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Warner Bros. seems determined to go head to head with Marvel Studios and the marketing muscle of Disney, and if they follow through on the plan that Ben Fritz wrote about in today's LA Times, it could prove to be one of the most significant tests of their ability to turn their DC Comics characters into an ongoing successful film franchise.
At this point, I think of the Marvel Universe as one big franchise. It doesn't matter which particular character or number you mention, since it all seems to work in concert as a huge single world that they are building, film to film, character to character. The phenomenal success of "The Avengers" this summer is a testament to how much good will they built up over their build from "Iron Man" to today, and as they prepare to start releasing their Phase Two films, they seem even more confident and in control.
Warner Bros., on the other hand, has got some serious problems when it comes to all things superhero.
I would imagine yesterday's court decision that returned the ownership of Superman to DC and Warner has to have everyone at the studio celebrating. After all, he remains the most famous of the characters they own and arguably the most famous superhero ever created. Building a "Justice League" film without him would be difficult and seems like a mistake. Then again, there's no word yet how Superman will be handled in the film, and the 2013 release of "Man Of Steel" makes it a complicated issue. After all, let's say the film comes out and is a huge success. It would make sense to use that version of Superman to anchor a "Justice League" film, right? But what if they've set up a world that doesn't really seem to fit other superheroes? After all, those teasers sell a hyper-realistic take on the character. And what if it comes out and tanks? What if they once again feel the need to reboot? Aren't audiences going to get tired of seeing them try different takes on what should be a fairly easy character to get right?
"Justice League" has been a problematic proposition ever since they first started trying to make it, and one of the biggest issues they face remains which line-up they're going to use. Green Lantern would seem like a perfect fit, but last summer's terrible movie has now tainted the name with moviegoers, and while the studio may have Ryan Reynolds contractually obligated to making another appearance as the character, is there anyone other than Ryan Reynolds' agent who actually wants that to happen?
Then there's the Batman issue. Now that Christopher Nolan has wrapped up his series, it's probably time to take a step back and let someone else figure out a new take that can drive a new series of films, and introducing that new take in the 2015 seems like it might work, although you're letting whoever directs "Justice League" set the tone that other filmmakers are going to have to follow when they make stand-alone movies for Wonder Woman or The Flash or, yes, Batman, and I'm not sure filmmakers are going to like that situation.
Most importantly, though, if the timetable that Ben Fritz reports is correct, then "Justice League" will be released the same summer that "The Avengers 2" arrives, and no matter what smart choices Warner makes, that one choice will most likely come back to haunt them. That sounds like a suicidal decision, frankly. Why would you set your release date for your unproven gamble opposite the sequel to one of the biggest superhero films of all time? It's not apples versus oranges. You're literally talking about releasing a superhero team-up movie against a superhero team-up movie.
Now that Fox has taken the step of hiring Mark Millar to supervise their overall superhero movie business plan, Warner Bros. should consider finally doing the same thing. They've talked about it in the past, and at various times, they've considered hiring David Goyer and Geoff Johns to do the job. I'm sure if Christopher Nolan said he'd do the job, they would pay him any amount of money to do it. What they need is someone who understands DC's rich and complicated history and who understands why it's different than Marvel. They can't just do what Marvel does and expect it to work out. Instead, they need to figure out how they're going to make the DC Universe special. They need to embrace their mythology and finally commit to bringing it to life in all its weird-ass glory.
Whatever the case, they're going to have to start making some hard choices soon if they are serious about 2015. That sounds like it's a long way off, but I've heard they are not totally convinced by the latest draft of the Will Beall script, so they'll continue to develop that while they cast a wide net for filmmakers who are interested in putting themselves in the firing line.
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