Earlier this week news leaked out that Warner Brother had registered four domain names for movies based on the DC Universe. All of these have been either flat out known or heavily rumored for some time, but it’s our first bit of official confirmation of the actual titles that are coming our way: Justice League, Wonder Woman, Shazam and Aquaman.
Right now, we know next to nothing about how Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment is planning on handling these movies. We’ve heard rumors that DC is going to go in a deadly serious humorless vein with all their properties, and I can only hope that’s not true, because if the success of the Marvel Studios films have proven anything, it’s that people like their superhero movies to be fun. Doom and gloom works for Batman, and pretty much just Batman.
Each of these potential films hold its own unique set of challenges in being brought to life in live-action glory. As a longtime DC fan, here are some key things that I think Warner Brothers has to keep in mind when handling each of these four properties on the big screen.
Of all the movies on the list of leaked domain names, Justice League is the one that is both maybe the most eagerly anticipated, and the one we know the most about (which is still not a lot). We know Zack Snyder is directing it, we know that the existing cast of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice are all going to be our main JLA core cast, and we know it is filming back-to-back with Batman v Superman. We know it is probably coming out in 2017, although it is possible it’s going to take DC’s August 8th release date for 2016. That, of course, means DC would start blockbuster season in March of that year with the release of Batman v Superman, then close out the summer with Justice League. It would be an unprecedented move and something Marvel has yet to do, which is essentially release a two-part story over the course of one moviegoing year, just a few months apart. Forget X-Men: Apocalypse or Doctor Strange — a move like that would have WB/DC owning the conversation all year.
Of course, when it comes to a movie version of the Justice League, any comparison to Marvel’s Avengers is just obvious. In the world of comics, it was the success of the Justice League that led Stan Lee to create the Avengers in the first place, after all. Obviously, the League is really, really similar to the Avengers in a lot of ways, more so than any other two major super teams. But there are a few key differences: the Avengers are more like a sports team, the League are more like a pantheon of Gods. And yes, that includes Batman. He might be human, but he’s also almost beyond human in a way too.
This “Olympian Gods” angle is one that the filmmakers should adopt, and while Warner Brothers should remember how the two teams are different, at the same time they shouldn’t try to be 100% diametrically opposed to Avengers just for the sake of being so. They should look very, very closely at all the things that Joss Whedon and Marvel did right, and emulate them without outright ripping them off. And they should take a very close look at arguably the two most successful versions of the League in other media, Grant Morrison’s seminal ’90s run on the JLA comics, and the Justice League animated series from Bruce Timm. Look at the key ingredients of those two versions, and you have your recipe for an awesome Justice League flick.
All we know about this one is that it has been in development for a very long time, and that Dwayne Johnson has confirmed he’ll be starring in it as Black Adam. The supposed rule that DC Superhero films would be a grim, joke free affair seems really dumb if Warner Brothers really intends to make a movie based on Shazam. The entire concept of a little boy who says a magic word and then is transformed into an adult superhero in the Superman mold is just begging to be told as a lighthearted, comedic movie — like Tom Hanks’ Big, but with superpowers. Ideally something far more akin to the tone of Guardians of the Galaxy than Man of Steel. Even Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s recent New 52 revival of the character, which removed the name Captain Marvel officially, has a lot of lighthearted aspects to it. Shazam feels the most like the DC Superhero property that would lend itself to a family comedy, and if they are intending to make it a grim n’ gitty movie as rumors suggest, they are probably barking up the wrong tree with this puppy.
Warner Brothers have been dragging their feet on a Wonder Woman movie for over a decade now, absolutely terrified to pull the trigger on a female-led superhero tentpole. If Warners gets to a Wonder Woman movie first, maybe as soon as 2017, they will almost certainly beat Marvel at getting a female superhero out of the gate, at least in this modern, post-Marvel Studios era. Since Wonder Woman is the most famous major female superhero, it might behoove Warner Brothers to have a solo film featuring her before a Spider-Woman or a Captain Marvel hits theaters. It would be kind of embarrassing if Marvel beats them to it when they own Wonder Woman.
To get Wonder Woman right, Warners needs to really understand that she is not Xena, Warrior Princess. Not a knock against Xena; she’s an awesome character, but she’s not Wonder Woman. This is something that DC Comics themselves have a hard time understanding lately, as the post-New 52 Diana seems almost totally focused on fighting and warfare, which comes at the expense of being any kind of ambassador or teaching figure to the world at large, something that used to be a defining aspect of her character. That seems to be basically gone now, replaced with a character who seemingly kills off her villains instead of rehabilitating them, and is now prone to become hostile at the slightest provocation.
It’s obvious just from the one image released from Batman v Superman that Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is going to go for the more warrior-esque incarnation, which will no doubt extend into her own movie when the time comes. If that’s the case, I suggest Warners look to the version of the character as done by comic creators like George Perez, and more recently, Greg Rucka and Gail Simone. A trained fighter, yes, but also someone who was here on a mission of peace. Lynda Carter made a whole generation of girls and boys fall in love with the character by playing Wonder Woman as someone who knew how to crack a smile, and always remembered to show compassion to her enemies. Let’s not turn Wonder Woman into your generic “hot chick with an attitude.” It was that cliched approach, not the fact they were female heroes, that killed the movie versions of Elektra and Catwoman.
Aquaman is easily the most difficult to translate of the four supposed DC Comics properties on this list. Not because it’s impossible to make him work as a live action character or that he’s somehow lame (he’s not), but simply due to the insane amount of money a proper Aquaman movie would cost the studio. In a Justice League movie, Aquaman can just rise out of the ocean on a humpback whale, give some exposition about being the rightful ruler of the seven seas or something, and do most of his action on the surface of the water, or on land with the rest of the League.
But in a proper movie of his own, a huge chunk of it, at least fifty percent I would say, would have to take place underwater in the kingdom of Atlantis. And doing an underwater movie with live-action actors trying to look not at all silly while delivering dialogue, all supposedly while swimming around on the ocean floor, well…the technology just might not be there yet to make that work just yet.
One solution is to look to the way the Bruce Timm/Justice League Unlimited approached Atlantis, which was to have it be an air breathing environment that happened to be under a huge dome beneath the sea. The Atlanteans were amphibious, so they could swim outside the dome and breathe underwater, but the actual dialogue and action would take place someplace much drier. It would also reduce the cost of the movie significantly.
As far as how Arthur Curry should be portrayed, there really are two key templates for how he should be portrayed: Peter David’s seminal turn on the character from the ’90s, and Geoff Johns’ recent New 52 version of the character. I’d say the ’90s version wins though, if only for the fact that rumored Aquaman actor Jason Mamoa already kind of looks like the Peter David version. All he needs is a bleached blonde head, and we’re good to go.
What do you think the DC Cinematic Universe needs to do to make their films work? Let us know in the comments below.