"The Dark Knight Rises" marks the end of an era on multiple levels: Not only is it the grand finale of Christopher Nolan's historic Batman film franchise, it's also the last DC Entertainment movie that's guaranteed to be a hit.
Sure, "Man of Steel" is just one year away, but what's to say that it'll fare better than "Superman Returns," which earned a mere $200 million domestically? And even though a sequel is reportedly in development, "Green Lantern" didn't exactly dazzle with its $116 million performance. Let's face it: Without the box-office behemoth known as the "Dark Knight" trilogy in its back pocket, DC's film future is uncertain at best.
Of course, it doesn't have to be that way. Some of the greatest and most iconic characters in comic book history reside under the DC banner. And if there was any doubt that superheroes have box-office appeal, look no further than "Marvel's The Avengers," which is breaking records and winning over new fans with every passing day. There's much to be learned from the House of Ideas' approach to building a superhero universe on the big screen — and even though they're on opposite sides of the aisle, and even if it's a little bit late in the game, DC would be wise to utilize Marvel's movie strategy ... albeit with some tweaks.
"I'm here to talk to you about the Avengers initiative," Nick Fury told Tony Stark at the end of 2008's "Iron Man," giving life to a shared Marvel movie-verse in one simple line of dialogue. Marvel is the master of using the post-credits stinger as a way to thread its movies together: "Iron Man 2" teasing Thor's hammer, the ending of "Thor" introducing the Cosmic Cube ahead of "Captain America," the list goes on. DC's earliest opportunity to apply the same idea is "Dark Knight Rises," but as the conclusion of a finite trilogy, it doesn't feel like the right place to get that particular ball rolling. They'd be wise to wait until "Man of Steel" flies into theaters in June 2013, ending Kal-el's big-screen comeback with an overt nod toward an expansive cinematic DCU to come.
The World's Finest
A "Man of Steel" stinger doesn't have to set up "Justice League," even if that's the obvious route. It would be just as easy, and perhaps even wiser, to allude to the existence of Batman in the new Superman's world. Nolan's trilogy will be long gone by the time "Man of Steel" drops, and the world will be ready for another trip to Gotham City. But rather than fast-tracking a solo Batman adventure that has to live up to Nolan levels of hype, why not skip straight ahead to the long-anticipated "Superman/Batman" movie? The double-billing of Henry Cavill's Man of Tomorrow and a new Caped Crusader would quickly gratify fans yearning for more Batman and Superman movies, as well as mark a major milestone in the creation of a shared DC universe without having to rush "Justice League" before it's ready.
Back in a Flash
"Superman/Batman" is the quick response to "Avengers"; a movie that can get off the ground by late 2014 or early 2015. It would be much more challenging to create a worthy "Justice League" movie in that time frame. More characters need to be established first: "The Flash," for example, is an easy yes for DC. "Green Lantern" sequels aren't as much of a necessity; a "Justice League" movie could always push Ryan Reynolds' Hal Jordan out of the picture in favor of another Lantern, like John Stewart or Kyle Rayner, introduced perhaps by way of a post-credits "Flash" scene. "Aquaman" and "Wonder Woman" movies would be nice as well, but the former is a hard sell, while the latter ... well, let's talk about the latter.
Hold the Wonder
I want a "Wonder Woman" movie as badly as anybody, but maybe it's best to hold off until after "Justice League." The reason: Hulk syndrome. Like Wonder Woman, Hulk has been a tricky character to pull off in live-action. But if there's anything "Avengers" nailed perfectly, it's "the Other Guy," a hero that few got right before Joss Whedon and Mark Ruffalo came along. Surrounding him with other heroes gave him innumerable opportunities to shine, and now people want to see him alone in his own "Hulk" movie again. I foresee a similar situation with Wonder Woman: Any all-star "Justice League" movie would prove to the uninitiated just how big of a badass Wonder Woman really is, all but guaranteeing the demand for a post-"Justice" solo flick, Jade Giant-style.
Hire Joss Whedon
Just kidding ... mostly. Above all else, the reason why "Avengers" works is because someone who knows, respects and cares about the characters was guiding the film. If DC decides to walk the road to "Justice League," they need someone with Whedon levels of passion and knowledge, someone who can bring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the others together with the love and care they deserve.
They could also just try hiring Joss Whedon. Worked out pretty well for Marvel!
How do you think DC should respond to "The Avengers"? Tell us in the comments section.
Check out everything we've got on "Marvel's The Avengers."