Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Rising Cinematic Universe

Marvel Studios certainly set the bar high when they took a major risk and went all out with this idea of a shared cinematic universe, something that wasn't attempted before. Not too long after the first phase kicked off with a bang with the release of Iron Man in May of 2008, The Walt Disney Company acquired Marvel and the film studio that happened to have the cinematic rights to almost everything... With a massive corporation backing them, the studio was able to pursue that crazy-ambitious plan and really go through with it.

The Avengers was a resounding success, breaking records left and right. Audiences showed up because the idea of seeing all of these superheroes together (as opposed to an established team like the X-Men) on the big screen was unthinkable many years ago. It's only going to expand from there, and audiences and fans alike are already excited. Iron Man 3 was no underperformer, as Marvelmania is in full swing... Now who really wants a piece of that?

Warner Bros. of course, who owns the rights to DC's characters and stories. Warner Bros. struck gold with Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, in which the first installment - Batman Begins in 2005 - was a means to keep the caped crusader a viable property for the studio whilst re-inventing him in a rather bold manner. The film was darker than the previous Batman films, and happened to delve into the psychology of Bruce Wayne whilst serving up a lot of action and thrills. It was a miracle, especially after the Joel Schumacher Batman films that nearly killed the franchise's reputation.

At the same time, they wanted to make Superman viable again. Superman Returns, with X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer attached, was met with mixed reviews and ultimately underperformed at the box office, despite the film having some good word of mouth. It's either a sore spot for some, or an okay film at best. Nolan's Batman film got a great sequel which exploded at the box office in the summer of 2008, becoming the highest grossing comic book movie of all time back then and also becoming the 5th highest grossing film of all time. This was before the $1 billion mark was easy to pass.

With that, Warner Bros. saw that Marvel was firing up their cinematic universe. A long-gestating Green Lantern film adaptation was fast-tracked in 2009 when Warner Bros. gave Casino Royale director Martin Campbell the keys to the car, but with executives compromising the script and so much getting cut, Green Lantern limped to theaters in the summer of 2011 with a bloated budget and terrible critical reception. This start to the DC Cinematic Universe did not go as planned, despite Ryan Reynolds' portrayal of Hal Jordan. While Iron Man literally dashed out of the gate 3 years earlier, Green Lantern tripped out and fell on its face.

It was then time to start over, so Zack Snyder was attached to a fresh new take on Superman. Dubbed Man of Steel, it would be the second attempt to jumpstart the DC Cinematic Universe. But like Green Lantern, it was rushed into production, this time because of a rights issue over the origin story of Superman. Work began promptly, as Christopher Nolan was finishing his third and final entry in his Batman trilogy which would open last summer, so he was became executive producer. As this film was being readied, we heard about DC's plans to compete with Marvel. After The Avengers opened, the Justice League film project was immediately announced for a 2015 release, the year the sequel to The Avengers comes out. Again, rushing. Rumors covered everything: Who would play Batman? Will Nolan's trilogy be part of this universe? Will they do this first and then solo films? Or will they make a Man of Steel sequel first, then the Justice League?

Man of Steel came out two months ago and the response? Well it wasn't so hot on the critical side. It wasn't Green Lantern bad, but it wasn't good. Unlike Green Lantern, the film was a huge hit. To date, it has grossed nearly $290 million at the domestic box office and over $640 million worldwide. Rumors immediately made the rounds, and soon we heard about their DCCU plans once more.

Now, the plan is this... Man of Steel's successor, which is set to open in the summer of 2015, will feature Batman. All signs point to it being "Superman VS. Batman" rather than "Superman and Batman". It's also going to take cues from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, and Snyder is going to direct it. Screenwriter David S. Goyer will handle the script, just like he did with the first one. Then after that? Rumor has it that we'll be getting a film based on the Flash in 2016 and the Justice League in 2017...

Fellow Disney fanatic and comic book lover PJ Campbell offers what he thinks will be the story of the follow-up to Man of Steel...

"The one thing you can guarantee about 'Batman vs. Superman: World's Finest', that they made abundantly clear with the dialogue excerpt that Snyder chose to announce the film, Batman and Superman are going to be at odds, and those two are definitely going to throw down. I think what we're going to see is that Wayne Enterprises has teamed with LexCorp to rebuild Metropolis after the devastating fight in Man of Steel...

Bruce will see Superman as a threat, who will cause much more damage, and will decide to put him in his place. That'll cause the two to be at odds, as Superman comes to terms with what he did, even though he sees what he did as saving civilians. I think that the public will be at unrest with him as well, aided by Lex Luthor, who begins a smear campaign against Superman. This will be the catalyst which eventually brings Lex and Superman's famous rivalry, and where Superman and Batman will gain their mutual respect and understanding for each other. This will be the movie that absolutely puts the DC Cinematic Universe together, so we'll see and feel a lot of world building around all these characters and events. Expect nods to some of the other heroes in the DCU as well."

Initially, I had very little excitement for this film. Almost none, actually. I wasn't a fan of Man of Steel, as I felt there was more wrong than right with the finished product. I also firmly believed that Warner Bros. was going about the DC Cinematic Universe the wrong way, and before that 'World's Finest' announcement, how could one not?

All you heard were rumors of WB firing up a Justice League movie, and no plans to make any solo films leading up to the big team-up. Then we heard rumors of WB fast-tracking a Man of Steel sequel for a summer 2014 release, followed by the Justice League film in 2015. Earlier in the year, rumors said that it would pit the heroes against Darkseid... Already jumping the gun! Now it seems like Warner Bros. may have something going here.

But my major concern was what the people behind it would do. Namely director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer. I feel that Snyder is not a good director (though in terms of his visual pedigree, that's another story) and that Goyer only comes up with good ideas, but he can't organize a working screenplay. Man of Steel, in my opinion, had multiple problems. Multiple. But I'll elaborate on two, since the others may be redeemed... We'll get to that later!

#1. The tone...

Now I may sound like a broken record here, but the tone of this film was a serious problem for me. I for one didn't like the desaturated color scheme, the angst, the moodiness and just how serious the film tried to be. Now I'm not expecting this to be silly, lightweight fun. I expected something fun, but also epic, dramatic and bursting with great, potent themes. I didn't get that...

I got something angsty and relentlessly depressing. Why the dour score? Why the lack of color? I couldn't have fun with the action scenes... It just looked and felt like a depressing music video. See, I think Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy did "dark, edgy and brooding" the right way. Batman's atmosphere lends itself to a moodier visual and audial approach, but Nolan's films didn't harp on it. At times, all three of his films were genuinely thrilling and fun. Hans Zimmer's score was a mix of dark, bombastic, somber and enigmatic. Zimmer's Man of Steel score was, in my opinion, all depressing and mopey.

But the tone was made all the more worse by the lack of character development. Despite the doom and gloom, I couldn't feel for the characters...

#2. The story structure and character development...

Who was Clark Kent, really? What values did he grow up with? We see Pa Kent as a rather cold jerk, who tells his son that he should've let his classmates drown in order to keep his powers a secret. That line never sat well with me when the trailer came out, and it certainly didn't in the film. Oh, and what about him telling teenaged Kent not to save him from the tornado? That also made no sense. It felt a like a cheap way to kill the character off.

We also have Supes' real father telling him to aspire to something greater. Now at the end of the film, we see Kent as a boy playing in the backyard with a laundry sheet for a cape. Why wasn't that in the first act of the film? Why didn't we get more on Kent's anxieties when he was a child? Remember when he hides in the restroom at school because he gets frightened? I wanted to know more about that struggle, along with (again) how his parents raised him. Why was he always angsty? How did his adoptive parents really bring him up? A couple flashbacks laced with Jor-El's exposition didn't really say much about Kent, if you ask me.

In short, the structure of this film made the characters one-dimensional, which is a shame because such great actors were cast. Snyder and Goyer told the story through flashbacks, rather than telling his backstory from start to finish. The first 10-20 minutes is the destruction of Krypton, which could've easily been 5 minutes long. 10 minutes tops. Then you have room for character development. I never really got an idea of how Kent was brought up, nor did I see much chemistry in his relationship with Lois Lane. It just felt completely rushed... Then the last 45 minutes take over, no development anymore. Now, action! Let's destroy stuff!

About that... Superman and General Zod's epic showdown really tore up Metropolis... How many lives were taken? Superman kills Zod and screams in agony over it? He recklessly killed a bunch of innocent people! That fight could've easily been moved to another location, but that probably wouldn't have allowed the filmmakers to destroy buildings and destroy things with the visual effects they had in hand whilst hammering 9/11 imagery onto the audience. (Star Trek Into Darkness also fell into this trap.) But still!

My other fellow Disney and comic book enthusiast Tyler Kelso had this to say about that particular finale, as he compares it to The Avengers and how that film showed the team members actually trying to help the civilians whilst averting disaster and stopping an alien invasion...

"Throughout most of the film I was mildly okay with it, but not wowed. What had me leaving thinking 'This was Superman????' was that his fights with General Zod (and his minions) toppled a nice amount of downtown Smallville, as well as a ton of Metropolis yet he never has to answer for doing this. Literally building after building gets knocked down and he makes ZERO effort to move the fight away and into a less densely populated area. This just wasn't OK in my mind and makes me feel like he was an accomplice to a massacre.

"In The Avengers however, they are fighting off a massive alien invasion. Very early on in the fight, the police don't really understand whats going on so Captain America tells a cop 'You need men in these buildings, there are people inside and they're going to be running right into the line of fire. You take them to the basements or through the subway, you keep them OFF the streets. I need a perimeter as far back as 39th.' The cop is skeptical and asks why he should takes orders from him. Then Cap fights a few Chitauri right there and impresses the cop, who then radios the orders Cap had just given him.

"So from a very early point you can see that the Avengers want to minimize the amount of civilian casualties. When they are huddled getting their marching orders Cap says 'until we can close that portal our priority is containment'... Near the end of the fight, a nuke comes flying in and Tony Stark re-aims the nuke and sends it to the Chitauri mother ship on the other side of the portal, in a move where he was willing to sacrifice himself. Then after the invasion has been stopped we get this montage of news clips and a senator points out 'who's going to pay for the damage?'"

Many felt that the lack of addressing the Metropolis damage was a serious problem, as did I. However, going back to PJ's theory on what the follow-up film's story will be, it's possible that these problems can all be corrected with a single film. If Superman faces the ramifications of that final battle, that could not only strengthen Man of Steel... But it could also make for an incredibly compelling story arc and also give Superman more character development than he arguably got in Snyder's film.

Another question... Will they apply that dreaded tone to future DC films? Will they try to imitate the Nolan style? Or was Man of Steel simply on autopilot? Did they just piece it together and rush it just to jumpstart things knowing that a Nolanesque Superman film would be box office gold to begin with?

PJ had this to say...

"I do believe Man of Steel was quickly rushed together to beat the rights issue. At the time it was put together, DC was on a "Snyder High", having him come off the success of 300, the critical and fan praise for Watchmen, and they LOVED how Sucker Punch looked. Plus, you had Nolan and Goyer, how could you go wrong? It was an autopilot move, without a real final destination of where this universe was headed, something I think they're remedying now. It was a mistake, but one with good intentions, even though it bothered at times."

PJ also feels that Nolan's Batman universe would've worked well in this DC Cinematic Universe and then some...

"The tone of this universe has started out a bit stark and vapid, a little more serious than some would like. But towards the end of Man of Steel, I realized something... I was smiling. Because those last five or ten minutes, the tone shifted. There was levity to this world that hadn't been the previous two hours. Clark seemed to have some humor, as did the people around him. He was smiling. He seemed to actually be, well, Superman. Part of me thinks the films will still have this muted palette look to them, giving off a more serious vibe, but clearly, there's some fun to be had in the universe, and as much as Man of Steel hated to admit it, it popped up in the end.

"If they had actually tied Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy into the series, as I still firmly believe they should, I think the tone would be the much more serious and dreary side. That's one of the few reasons I'm okay with Nolan's series not being a part of this world, even though I firmly believe, if they used those, and Man of Steel as the launchpad for the entire DCCU, the audience would be behind everything WC/DC threw at them from here on out. Nolan's trilogy beat it over our heads that Batman wasn't just one man, he was a symbol. We were left in place where there was a new Batman, and a new way to explore the world. It would be a bold choice, but I think in order to really thrill people, they should add Gordon-Levitt into the mix as the new Batman, because the moment you add Nolan's series into the mix, you went from having one film in the DCCU, to four, almost five.

"People are going to be a lot happier with that, and feel a lot safer thinking that WB/DC, Snyder, Nolan, and Goyer all actually have a plan, and aren't making it up as they go. Plus, realistically you have the entire team behind that trilogy working on this film. It would seem like a waste not to incorporate what they've done before. However, we know that isn't going to end up being the case, and we're going to see Bruce Wayne played by another actor in this series. For better or for worse on their part, but it's a choice they've decided to make. It's a fair decision, even if I don't necessarily agree that it's the right way to go."

Personally, I'm okay with Nolan's trilogy being a separate universe from this one because I believe that Nolan aimed for a high level of realism with each film in the series. Something like Superman or Green Lantern, to me, seems out of place in his trilogy. His trilogy is arguably a series of crime epics featuring Batman characters, rather than a series of Batman films. Man of Steel was certainly much more fantastical with its depiction of Krypton, alien ships and Superman's powers.

Plus I'd like to see Kal-El with Bruce Wayne, rather than John Blake. It doesn't sit well with me for some reason, though yes... Batman Beyond. In fact, I do get what PJ is saying. A younger person being the next Batman would be interesting, and it would deviate from the norm a bit. But at the same time, it would seem kind of weird because Nolan's films are mostly dead-set on realism, they feel like a separate entity to me. But Nolan's Batman could very well mesh with this universe they're setting up now, but personally I'm more interested in seeing a new Bruce Wayne.

What do you think?

As for Warner Bros. and DC's planning, how will they go about everything now they have a better idea of what'll happen? PJ shared how he thinks WB will go about this cinematic universe, and how he feels they should go about it...

"Before the Comic-Con announcement of 'Batman vs. Superman' happened, the initial report leaked that WB was going to announce that film, as well as 'The Flash' for 2016, and 'Justice League' for 2017. I think we're going to see a Flash film first, but I think it'll be "Flash featuring...", sort of like this 'World's Finest' film will be. That way they can introduce more characters and continue building their universe before a 'Justice League' film. I think it would be too risky to jump into that after just two movies. You need to have a lot of world-building done to earn it, and make people want to see it. That's what Marvel did. They teased us with every film since the release of the first Iron Man, with Sam Jackson's Nick Fury visiting Stark to talk about The Avengers Initiative...

"WB and DC already dropped the ball by not adding a tease like that into this one, but there were enough little things in the film that showed that this is definitely a shared universe, that they don't necessarily need the tease for fans, but general audiences may not have caught these things. But by doing 'Batman/Superman', and then 'Flash featuring...', you might have earned the general audience's trust and they may be ready for a 'Justice League' film at that point. But really, in the end... Have DC/WB earned it? Or will it just seem forced? That's the line they need to walk right now. I think they need four or five films to reach the correct build up for it, but if they can do it well in three, I'm game as well. I honestly just want to see these characters on screen together...

"The other thing they SHOULD'VE done, and taking a page from Marvel's book, was to tie their TV universe into it. Marvel's MCU isn't just the films anymore. There are comic tie-ins for every film, and now a TV show that expands a side we wouldn't normally get to see in the films. WB/DC has a great show in Arrow, one that fits the more realistic world, and you could easily tie it in, but WB isn't interested in that, which is disappointing. It would be great to have that character developed and then put in the films, because it could easily have taken the place of a full movie. Marvel is laying groundwork to entertain audiences in any form of media they can, and WB/DC should be doing the same thing. It's a huge missed opportunity not including 'Arrow' into their film universe."

A film based on The Flash featuring someone like Aquaman or Wonder Woman would be a good idea, considering that it may very well work for "Superman vs. Batman". At the same time though, it would be nice to see a fully developed origin story for the character that's going to be "featured" in said film. But it would also be different from Marvel's plans, as they make separate films for each character. True, Black Widow didn't get her own film and neither did Hawkeye, but I feel that someone like Wonder Woman or Aquaman is deserving of their own film.

"Okay, so I think that they should do more then just the next movie before going full-blown Justice League... I'd like them to give Wonder Woman her own film, and then maybe another Batman film and another Superman film with introductions to either The Flash, Green Lantern or Aquaman in those (Flash w/ Supes, Aquaman w/ Bats) but have them be similar to how we got introduced to Hawkeye and Black Widow through Thor and Iron Man 2 respectively. For the first 'Justice League' movie you have to have it be a core team of 5-6, but no more including Bats, Supes, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Flash. Villain-wise, I think a team up of villains would be nice, not just one. But here's the thing...

"While it will no doubt be big, the thing I'm worried about is that because it's coming after 2 (or more) Avengers movies, people might feel like WB and DC are just trying to get their hands in the pot and it'll almost feel like they're trying to copy Marvel. The biggest thing is that they have to lighten the tone up at least a little bit, the only character that can be in a DARK world is Bats. The rest live in a brighter world... Trying to make them all be dark like they did with Supes? Then they won't be doing the characters justice... (No pun intended.)"

First off, Tyler believes that a Flash film may not do well on its own, hence his mentioning of The Flash being "introduced" in a film with Superman. But I think a film based on The Flash could do quite well, considering that Green Lantern at least opened well ($53 million is nothing to scoff at) despite how badly it ended up doing in the long run.

Another Superman film introducing someone else could work, as this could be Warner Bros. answer to making three solo films each for Wonder Woman, the Flash and Aquaman. Green Lantern is tricky, because it's unknown right now what Warner Bros. plans to do with him. The 2011 film was a bomb, but they may include him in the shared universe rather than reboot it

Another Batman film preceding the Justice League film could work, since the origin of the character is well-known and they aren't re-telling it for this cinematic universe. Also, him being with someone like Aquaman or someone would make things interesting. But at the same time it could slow things down. Prior to The Avengers, we had a total of five films released in the span of three years. Warner Bros. may want to go quicker, but I have a feeling that their Justice League film might not appear for a good while.

Multiple villains could work, partially because it already differentiates it from The Avengers. We don't want to see a Justice League film that looks and feels like The Avengers. We want to see a unique Justice League that is its own beast.

As for audiences, I think they'll be fine with the Justice League film by the time it comes out since it'll be another big team-up film. If Avengers: Age of Ultron destroys the box office completely in 2015, it'll only prove that audiences will keep coming back for superhero team-up films, no matter who is in them. Superman and Batman in the same film? Who can resist? Add four more well-known characters and boom! Instant success!

The last point I truly agree with. I don't want WB/DC to apply the Nolan "formula" to any future films, because it did not work at all in Man of Steel. Again, no mopey tone or anything. At the same time, I want the films to be compelling and develop the characters. They can still make their work stand out, because they don't have to go the Nolan route to make their films look different from Marvel's. There are other ways to do this, and I think if the teams hit the right beats, then we'll have a great slate of films.

Now as for the new Batman, what should he be like?

"I think at this point, we need a mix of Batman between what Nolan's and Burton's films gave us. Just having Batman living in Superman's universe means we'll get a Batman who will finally get to delve into the more fantastical side his universe, using characters like Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc, Two-Face, the Riddler and the Joker."

"I think in terms of how good he is in a fight, it should be more like Nolan's trilogy, but I want to see the villains in more colorful outfits like in the Tim Burton movies, like use the face of the new Two-Face and use the costume of the old one..."

Someone like Killer Croc or Mr. Freeze wouldn't have been seen anywhere near Nolan's take on the character, so this new Batman being more fantastical than the Nolan trilogy could open the door to a lot of possibilities. Audiences took well to the villains in the Burton films, and even the first of the Schumacher films. Those days are over, yes, and the attitudes of the time went with them... Would audiences today like to see Batman fighting a more colorful adversary? A more fantastical one?

Muted color scheme and all, Man of Steel at least pit Supes against extraterrestrial foes. Give them some credit, they didn't completely copy Nolan's style, because they simply couldn't for this kind of story. The "rooted in reality" approach was one of the better things about the film, because it wasn't overdone and the aliens and their technology still made sense without seeming painfully unrealistic. PJ expands on his choices of villains, suggesting that the next iteration of Batman should resemble the great animated series from the early 1990s.

"What should be clear about my list is that I want a Batman on screen that's very akin to the 1990's animated series by Bruce Timm. That is my definitive version of the character and I think it's the one that mixed the detective side of Batman, something we really haven't seen in any of the films, while balancing the heroic, kick-ass version of Bruce. It was also beautifully noire and grounded, while still having the fantastical side of his universe. [Kevin] Conroy and [Mark] Hamill ARE Batman and the Joker for me, and I would love to see versions very similar to their cartoon alter egos on film. That's the Batman I want, and the one I think will work best in this new DC film universe."

Like PJ, I want the new Batman to resemble the animated series and just the whole look of it. When The Dark Knight Rises capped off the Nolan trilogy, my first idea of a Batman reboot would be less rooted in reality but one that would keep the serious tone of Nolan's films, so nothing comes off as silly or campy. Again, the look of the animated series alone is something I'd like to see translated into a big budget Batman film. They can pull it off without making it look cartoonish or over the top, which I think Burton's films achieved.

Back to the villains though. If anything, they could introduce a wide variety of villains into the series now that they've established that they are willing to use less realistic ones. Again, Supes is from another planet and he faced enemies from that planet, complete with crazy-looking ships and suits. Now this leads to another question... What will they do with Green Lantern? Will Ryan Reynolds' film be part of this universe? Or will they start over with someone else portraying the character?

PJ feels that while it would be nice to have Reynolds reprise his role as Hal Jordan, it's best to leave him out for the good of the series...

"As for Reynolds and Green Lantern, there's no chance he's asked back. I like the guy, I do, but he's box office poison now. His movies don't go anywhere at the box office, unless it's some sort of romantic comedy. Green Lantern underperformed worldwide so badly. On top of that, it wasn't even really liked by audiences. There's nowhere to go with him, and bringing him back would be a huge mistake, even though he wasn't the problem with the movie. They'll recast and move on. I'd be surprised if we don't see another solo Green Lantern film for quite some time. That movie really blemished the character, and WB won't want Reynolds anywhere near it once he comes back to screens, be it in a 'Justice League' film or another solo outing. He's struck as leading man, sad to say. He deserved better."

Tyler on the other hand thinks that they should stick with Reynolds despite the first film's box office performance...

"I think that they should keep Ryan Reynolds, even the people that didn't really enjoy the movie at all say he wasn't the reason and that he was the best part of it. That said, due to a financial lack of success, I wouldn't be surprised if they reboot him as well. I could see either being an option. Plus if you think about it, his world isn't as dark as Man of Steel was (something I'd say is good) and I feel like Zack Snyder plans on having all the characters all fit that mold."

That's all for now, as rumors and news continue to circulate from the Batman casting to the plot details. As more information is unveiled before our eyes, we'll be back!

What is your take on Warner Bros. and DC's plans? Do you think their shared universe has a lot of potential? Do you think things are kicking off to a good start? Or do you think it's a colossal mess inside and out? Sound off below with theories, thoughts and more!


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