The Avengers has managed to kicked off the summer with a bang, making a billion dollars like it was nothing.
While The Dark Knight Rises will certainly offer some fierce competition for The Avengers later this summer, on the whole DC's recent movie efforts have been surprisingly weak. Green Lantern debuted to a tepid reception last summer, while other characters like Wonder Woman and Flash seem locked in development hell. As for a Justice League team-up movie? Who knows when we'll ever see that materialize.
With The Dark Knight Rises wrapping up Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, it's clear DC and Warner Bros. need to refocus and work on building up their superhero stable in Hollywood. Marvel has set the stage for their franchises, so what about DC? Let me explain some things...
No Unnecessary Reboots
Ever since The Dark Knight made a billion dollars for Warner's, the word “reboot” has been tossed around Hollywood in conjunction with just about every dormant superhero franchise there is -- Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, Superman, etc. Some studios seem to believe that the great lesson to take away from Christopher Nolan's Bat trilogy is that the surest path to success is to start over, make everything darker, grittier, and more realistic, and make sure the main character is ready to scream at you in a menacing growl.
While Superman and Spider-Man are getting the full-on reboot treatment, we're noticing a promising trend with many of these projects. Films like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Punisher: War Zone, and Incredible Hulk aren't necessarily sequels to the previous installments, but the filmmakers don't waste an inordinate amount of time rehashing the characters' respective origin stories either. More often than not, studios can assume that audiences either remember the character from past movies or are intelligent enough to pick up on the necessary details. It isn't rocket science their spouting, but hammers of
At this point, Warners has lost a lot of ground to Marvel Studios in the past five years. Marvel has successfully established an entire team of cinematic heroes, many of whom now qualify as franchises in their own right. Meanwhile, Warner has been coasting on the success of Nolan's Bat films, with only the... uhh...Green Lantern as an attempt to develop a new superhero franchise. They don't have that much time as they use to, they need to start now with a Justice League movie!
That said, there's no way the filmmakers can deliver a satisfying film if they're struggling to introduce and establish seven different heroes. Therefore, they'll need to assume viewers know who most of these characters are and don't need complicated origin stories. The new Superman will have already been established in next year's Man of Steel. Even if the movie offers a new take on Green Lantern, the previous film still laid out the basics of the character and his world. Everyone knows who Batman is. There's really no need to make viewers sit through half a dozen solo films just to get to the big team-up. Instead, let the JLA movie introduce the new Hollywood versions of Wonder Woman, Flash, etc. and then spin them out into solo franchises (or you could make another Green Lantern film... Just Sayin')
Pace the Story
We've seen plenty of solo superhero adventures on the big screen by now, but prior to The Avengers, the only real team-based movies on tap were the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises. Studios and filmmakers are still wrestling with the challenges of juggling so many heroes in one film. The first three X-Men movies are infamous for prioritizing Wolverine over all the other X-Men.
The Avengers juggled its various major players well considering the large cast and limited amount of room to work with. This is a lesson Warners will need to take to heart. Assuming they move straight ahead with the JLA movie, their challenges will be even greater. The script will need to properly introduce each of the individual heroes and develop a working dynamic over the course of two or three hours.
Part of the strategy Joss Whedon employed in The Avengers was to emphasize certain Avengers over the others. At its core, the movie was more focused on Tony Stark and Bruce Banner's personal journeys than the rest. Meanwhile, Hawkeye's role was downplayed relative to the rest of the team. This approach may upset fans of specific characters, but at the end of the day there's only so much you can accomplish in one film. Better to focus on the characters with the deepest connection to the conflict than struggle to find equal screen time for all. Otherwise, why not just make a TV show? And as long as the JLA movie doesn't hinge too heavily on one character a la the X-Men movies, fans will be able to roll with the punches.
Don't Skimp on the Humor
Marvel Studios' decision to put Joss Whedon in control of The Avengers paid off handsomely. Whedon has always been renowned for his distinctive humor, witty banter, and focus on character dynamics. Many unfamiliar Whedon fans were surprised to discover just how funny The Avengers was (including me). Hulk's brief battle with Loki made me die of laughter!
There's a place for dark, intensely dramatic storytelling in superhero movies. But it doesn't belong in a JLA film any more than it did in Avengers. Warner's' movie needs to be fun, and in some places it needs to be funny. The script should exploit all of the distinct character dynamics comic readers have grown to love over the decades. Like Thor, we should see Wonder Woman being out of touch with the mortal world. Like Iron Man, Green Lantern should be the cocky, wisecracking jerk who knows how to push buttons. Batman's grim demeanor should be used for its own brand of comedy.
It's easy to keep viewers captivated during extended battle sequences when buildings are exploding and aliens are being smacked from one side of the city to the other. All that requires is money. It's the quieter moments in between the big battles that can make or break a superhero movie. Warner's will need to find their own Joss Whedon to bring out the fun. If JLA can't make viewers laugh and get them emotionally invested in the various characters, it doesn't stand a chance of competing on The Avengers' level.
A Truly Epic Villain
As it reads in their mission statement, the Avengers were created “to fight the foes no single hero could withstand.” When you bring the team together, you can't have them fight just any old assortment of villains. A team-up between past Marvel villains (Red Skull, Abomination, etc) may have been a logical next step, but it wouldn't have brought the scale and sense of danger that pairing a fallen Asgardian god with an entire race of imperialistic aliens did. An ensemble superhero film needs a foe that really puts the full team to the test.
This is even more true for the JLA. In terms of powers and abilities, the core JLA cast far outranks the Avengers squad seen in the movie. Between the all-powerful Superman, warrior supreme Wonder Woman, the fearless and inventive Green Lantern, and the hyper-fast Flash, the JLA are almost like gods in the DC Universe. They need a foe that can provide a true challenge to all of that combined might.
Darkseid is a logical choice. This stony villain is a god in a more literal sense, ruling over the hellish planet of Apokolips for hundreds of thousands of years and searching endlessly for the elusive Anti-Life Equation. Darkseid even served as the foe that first battled the JLA in Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's recent, revamped origin tale.
Oh, and a spoilers... Since Thanos made his appearance, were are gonna need a big DC threat. That still leaves plenty of other options -- Amazo, Despero, the White Martians -- or even full teams of villains like the Secret Society of Supervillains or the Crime Syndicate. We just don't want to see some sort of tepid team-up between Lex Luthor and Joker driving the movie forward. The JLA are a team of incredibly powerful heroes, and they need a challenge that reflects that.
Don't be Afraid to Get Comic Book-y
With the rise of the Nolan Bat films,general viewers only think that they want realism in their superhero movies. These three movies have hand-picked the villains most suited to a more realistic and down-to-Earth version of the DCU. And that's why we'll never see teenaged sidekicks or Nolan's take on foes like Clayface or Killer Croc. Even at the beginning of the Marvel Studios movement, heroes and villains were steeped in science fiction rather than fantasy, and everything had a vaguely plausible aura about it.
Thor was Marvel's first attempt at dipping their toes into a larger, more colorful universe. Suddenly, viewers were seeing heroic conflicts steeped in fantasy and mythology rather than science fiction. The rainbow bridges and enchanted battle-suits of Thor paved the way for alien armies and cosmic cubes in The Avengers. By now, it's safe to say that audiences don't care if their superhero films are plausible and grounded in the real world.
The DC Universe is arguably even weirder and more crammed with eccentric characters and concepts than the Marvel Universe. This is a universe where Death is a happy-go-lucky goth chick, where an orphan boy can become the world's mightiest mortal by speaking a single word, and where the ability to eat anything is an actual super-power. There's no reason the JLA movie can't begin to take advantage of these elements. As long as the characters themselves are believable and true, the conflicts and settings can be as outlandish as the budget and effects technology will allow.
What Failed Before Can Still Work
The Avengers is frequently praised as being the greatest Hulk movie ever filmed. And it's true. Marvel's previous Hulk efforts were flawed at best, failing to achieve the popularity or box office success of franchises like Iron Man or Spider-Man. And until very recently, Marvel gave every indication that they were planning to skip a Hulk sequel during the next round of solo films. But thanks to Hulk's new found popularity in The Avengers and Mark Ruffalo's shiny new contract, that stance appears to be rapidly shifting.
Neither Green Lantern nor Superman Returns were the box office smashes Warner's was expecting them to be. But disappointing as they may have been, the studio shouldn't take that as a sign that viewers simply don't care about the characters. Superman Returns stumbled because it spent more time paying homage to the past than offering a fresh, exciting take on the character. Green Lantern fell flat because of a dull plot and characters who recalled too little of the depth and fun of the comics (being sandwiched between high-profile Marvel movies didn't help, either).
While I hope Man of Steel will have already done this for Superman, there's no reason a JLA movie can't revitalize these two characters every bit as capably as Avengers did for Hulk. These characters have remained vibrant in the comics all this time for a reason. The fact that DC's live-action adaptations have done a spotty job of adapting most of the JLA members doesn't mean these characters can't become as wildly successful as Iron Man and Captain America. It just requires a stronger, more focused effort.
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