08 May, 2015

Hey Marvel, It's DC Calling (Part 3)

So last Spring I wrote a couple articles on what boiled down to DC’s response to The Marvel Juggernaut, and a few thoughts thereof.  I called them … well, you can see for yourself right at the top of this article.  And I recently started to think a little bit more about that.  The Marvel Juggernaut;  DC knocking on that door.  Where are we in those Super Hero worlds?  So I thought it was time I write them up again.  ‘Cause opinions aside – both companies have leaps and missteps – it’s a good time to be a geek.

First, where are we?  A quick dart-throw at the map:  It’s Spring of 2015 now which means we’ve seen Avengers:  Age Of Ultron, a second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the first seasons of Agent Carter and Daredevil – those three TV Shows all coming back for more – and Ant Man is right around the corner.  On the other side of the river?  The first trailer for Batman v Superman:  Dawn Of Justice (God, they really couldn’t help that title), the first seasons of Gotham and The Flash (and their Arrow is still popular), and we’ve heard Supergirl and Legends Of Tomorrow are goes.  (“Goes,” yes, they really do say that.)  And both camps have more movies on the way, but more on those later (including touching on Sony Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox who have tabs on Spider-Man and X-Men). 

Second, what we talked about in those first two articles?  Let’s see where all that is now.  We touched on Captain America 3 (which we now know will be Civil War) being released the same day as Batman v Superman (6 May, 2016).  Would BvS flinch?  Turns out yes, but perhaps to their advantage, as BvS now releases nearly two months before on 25 March, 2016.

We touched on DC trying to adapt the “it’s all connected” ideal Marvel successfully built with their “phases.”  How’s that going?  Well, I still preface that DC is working from a different starting point than Marvel -- they don’t have to say who Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman are as much as Marvel does with, say, Ant Man – but are they connecting?  Let’s go back to David S. Goyer’s comment last year:  “I know that Warner Bros [who owns DC] would love to make their universe more cohesive [but] it’s just been vague conversations so far.”  Just vague conversations so far?  Well, a year later, and they’re announcing their Flash movie will be with a different actor than the TV Series.  Obviously a conscious decision, but how does that make their universe cohesive?

We touched on Ben Affleck’s return to comics, “switching sides” from Marvel (he was Daredevil in their 2003 feature) to DC (he’ll be playing some guy in a cape and cowl).  His next Directorial effort, the Prohibition Drama Live By Night, still lingers, and initial crowd reaction to his donning that cape and cowl seem favorable.  (This writer’s concern with Batman v Superman – God I really hate that title – has nothing to do with Mr. Affleck but rather that pesky little thing called Story.)  It still stands to reason that The Brothers Warner greenlit Live By Night because of Affleck’s agreeing to play with DC, and I still say it was a fair trade.

Then we touched on (the then upcoming) Marvel-Netflix series Daredevil.  And talk about a property switching hands but – they all do, of course, but – this was forefront and many.  Let’s just talk Showrunners.  What started with Joe Carnahan went to Drew Goddard.  But then he was pulled decided to work on Sony’s The Sinister Six (and, yep, more on Sony/Marvel to come).  So Steven S. DeKnight took the reins.  But before Season 1 of the Netflix Series finished, he left, relinquishing duties to Doug Petrie & Marco Ramirez (that duo officially taking over for Season 2;  and, interestingly, Goddard, DeKnight and Petrie are all Joss Whedon Buffy alums).  Thankfully the talented Jeph Loeb – who wrote the excellent Daredevil:  Yellow comic (among others, look him up if you need to) – is still on board;  the show and as Marvel’s Head Of Television.

And that kinda brings us current.  And Daredevil (the show) is as good a place as any to start anew.  I hope I don’t anger too many people with this but, in the interest of being fair to both companies’ leaps and missteps, I have to share my opinion.  Sadly – and I hate to say this given the character’s pedigree – the new show’s not much more than "what might have been."           

Sure – and we’ve touched on this already – it didn’t help it didn’t have a consistent Showrunner.  Goddard’s first two episodes are distinctly different from the rest of the first-season thirteen.  And by “the end” – let’s say the last two episodes – you can feel DeKnight running away, practically before The Martini (and I’ll let you figure out that reference).  The leads are fine enough – except for Vincent D’Onofrio who shines above the rest;  he was born to play Kingpin – but the shows themselves are like walking through drying cement.  There were great moments -- the apparent one-shot fight in the hallway -- but they're so far in-between that every episode feels as if they stretched a forty-minute show into a one-hour slot.  Then the whole season felt that way;  too-little story stretched to fill too many episodes.  (How many scenes were there where The Chinese Druglord asked Kingpin to get his house in order?  How many scenes were there where Karen asked Ben Urich to work on the story?  You count, I've embarrassed the show long enough.)  This article isn’t a Daredevil review.  In fact, I hope Jo Blo’s wonderful column “The Unpopular Opinion” gets a crack at it.  But I remember looking forward to it -- loving the character -- then finally seeing it and forcing myself to finish it.  Dry cement?  I wished it was Marvel good.

“Marvel good.”  That’s quite the bar they’ve set for themselves, isn’t it?  And their hard work is just beginning.  With Ant Man closing out Phase 2, let’s take a look at what’s on the horizon for Phase 3:  Captain America 3 (Civil War), Doctor Strange, Guardians Of The Galaxy 2, Thor 3 (Ragnarok), Black Panther, Captain Marvel – not to be confused with DC’s Shazam! – Inhumans and, if these weren’t enough, closing those out, Avengers:  Infinity War (a two-part film that takes us through May of 2019).  

As Velma would say, “Jinkies!” 

But what’s encouraging about such an undertaking is how thought-out their plan continues to be, on-screen and off.  In a decision that surprises no fans – especially with Joss Whedon closing his Marvel run from Captain America (he doctored that script) through UltronInfinity War will be scripted by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, the same duo behind Captain America 2 (Winter Soldier) and 3 (Civil War);  these after they co-wrote Thor 2 (The Dark World) and created Agent Carter.  And with Civil War and Infinity War being directed by Joe & Anthony Russo – love or hate that team, corralled by the indisputably great Kevin Feige – it’s a consistency one can’t help but applaud.

Which takes us to Sony Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox.  You remember them, don’t you?  The little studios that could, often still do.  The former has control of Spider-Man and, the latter, X-Men.  And, yes, both of those properties are Marvel, but not owned by them (or Marvel’s now Parent, Disney).  And, yes, both properties have done just fine.  Many people consider Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man to be the birth of the modern-day super hero movie (and rightly so) and many people consider Bryan Singer’s X-Men 2 to be one of the best super hero movies of all time (and rightly so).  But how do those companies get in the way of even more consistency, something Marvel would looooove?  Case in point:  We meet twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) in Ultron but do you know who their father is?  None other than X-Men-rival Magneto (Ian McKellan).  (And, yes, to complicate matters even further, we already met Quicksilver -- Evan Peters' great take -- in Days Of Future Past.)  Case in even better point?  You know who’s at the center of our Civil War:  none other than Mr. Stan Lee’s most popular creation, Peter Parker / Spider-Man.  But due to companies being companies, our MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) -- the "Iron Man side" -- can't mention it.  However much they’d like to play with those toys, they just can’t.

Or couldn’t.

In a move that surprised more people than The Hack, Sony and Marvel came to an agreement that finally bridges the Spider-Man void as it was announced that Peter Parker / Spider-Man would appear in Civil War.   And what’s even more significant is Sony and Marvel are jointly casting the new actor because, when Sony relaunches that franchise in their world, they’ll keep him.  (See?  Cohesion.)  And I’m sorry to see Andrew Garfield go.  While his two movies weren’t amazing – see what I did there? – he was good in them, and I think he’d have been fun in The MCU.  Alas.

While at the moment Marvel rules the movies, DC – continuing to knock on their door – is expanding TV with a fifth series.  And this seems to be DC’s “cohesion focus.”  Joining Gotham, Arrow and The Flash are Supergirl and Legends Of Tomorrow.  Having a third show on The CW (Gotham is on Fox and Supergirl will be on CBS) increases the cross-over potential for those three shows and creates a DC Television Universe, something Marvel has been toying with but – interestingly, given their films plan – hasn’t had better luck.  Perhaps their deciding not to go forward with (on ABC) the S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff gives them more time to focus on expanding (on Netflix) Daredevil to A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Defenders.

So DC’s Movies?  How one considers Zack Snyder’s work aside, I had the pleasure of working with him on 300 and can honestly say he’s a nice guy.  He cares.  But there is his work to consider and Man Of Steel was good but not great;  more troubling is how coddled he is by Warner to lead both Batman v Superman and Justice League.  And, yes, on their way are Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad and Shazam! (again, not to be confused with Captain Marvel;  who, PS, in Marvel, is a girl).  DC is clearly going for a – I know this word is thrown around too much, but – darker approach, capitalizing on Christopher Nolan’s Batman series (and, remember, Mr. Nolan Co-Storied Man Of Steel).  So we have to imagine Wonder Woman et al will be in the same vein.  (Which is fine.  I just beg them to focus on Story.)

I watched the Flash Pilot and, sorry, it’s another “eh.”  (And, given how bad the last five years of Smallville were, I haven’t been able to bring myself to try Arrow.)  Gotham has been both entertaining and a train wreck;  I continue wanting it to be good, but their lumbering writing and over-the-top character lore is frustrating.  And then the Batman v Superman trailer was released and, again, “eh.”  So as much as I love to rewatch Donner’s Superman and Nolan’s Batman Begins – both truly great films – I’m disheartened to see two of my favorite characters’ next incarnations just be “eh.”  (Let’s be fair, we all hate it when something we’re looking forward to turns out to be “eh.”  I’m looking at you, Star Wars Prequels.)

Still with the fair, we can judge all upcoming Marvel and DC work however we want but we know one thing for certain:  we’re going to see it.  And, really, that’s what’s important to them:  our money we’re fans.

I closed the first of these three articles with “What’s next?” because where we are is just where we are today, and there’s a lot of excitement from both sides of the river right around the corner.  To each his own?  Sure.

But it’s definitely a good time to be a geek.

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