With $113 million dollar weekend ($125.1 million if you count its Thursday receipts), Man of Steel became the highest grossing June opening in history (outpacing 2010’s Toy Story 3‘s $110.3 million opening, a film which went on to make $415 million domestically), the second highest grossing opening of the year behind Iron Man 3, made almost $20 million dollars more on its opening weekend than 2006’s Superman Returns (and that’s after the latter has been adjusted for inflation) and has already earned over half of its production budget back. It’s safe to say that it would take something catastrophic for the film to not to be a hit. And with the good word of mouth that a Cinemascore of A- minus brings, it looks like a catastrophe of that sort is just not coming.
Man of Steel‘s success gives Warner Brothers another tentpole franchise to replace the Harry Potter and Batman franchises. It also gives Warners an excellent chance to parlay this film’s success into more films with DC Comics’ characters, creating more tentpoles and seriously giving Marvel a run for dominance in the comic book film genre.
That is, if they don’t screw it up.
Now, contrary to popular belief, we here at FilmBuffOnline don’t wish failure upon DC Comics, Warner Brothers or DC Comic book films. On the contrary, DC Comics has an almost 80-year stockpile of great characters that would make great films if they are done the right way. As a matter of fact, we are rooting for the success of DC Comic Book Films. So much so, we are going to help them out.
Here are ten things we believe Warner Brothers must do to spin off a healthy and lucrative line of superhero movies from Man of Steel. We could probably give you more than 10, but we’ll stick with ten for right now.
Alright, here we go:
1. If you are having a shared universe, it starts with Man of Steel 2.
I’ve seen many interviews prior to the release of Man of Steel where the powers that be behind the film crow about how their film doesn’t rule out the existence of other superheroes in Superman’s universe. Not ruling out does not a shared universe make. Neither does a “Blaze Comics” sign nor a satellite branded with Wayne Enterprises. We need something more substantial. And we need it now.
Since rumor has it that Warner Brothers is fast tracking Man of Steel 2 for a 2014 release, and stubbornly insisting that Justice League will be coming to cineplexes in 2015, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for world building. The sequel should act as a bridge that leads us to a combined Justice League. At the very least there should be a throw away line here or there along the lines “I heard there’s a speedster fighting crime in the Midwest” or “The coast guard reported seeing a man with orange chainmail riding a giant sea horse out in the Atlantic.” Give the fans something that will hook them into the shared universe idea.
2. And if you are having a shared universe, make it a true shared universe.
This is a case where Warners can get one up on Marvel or even the comics. In Iron Man 3, you had several supposed terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, and some more overseas. Where was S.H.I.E.L.D. ? The President of the United States was threatened and Captain America didn’t take interest in it? See what I’m getting at here?
If an event is big enough to effect the world that all the heroes live in, then all of the world’s heroes should take an interest in it. When making a solo film for a character, the adventure should be self-contained, or some reason given why the other heroes in the universe aren’t helping out in some way. Superman in this new franchise is so powerful that any foe he faces will have to be a world-beater. But if he is going to face a bad guy who can kill every living thing on Earth after other heroes are introduced, it just doesn’t make sense to not have those other heroes helping Supes out in some way or form. Don’t have audiences asking why Green Lantern isn’t bothering to help save the world.
3. Speaking of GREEN LANTERN, forget that film ever existed.
This builds on point number two. I love Ryan Reynolds as much as the next guy, and I think trash canning a film two years after it came out is irritating, but if you’re building a shared universe, that version of Green Lantern just won’t fit. If we are going in chronological order and Ryan’s GL shares the same Earth as Henry Cavill’s Superman, he probably would have taken an interest in Zod’s shenanigans, especially considering Green Lantern’s role as policeman of the universe.
And if for some reason Green Lantern takes place chronologically after Man of Steel, well, wouldn’t Superman want to check out why that cloud of yellow space dust was destroying Coast City?
No, if we are building a shared universe, it’s best that Man of Steel be the start of it. Keep on Ryan Reynolds as GL if he’s willing to do it, but pretend his first go round as the character never happened.
4. Realize that not every DC character is Superman.
I was at a mall On Saturday, one which had a movie theater attached to it. I saw about 20 people wearing Superman T-shirts (and one man with a Superman tattoo on his arm). I knew exactly where they were going.
Superman is an international icon. There are people who have never cracked open an issue of Action Comics who can tell you every little detail about the character. They love Superman and what he stands for. And they will be willing to forgive a whole lot of faults (which even I’ll admit Man of Steel has) if you capture enough of what they love about the character.
Aquaman? Not so much. I don’t think Aquaman could survive a movie that only got a 56% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, which is what Man of Steel got. And if it got a 26% that Green Lantern got? It would be dead in the water (pun intended) and so would DC’s film universe.
For these lesser know heroes, you don’t have that much room to make mistakes. Bring in people you trust, people that know and love characters, and let them work. Pick the right people for the project, not just the hottest name or the cheapest alternative. Bring your A-game like Marvel has done with Iron Man or Thor and you’ll be just as successful.
5. Well, actually, Wonder Woman is close to Superman. Make a film featuring her. Now.
Wonder Woman, along with Aquaman, is rumored to be in line for a post-Justice League film offering. To this I say: good. Long overdue.
The Amazing Amazon ranks right up there with Superman and Batman as DC’s most recognized character. She is a feminist icon. She is a gay and lesbian icon. She is the character featured on most of the DC Comics merchandise marketed to little girls. She is a big thing.
Some might say that having a female lead in an action film is deadly. To those I have three words: The Hunger Games. To a lesser extent, I have six more: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. One was a blockbuster, the other made a healthy profit worldwide. If you have a great story, people will come, no matter the gender of the protagonist.
I’m not saying that Diana should be tattooed and pierced punk who kills her contemporaries in a tournament. (And, for the record, she shouldn’t be a violent, murderous vigilante with man problems either, David E. Kelley). But there are plenty of comic book iterations of the character that would make for an excellent film (George Perez’s 1980s reboot for one). If you capture what makes Wonder Woman great in the comics on film, you’ll have a hit. I guarantee it.
6. Feel free to make changes for the better, but stay true to the character.
This is what Marvel has excelled at in their films, and what Man of Steel manages to pull off as well. They loaded a truckload of existential angst on Kal-El, but he was still the man willing to sacrifice everything for humanity. The kept Lois Lane’s reckless pursuit of a story intact, but actually improved her in many ways.
The problem is making sure changes ARE for the better. I’m sure the people who messed around with Jonah Hex thought they were improving the character. They did the exact opposite. And the tacked on super powers totally made the character into a hollow shell of what made him great in the comics.
These characters have remained popular in the comic books for decades. Ignore what made them so captivating at your peril.
7. Serious and thoughtful? Yes. Grim and gritty? No.
For the most part, Man of Steel exemplified the former, and stayed away from the latter. And that’s what worked best in the film. The secret to the Batman franchise wasn’t the fact that Ra’s Al Ghul was genocidal or the Joker killed on a whim. It was the explorations into the themes these issues raised. It was not darkness for the sake of being dark.
When WB president Jeff Robinov repeatedly assured moviegoers that all DC comic book films would be dark and grim in the future, I almost went into a fit of rage. That a person in a position of power could be so wrong, could have such a profound lack of understanding of what resonates with his company’s audience truly boggled the mind. Thankfully, Christopher Nolan, David Goyer, and Zach Snyder were strong enough to keep that destructive way of thinking at bay through most of the film. And when it did delve into the grim and gritty world, at least it made narrative sense.
8. Speaking of grim and gritty: you know what Superman does to Zod at the end of the film? The act that sent the Internet into a furor? Don’t do that again. Ever.
If you are not sure what I am talking about, enter “Man of Steel ending” into Google. Or read Rich Drees’ review or my review of the film on this very site. Either should give you some indication what I am talking about.
In my review, I related why I thought Superman’s actions worked in the context of the film. I still stand by that and still believe it. But then I thought about how DC Entertainment employs that action on an almost quarterly basis to try to bump up sales on their comic books. Then I had the chilling thought that this would become a regular thing in DC films as well. So I decided to nip it in the bud.
Why this works in the comics is because typically collectors find issues with this act in then have a high resale value in the aftermarket. Films do not work that way. Not only will you alienate comic fans, but you’ll also turn off parents and, more importantly, their kids if this becomes a trend. You know, the kids you want to by the toys and the t-shirts and all the merchandise that helps pad your bottom line. It’s kind of hard for kids to be interested in toys from movies their parents won’t let them see.
9. Give Batman a rest from features…for now. Or at least give us a brand new Batman if you can’t.
You can’t deny that Nolan’s Batman trilogy was immensely successful, totally iconic, and left a lasting impression. The worst thing you can do is try to rush another set of Batman films out to us too soon. No, scratch that. The very worst thing you can do is try to shoehorn the Christian Bale Batman into the new shared universe. His story has closure. Let it stay closed. He was never meant to be part of a shared universe. So keep that version out of it.
If you have to bring a Batman in, and, let’s face it, they are going to feel the need, reinvent the character. That’s what makes Batman so great, his ability to be reinterpreted. It you bring him back, bring him back fresh and new. Play up the urban legend side of the character. Bring in some of the more fantastic villains. Do something that is true to the character, yet nothing that has been seen before. But stay as far away from Nolan’s take on the character as you can.
10. Realize that DC has more characters than just the Justice League, and more universes than just one.
While it does make sense that Warners established its shared universe through a Justice League film, DC’s IP pool goes far deeper than just characters featured in that comic book. Just like Marvel is exploring non-Avengers concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange, Warners shouldn’t be afraid go outside the box with their DC film adaptations. How about a Justice Society film set during World War II? Or a Legion of Super-Heroes film set in the far-flung future? How about putting some weight behind Guillermo Del Toro’s planned film featuring DC’s mystical characters? Or, if you really want to go where Marvel fears to tread, how about greenlighting something like this:
What you see above is a fan-made trailer for Kingdom Come. A trailer based on a comic book story that takes place in an alternate reality from the normal DC universe. The popular video game, Injustice: Gods Among Us, also takes place in an alternate reality where Superman becomes a dictator, and is loosely based on Kingdom Come. Marvel thinks that audiences will be confused if it presents an alternate take on its characters (One of the reasons why a Marvel Zombies film will never be made). But this trailer and the sales figures for that video game prove fans are receptive to an alternate version of the concepts that find a home at DC.
I figure that nobody at Warners will ever read this, and if any of these tips come to fruition, it will be just a coincidence. But I want to see a successful line of DC Comics films. Hopefully, Warners does too, and take a better approach to the task than they did before.