It’s a great time to be a nerd, folks.
Game of Thrones, an HBO series featuring dragons, sorcery, swordplay, and beautiful naked people is a cultural focal point, a theme park that realizes the wonders of the Harry Potter universe exists, ceasing the former nagging question of “what does Butterbeer taste like and why am I not bathing in it?”, and comic book movies have been cemented as a year-round blockbuster tradition. Hollywood is looking to churn out as many big-budget comic book films as it can, mainly to catch up to the success Marvel Studios has harvested from its smart, strategic construction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
A new variety of fun, quality action movies have been brought to the table since “Iron Man” jumpstarted the first phase of the onslaught of the Marvel Studios films, but, even with this great influx of superhero movies coming our way, there’s a notable absence of movies from Marvel’s warring brother—DC. Marvel currently has Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-man in production while Guardians of the Galaxy is fast approaching its theatrical release. And from WB, we’ve got… Batman vs. Superman, and the recently announced Justice League follow-up and uh…um…anything else, guys?
I grew up reading a good number of DC Comics, watching all of the Bruce Timm cartoons, and…I’ve gotta say…I’m pretty miffed that Marvel is wiping the floor with DC. As far as I’m concerned, Marvel’s Universe is comprised of the heroes we think we could become with the right sci-fi tweaks to our real world (Thor excluded—although, I do hope someone creates some hammer-powered method of flight. Elon Musk, looking at you), while DC is comprised of God-like heroes that were deeply ingrained in our pop-culture. How has DC managed to let opportunities to throw these characters on the big-screen pass them by?
Can DC dust itself off and catch up to the juggernaut that Marvel has created? Maybe if they start following some of these tips:
1) SLOW DOWN.
Funny how counter-intuitive this point seems in getting DC films to “catch up” with Marvel, but by catch up I mean in terms of creating a universe of comparable quality to Marvel—not necessarily quantity. Marvel’s climb to the top of the box office wasn’t quick—it was calculated, highly organized, and led admirably by Mr. Kevin Feige (praise be to him). The studio started with a big picture in mind, and they realized that they had to familiarize global audiences with their characters before taking on the monumental task of assembling the Avengers.
DC needs to take note of that patience, and it seems like they aren’t, considering the growing scale of “Batman vs. Superman”. At this point, it’s confirmed that the movie will have Superman, a new Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and Lex Luthor. That’s four new characters who will clearly continue to play a large role going into the recently announced “Justice League” follow-up. Now it seems like DC is trying to do what Marvel did over the course of four films within the confines of one feature-length movie.
I’m not saying that DC can’t effectively use “Batman vs. Superman” for the foundation of the “Justice League” movie, but it looks like the stakes are getting higher and higher in terms of what Batman Vs. Superman needs to pull off in order to succeed in making: A) a good, self-contained movie that B) Sets up the characters and storyline for Justice League.
Marvel’s patience wasn’t just important in terms of introducing characters, but also making us care about them. “Justice League” won’t be nearly as satisfying if we don’t have likeable characters that we can root for.
2) Re-Evaluate Your Weaknesses as Strengths
Alright, so right off the bat, it’s likely that most people would identify DCs biggest weakness as “not having as cool of characters as Marvel”. With the exception of Batman, of course. And public enemy #1 for “DCs lame heroes” argument is the often-ridiculed King Arthur of Atlantis—Aquaman. I propose that Aquaman could actually be DC’s greatest asset going forward.
Expectations for Aquaman are at Mariana Trench-level lows (hey, pertinent geo-aquatic reference!). With that, WB has so much room to surprise the shit out of moviegoers. Who would have thought Loki would have become such a fan favorite?
Also, this is a character with a power-set that Marvel hasn’t yet utilized, giving WB the advantage of giving audiences some new kind of action that hasn’t yet been seen. Imagine the action set pieces that could take place in a fantastical underwater kingdom!
In terms of the best approach for the character? Accept the general public’s low expectations of Aquaman—in fact, implement them into the story. Imagine, highly regaled, highly-respected King Arthur is forced to “the surface” for one reason or another—whether it be exile, investigation, or even revenge. Upon presenting himself to the “surface-dwellers” he’s mocked, laughed at, they joke about the same abilities the inhabitants of Arthur’s kingdom idolized him for. Eventually, the prideful Arthur is humbled by the constant derision and doubtful reception of the landlubbers. Later on, some sort of major naval-based terrorist attack occurs in Boston or Los Angeles and Aquaman single handedly saves the city. Imagine the same sort of exhibition we saw from Hulk smashing through the Chitauri or Superman going balls to the wall in Man of Steel!
People love an underdog. Aquaman is the ultimate candidate.
And DCs strength? Batman. Batman is the moneymaker for DC—whether its video games, cartoons, movies, or comics. But it’s not only the Batman character that seems to be a focus of DC’s battle plan, it’s also the gritty, grounded tone set by the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. That same tone clearly inspired Man of Steel and it seems highly like that tone will transfer on into Justice League and any other films that are incorporated in the DC film world. For all its time spent focusing on Batman, it seems strange that DC hasn’t noticed that the somber, dark tone of those films worked well because they were movies about somber, dark Batman. Every one of DC’s characters brings something different to the table, and the tone of their respective films should represent that variety—with the Flash stories its quick wit, and quicker action, with Green Lantern it’s a sense of deep-space adventure, and with Wonder Woman, its ferocity and mythic battle. Applying the same “dark, gritty filter” that was applied to the Nolan films won’t make the other DC characters as impactful as it made Batman. In fact, it ends up diluting what makes those characters so interesting.
3) Give us Something we Haven’t Seen!
Okay, yeah so clearly this statement applies to characters we haven’t been introduced to—so quick point: DC, you have so many great, interesting characters outside of your main three (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman) that we haven’t been introduced to. There’s no rule that says that the big ones necessarily need to be shown before the lesser-known ones. It’s been noted before, but Marvel is about to put a movie out with a turret-wielding space Raccoon…you guys can reach a bit too. However, this point lends itself even more-so to a narratively focused point. Not every conflict needs to be resolved by means of giant rubble orgies!
Guys, I know it’s fun to watch the Dragonball-Z inspired fight scenes we’ve seen over the last three years or so—but I’d like to think a lot of these characters have more tact than just smashing the shit out of their problems. Remember the most intense moments of The Dark Knight? You know, like. The Ferry Scene that didn’t involve any violence at all? Or the Hong Kong snatch-and-grab? Or the Joker’s “card-execution” montage? Sure, those last two examples did involve some violence, but it wasn’t “50,000 CGI objects exploding, splintering, obliterating” action.
Are any of those scenes from The Dark Knight underwhelming? No! Because they’re paced so well and they use suspense to magnify the conflict. Now, that’s not to say we should neglect opportunities for superheroes to display their strength and powers, but these stories shouldn’t be narrative devices that carry the characters from one cosmic-level mosh pit to another. Throw some Tower of Babel or Invasion of the Body Snatchers influence into Justice League. A little paranoia injected into a story can really cause its characters to show you what they’re made of.
4) Get over David Goyer and Zack Snyder
This one seems like a personal attack, I know. Let me just state right away that I will always appreciate Goyer for his instrumental efforts in bring us the Nolan Batman movies—some of the most game-changing movies to come out in the last ten yen years, and Zack Snyder has created some of the most visually stimulating action movies. The guy clearly has a real love for comics, at least enough to have shouted “The blue penis stays IN!!!” during the making of “Watchmen”…and hopefully during no other point in his life.
But, but, buuut. DC, Warner Bros—use SOME OTHER PEOPLE. You have some of the most beloved characters at your disposal and you confine them to these two dudes. One of the best decisions on Marvel’s part was to take interesting, risky approaches with their cast and crew, and nearly all of them have paid off by producing memorable, differently flavored movies. Right out of the gate Marvel made the extremely risky decision of giving the role of Tony Stark to Robert Downey Jr. who was regarded as a c-list actor at the time. And, oh yeah, the Iron Movie was set to be directed by Jon Favreau. Y’know, the guy who directed Elf? Those choices resulted in a movie that laid the ground work and inspiration for the rest of the Marvel movies.
Safe choices make safe, predictable, bland movies.
5) Different Characters make sense in Different Forms.
So, on this one it seems like DC is sort of starting to get the right idea. There are DC characters that make sense for a TV series and characters that make sense for the big screen. So, with Gotham and Constantine on their way, it seems like they have an idea for what works best in each medium.
Young James Gordon on the beat? Gotham, pre-Batman? Gotham’s descent into corruption? Gordon navigating a corrupt police force? Yeah, TV show. Do it! That’s something that demands a slow burn of character progression while being grounded in the smaller-scale perspective of Gotham P.D. I dig it.
Private investigator that solves paranormal mysteries and fights other-worldly creatures? Sounds like x-files mashed with Supernatural i.e. a sure-fire way to crash Tumblr’s servers. Great idea for a TV show—especially considering it didn’t do so hot in movie form the first time around.
Now, young scientist acquires super-speed abilities allowing him to move and think at the speed of light? That sounds like something that lends itself much more to a big-budget, big-screen adaptation. I really want to see what sort of mind-bending action scenes could result from a Flash movie. (I’m thinking part Sherlock Holmes procedural brawling, part high-speed action from Matrix Reloaded).
Regardless, I hope the Flash TV show ends up being kick-ass, hopefully the public confusion resulting from differentiating the cinematic Flash from the television Flash will be minimal.
6. JUST MAKE A DAMN WONDER WOMAN MOVIE ALREADY.
So, there it is folks. The top things I think DC needs to do to put the Justice League’s Watchtower back on course. Is it possible for DC films to stand toe-to-toe with Marvel’s line up? Tune in next summer and find out!