What can we predict about DC's bigscreen future based on today's movie news?
Reading tea leaves and predicting the future is at least part of the job description of someone who covers movies on a daily basis. After all, there is so much content out there that no one can effectively write about it all. Instead, you have to pick and choose, and in a lot of ways, before you ever see a film, you are passing judgment just based on whether or not you cover this or that detail.
For example, what should we make of the news that Max Landis, David Ayer, and Will Smith are closing in on a deal to have Warner Bros. make their film Bright? After all, Ayer and Smith both worked on Suicide Squad, which isn't out until the end of the summer, and Landis has been attached to a number of high profile films, with Chronicle still his biggest hit. If Suicide Squad was giving the studio any trouble, chances are they wouldn't be first in line for what is most likely going to end up being a fairly hefty overall deal to land this packaged picture. According to Deadline, whoever buys the package does so with a firm commitment to actually make the film, which is as good a position as you can be in when you sign a contract. The film is described as "a contemporary cop thriller, but with fantastical elements," and that's certainly a promising single-line description. All the Deadline article really does is mention the deal, without setting up much context, and so any other speculation surrounding it would be just that… speculation.
Watch how much of the coverage of the story is colored by the way people feel about Landis. He's become a polarizing figure online in a major way, and I think based on my interactions with him that Landis is, at heart, a guy who really does love the writing part of the process more than anything else. He and I were both part of the first season of Masters Of Horror, and it's easy to say that the only reason he worked was because his dad directed his episode, but that sort of ignores the point of the series. It was designed to give guys who had made great horror films a chance to do something fun and unfettered by the restrictions of a feature film, and that's the story John Landis wanted to tell. He wanted to make something with Max. I think you'd have to be a pretty huge asshole to begrudge the guy that experience. Say what you will about his last name, but he's prolific. Chronicle didn't happen because of his dad. Victor Frankenstein wasn't made because of his dad. American Ultra, same thing. He's working in comics now, and his currently running American Alien is a playful Superman riff, obviously written by someone who has grown up taking these characters seriously. The work he does on the page and the finished films you've seen with his name on them are separate things, and his social media presence is another thing altogether. Judging any of them based on the other is unfair, as it normally is when I hear people bagging on writers based entirely on what they've seen onscreen. One of the reasons I've always done my best to read as many scripts as I can, by everyone working in the business, is because that's the only way to truly judge what it is a writer brings to the table, and even then, you don't know what notes they were given, what parameters were in place, what personalities are in the mix.
That's a long way of saying that some of the reportage you'll see will dump on the project preemptively simply because of Landis being the writer. Others will point to the deal as proof that Suicide Squad is great, and while I'm certainly a fan of the trailers, I haven't heard anything from anyone who's seen the film. Fingers crossed, because I like what it looks like they're making, and I like the basic Dirty Dozen hook in almost every variation. And I'm hearing they're already trying to lock down dates and deals on the sequel to the film, which is often an encouraging sign (although you'd be surprised how often the most bitterly negotiated sequels are the ones least likely to ever happen).
But what happens if Warner doesn't make the top bid on the film? What if another studio ends up with Ayer and Smith's next film? Does that mean Warner Bros. suddenly doesn't love Suicide Squad? Or could it just be that Bright is its own project, with its own demands and tone, and where it ends up really doesn't say anything about any film except Bright?
By the time most of you read this, tracking numbers will be appearing for the first time for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, and those numbers will immediately be read, shared, analyzed, over-analyzed, and micro-analyzed. And if we've learned anything about tracking over the last few years, it is that tracking gets it wildly wrong more often than ever. No matter what, i suspect the film's going to open huge. Not just big, but huge. How a film opens, though, is never about the film, but more about people's hopes for the film, and if nothing else has become clear to me in the last two weeks, it is apparent that a lot of people really, really, really want this film to be great. Not just good but great.
Warner's marketing has kicked into high gear now for the film, and I dig a lot of the moves they're making right now. The posters that blanket my neighborhood in Burbank (I live about six minutes from Warner on foot) are impressive, and I really like the way they're using Instagram, for example:
A stunning image from the Wayne Enterprises satellite from 2013, only days before it lost signal. The brightest sections that can be seen are Metropolis and Gotham. Our cities are the number one consumers of wasted electricity in the world. Courtesy of Wayne Enterprises™ #timeforchange #cleanenergy #LexCorp
The only thing I can say for sure about the DC Universe slate is that Warner is neck-deep in pre-production on Justice League. And again... we can all pretend that we know what that means, but anyone giving a definitive statement about these things is jumping the gun. Obviously, we're getting BvS, Suicide Squad, and Justice League, and by the time those three films are in theaters, we'll have a pretty good idea whether or not audiences are onboard for the vision that's been laid out so far. It's easy to say that Warner is "just" imitating Marvel, but that's not really what any of this marketing feels like to me so far. Say what you will about Zack Snyder, but I don't get the feeling he's ever aping another filmmaker in his work. I've walked through his pre-and-post-production process enough times with him to know that he puts himself into his films 100%, and he's never had a canvass as big as this.
It's a shame that anything I write about Warner's DC films is going to end with angry people still willfully misinterpreting my words screaming at me in my comments section, but letting that affect my own anticipation for the film would be silly, just like it is silly that people were threatened because I passed along a few vaguely-worded less-than-glowing reactions to the film. If you're excited, be excited. Don't worry about anything else. And please… remember… just because you've been waiting to see something onscreen your whole life, it still doesn't mean you have to battle everyone who feels different.
Everyone's looking for reasons to pick apart Warner's bigger game plan here, and it all feels like we're putting the cart before the horse, myself included. Because it can be easy to casually interpret signals, everyone does it, but sometimes people make connections that are either premature or simply off-base. Not everything means something, and before we talk about films that are two or three years down the road, let's just make it to the end of the month and finally see the film that Warner is using to pave the way for a hugely ambitious slate of films.
Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is in theaters on March 26.