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Monday, December 09, 2013 

IO9 believes WB shouldn't adapt third-tier DC heroes for movies just because they're not widely known

A writer for IO9 spoke about possible plans Warner Brothers has for adapting lesser known DC titles and characters into movies. But while there are some logical reasons he has for being worried, his main objection is silly. First, here's the better part of the argument:
But it's not a good idea, on many, many levels. First of all, while Warner Bros. certainly has its strengths, making smaller motion pictures — at least successful ones — is not one of them. The studio is just too big to make small movies well, and the company is too dependent on major blockbusters to keep afloat for them to want to spend the time to get better at them. Minimizing their resources on these comic book movies will doom them to fail from the very beginning — we can look to Jonah Hex and Catwoman for proof.

And those two box office bombs were made far apart. Does anyone really think that DC/WB can handle three lesser superhero movies a year, when they still can't do Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, or Justice League? (Or do Green Lantern right?) Trying to create that high output when they can't do more than one big budget Batman or Superman movie every couple of years is preposterous.
Okay, they got something going there. WB lost the confidence of many based on the performance of everybody involved in the making of third-tier properties like Catwoman and Jonah Hex, because those movies were pure hack work, riddled with studio interference. For the latter, I figure what doomed it was that they would not take risks and only go for a PG-13 rating when they could always have edited it for an R-rating. Okay, maybe they didn't have to go that far, but the violence, as I discovered, was so muted that they undermined the whole tale when this was a product where they didn't have to hold back so much. From an artistic perspective, there was even a liberal bent lurking beneath the surface that could've doomed it too: Jonah tried to stop his commander, Turnbull, from blowing up a hospital and cost his son his life, to which Turnbull responds by slaying his family and scarring him. Later, as played by Josh Brolin, he's depicted as so unlikable and vicious to people who even remotely irritate him, gunning down a man asking what happened to his face and destroying a town, that one has to wonder if the writing committee for that movie was suggesting it was wrong to try defending the innocent inhabitants of that medical center.

Now, for the laughable part of the argument:
But say Warner Bros. makes these movies, and say they're actually good (because even in my wildest imagination I can't in good conscience pretend they'll be great). Here's the problem: Making three good DC movies about these lesser-known superheroes will not achieve the same things as one successful major DC movie. That is to say, Deathstroke, Booster Gold and Suicide Squad movies, no matter how good they are, will [n]ever equal one good Wonder Woman movie. They won't make more money. They won't raise brand awareness. They won't get the attention, or the acclaim, or the press, or the love. Period.
Note to somebody who's obviously been living far out on Pluto for a long time: even the most successful comic movies haven't raised awareness of their brands and source material, haven't boosted their pamphlet sales, nor have they made them genuinely recognizable. The Daredevil, Elektra, Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider movies did not succeed, but even if they had, there's little chance anybody would go racing to buy the comics and even Marvel-based movies have failed. It's already become apparent that many moviegoers have no interest in the comics per se, due in no small part to the rash of bad writing and editing that's brought them down.

In any case, I thought the important part was making an entertaining movie, not worrying about recognizability. When Marvel made Blade in 1998, the beginning of their serious forays into major movies, what made it work was that people obviously thought the screenplay was a success, and didn't base their judgement on the popularity rank of the hero. You could make a movie out of Adam Strange and it could work out well; they don't even have to have the Zeta-Beam work the way it did in the early tales. There are liberties you can take with the source material, and of course it doesn't have to follow the comics scene for scene, component for component, just like there all sorts of novels adapted to film that differ from the original manuscript.

I suppose the problem lies in how to market the movies, and whether WB can do it without basing it only on their being about superheroes and supervillains. The themes of action, adventure and fantasy are what count most, not the superhero angle. I can say though, that while Deathstroke was once a notable adversary for the New Teen Titans, it might not be easy to market him as the lead in a movie where he might be what he was initially - a villain. And, it might not be easy to market a character who, as established in 1984, had sex with a minor (Terra). As for Suicide Squad, that's a hard question. The original premise in 1987 by John Ostrander worked out well, but having villains as the leads may not appeal to audiences who prefer to see heroes in the lead. Booster Gold could work better, but only if there's a good screenplay in store, that takes advantage of the tongue-in-cheek origins of its time-traveling hero well. And audience reception should be based on the quality of writing, not just superhero themes and how well the character is known outside the pages of the pamphlets.
Warner Bros. is obviously putting quantity over quality, but quantity is not going to solve WB's DC problems. Churning out a bunch of mediocre superhero movies won't do anything but lose money and lose fans; it won't benefit Warner Bros., it won't benefit DC, it won't benefit the viewers, and it certainly won't benefit the characters. Hopefully, this rumor stays a rumor, and WB isn't really planning this. Because of they are, they're not going to finally succeed, they're just going to fail more often.
Well that's become pretty obvious, hasn't it? The Green Lantern movie sure bore out this assessment, since that was one comic movie that relied on all the wrong kinds of contributors to craft it, basing its story more on the works of a writer who's already proven himself the worst thing that could happen to DC (Geoff Johns) instead of letting 1 or 2 writers think up their own storyboard, though I wonder if the article's writer shares my view. But even Marvel's own forays involving quantity haven't paid off, as the recent Ghost Rider movie could prove, and by now, even interest in the Spider-movies has been waning. I sure couldn't get too excited by the 2012 reboot. When you market based far more on the movie being about superheroes than about adventure, you risk taking the audience for granted by assuming they're predisposed to seeing the film based on that theme alone. No, there has to be some kind of variety at hand to make it work. In fact, it might benefit the superhero movies better if they relied on "plainclothes" villains just as much as on costumed ones. Maybe if WB relies on people like Christopher Nolan to make these movies, they'll pull it off that way too. Even relaxing their PC-mandates - which affected the Man of Steel movie too (by replacing the red tights with blue ones) - could be a big help. But if they insist on maintaining these outrageous mandates and biases, it will hurt them in the long run. So they have to stop being so stubborn. They have to stop letting their comics properties be abused too.

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  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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