We take a closer look at Warner’s ongoing DC ‘problem’ and offer one possible solution

12.04.13 4 years ago 43 Comments

DC Comics

On one level, everything seems to be moving along well right now with development on “Man Of Steel 2.” After all, they just announced today that Gal Gadot will play Wonder Woman in the film, and in the new issue of Playboy, there’s an interview with Ben Affleck conducted by Mike Fleming. The approach that they’re taking to the new Batman in Zack Snyder’s “Man Of Steel” sequel comes up.

Say what you will about Affleck, but one of the biggest reasons he’s been able to rebuild his career the way he has is because he seems genuinely self-aware. Watch him again in “Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back” and you see a guy who has already identified exactly what’s wrong with his career and what he doesn’t want to do or be moving forward.

People seem positively delighted to pull out his 2006 quote about never playing a superhero again when they mention his casting in the “Man Of Steel” sequel, but that seems like it means people don’t know there is an evolution in the way human beings feel or think over time. And that’s ridiculous. Of course people change. Of course their attitudes evolve. And with actors, it frequently just boils down to the material that they’re presented, which, surprise surprise, appears to be the case this time as well.

Latino Review published some excerpts from the interview, which is not available online but which can be found in the new 60th Anniversary Issue on stands now, and Affleck seems as frank as ever discussing why he said he’d be willing to play the part:

“It was a unique take on Batman that was still consistent with the mythology. It made me excited. All of a sudden I had a reading of the character. When people see it, it will make more sense than it does now or even than it did to me initially.” He called the material he saw “incredible,” and he admitted that his first instinct was to pass without even looking at the role. “The idea for the new Batman is to redefine him in a way that doesn’t compete with the Bale and Chris Nolan Batman but still exists within the Batman canon.”

Reeeeeeeally? I find it interesting that they want to sidestep the Nolan films completely, as if they are now sacrosanct. Watching the way their approach has shifted over the last year and a half since the release of “The Dark Knight Rises” has been… well, it’s been interesting not only because of the ways Warner has reacted in public, including the release of “Man Of Steel,” but because of the way the company’s internal development has been reported on.

There is a definite perception that Warner Bros. has a DC “problem,” and the latest rumored plan is that David Goyer will steer the development of a series of lower budgeted movies that introduce characters like “Suicide Squad,” “Booster Gold,” and “Deathstroke.” Makes sense. If you played “Batman: Arkham Origins,” it definitely took some cues from “The New 52,” the publishing overhaul of DC’s characters that is underway right now. At the end of the game, Deathstroke could easily be killed, but instead, Amanda Waller swoops in and presses him into service as part of the Suicide Squad. The line-up in the comic is sort of crazy, and it makes me wonder if that’s what they would want to do in the movie. The comic is also uber-violent. The first issue I read had King Shark ripping someone in half, gore and organs pouring out of them. I can’t imagine that’s the way Warner plans to handle things onscreen, but then again, Goyer was part of the only R-rated Marvel franchise so far, the “Blade” series.

Even this feels like a very expensive way of trying out material on the audience, and unless they pull off a perfect balance with the script, they are in danger of turning “Man Of Steel 2” into a backdoor pilot for “Justice League” instead of an actual movie. Wonder Woman isn’t the only character they’re introducing in the film, and each new hero they introduce means they take focus away from the main characters in the film, and considering where we left Superman at the end of the first movie, it seems awfully early to start jam-packing his films full of guest stars.

When Warner Bros. announced their plans to make all of the “Harry Potter” books into films as one cohesive series, it was pretty much common wisdom that they’d never pull it off. After all, Rowling hadn’t even finished the books at that point. What if she slowed down? What if something happened to delay the books? The kids would get too old too quickly, no matter how fast the filmmakers worked. It was an impossibility… and yet, they did it. And they did it well. Looking at how Marvel has pulled off their films as a stand-alone studio, it’s been equally impressive. In both cases, there were key players making creative decisions that impacted the entire series, and they had something strong to hang all of the movies on as a structure. In the case of the “Potter” series, they had the books and the “each one is another year of school” structure, and in the case of Marvel, everything hinges on the Avengers films, with all the movies serving to introduce characters and story points and the Avengers films bringing each phase together.

On the other hand, Warner Bros. has had a profound case of executive shuffle going on over the last few years, and the Batman series was such an isolated stand-alone thing that they couldn’t really use it as a springboard to anything else. Christopher Nolan was so adamant about them not being able to introduce superpowered beings in that movie universe that it tied their hands. The movies worked beautifully by themselves, but they didn’t help Warner with the larger problem at all.

Now they’ve got Superman flying again, but they have to be aware how divisive the reaction to the film was. I remain steadfast in my love of the film, and we’ll have a big conversation about it here on the site before the end of the year, but I know that there are plenty of people who hated the movie and who aren’t remotely interested in seeing a movie pick up those threads and move that story forward. If Warner thinks that the answer to their larger DC universe issues is throwing the kitchen sink into the sequel, they may be burning things down rather than setting them up.

It is in the spirit of wanting to see this all come together for them that we offer the following solution, then. Right now, everything we see is about imitating other models that are already working, but it does not seem like they’re imitating the right things. How about you drop the imitation altogether and try something new, Warner Bros? You have the deepest catalog of any of the companies trying this right now, because you haven’t made the mistake of selling off the bits and pieces over the years. You don’t have to tread lightly through your own encyclopedia of characters, so why are you so focused on a select few?

You want to try something genuinely outside the box? How about this?

You open a film with a teenager walking into a comic book store. If you want to send a smart message, make it a young woman who is trying to figure out what she likes about comics, someone who isn’t the typical reader. Be clear… comic books are for everyone, and whoever you are, you can find a character or a story that you relate to if you are curious. She browses the shelves, talks to a clerk for a few, and tells him what she’s looking for. She mentions some big characters she likes and then asks him which he prefers… Marvel or DC. The clerk can take the opportunity to explain the difference. Play nice. Talk about what Marvel does well, the street-level view of a superhero universe. These are normal people with normal problems who just happen to wear costumes.

“So what about the DC characters?”

“Now we’re talking about gods.”

As she picks up different issues of different comics to try them out, you can allow different filmmakers to each make a short film that introduces a different character. You don’t have to start with issue one, and in fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. You can just pick one great short story to tell about each character you want to try, and you can let filmmakers really play with style. If you make a film that’s 100 minutes long and tell three individual stories inside of it, you could make a film that looks and feels massive without having to fully commit to any one character.

Say one of them really pops with the audience. Well, then, there you go. Instant franchise. And if it doesn’t? Don’t you wish you’d made a 25 minute Green Lantern film before you realized that you didn’t have it figured out instead of making a full $200 million version that may have killed the character for a decade or more?

By the end of the film, the girl’s going to find a comic she wants to read every month, and the audience has been given a chance to try several different things. You call the movie “Issues,” and you can make a new one every year or two. It becomes the farm system for your superheroes. You can invite filmmakers to play without them having to give up three years of their life to do so.

And, no, I’m not saying this is the exact idea you have to do, but it’s something Marvel’s never done, and it could be the sort of out of the box thing required to set DC apart from Marvel completely. If Warner is ever going to solve the DC problem, they have got to hire someone who has a clear vision that lasts for more than three films, and they have to give that person the power to pursue that vision. More than that, they have to make themselves stand apart. They cannot play this game where they are constantly having to catch up, because they can’t win that race. Ever.

All day long, I’ve had people asking me what I think of the Wonder Woman casting, and I think it’s ultimately irrelevant. Casting isn’t the problem they’re facing. This is a much larger identity crisis. Joss Whedon’s got a massive head-start on them, and when fans finally see what he’s got in store for them with “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” it’s going to put Warner on notice all over again. The Marvel Universe may be getting very, very crowded these days, but they’re also eleven or twelve films into a giant interlocking story, and Warner is nowhere near ready to build something that large and integrated yet.

It’s a pivotal moment for Warner Bros, and as smart as they are in general, it feels to me like they have backed themselves into a corner that is all about what everyone else is doing. Imitation instead of innovation. It’s a rotten spot to be in, but they can still turn it around.

Let’s see if they can be bold and do what it takes.

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