Yesterday was a long travel day for me, featuring an eleven-hour flight from London to Los Angeles, and the most memorable part of the day was when we touched down at LAX last night, turned on our phones, and saw that Nikki Finke had blown up the internet with a rumor about the schedule that Warner Bros. will be following for the next few years as they try to ramp up their own DC Films division with as many as seven films between now and 2017.
We'll know at Comic-Con if Nikki's report was right. Let's assume it is for the time being, and break down the plan that she laid out, film by film. It sounds extraordinarily ambitious by any standards, and I'm fascinated by the idea of three DC movies a year. Even Marvel must look at that and think, “Hey, slow your roll there, Warner.”
“Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” (May 2016)
Preliminary shooting has begun, and the first reactions to images of Ben Affleck as Batman have been very positive. It's interesting that what began as a “Man Of Steel” sequel has changed so much during production that it's now viewed as an entirely different thing. One of the things that makes me a little skeptical of the proposed dates for all of these films is that it's going to be almost three years between “Man Of Steel” and this film. That's fine… take as long as it needs to get it right. But if they're seriously going to be releasing two other films the same year, they're going to have to get moving on them as soon as possible, and they should probably be heading into production now in order to give the filmmakers room to get things right.
There are a lot of moving parts to this film, and it's going to eventually be viewed as the cornerstone of this larger DC movie world if they pull it off. Gal Gadot will be in the movie to introduce Wonder Woman, Jesse Eisenberg will make his debut as Lex Luthor, and both Cyborg and The Flash are also rumored to be showing up in key roles. You would assume that if they're using this as the introduction for the entire larger franchise, then the next film in theaters would be another film that is part of the same world, but I'm not entirely sure that's the case.
“Shazam” (July 2016)
Seriously? Two months later, we're going to get a “Shazam” film? This one's been inching its way through the development process for a long time now, and it's taken on a lot of different shapes over the years. I remember reading a William Goldman draft years ago, and on the set of “Get Smart,” I had a long conversation with Dwayne Johnson about whether he'd make a better Shazam or Black Adam. He was really intent on being part of the series, and if Warner Bros. is on their game, they'll lock him down for one of those roles. Johnson was born to play a superhero, and he's got the exact right movie star charisma to turn this one into a major part of the larger puzzle. What I'm really curious about is whether they're going to embrace what I think really makes this stand apart, the notion that it's a kid who is wearing this amazing exterior, like a superhero take on “Big.” Johnson's not just gigantic. He's also a very sharp comic performer, and I feel like he would knock the mix of childlike innocence and superhero brute force out of the ballpark. Right now, though, no idea who else is involved in this one, which seems weird if it's coming out immediately after a film that's already shooting.
“Sandman” (Christmas 2016)
While this is, indeed, based on a DC title, I can't imagine they have any plans of trying to tie this into the bigger picture involving “Justice League.” Neil Gaiman's masterpiece has been confounding potential movie adaptations for as long as I've been writing about movies online. I still get the shivers when I think back on the nightmarishly bad draft that Bill Farmer wrote for Jon Peters. Part of the problem has traditionally been that Hollywood has a hard time getting their heads around the notion of a comic book film that is not also a superhero film. “Sandman” is more about mythology and human nature than it is about characters beating the hell out of each other. Joseph Gordon-Levitt strikes me as a smart and thoughtful guy, and with him set to produce, direct, and star in the film, this might finally be the moment where we see Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, brought to life. It all comes down to the script, which needs to be more literate, ambitious and beautiful than most of what's been done in adapting comics so far.
“Justice League” (May 2017)
This is the big one. This is the make or break moment for Warner's overall game plan. I can't see how Zack Snyder is supposed to turn around and have the single biggest superhero film the studio has ever attempted ready a mere year after he turns in “Batman Vs Superman,” which will take three years to make it to the screen. Even shooting back-to-back, there is a staggering amount of post-production required on these films, and for them to shoot this simultaneous or even back-to-back, the script's got to be ready to go right now. There's no indication that's the case, and that makes me nervous. Warner Bros. can't fumble this movie. If they do, they can kiss everything else goodbye. Marvel knew how essential “The Avengers” was to all of their plans, and they sweated every detail of that film right up to the moment of release. I'm not sure Snyder's ever taken on anything as big as “Superman Vs Batman” and “Justice League” back to back… in fact, I'm not sure anyone has. One would hope that Warner gives him the right support and doesn't just pressure him to make a release date.
“Wonder Woman” (July 2017)
See, here's where I'm just not seeing this. If Gal Gadot has a major role in both “Superman Vs Batman” and “Justice League,” when is she supposed to have time to star in an entirely different movie that would come out two months later? And who is going to be writing and directing? This is starting to feel like a freeway pile-up, with one movie crashing into another. The thing I'm having trouble with here is that I've read several great “Wonder Woman” scripts over the years that fully honored the character, her background, and the mythology from which she sprang, and every one of those scripts was rejected in the end by Warner Bros. My feeling is that they don't really get the character, and they're nervous about committing to something that is this far outside their comfort zone. Who knows? Maybe the success of the “Thor” films has finally convinced them to go for it, but even if that's true, having this ready by this alleged date seems next to impossible.
“Untitled Flash and Green Lantern team-up” (Christmas 2017)
One of the most difficult logistical issues of “The Avengers” was that there were so many schedules being juggled in order to keep the solo films rolling out as well, and that's definitely going to be true of “Justice League” as well. Are they really going to have three of the core members of the Justice League pulling double-duty? And if they are indeed bringing Green Lantern back, did they learn anything from the first film they made? They aped Marvel as hard as they could with that one, but it had no soul at all. It is going to take a lot to get the public to show back up for a new Green Lantern movie, and if this one's going to work, The Flash needs to be seriously charismatic as well. It's an odd combination to break these two guys off specifically, but if there's a good story that makes sense of the combination, I don't see any reason this one couldn't work.
“Man Of Steel 2” (May 2018)
So we're going to see Superman show up every May for three years in a row? I have no problem with that personally, since I loved “Man Of Steel,” but that seems like a whole lot of pressure to put on Henry Cavill, especially since Warner Bros. is also going to be kicking off the “Man From UNCLE” series with him next summer, and if it works, they're going to have to make room for him to make those as well, and it's starting to look like Cavill's not going to have any break at all for at least four or five years. Is Snyder going to direct this one as well? I certainly hope so, but if Warner burns him to the ground turning out the back-to-back “Superman Vs Batman” and “Justice League,” I have no idea how he's going to rally to turn out another film of this scale a mere year later.
Look, I'm not saying I don't believe that Finke talked to someone who gave her these details. She's no rookie, and she wouldn't run it if she weren't confident, but this is ambitious to a degree that seems almost suicidal. This is a heavier schedule than Marvel's ever tried, and at some point, it starts to look like they're flooding the marketplace out of desperation instead of confidence.
We'll be covering Comic-Con from top to bottom again this year, and I look forward to finding out if this is true, and if so, who they're going to announce as the creative teams driving some of these movies forward.
Make sure you join us for all the details when Comic-Con runs from July 24 to July 27.