In 2008, the Marvel franchise masterminds looked like a bunch of lunatics. Their plans to build separate franchises and converge them into "The Avengers" was ambitious, unprecedented and perhaps even too geeky for their own good.
Jump to 2013, when Hollywood thinking has evolved from "Everything should be based on a recognizable brand!" to "Everything should have crossover potential!" So it's no surprise that at Comic-Con this afternoon, Warner Bros. unveiled its plans to use the (financially) successful "Man of Steel" as a launching pad for an interconnected series of DC Comics films, leading up to a long-gestating "Justice League" movie. First will be a "Man of Steel" sequel, set for 2015, in which Superman will encounter a new version of Batman. On its heels is a "Flash" movie, a 2016 tentpole based on the lighting-speed superhero, to be followed by "Justice League" in 2017. Will movies even still be a thing by then?
This is an exciting prospect for fans of DC Comics, who have long had sand kicked in their faces by the muscular bullies of Marvel fandom, high off the über-success of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America. Now they have a growing world of their own that will open the door for famous panel recreations, characters they have dreamed of seeing realized in live-action, and easter eggs galore. Think of the after-credit scenes! Many already are.
But here's the downside (and this is coming from someone with a passionate love for the DC pantheon): The days of character-building are over. Nolan was the last hurrah for traces of humanity in superhero movies. Interconnectivity prioritizes plot over people and Warner Bros. wants each of their future comic book blockbusters to be a stepping stone to the next. "Man of Steel" was a refreshing spectacle because it avoided the modern trope of teasing the next installment. It was a stand alone adventure steeped in history, emotional backstory, and motivated destruction. Even naysayers of the film gravitate towards the Clark Kent side of Superman versus his overpowered alien side. A sad guarantee for "Superman/Batman": No Kevin Costner.
A rushed production timeline certainly won't do the storytelling any favors. Compare it to "The Avengers," which took five years to build from "Iron Man" and gave its characters solo films along the way. Joss Whedon's film wowed with action, but more impressive was the character meshing. These heroes belonged in the same space and created authentic friction. Part of that was Whedon's sharp writing, part of it was having the individual characters in the public conscious.
The "Justice League" campaign will likely find a substitute for Christian Bale's Batman, making the character's introduction in "Superman/Batman" unfounded. "The Flash" will inevitably be an origin story with its sights set forward like "Thor," easily the least successful of the Marvel one-offs. "Justice League" will drop a handful of unfamiliar faces on audiences. Bewilderment seems more likely than wonderment.
Most aggravating is a decision to cut "Man of Steel's" momentum short. There are questions unanswered and places to go after Zack Snyder's bombastic reintroduction. How does Superman deal with the fallout of Zod? How does he deal with Godliness? How does he lead a somewhat normal life? A sequel could beef up the thinner second half of "Man of Steel" and ask mature questions about its infallible central character. But nope, throw Batman in there and send Superman on another adventure. So long, skyscrapers!
The real complaint here is "More superhero movies?!" but we're so far past that it's better to narrow the ranting and throwing up of arms towards a specific point. If Hollywood is going to tell stories with the mythological figures of comic books and do it on the largest canvases possible, they need to do it with an eye towards humanity. Plot is standing in their way. Poor, Wonder Woman — there is a gal with an interesting story, plenty of modern hurdles (both technological and social) standing in her way, and with the backdrop of action that would make her consumer friendly. But she's not part of the picture, reduced to a side player in 2017's "Justice League."
Warner Bros. wants to bring characters we know and love to the big screen in epic fashion. Instead, their plans make it seem as though they're opting out of bringing any "character" into the equation. That's a problem — the possibilities of who Superman and Batman can punch are more limited than the obstacles of their own lives. I've written in the past about the problems that inherently face the Superman character, but this is not the solution. With this news, it's hard not to think that money was the only thing Warner Bros took away from Christopher Nolan's Batman films.
Here's the full text of WB's press release:
NEXT DC SUPER HERO MOVIE IN PRE-PRODUCTION
Director Zack Snyder Unites Superman and Batman in One Explosive New Film
BURBANK, CA, July 20, 2013 – On the heels of the worldwide success of “Man of Steel,” director Zack Snyderis bringing together the two greatest Super Heroes of all time—Batman and Superman—for the first time on the big screen. The announcement was made today by Greg Silverman, President, Creative Development and Worldwide Production, and Sue Kroll, President, Worldwide Marketing and International Distribution,Warner Bros. Pictures.
The current hit, “Man of Steel,” has taken in more than $630 million at the worldwide box office to date, and climbing. Along with its star, Henry Cavill, the upcomingfilm brings back Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane. The new Batman has yet to be cast.
Snyder is co-writing the story with David S. Goyer, who will then pen the screenplay. Production is expected to begin in 2014, with an anticipated release date inSummer 2015.
Silverman stated, “Zack Snyder is an incredibly talented filmmaker, but beyond that, he’s a fan first and he utterly gets this genre. We could not think of anyone better suited to the task of bringing these iconic Super Heroes to the screen in his own way.” Kroll added, “We are thrilled to be back in business with Zack and his team on this next movie. The success of ‘Man of Steel’ is a wonderful testament to the love and support that both fans and new audiences, worldwide, have for these characters. We are very excited to see what Zack has in store for all of us.”