Thursday, February 11, 2010

Movie Crossovers Part 2 - DC

Should more films follow Marvel’s example?

Yesterday I wrote about the Marvel films that are in production now, and the expectation of a massive cross-over between key characters like Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America in the upcoming Avengers movie.

So that got me thinking – if it’s good enough for Marvel, would it work for DC Comics? At the moment, the only big film hit for DC in recent memory is Chris Nolan’s Batman series (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight). The latest Bryan Singer Superman reboot flopped and there hasn’t even been an attempt at much else that I can think of. But Tuesday the rumor circulated that DC is looking to tap Nolan to act as a mentor on a project to reboot Superman the way he did with Batman – chucking out all of the old Christopher Reeve movies and the more recent Superman Returns reboot starring Brandon Routh (who’s currently guest-starring on my favorite TV show, Chuck). There’s also a Green Lantern movie slated for 2011 that’s supposed to star Ryan Reynolds (who you may have seen as the awesome Deadpool in the otherwise not awesome X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie). So, you’ve got Superman, Batman and Green Lantern all with movies due out in the next few years (as Batman 3 is supposedly heading for production. But that’s really a given after the enormous success of Dark Knight). Right there, you’ve got a good-sized chunk of DC Comics’s Justice League of America’s founding members. I really think there needs to be a Wonder Woman movie, and honestly I think it needs to be Angelina Jolie while she’s still in her prime. I’ve seen no indication from Hollywood that they agree with me, sadly. That’s not to say that there aren’t rumors of Wonder Woman and Justice League films already in pre-production, it’s just that I can’t find anything beyond wishful thinking to suggest that the rumors are true or that the films have reached that point in the process where they have the momentum to actually happen. The early months or years of a film’s production involve a lot of wrangling over the script, the cast, the director, the budget and so forth. It’s common for directors and screenwriters to come and go from the project, and they often just crumble altogether. If any of these films is past that point, they’re keeping it a secret.

Still, I’d love to see this happen. Superman and Batman, in particular, make a wonderfully interesting team, because they’re so different. One of them is naturally super-powered, the other is just smart, rich, and extremely well-trained. Superman, in fact, is so awesome that he needs to put on a disguise to NOT be awesome, whereas pretty much everybody else puts on their super-suit when they want to change from their boring old selves into something wonderful. Batman in particular isn’t much without his costume and gadgets. But what’s best about seeing them both together is that Superman is a symbol of light – he even gets his strength from the yellow sun – whereas Batman is a creature of the dark. Superman never beats anybody for information. Batman will do what he has to do. Superman is a force of nature, Batman is a detective. They’re opposites in so many ways that, in the comics at least, they often don’t see eye-to-eye on how to deal with a given situation. That’s part of what makes them so great together and so entertaining to read. I’d like to see them cross-over, with or without the rest of the Justice League.

The danger of adding too many heroes (or villains, for that matter) in a film is that they end up vying for screen time and everybody loses. There’s just not enough spotlight for everyone, sometimes. But the beauty of doing it well is that you get to have these people, these characters, play off each other rather than carrying the whole story by themselves. That can be really entertaining when done correctly. Also, you get to do some really outstanding special effects along the lines of Michael Bay. Yeah, if Batman fights a bad guy and a city gets nuked in the process, he’s lost. But if the Justice League fights a villain who’s planning to destroy the entire planet, losing a city or two is just collateral damage. It raises the bar on the level of acceptable mayhem which can, if done properly, be a good thing.

We’ve seen Marvel both shine brightly and fail miserably. The Ang Lee Hulk film was a critical and box office failure. Even the (quite good, in my opinion) Edward Norton Hulk has its detractors. Spider-Man 3 and X-Men three were both fairly crappy, and every Punisher movie ever made was a flop. Sadly, nobody has yet found the formula to ensure that a film gets everything just right. But when Marvel pulls it off, they do it in a big way. The first Blade film was a masterpiece. The first two Spider-Man and X-Men films were outstanding. They’ve clearly learned some hard lessons, and hopefully this is putting them on the right track to making consistently excellent movies.

DC, meanwhile, has managed two unqualified hits with the Batman movies. They’ve also got the first two Superman movies to draw on, since they were acclaimed successes as well (though they’re thirty years old, so it’s hard to say if that counts. I suspect it doesn’t.). If they can also learn from Marvel’s successes and failures, there are certainly plenty of excellent DC universe heroes and villains to draw on. Moreover, DC’s animated series Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited, which ran from 2001 – 2006, were excellent, showing that at least somebody at DC comics knows how to write a teleplay. They just need to figure out how to translate that to the big screen.

Marvel’s definitely sailing down the crossover highway. I suspect DC comics will do the same in the coming years, but the DC relationship with Warner Brothers has always been a bit rocky so it’s harder to be certain. I just know that the potential’s there for some super-heroic entertainment and I’m 100% on board for that ride.

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