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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Film Land - The Future of DC Films

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Edited by Robert Beach

There’s no denying that the comic book superhero is the dominant culture myth of the 2010s.  Ever since the double-barreled blast of greatness that 2008’s Iron Man and Dark Knight the genre has risen to greater and greater heights, dominating the foreign and domestic box office, making a massive mark on the national psyche, and making name heroes out of obscurities like Ant-Man or the Guardians of the Galaxy.  All of this makes it even more bizarre that WB, the people who own DC Comics and thus half of the entire collection of viable superhero properties, have had such a difficult time turning their huge library of IP into quality films or solvent blockbusters. 

For whatever reason, WB has yet to turn out a good superhero film this decade, instead handing in a series of embarrassing failures like Green Lantern, Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel, and most recently Batman v. Superman.  Things seem to be changing however as WB has recently released a whole sweep of information about their plans for the rest of the decade.  Could this single an end to years of failure and the beginning of a DC movieverse to rival Marvel?  Let’s see. 

The central revelations coming out of DC so far have been mostly about the upcoming Justice League Part 1 movie, which will premiere fall next year.  One of the more interesting reveals about that film is this first concept art of the entire team assembled together.  It’s a strange mash-up to be honest, a 6 person team rather than the standard 7 character line-up that dominates a lot of superhero groups and ditching both Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter, two of the founding members of the JLA.  Losing Green lantern makes a lot of sense, though, his failed 2011 film is still tainting the character’s brand to this day, to the point that it actually killed his fairly successful CGI animated series. 

Saving GL to show up in a later installment or just introduce him in his own movie is a good way to handle him though I would’ve liked to have seen Martian Manhunter on this team.  Manhunter’s a great character and his recent role on Supergirl is really helping spread awareness of the character.  Even if they didn’t want Martian Manhunter because he’s too similar to Superman, a 7th member would’ve been a nice way to round out the team, maybe Hawkgirl or Zatanna. 

On the overall design of the team, it’s mostly solid.  The Aquaman costume is a blast and adapts the character’s best iteration from the books.  The Batman costume already wowed us in Batman v. Superman and while I still think Superman needs a belt of some kind the Man of Steel uniform is growing on me.  The downside of the design has to be Cyborg and Flash who both look incredibly goofy. 

Cyborg’s weird blend of man and machine is much too fluid and the fact that his face is all man robs him of his most iconic visual element.  Flash is really goofing looking with way too much texturing, no belt to divide his body, or even gloves or boots.  Overall, color balance on the team is pretty lacking.  The core trinity is well realized but Flash’s bright red block isn’t balanced by anything and makes him a glaring addition. 

The individual films on deck haven’t gotten much focus from DC.  Cyborg is still lacking a director while George Miller is allegedly circling the Green Lantern Corps project.  James Wan Aquaman suffered some production hiccups but has since gotten back on track, with some details finally filtering through in terms of how much of the Atlantean court will be present but we’ll touch on that later. 

Rumors that Karl Urban will be playing Aquaman’s villainous brother Ocean’s Master still persist, though with Urban’s recent casting in Thor: Ragnarok I have to wonder if that’s still in the cards.  However, it does seem like Aquaman will be grounded thoroughly in the realms of Atlantis and Atlantean bad guys.  The Flash recently got some good news with Dope director Rick Famuyiwa stepping in to take the reigns.  I haven’t seen Dope but I’ve heard great things and the presence of writing team Phil Lord and Chris Miller is nothing to sneeze at.  I still don’t care for Ezra Miller and as far as I’m concerned Grant Gustin IS The Flash but it’s certainly made me a lot more optimistic about the project. 

As for Justice League, one of the big revelations about the film is that the plot will apparently center around the heroes trying to collect a trinity of super powerful alien objects called Mother Boxes.  The Mother Box comes from the mythology of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, a bizarre high-concept sci-fi series from the late ‘60s that DC has been milking for big events like this since the ‘80s.  

The basic set-up of the New Gods is that they’re a race of space-based Gods that exist as living ideals.  There are good New Gods but they often get overshadowed by their dark counterparts, in particular, Darkseid, God of Evil.  Darkseid is the font from which hulking conqueror bad guys like Thanos or Apocalypse all spring, he’s an ultra villainous bad guy who’s goal is to wipe out all free will in the universe. 

Usually, this involves discovering the Anti-Life Equation, a mathematical proof that free will doesn’t exist and Darkseid is all there is in reality.  I’m not sure how much of that we’ll actually see in Justice League but the New Gods connection was pretty much always assumed.  

In the New 52 continuity, the JLA originally formed to fight Darkseid and the technology of the New Gods has become the core of Cyborg’s technology in recent iterations.  What’s more, Lex Luthor was apparently visited by Darkseid in a dream scene that ended up cut from Batman v. Superman.  If the JLA movie follows the recent comics, the reason the Mother Boxes are important is that they can open a portal called a Boom Tube to bring the forces of the Dark Gods to Earth. 

All of which leads us to the villains of the film.  The main antagonist is reportedly Steppenwolf, Darkseid’s uncle and core general of his armies.  Steppenwolf has a long history of waging war on Earth and is a pretty solid character to throw against the league, especially if Superman remains dead during the first film (no comment on that plot point so far.)  

I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a few another low level Dark God villains as well like Kanto, the God of weapons, Kalibak, God of brutality, or Desaad, a science God of torture.  Lex Luthor is also confirmed to be in Justice League though his role is a bit more in question.  I’ve been assuming Luthor will be dawning his mech suit to throw down with the league but there’s every bit the possibility he’ll just be a science henchman for Steppenwolf. 

If that is the case, it’d be a shame as it essentially makes the JLA movie a massive Avengers rip-off.  It’d be a superhero team movie about fighting a horned bad guy and his scientist lackey who are trying to get their hands on magic/science boxes to open a portal to the real big bad guy and his army of monsters and minions.  While I wouldn’t blame WB for trying to ape Marvel’s structure I still wouldn’t be too optimistic given how much of Green Lantern was just WB trying to mimic Iron Man. 

The big monkey wrench in the Avengers rip-off theory is that 2017’s Justice League is only part 1 of 2.  There’s an obvious saga being set-up by this film that will probably be carried through the adjacent Flash and Aquaman movies.  The structure of DC’s current slate is designed for Flash and Aquaman to use Justice League as an introduction film then spin out into their own films in 2018 before the second Justice League flick drops in 2019. 

It’s also unclear if 2019’s Shazam film will tie into any of this.  While I doubt we’ll see Superman return in the first Justice League movie, I could see his return continue to percolate through the background of the films as the plot strings of Flash and Aquaman.  The biggest proof of this is that Flash already had a role in Superman’s death thanks to his time traveling cameo in Batman v. Superman.  That jaunt through time will no doubt happen sometime over Flash’s next three appearances and might even end up central to his solo outing if the emphasis of the Flash’s movie is his power to travel through time, the multiverse, and other weird dimensions. 

Justice League is also doing a lot of the prep work on Aquaman as it’s confirmed to have roles for both Mera, Aquaman’s hydrokinetic wife played by Amber Heard, and Vulko, Aquaman’s closest Atlantean advisor played by Willem Dafoe.  The emphasis on the Atlantean connection is a peculiar addition to things as I had assumed none of the hero’s greater focus would be paid that much concern in Justice League.  

However, that may have been misguided of me as the film’s set-up already confirms Commissioner Gordon’s involvement, tying to Batman’s crime fighting duties and the focus on the Mother Boxes will probably help set-up Cyborg’s tech focus. 

If that is the case and Justice League will serve as a sort of walking tour of the nascent DC Universe through the lens of its roster that’d be a pretty great way to introduce everyone to the world of DC in one single stroke.  Even the basic set-up of hunting for the Mother Boxes (there are apparently three) helps that premise as it forces the heroes to travel the world and experience its wonders.  On the other hand, if this is just a lazy excuse to tie EVERYTHING in the DC universe back to the Mother Boxes, New Gods, and Darkseid that’d be a real shame.  

So what have we learned?  I think my biggest takeaway is that DC seems to be trying to pull a reverse version of the Marvel Universe and mitigate the impact Zack Snyder’s vision might have on their cinematic universe.  Both of those decisions are absolute good as Snyder’s kind of proven himself unable to handle the stylistic scope of the various heroes at hand and the disparate nature of DC’s characters (they weren’t originally made to co-exist after all) means they’re better suited to individual focus anyway.

Most of all, it puts the heft of DC’s future squarely where it belongs: on the creative individuals responsible for the upcoming slate of individual movies.  Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is already looking better than anything else DC has given us lately, James Wan and Jason Momoa seem like a great team for Aquaman, Rick Famuyiwa is the kind of hot and up comer you want working on a big project that could make their reputation, and George Miller proved last year that he’s still the best action director in the business.  If these 4 really hold the future of the DCEU in their hands than maybe it’s okay to get a little hopeful again.   
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1 comment:

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