In less than a month, Warner Bros. and subsidiary DC Comics will launch the DC Cinematic Universe, the long-awaited, fully-integrated movie universe that will at last unite Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and all the rest of the DC roster together in one continuous, glorious live-action film series.
Well, hopefully glorious, anyway. Time will tell, though no one can deny the DCCU has some enormous obstacles to overcome, and not all of them bad or even related to the new movies themselves. So, before justice dawns, here's a look at the biggest hurdles the DCCU must overcome to succeed, and how, if at all, a group of ambitious filmmakers and executives can see their superheroes take flight.
10 The Legacy
DC might have gotten a late start when it comes to the superhero movie explosion, but wise readers will recall when the party actually started: 1979. That year Richard Donner's triumphant Superman hit screens with groundbreaking visual effects and storytelling tropes that have since become standard for the genre. Donner took the material seriously, and sought to make a real film about real people living in the world of Superman. Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan subsequently took the same approach with the Batman films.
9 The TV Problem
While Marvel movies have ruled the box office, DC properties have taken over the small screen. Arrow, Gotham, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow have all scored huge ratings and devoted fan followings. Those same fans may not willingly accept alternate versions of their favorite characters with ease.
8 Mixed Beginning
7 Nasty Internet
6 Mythic Beginnings
When considering an adaptation of any DC character to the big screen, remember: the characters come from a different time. Marvel first emerged in the 1960s, and their heroes reflect the social crises and storytelling styles of the time. By contrast, the DC characters emerged over a much longer period, and have their roots in a very different storytelling style: pulp fiction.
Lovers of the MCU have a great time shaming DC fans since the publisher and parent studio can't "get it together" to do an integrated movie universe despite less legal restrictions and licensing hang ups. They'd do well to remember that the DC heroes have fundamental differences from the Marvel roster.
4 Tonal Shift
And therein lies the other big problem of an integrated universe: tone. While Wonder Woman comics could indulge in old-school sword and sorcery tales, mixing her in with the sci-fi stylings of Superman or Green Lantern, or the brooding mysteries of Batman creates a kind of schizoid tone, not to mention plot hurdles. How can Batman pose a threat to a Superman villain like Brainiac? If Wonder Woman's deity origins are so powerful, why do they not restore Krypton or bring Bruce Wayne's parents back to life? Exactly what is the appropriate style for a mix of magic, sci-fi and mystery?
3 The Marvel Juggernaut
Marvel has made a killing at the box office since 2008 and no doubt the company's success hastened the development of a DCCU. The Marvel movies also have set another precedent: people liked them. While the Marvel canon is more uneven than fans want to acknowledge--movies like the Iron Man sequels bludgeoned the audience, while The Incredible Hulk remains forgotten--on the whole, the movies have pleased viewers, due in part to an increasingly formulaic and boring approach. Still, in the beginning, the Marvel movies had more defined identity, and a more director-driven approach. It was not until the release of The Avengers that every Marvel movie essentially had to be a clone of, and advertisement for, what came before and after.
2 The Green Lantern Debacle
1 The Letter R
And then came Deadpool! While the film scored mixed reviews, audience enthusiasm propelled the film to record-breaking box office tallies. In the reactionary world of Hollywood, the success of the film creates a mandate: people want R-rated superhero movies. It took no time at all for Fox to announce the next Wolverine film would carry an R-rating, and Warners immediately announced a more violent, adult-themed cut of Batman v. Superman would see release, possibly even in theatres.
For a business model trying to copy the disposable, Saturday Morning Cartoon appeal of the MCU, that's bad news: families will avoid the film, which will, in turn, hurt tie-in merchandise and cross promotion. Older fans may not mind the muted publicity blitz, but given the exorbitant cost of producing superhero movies, the studio bosses might scoff. An R-rating trend puts the DCCU in an almost impossible position: keep cranking out PG-13 movies and look behind the times, or shoot harder content. Should the studio select the latter option, it again will face an impossible choice: edit the movies down for theatres, which will then feel incomplete, and release harder cuts on Blu-Ray, which will simultaneously seem like a money grab or put R-rated cuts in cinemas, and risk alienating a large audience demographic.
DC Comics propagated the myth of the superman. They'll need real superhuman stamina to overcome their box office hurdles.
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