3 Ways DC Comics Can Get Its Act Together. | Gradient
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3 ways DC Comics’ movies can get their act together.

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Well, that didn’t work. After nearly a full year of speculation that DC’s Suicide Squad might be the movie that turns things around for DC Entertainment, the movie itself landed like a belly flop. Calling it a bomb would imply that there was some sizzle or excitement, so let’s just call it what it is: an achingly mediocre dud, redeemed only by Will Smith and Margot Robbie’s game performances.

Now, on the bright side, Suicide Squad may not be a total financial waste. It debuted to a record $135 million, but trouble looms on the horizon, because ticket sales dropped a stomach churning 41 percent from Friday to Saturday. That’s the same fate that befell DC’s other summer bust, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which opened to tons of hype but couldn’t overcome the critical shade and abysmal word of mouth.

So this is all a long way of saying something obvious: things are not working. While Marvel continues to churn out films that generally fall somewhere between pretty good (Ant Man and the Iron Man trilogy) and sublime (Guardians of the Galaxy and the Captain America trilogy), DC is still looking for one, single, unqualified good movie. 

It’s not too late to right the ship, but it needs to be righted soon. Here are three ways DC can reverse its fortunes.

1. Find your Kevin Feige

Hollywood has long known that Marvel’s secret weapon is Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. In 2000, Feige was a 27-year-old fanboy who was catapulted to an associate producer credit on the set of the first X-Men movie when studio heads realized he had a encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe and a good head for crowd pleasing popcorn flicks. Seven years later, he was made president of Marvel Studios and has been producing box office fire for them ever since.

Over at DC Entertainment, the closest thing to Kevin Feige is Zack Snyder, the director of Guardians of Ga’Hoole. As a fanboy, Snyder does seem to have a certain affinity for comic books, but he’s on the record as being of having some very questionable criteria for what makes a good one. As he told EW in 2007: “I had a buddy who tried getting me into ‘normal’ comic books, but I was all like, ‘No one is having sex or killing each other. This isn’t really doing it for me.'”

Duly noted, dude.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion about what “does it” for them in a comic book, but if you’re looking for an imagination to helm your multi-billion dollar comic book empire, I suggest looking to someone who doesn’t think sex and killing are the bars that need to be cleared. In short: Snyder is not the guy. DC needs to stop pretending that he is.

DC Entertainment may be attempting to change course with the promotion of Geoff Johns to president. Johns is an old hand at DC Comics, having overseen the launch of tons of successful titles. Whether or not that will translate to box office savvy remains to be seen, but it’s safe to say Johns’ ideas about what a good comic book is are a little more refined than Snyder’s.

2. Find your Robert Downey Jr.

Hard to believe now, but when Marvel cast Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man back in 2007, he was viewed as a washed up actor several years past his expiration date. Today, he’s the highest paid actor on the planet, thanks entirely to his hypnotizing, gut busting Tony Stark performance. Few other actors are more enjoyable to just watch talk. He’s been the cornerstone to Marvel’s success, and even as Marvel is clearly signaling that they’re ready to hand the mantle off to Chris Evans’ Captain America, Downey Jr.’s performance will always be the springboard that transformed superhero movies from niche fan service (with the occasional, Christopher Nolan-helmed outlier) to Hollywood savior.

This is where DC’s casting choices have been so confusing. Henry Cavill certainly looks the part of Superman, but his leaden stoicism is painfully dull onscreen, and he has none of, say, Christopher Reeves’ quickening charm. Ben Affleck was one of the less bad things about Batman V Superman, but nobody’s ever accused Affleck of being overly charismatic. DC needs some onscreen magnetism, and it needs it fast.

Suicide Squad actually takes a few steps towards solving this problem by handing a franchise over to Will Smith and Margot Robbie, who certainly can go toe-to-toe with RDJ for sheer likability. Too bad DC made them bad guys.

3. Make a play for TV dominance

One way DC Entertainment has kept pace with Marvel is on TV, where The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow are developing a small but devoted fandom. The shows themselves are a little wobbly with critics, but generally deliver on a brighter, more fun take on superheroes that feels truer to the spirit of the comics they come from.

DC made the puzzling decision to keep its TV and film universes separate, casting Ezra Miller as its film universe Flash while Grant Gustin handles the television duties. This is in contrast to Marvel, where its television shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, the upcoming Luke Cage and Agents of SHIELD) work within the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. This means the television shows and the movies all act as promotional material for each other, and that’s a move DC should emulate.

But Marvel’s TV shows have met with mixed critical responses. Daredevil and Jessica Jones‘ respective first seasons were excellent, but season two of Daredevil stumbled and Agents of SHIELD has hardly been a ratings bonanza.

This means that while Marvel has bested DC at the box office, there’s an opening on television. DC’s gritty vision for its crowded superhero universe would be better served on TV anyway, where huge character rosters and adult content are given more space. HBO’s going to be looking for another big budget hit after Game of Thrones ends. Why not try their hand at a Batman series?

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Subscribe on iTunes.

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