Gary Collinson on the Justice League and a shared DC Cinematic Universe...
It's hardly surprising given the $1.45 billion box-office haul of The Avengers, but shared universes are all the rage at the moment. Rival movie studios have watched on with envy as Marvel Studios carefully crafted their Cinematic Universe with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, before sitting back and reaping the rewards by bringing their various characters together for the ultimate superhero ensemble. Now everyone seems to be at it - Sony are already making preparations for a spin-off to The Amazing Spider-Man with a solo Venom flick, and Fox are rumoured to be eyeing an adaptation of the classic 'Days of Future Past' X-Men story arc, which would potentially allow them to merge the world of X-Men: First Class with their previous mutant offerings. But if there's one studio with the potential to match what Marvel has accomplished it's Warner Bros. - the sole rights-holder of the DC Comics stable of superheroes, which just so happens to include the one team capable of going toe-to-toe with The Avengers... the Justice League.
Of course, it's one thing to hold the rights to the characters, but - as WB has found out time and again with their comic book adaptations - its another thing entirely to actually make them work. Aside from Batman and Superman, they've never quite been able to hit all the right notes both critically and commercially with their DC properties, but isn't for the want of trying. WB has been actively developing feature adaptations of Wonder Woman and The Flash for the best part of the past decade, while a Justice League feature almost became a reality back in 2007 when George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road) signed on to direct a big-budget motion-capture adaptation that would have starred the likes of Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger) as Batman, D.J. Cotrona (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) as Superman and Megan Gale (Stealth) as Wonder Woman.
As it happens, since the turn of the millennium, the only DC adaptation that can be considered genuine blockbuster smash is The Dark Knight, while Batman Begins and Superman Returns both managed to turn a solid enough profit, despite the fact that the latter was considered a disappointment. Granted, Watchmen was also a modest success, but despite having the entire DC library of superheroes at their disposal, the only other projects that have managed to become a reality in that time are Catwoman, Jonah Hex and Green Lantern... certainly not the kind of films to build a shared DC universe around. Not a successful one, anyway.
Following The Avengers, Marvel Studios are now hard at work with 'Phase Two' of their cinematic universe. Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2 and (presumably) Guardians of the Galaxy are all set to arrive in the next two years, while other projects in development include Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther and The Avengers 2. Meanwhile, over at Warner Bros., the curtain is about to fall on Christopher Nolan's Batman universe with the release of The Dark Knight Rises next week; beyond that, the only other concrete release is Zack Snyder's Superman reboot Man of Steel, and - while director Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) has plans to bring Lobo to the screen and Will Beall (Gangster Squad) is currently hard at work on a script for Justice League - according to the Los Angeles Times "it will likely be at least three years before a new DC title hits the big screen."
Earlier in the week, Christopher Nolan reaffirmed his commitment that The Dark Knight Rises would be his final Batman film, and that he had no plans to get involved with any potential Justice League feature. I'm sure the studio would have loved nothing more than for Nolan to take over the reigns on Justice League - particularly if he could tempt Christian Bale and Henry Cavill to bring their respective characters together on screen (assuming Bale's Batman is still breathing post-TDKR) - but as it happens they're going to have to move forward on the project without his golden touch. But move forward they intend to do, with Warner Bros. President Jeff Robinov stating: "My hope is that over the next month or so we'll be ready to lay out the plan for the next DC movies."
Unlike Marvel, the plan for Warner Bros. seems to be to use Justice League as a springboard to launch a series of solo movies, which makes sense given the difficulties they've experienced in the past. It would also seem to present them with the ideal opportunity to relaunch Batman post-The Dark Knight Rises, giving that any reboot is sure to meet resistance from fans of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. But the real key to all this is going to be next year's Man of Steel; if Zack Snyder gets it right, then Warner Bros. may find they have the perfect platform to build on with a Justice League feature, especially if Henry Cavill is involved as Superman. On the other hand, if he gets it wrong, would audiences be prepared to accept a line-up of entirely new faces? And would it even be possible to introduce us to all of these characters without the film becoming a jumbled mess of origin stories?
As I said at the start of this article, there's enormous potential in a shared DC Universe, but Warner Bros. are going to have to act fast, and there's no room for mistakes. By 2015, Marvel Studios will have released another five or six films, not to mention the likes of The Wolverine, The Untitled X-Men Sequel and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from Fox and Sony, so they're running the risk of a Marvel monopoly that may be too much even for the Justice League to break... assuming the superhero movie bubble hasn't burst by then.
Gary Collinson is a writer and lecturer from the North East of England. He is the editor-in-chief of FlickeringMyth.com and the author of Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen.