the worst way to go. While Marvel keeps things fun and frothy, DC can bring a gravitas to their movies. Go for the awards. Make big scale dramatic epics that just so happen to have people in capes. Marvel will never take home a best picture award at the Oscars, but DC could.
The reason Green Lantern failed on the big screen is because DC was trying too hard to make a Marvel movie. All the gravitas that character has was sucked out of the film version, to be replaced with one liners and camp. Hal Jordan is not Tony Stark, but they sure as hell tried to make him the same kind of character. DC’s pantheon are gods amongst men. This is a timeless mythology that can be fused with modern day issues. The Dark Knight is DC’s most successful movie of all time for a reason.
That said…

5. Don’t exclude the kids

The chief criticism against Man of Steel was that it was too grim. There was nothing inspiring about Superman, nothing that made you want to stand up and cheer. Going for the gold at Oscar time doesn’t necessarily mean always being The Dark Knight.
While Nolan’s trilogy is the gold standard for super hero flicks, it was also a series of films kids couldn’t get into. Ditto for Man of Steel, which left most children in the audience confused and bored. I’m not saying pander to the 5 year-olds, I’m saying take a lesson from Peter Jackson. The Lord of the Rings movies won a mountain of awards, was a dark and satisfying experience for adults, and yet thrilled little kids as well. There is a balance WB/DC needs to learn to strike.
It’s okay to have some levity in these movies. Yes, you are dealing with characters like Batman who are psychologically scarred, but you’re also dealing with a beloved children’s icon. There can be wonderment in these movies, and they can be uplifting if they are allowed to be.

6. Lay out your plan for the post Batman vs. Superman movies

You want fanboys on your side, then let us know what the rest of “Phase One” looks like. Marvel did this. Iron Man came out on a Friday. By that Sunday we knew that Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers were in the works.
While WB/DC shouldn’t steal the tone of Marvel movies, they could learn a thing or two about how to market from them. Having the fans on your side isn’t a bad thing, and the quickest way to do that is to get them excited for the future.
Hire directors and screen writers everyone can be excited about. Bring in Brad Bird to direct Flash. Get Kathryn Bigelow to direct Wonder Woman. Wow us with your ability to nail down brilliant filmmakers years in advance. You keep telling us you know what you’re doing, WB, but you need to show us.

7. Go obscure

Yes, everyone knows Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and we applaud you for finally bringing them together in a film. However, if you’re trying to play catch up with Marvel (which you clearly are) then you need to take notice of the fact that they not only have their big guns like Hulk and Captain America out, but are giving us movies based on little known characters like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy.
In fairness, WB/DC has been teasing us with a Justice League Dark film, to be directed by Guielermo del Toro. I’ll believe it when I see it. If this studio can’t get a Wonder Woman movie going, I don’t hold out much hope for the more obscure characters.
The DC pantheon is rich with smaller characters that would be visually amazing on the big screen. Firestorm, Hawkman, Spector, the Justice Society…you give us these guys, either in a solo film or as part of the Justice League movie, and we’ll believe you actually care about the fans.

8. Stick to your release dates

Our trust of WB’s ability to handle their superhero films is not helped when they only have one movie in development and they push it back a whole year. The delay of Batman vs. Superman from 2015 to 2016 brings to mind the failed Justice League: Mortal production, a movie that was literally days away from filming when WB pulled the plug and sat on their hands for another several years.
Shifting release dates is common in Hollywood, but WB/DC has burned fans too many times. We were teased with new Batman and Superman movies for a decade before we actually got them. The Flash, Wonder Woman, and Green Arrow all had movies announced that never came to be. When Batman vs. Superman was pushed back, many people started wondering, “When are we going to hear that it’s been canceled?”
The fans will forgive a delay if they have other films to look forward to. Avengers was originally scheduled for a 2011 release and was pushed back a year, but in the mean time we had three other Marvel films to keep us occupied. Between Man of Steel in 2013 and Batman vs. Superman in 2016, WB/DC will release…nothing.

9. Get Darkseid on the big screen before Thanos

The wheels are in motion. Thanos will be the big bad in Avengers 3, and while us fanboys know there is a difference between him and Darkseid, your average movie goer won’t.
Both are mad, intergalactic despots. Both have similar appearances. Both wish to wipe out the earth. On the surface, these two characters are very much the same. If Justice League is released after Avengers 3, the average moviegoer is going to assume that WB/DC were trying to rip off Marvel. They’ll say, “We already saw this movie,” and they’ll be right.
With Avengers 3 likely to be released by 2018, that gives WB/DC some wiggle room. If Darkseid is your big menace for the Justice League film, you better make that movie and make it fast.

10. Give the fans some credit

I get it: Fanboys bitch a lot. However, we bitch because we care. We want you to make a great movie, and we’ll forgive you from straying from our beloved mythologies if you can deliver the goods.
I grew up wanting to see Batman vs. Superman and Justice League. I used to make my Super Powers actions figures act out these movies for me. We want these movies to be great.
So give us some credit, WB/DC. We don’t distrust you because we’re trolls, we distrust you because you have a lousy track record. Three great Batman movies (many would argue only two) in the last ten years does not make up for the many missed opportunities. Keep your audience in mind. Don’t pander to us, just remember we exist.

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