Who can save the DC Movie Universe?...Iron Man!
A look into the now tried-and-true formula that launched the most successful movie franchise in history.
While debating the necessity of a Justice League Dark movie with Shannon Barnson from the "Geek Show Pod Cast", I brought up that Justice League Dark could/would be DC's Guardians of the Galaxy.
"They have to have their Iron Man first." He replied.
He is absolutely right.
DC's Movie Studio has yet to find their Iron Man.
Let's take a look at the recipe that made the Iron Man movie such a huge success.
Add 1 second rate character:
Before 2008 very few people knew that Iron Man was more than a triathlon in Hawaii or an AC/DC song. Though an important component in the comicbook version of Avengers, many comicbook fans doubted the character’s ability to hold his own in a full length feature film.
1 Cup of a relatively unknown actor (at the time):
It's difficult to think of Hollywood’s leading man and now Marvel's poster boy, Robert Downey Jr., playing second fiddle to the likes of Tim Allen (Shaggy Dog) and Eric Bana (Lucky You), but for nearly a decade before he became the Armored Avenger that's what he did. In fact, Marvel didn't even want him. He was too much of a risk. Director Jon Favreau had to ask the studio multiple times for them to agree to the casting choice. Both Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage were way above RDJ on the Iron Man priority list. Now, thanks to his redefining role of Tony Stark, RDJ is now right where he belongs. Front and center in the limelight.
A dash of a decent, life-long comic fan, fairly unknown director:
Before taking the reigns of a tentpole of what would later become the most successful movie franchise ever, Jon Favreau was known more for his acting than his directing. However, Favreau was dedicated to "making the movie right." He cared what the comicbook fans thought, he cared about what the non-comicbook fans thought, and as fan himself, he admittedly wanted people to like Tony Stark as much as he did. It worked. Too many directors today are only in it for the money and don't care what the fans think. Some directors have openly admitted that they don't care who hates their film. People will pay to see it anyway. (*cough* Michael Bay *cough*.) Having a true, honest fan of the characters and comics leading the charge has been a constant at Marvel Studios.
Sprinkle in some A-List support for gravitas:
Due to RDJ's lack of high profile screen time, Marvel needed to bring in some supporting cast to make us believe that they were making a real movie. Who doesn't want to see a movie with Gweneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard? Much like his Avenger teammate, the Thor movie had very little interest until Anthony Hopkins was announced to play the all father Odin.
Mix well and place in theaters
WARNING! Movie will be HOT!
Interestingly enough, most of the successful comicbook movies have been centered around the same "no-name" actor surrounded by A-list talent recipe. Franchises such as X-Men (Hugh Jackman with Ian McKellen and Patrick Steward), Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt with Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper), Thor (Chris Hemsworth with Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins). Even DC's Man of Steele (Henry Cavill with Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, and Kevin Costner) and Batman Begins (Christian Bale with Michael Kaine and Morgan Freeman) have fared much better financially than those that had an A-list cast as the principal character including Green Lantern (Ryan Reynolds), and Daredevil (Ben Affleck). Of course there will always be exceptions, such as Michael Keaton playing the role of Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton's Batman. For the most part however, the evidence is solid.
Comicbook movies have a much better track record at making A-list actors rather than casting them.
For years actors used to say that the hardest role to portray is somebody famous that's still alive, because anyone could look at you and say, “That's not them.” Even when Will Smith played the great Mohammad Ali, and was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, many people couldn't see Ali. All people could see was Will Smith. Super hero comicbook movies have upped that a notch. When asked about being Wolverine, Hugh Jackman stated, “People have tattoos of Wolverine. He's a god to some people.” Let's face it, if you're reading this then you have probably complained about a particular casting choice for a character that is dear to you. On the other side, you have probably been impressed by an actor that was unfamiliar to you, that not only nailed the character but redefined it. Chris Pratt anyone?
Aside from Green Lantern not being the greatest movie in the world, many of the fans couldn't get past the fact that “Ryan Reynolds isn't Hal Jordan. Kyle Rayner...maybe, but certainly not Hal Jordan.” Expectation is already set.
The same goes for super high profile characters. The likes of Superman and Batman are so universally well known that it's hard to picture anyone in such an iconic role. Also, it's easy to use the iconic as a crutch. Batman vs Superman will be a success because it's Batman and Superman, but will that instill confidence in the general audience that DC can make a good movie? Are they simply relying on “The World’s Finest” to carry the load?
When Marvel announced that Iron Man would kickoff their ambitious “Avengers Initiative”, they were highly criticized for not starting with Captain America. Surely more people know who Captain America is. At the time in the comics, Marvel was still feeling the impact from the popular and controversial “Civil War” story line. Most comicbook fans who knew who Tony Stark was didn't even like the character. Surely, Captain America was a much safer choice.
However, after the success of Iron Man, Marvel announced that they were going to do a Thor movie. Seriously Marvel? What's your game? So why did Thor exceed expectations? Because in the backs and fronts of people's minds, was the thought, “Well, I didn't expect Iron Man to be any good either. So I'll give this a chance.” By the time Captain America got his own movie, people were already convinced that Marvel was going to make a good movie regardless of the popularity of the character. The Avengers followed suit and became the most successful franchise in movie history.
In 2012 Marvel then announced Guardians of the Galaxy! Even many comicbook fans had no idea who these characters were. There was a half-human thief, a monster, a green alien assassin, a giant tree, and a talking raccoon. People raced to the theaters with little to no knowledge of the characters or story. Why? Because Marvel has done this before. They gave us characters that we didn't know, and made us fall in love with them. Guardians was no exception.
Now, I'm not saying that DC Comics as a whole is completely clueless here. Anyone following the last couple of weeks of DC's television news knows that someone up there knows what's going on. With titles like Arrow, Flash, Titans, Gotham, Constantine, and Lucifer all announced on the small screen slate, DC is doing everything right on television. All focusing on second rate characters, with no-name actors, and doing extremely well.
So why are they so afraid of the silver screen? Who can answer that question? Well...again, Iron Man.
Iron Man, not only as a formula, but as an attitude embodies the attitude of Marvel Studios. Marvel is confident, they believe that they can do no wrong, rolling in dough, they can beat anything thrown their way, and some of the decisions they've made may have been while intoxicated. Marvel has an overabundance of confidence right now and rightfully so. Thus, the general movie going audience also has confidence in Marvel.
DC Movies lack that confidence. Thus, the audience lacks confidence in DC movies. Green Lantern was originally announced in 1997. It was finally released in 2011. DC fell back on their safety nets pushing another Superman and two more Batman movies in that same time period. Problem? Yes. Why should we believe in a movie that they don't believe in themselves?
In 2012 only 4 months after Marvel's announcement of Guardians, DC announced Justice League Dark, with fan favorite director Guillermo del Toro. Well...Guardians is tearing apart the box office and Justice League Dark? Anyone? The latest news is, “we're still working on it.” Meanwhile, Guillermo del Toro has 5 other projects either in development or have been announced, not one of them is Justice League Dark. Do we have to wait another 12 years before we this outcast group of strange unknown characters grace us with their originality?
This is further exemplified in DC's move to change the date of their Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice as to not have to compete with Captain America 3. The “Star Spangled Avenger” has already beaten “The Worlds Finest” and the fight hasn't even started yet. DC has shied away from creating movies like Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter because they “can't relate to audiences”. Yet, these characters seem to have no trouble gaining popularity enough to be featured in the successful Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoons and past TV shows such as Wonder Woman (Linda Carter), and Smallville.
DC also has announced that it will not mesh it's movie universe with it's TV universe? Now, I don't think they have to do everything that Marvel does, but why would you shun a successful franchise's help? How many more people would see Dawn of Justice if Stephen Amell (Arrow) or Grant Gustin (The Flash) were to make an appearance with the rest of the Justice League? Or if the Constantine TV show does well, why would you not put Matt Ryan in a Justice League Dark movie? To me that's the equivalent of turning down Lebron James to be on your basketball team. It simply doesn't make sense to me.
DC needs an Iron Man. They need that one movie, using a second rate character, with an unknown actor, that leaves audiences saying, “I had no idea what to expect, but that was pretty damn good!” They need to prove that they simply can make a good movie without the crutch of names. Below is a list of characters that I believe could be that guy for DC. I know that many of these characters have been or will be featured on the small screen, but that only testifies even more that DC should reconsider their no combining TV and movies policy.
In no particular order:
Cole Cash (Grifter)
Dick Grayson (Nightwing)
Tim Drake (Red Robin)
Terry McGuiness (Batman Beyond)
Rosa Bertenelli (Huntress)
Carter Hall (Hawkman)
Barbra Gordon (Batgirl)
Michael Carter (Booster Gold)
Kara Zor-L (Powergirl)
J'onn J'onzz (Martian Manhunter)
Now I know that this is just one man's opinion, but one thing is certain;
That's how Iron Man did it, that's how Marvel does it, and it's worked out pretty well so far.