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The State of DC Superhero Movies and What Can Be Done

It is absolutely no secret that Marvel has been kicking DC's butt in the world of cinema since Iron Man came out in 2008 and the start of the Marvel extended cinematic universe started making billions of dollars. Within that time frame all the major roles were portrayed by the same actors with the only exceptions being Hulk which was played by Ed Norton in 2008 then Mark Ruffalo since, James "Rhodey" Rhodes which went from Terrence Howard to Don Cheadle and Spider-Man. Although, Sony owned the movie rights to Spider-Man and one can argue the superhero didn't join the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) until Tom Holland's portrayal hit the big screen. In that same time frame we've had three different actors play Batman (please note I'm not including animated or television versions in any of this) and we've had just as many actors play a version of the Joker.

Thor just released it's 4th film in the franchise matching the number of Avengers films while Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man have all had trilogies. A feat that hasn't been accomplished since Chris Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy by DC. Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool all already have released dates for their third films not including crossovers over cameos or Avengers. As of writing this article nine of the top 10 box office grossing superhero movies are Marvel and only one, 2018's Aquaman is DC. The thing I found interesting about the top 10 was that every single one of them was based on superheroes played by the same actor that was a role in a previous film with the vast majority being straight up sequels. Aquaman was introduced in Justice League (technically in Batman v. Superman but only as a very brief cameo) and Black Panther was introduced in Captain America: Civil War. The Avengers was by all accounts a sequel to Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Incredible Hulk. At the time Iron Man was the biggest success of Marvel's MCU when the film grossed over half a billion dollars. Meanwhile the year 2012 rolled around and a couple months before The Dark Knight Trilogy came to a conclusion after seven years in the process Marvel popped out The Avengers. What DC had taken seven years to accomplish Marvel did in just four years by having the superheroes team up. To this point no superhero movie had ever broken a billion dollars at the box office. Although 2008's The Dark Knight had come close (and is still currently in my opinion the best superhero movie ever made). But before The Dark Knight Rises released and barely broke that billion dollar mark The Avengers released and made over $1.5 billion dollars. That was a decade ago and since then DC has never come close to that financial success off of one movie.

Since then superhero movies have snowballed in popularity. So what did DC do in response to Marvel's success? They tried to rush Justice League, their own version of Avengers. The next year Man of Steel released and was a financial success making more money than Thor, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk or Captain America: The First Avenger. DC seemed to possibly be on the right track. But Christian Bale chose not to reprise his role as Batman. So DC was left with just Superman and a need to recast Batman and add some more characters. Outside of Man of Steel DC had no roles being reprised. The Avengers had the big superhero names while bringing back the likes of Hawkeye, Phil Coulson, Loki, Pepper Potts, Black Widow and Erik Selvig while Mark Ruffalo's Hulk was the only recast character from the most recent cinematic portrayal.

This is where I personally think everything started to go downhill with DC. Batman v. Superman. While I do think the introduction of Wonder Woman in the film was extremely well done we were given a tiny view of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. When Marvel gave us two Iron Man films, Hulk, Thor and Captian America DC tried to cram all of that into a half Man of Steel sequel half Batman reboot. Mark Ruffalo's Hulk was a simple replacement. The role was the same and the character was the same it was just a different actor. But Ben Affleck's Batman was very different from Christian Bale's. We were given an older, darker, extremist Batman and it didn't feel like the same Batman everyone had fallen in love with. Then before DC could make a Cyborg film, before an Aquaman film, before a film staring The Flash they made Justice League. Granted Wonder Woman did get her backstory film before Justice League you still had a six superhero team-up movie where very little was known about three of the superheroes. You wouldn't have had Avengers without introducing Hulk, Thor or Captain America. Yet, that's what DC decided to do. On top of that director Zack Snyder had to step away from the film due to personal reasons and then Joss Whedon was brought in as a replacement. Yes, Whedon has done some fantastic work. He did the first Avengers film and was famous for television series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Whedon made script changes and was responsible for budget issues and delays. Then when it released, Justice League was not well received by critics or fans.

Years later the film did get a good degree of redemption when Zack Snyder returned to the film, did some reshoots (with the original cast), edits, some absolutely stunning visual effects work and a much expanded backstory for both Flash and Cyborg (by this time the Aquaman film had been released so Aquaman's backstory was well covered). Zack Snyder's cut of the film even had some Suicide Squad characters and story squeezed in. It was very much a different film, most notably due to its extremely lengthy duration of about four hours.

So what has DC done since Justice League? Since Justice League Marvel released two more Avengers films, both grossing over $2 billion dollars. Not to mention the massive success of both Black Panther and Spider-Man: No Way Home. All films that made more money than any DC money as far as box office numbers go. I'll tell you what DC has done. They released Aquaman which was a step in the right direction. They made a Wonder Woman sequel which was very poorly done. They made Shazam! which didn't have the box office success of most other superhero movies of the last decade. They made another Suicide Squad movie after giving Harley Quinn Birds of Prey.

What has DC done since Justice League with all the characters since only Aquaman and Wonder Woman are established at this point? They rebooted Batman again. Granted it seemed the situation was forced for Batman. Ben Affleck not only exited the role of Batman but also stepped down from directing The Batman. I personally was a big fan of The Batman film. Instead of just making Batman be this super athletic ultra ninja with gadgets it became more about intellect and detective skills. Going from Affleck's Batman that was this established character that was portrayed has having been in the superhero business a long time and being somewhat aged Batman was younger and less experienced. You also have a

a more slender actor in Robert Pattinson. With a different Batman actor also came a different Catwoman, a different James Gordon and a different Alfred. While I believe all the actors did an admirable job it still can create this discontinuity. The Flash movie, set to release next year, has Ben Affleck in it as Batman even though the character has already been rebooted and the actor has since stepped away from the role. You also have all the very troubling incidents of the past couple years of cinematic Flash actor Ezra Miller. From arrests to teen girls having protection orders, strangling, disorderly conduct, harassment and burglary it will be hard to picture DC continuing to employ Ezra Miller. Whether or not The Flash film would be released because of the actor's public actions came into question. But the film is still slated to be released. A Cyborg movie was in production set for a 2020 release and was going to serve as a follow up to Justice League but it was cancelled and nothing else has been done since.

Saddest of all may be the Batgirl film. It was nearly fully completed yet cancelled and DC has no plans to release it. The success of Wonder Woman was one of the few things that DC had a leg up on Marvel in. None of the female actors in the MCU had their own film or even just the lead role until Captain Marvel which came after three Avengers film had been released. With no Batgirl movie we do not get a true introduction to the character that hasn't been represented in film since Alicia Silverstone played the role all the way back in 1997, 25 years ago. We also miss out on J.K. Simmons reprising his role as James Gordon, some form of Michael Keaton's Batman and Brendan Frasier as villain Firefly. I truly hope there is a push for the film similar to Zack Snyder's cut of Justice League and a completed version of the film can make its way to HBO Max. It feels such a shame to have tens of millions of dollars spent, shoot an entire film then just decide you don't like it enough to release it. Will we get a better version of Batgirl in the near future? I highly doubt it. It feels like such a disservice to the cast, crew, and everyone else involved in the film. So, when DC tried to play catchup with Avengers and didn't do as good of a job they have since continued that downward trend of recasting, rebooting and sadly cancelling movies. There were also rumors of a Green Lantern Corps movie rebooting the Green Lantern. Perhaps Black Adam will have success in introducing some characters. Maybe we can get some more Henry Cavill Superman. There are so many well written characters and stories to explore it truly feels as though DC isn't doing a very good job with anything that isn't just another Batman. Justice League 2 doesn't seem like something that will happen anytime soon. Hopefully they can do better and provide us with some quality films with the potential for crossovers that Marvel has been churning out and making bank from.

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