Saturday, April 21, 2012

WTF is happening with the DC comic movies??

In two weeks, The Avengers opens around the world, the crowning blow solidifying Marvel's dominance over the superhero movie market. It's been quite the climb over the last 15 or so years, a climb made even more impressive by the fact that, before Marvel studios, Marvel didn't have a central movie studio from which to launch all of their characters onto the screen. They went through Sony, 20th Centruy Fox, Paramount -- and yet movies like Fantastic Four, the X-Men movies, Spider-Man, even frickin' Blade penetrated the mainstream conciousness and nine times out of ten were successful.

So imagine what a movie studio can do if it outright owned a whole comic book company that had iconic characters such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and Green Lantern. Wow, a company like that could eviscerate the competition, right? No rights disputes, no fuss, just pure ownership of characters that you can launch on the screen at whim, right? Right???

Enter Warner Bros., the studio that actually owns DC comics. And while Marvel has run rough-shod over Warner Bros., what has been Warner Bros.' response? A big-budget video-game looking rendition of Jonah Hex, a character nobody knows unless you're deep into comic fandom. Yes, they've had success with Batman, but that's one character. They made a Superman movie so terrible, they have to relaunch the franchise next year with Superman: The Man of Steel, starting over from scratch with the character after only one movie. Between the time of the failure of Superman Returns (2006), and next year's release of Superman: The Man of Steel (2013), Marvel will have released the three X-Men movies (Last Stand, W-Men Origins: Wolverine, First Class), two Ghost Rider movies, two Spider-Man films (Spider-Man 3 in 2006 and this year's Amazing Spider-Man) a rebooted Punisher picture, and have launched their own studio from which they produced two Iron Man movies, a rebooted Hulk film, Thor, Captain America, and ambitiously tied all of those movies together from day one to culminate in the Avengers film coming out in two weeks. Marvel isn't resting after Avengers -- they have Thor 2, Captain America 2, and Iron Man 3 in the works and a second Wolverine picture set up at Fox in the pipeline.

DC/Warner Bros.? They're still relying on stalwart property Batman this year with The Dark Knight Rises, and then will reportedly take a rest from Batman for a while (mistake!). Superman is next year. Green Lantern came out last year in a failed bid to try and ape Marvel's strategy of releasing movies based on characters and tying them all together in a Justice League movie, but Lantern didn't do as well as expected (in a market still hungry for superheroes??) and Warner Bros. still needs to re-launch their bread-and-butter character Superman next year, and Batman might re-launch after this year's movie in order to fit the super-team-strategy, so they'd have to wait for that to happen. Meanwhile, Marvel will have sequelized all of their launch characters and will probably release Avengers 2 with more characters they can spring-board into their own movie franchises to then further sequelize (Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man anyone?).

And now, lookout, Warner Bros. is preparing to launch (are you ready for this?) -- a family friendly Lobo movie. Now, pause to think about that for a second. In a market where superheroes are obviously king at the box-office and Warner Bros. is getting eaten alive by Marvel movies which seem to have a clear, unified strategy behind them, Warner Bros. counters with Lobo?? Number one, nobody except comic fanboys know who Lobo is, so the mainstream isn't going to be interested enough to come out to this (and to address Watchmen, sure I loved it, but it was never going to be successful at the box-office -- the mainstream doesn't know or care who or what Watchmen is). Number two, Lobo was popular back in the mid-90's when bad-ass super anti-heroes were popular, but he's only fondly remembered now rather than being big enough to headline a big budget motion picture. I guess he still has comic appearances now, maybe his own series, but making a Lobo movie over Flash or Wonder Woman and expecting a return on investment? Seriously?? And number three, changing Lobo into a family friendly character who teams up with a precocious tomboy on earth renders the character unrecognizable to his fans, confusing to non-fans, and really opens the character up to ridicule. Lobo was always "ulraviolent", gory and vulgar. making a big movie about him that features none of those things is a little strange. And Warner Bros. is going to bank on this? Below is a student film based on Lobo. It's the kind of silly yet violent story Lobo would be featured in. I'm guessing this is not what Warner Bros. has in mind for the movie.

It might be cronyism, politics, or just plain incompetence, but I'm not sure what the hell is going on at Warner Bros. The second news broke that Marvel was arranging their own studio with a patient yet steady multi-picture plan to launch The Avengers, from which new franchises can launch -- if I were head of production at Warner Bros. I would have gathered everyone in a room for three days and hashed out a plan to launch every first tier DC character on the big screen -- and stuck with it come hell or high water. Sound naive? Really? Because it looks like that's what Marvel did. Hell, I probably wouldn't have waited for Marvel to get smart and own their own studio to moblize a counter-plan against them. I would have probably done that when Spider-Man broke box office records in its openning week. What the hell is going on? The Warner Bros. animation wing is cool and all, producing treasures every time out, but we're talking about theatrically released movies here. There is nothing on earth right now that matches the sheer pop-culture and mainstream penetration of a movie release. The cartoon films are cool and everything, but when a Superman live-action movie is released in the theatres, everyone from a two-year-old to my Mother to the homeless on the streets and everyone in between knows about it and that furthers the brand for years to come. I love Marvel and I'm happy they're doing so well, but I'm frustrated by the obvious bungling at Warner Bros. and their DC comics properties. As smart as Marvel's movie strategizing has been, Warner Bros. basically handed this victory to Marvel.


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