Time for DC Entertainment to Step It Up

Last year when Warner Bros. announced the creation of DC Entertainment to bring the characters of DC Comics to life in multimedia, as a direct answer to the competitive challenge presented by Marvel Entertainment's partnership with Disney, I wrote an enthusiastic blog entry titled "Here Comes DC Entertainment."  Now it is time for DC to show its stuff to the masses.  It has done fine so far with animation (the TV cartoon Batman: The Brave and the Bold and the direct-to-DVD Green Lantern: First Flight), videogames (the critically acclaimed and bestselling Batman: Arkham Asylum), and with television shows (Human Target which has been renewed for a second season by the FOX network, and Smallville, which will begin its tenth and allegedly final season next fall). The telling signs will be how DC Entertainment handles its big guns.

Recently, the Batman movies by Christopher Nolan -- Batman Begins and The Dark Knight -- are the only big screen projects that DC has had to brag about.  The last Superman movie was a disappointment, and so was the much anticipated Watchmen.  DC has since been focusing its efforts on lesser known projects, such as the flop The Losers.  DC Entertainment is coming out with Jonah Hex, based on its Western comic book with Josh Brolin as the disfigured cowboy anti-hero, and also stars John Malkovich and Megan Fox.  It is also developing a live action feature film based on Lobo, the over-the-top alien bountyhunter. (It is also allegedly still developing a television series based on the comic book Midnight Mass, about a married couple who battle supernatural forces.) But none of these are familiar household names, so who knows how well they will perform or if they can grab the interest of the general public?

Marvel started its streak of superhero genre Hollywood dominance with Blade, a lesser-known character that proved to be a hit.  But DC Entertainment still hasn't produced a solid homerun in movie theaters besides its Batman franchise.  So it is betting heavy on the big lineup of future heavyweights, include the next Batman movie, a new Superman film produced by Christopher Nolan, and a new Green Lantern movie.  All of these are loaded with question marks.  A new Batman film seems like a no-brainer and the least risky of all the current projects, given the enormous success of the last two Bat-flicks.  But Nolan has been busy working on his latest film, Inception, and with the tragic death of Heath Ledger, who played the Joker in the last movie, who knows what direction the next film will take?  As for Superman, having Nolan as a producer seems like a positive sign as Warner Bros. attempts to reboot its Man of Steel franchise yet again, but they thought they were in good hands bringing in Bryan Singer last time who did such a great job with Marvel's X-Men, so if nothing else, that proves that there are no guarantees for success.  A lot rides on Green Lantern, which DC is hoping will be the next big franchise, starring Ryan Reynolds as the Earth's protector.  Can it do what Iron Man did for Marvel?  I hope so, but I also fear that it runs the risk of being a special effects heavy debacle with no soul if the script isn't right. 

DC Entertainment has been slow to bring its other big characters to the silver screen.  Wonder Woman has been lagging in development hell for years.  They are also working on bringing us a movie about The Flash, but will it be any better than the short-live 1990 television series starring John Wesley Shipp? There is also talk of bringing Aquaman, the Justice League, Green Arrow, and maybe even the characters of MAD magazine to life, but I won't hold my breath until I hear more solid news.

If it is any consolation, Marvel Entertainment also faces some risks after its long run of box-office success.  It will be rebooting its Spider-man and X-Men sagas with younger casts, and possibly also the Fantastic Four and maybe even (yet again) The Incredible Hulk. Its upcoming big films -- Thor and Captain America -- will face just as much pressure and scrutiny as the DC competition. Likewise, sequels such as Iron Man 3 and Wolverine 2 will not have it easy, nor will the much hyped in-the-works The Avengers or lesser projects like Ant-man, Runaways, and the purported Ghost Rider sequel.  The under-performance of Kick-Ass goes to show that Marvel does not always have a golden touch, bringing to mind less than stellar superhero flicks like Daredevil, Elektra, and Punisher.

I do want to see DC Entertainment strike gold.  Good movies are good movies, and I think superhero tales aren't just a trend but a viable franchise that Hollywood can continue to tap into for great entertainment, characters, and storytelling.  The challenge lies, as always, in the execution.