Superhero films coming your way: The DC-Warner Bros. slate

The first decade of the 21st Century was truly a golden age for comic book to film adaptations. Although this action-fantasy movie genre had surges of success from the late 1970s onwards, generally the projects weren't treated with any real seriousness. If actors weren't hamming it up, the films themselves were bottom budget, cheesy affairs (remember Captain America?). However, with the release of 2000's X-Men, then Spider-Man and, of course, Batman Begins, superhero films were suddenly treated as serious endeavors. Major film industry talent was involved behind and in front of the camera, and the movies were massively successful at the box office... even if they didn't always please critics and stalwart fans.

A decade later and comic adaptations are at a crossroads. Where to from here? Many of the major "name" heroes have already made it to the big screen, flexing their muscles in figure hugging bodysuits, and at least one sequel. A handful of superhero films, including The Hulk, Punisher, Spider-Man and, supposedly, The Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Ghost Rider have already been - or will soon be - subjected to rebooted interpretations. This despite the fact that all these intended franchise-starters are less than 10 years old.

Still though, there are many comic heroes who have yet to make the transition from pencil and ink on paper to flesh and blood on celluloid. And these include many iconic characters, along with the usual mix of B-grade spandex-wearers and lesser known indie creations with cult followings. Along with the reboots, brand new blockbusters centred on these as yet undepicted heroes will be entertaining us for the next few years - and hopefully saving the comic adaptation genre for a while longer.

As a result, I thought it would be a good idea to create a blog mini-series examining the comic-to-film adaptations coming our way. More specifically I would start with the movies that are confirmed, in production and are based on characters from America's two comic publishing giants, DC and Marvel.

The focus of this blog post, DC Comics, has a much smaller slate of comic adaptations planned than their Marvel rivals - despite the fact that the DC character roster includes many instantly recognisable Golden Age figures like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern. Even people who don't know comics should be able to identify these superheroes on sight, considering that many are Twentieth Century Pop Culture icons.

DC's only comic adaptation of note this year is in fact antihero Western Jonah Hex, which is set for release on 18 June in the United States. The film is produced by Hollywood studio Warner Bros. which is responsible for all DC movie adaptations (both companies are owned by Time Warner).

While DC-Warners' Batman and Superman film franchises are some of the most well established and profitable of all time, the companies apparently have never quite worked out what to do with their other iconic characters. Live-action films centring on Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Arrow - and, of course, the ultimate superhero team-up, Justice League - have languished in development hell for decades.

Some of these projects have sputtered into activity on occasion - a script exists for a supervillain prison movie entitled Green Arrow: Escape from Super Max and a rushed Justice League film (set to feature a cast of young unknowns) was derailed by the Writers' Strike of 2007 and 2008. None of these films, however, have really progressed beyond the scripting stage, and have just jumped fruitlessly from filmmaker to filmmaker over the years.

Personally, out of all these projects, I am most keen for a Wonder Woman film, but only if it returns the Amazonian princess to her Golden Age roots, and sees her fighting in World War II as a kind of cross between Captain America and Thor. Of course, if Warner Bros' atrocious Catwoman film is any indication, fidelity to Wonder Woman's comic origins probably won't be a priority. Ridiculousness and cheesecake sexiness will probably be brought to the forefront instead - although a truly faithful Wonder Woman film would have to include at least one lasso bondage and submission scene.

Anyway, the problem that apparently cripples DC Comics' film adaptations every time is that the heroes aren't particularly identifiable to modern movie audiences. On the whole these heroes have tenuous links to our reality. They're beings from Greek mythology, aliens from other worlds, billionaires. Their problems aren't ours. They aren't dorky, cash-strapped teenage boys with a crush on the pretty girl next door. Rather, the DC heroes, with a few notable exceptions, are almost always functioning on an EPIC level - saving the world, fighting toe-to-toe with millenia-old, impossibly powered threats to the galaxy. They're the 20th Century equivalent of Ancient World gods, which doesn't make the production of movies about them easy in an era when viewers like their superheroes "real" and "scientific", as opposed to "omnipotent" and "mystical."

It's worth noting at this point that while Warner Bros. and DC seem stumped about what to do with their live-action superhero movies, they top Marvel hands down in terms of their straight-to-DVD animated superhero films, and animated TV series like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League. These are high quality, intelligent offerings for young and mature viewers alike. Apparently the exploits of gods work better in an animated format.

It is for many reasons then that the Green Lantern live-action film, set for release next year, on 17 June 2011 in the United States, will be vitally important to the future of films based on DC comics. The reason for this is that the film will be the first DC adaptation to fully embrace the extraterrestrial - a component that repeatedly influences the DC universe on the printed page. Described as 'not a laboured origin story,' Green Lantern centres on Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds in his THIRD comic adaptation), a test pilot and the first human to be chosen as a member of the Green Lantern Corps - essentially an intergalactic police force, with members from a assortment of worlds selected to resolve issues in their region of the universe. Green Lanterns police their sector (Earth belongs to Sector 2814) though the use of power rings. A Green Lantern need only direct their willpower through their ring to literally do or create anything they need to complete their current mission.

So what's exciting about the Green Lantern movie?
  1. Although I think leading man Reynolds would have made a better smart-mouth Flash than Hal Jordan (although I would also have accepted Reynolds as "slacker" Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner), the casting of Mark Strong as Sinestro, Hal Jordan's arrogant Green Lantern mentor turned arch-nemesis, is brilliantlt spot-on. For the record, the rest of the film's cast includes Blake Lively as Carol Ferris (Hal's love interest), Peter Sarsgaard as swollen-headed villain Hector Hammond, Angela Bassett as government agent Dr. Amanda Waller (think of her as DC's morally dubious version of Marvel's Nick Fury) and Star Wars' Jango Fett, Temuera Morrison as Hal's Lantern predecessor Abin Sur.

  2. The director of Green Lantern is Martin Campbell, the man responsible for the Bond films GoldenEye and, probably my favourite 007 of all time, Casino Royale. He also helmed Antonio Banderas's Zorro films and Vertical Limit. Campbell knows how to make slick, entertaining action films that don't lose sight of character. I don't think there's a better director for the challenge of adapting Green Lantern for the cinema.

  3. The special effects in Green Lantern should be mind-blowing. With powers centred on will, courage and imagination, Hal Jordan's Green Lantern is potentially more powerful even than Superman. Unsurprisingly, and the film will also have a 3D release.

  4. Finally, as mentioned before, if the Green Lantern film is a success, expect the DC universe depicted on film to expand dramatically to include far flung space. The most obvious and potentially interesting result of this shift is that it might mean Superman can finally fight an alien foe that actually poses a physical challenge and lets him unleash his full destructive strength. This will be a pleasant change from the character continually having to don kid gloves when battling scheming human genius Lex Luthor.
Speaking of Superman, it's no great surprise but "Big Blue" is set for a big screen revamp in the coming few years - likely Christmas 2012 or midyear 2013. After the the less than stellar box office performance of Superman Returns in 2006, and the mammoth success of the tonally dark The Dark Knight in 2008, it was announced that the next Superman film would be something of a character reboot, focusing on a new "intense" Superman. Announced in 2008, I wrote a bit about this decision at the time. However, in the last 2 years no real progress took place regarding the new Superman film - despite much behind-the-scenes wrangling, politics and rumours - until late February this year when it was announced that David S. Goyer - responsible for scripting Dark City, the Blade films, and contributing towards the new Batman series - was working on a script for the 6th Superman movie, to be called The Man of Steel. Just as importantly, Christopher Nolan, writer-director-producer of the new Batmans, is a creative consultant/"godfather" for the new Superman project, even if Nolan is unlikely to direct when the movie eventually starts filming.

For the record, Superman Returns director Bryan Singer and star Brandon Routh are not involved in the new project (a pity at least on Routh's part because he was an excellent Superman/Clark Kent). Also, and please take this bit of the story with a pinch of salt, The Man of Steel will not be an origin tale. Instead the film will position Lex Luthor and deadly alien android Brainiac as villains, and have the Daily Planet newspaper (where Superman works as journalist Clark Kent) in financial crisis like most print publications today. Kryptonian history and mythology will be a vital component of the tale. And there will be no Super babies!

These are all decisions I can happily get behind, especially the choice of Brainiac as a deadly physical and psychological opponent for Superman. This said, it's pointless getting too excited now. Over the years, dozens of writers and directors have attempted to bring their interpretation of Kryton's Last Son to the big screen, only to see the project fall apart in the development stage.

If you do want to get excited about something, then that's the fact that Batman 3 (still untitled), now has a release date - announced recently on 30 April. The Caped Crusader will be returning to cinemas on 20 July 2012. It is pretty much guaranteed that Christopher Nolan will be back - particularly as he said that this new film will be his last Bat project and the concluding chapter of the 3-part storyline he has been telling. Nolan's brother Jonathan, who wrote The Dark Knight, is working on the script for the third film. Expect the Batman Begins and Dark Knight cast regulars to all return as well - Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Michael Caine as loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Gary Oldman as beleaguered fast rising police officer James Gordon, who has immense respect for Batman but is now publicly hunting the masked vigilante as a murderer.

Of course, it is Batman's new status as a criminal that will likely be the driving plot point in the new Batman film. Although no announcements have been made about the screenplay, it's likely that in Batman 3 the Dark Knight will continue to secretly defend his city from crime while being hunted by the authorities and hated by the people of Gotham.

Batman has one of the best villain galleries in comics, and the big question of Batman 3 is just who will he be facing this time around? Personally I think Catwoman is the natural first choice. Batman needs a love interest now that Rachel Dawes is out of the picture, and who better than a slinky, playful cat burglar who occupies the same grey area of the justice system as Batman... especially now that he is labelled a "criminal"? Honestly, the thought of the Bat and Cat's flirty exchanges and freerunning chases across the Gothan skyline gives me chills. Well, that's the way I'd do it anyway. Certainly the Hong Kong scenes in The Dark Knight proved Nolan could easily pull off such sequences and make them dizzily exciting.

Of course, casting is everything with Catwoman given that she needs to be genuinely sexy, emotionally complex, a convincing combatant and acrobat, and have major chemistry with Christian Bale. In other words, generic sexpots like Megan Fox should not apply.

The Batman films always have two villains, and the obvious options for the second spot seem to be The Riddler - as a terrorist mastermind playing mind-games with Batman - or either the Penguin or Black Mask (or even the mentally unhinged Ventriloquist) stepping in to claim control of the Gotham underworld now that most of its former mob bosses are dead or in prison. Although the Penguin has a deformed, comic book look that might not fit the realism of Nolan's Batman universe, he and the other villains mentioned above seem like logical choices given that they are not as far-fetched as the likes of morphing Clayface and plant-powered Poison Ivy. But we'll see.

We'll also likely see soon enough if yet another attempt at a Justice League film is on DC-Warner's agenda. The possibility is definitely there. Green Lantern 2011, Batman 3 2012, and then the "in development" films: Superman 2012/3, The Flash 2012 and Wonder Woman 2013. If this schedule of solo character movies becomes a reality then it's highly likely that DC could cap it all off with a Justice League film that includes all these characters, and, ideally, all the stars playing them. It's exactly what Marvel has planned with its movie slate, culminating in 2012's superhero-ensemble adaptation The Avengers... but more about that in the next post of this mini-series.


Amar V said…
oh my gosh! how much time did it take for you to type this post. btw good post.
Dante said…
My money would be on Barry Allen to take on the big screen as flash over wally west (the smart mouth one). Reynolds would have been a great wally west though, even though he might look weird as a red head. As for all the reboots of movies that are five year old is concerned, it makes me sick. Even though I will still watch them on the big screen. Stupid fan boy tendencies!
Terrance said…
Other than Batman and Superman I haven't had any real experience of the other DC characters. Hopefully they'll be able to get Green Lantern out as another popular character and then shift into Justice League eventually.

That being said, they can release Nolan's Batman movies for the rest of time and I'd die a happy man. :)
Lord Spaceman said…
Haha, what Amar V said! Must have taken ages, but yeah, good read. :)
The Stuart said…
The problem I have always found with Superman films is that Superman is pretty much totally undebatable. All his foes are reduced to either being just like him but evil or using the macguffin that is kryponite. Why has Luthor never just made kryponite bullets and shot him in the back of the head? Superman needs to be put into situations where for all his powers he has no choice but to choose an option that will cause suffering to someone. He needs a rock and a hard place, and none of the ridonkolous time travelling rubbish that we've seen. I don't think we'll see that from anyone soon though since that's not the type of Superman the average viewer want to see.
Pfangirl said…
Thanks for the comments, guys. And yeah, this blog post did take quite a long time to write - at least 2 evenings ;)

Dante, I think you're right - Barry Allen would be the obvious Flash choice, although I do think a Wally West Flash would be far more fun, and a nice change from so many grim heroes.

Terrance, Nolan has said that this next Batman film will be his last so you better savour it. It's kind of sad but I'd much rather they end the series on a high point with a definite end in mind as opposed to letting it become increasingly mediocre.

Stuart, the Superman you've just described is the tale I'd very much like to see. Tough decisions. Consequences. And let Superman get angry. Given that moviegoers today have turned against goodie-goodie farmboy Superman, perhaps they would embrace something more thematically heavy now.
Simon said…
Excellent post, you should write every DC script.
Pfangirl said…
Hey Simon, thanks for commenting. LOL, I wish Warners would listen to me ;)

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