Marvel Studios' The Avengers was a game changer, there's no denying that fact. The film has set an impressive number of box office records and looks to be headed for a 3rd place finish on the all-time earnings chart. Quite the impressive feat for a studio that's only self-financed movies for the last 8 years or so. So what can a 90+ year old studio giant like Warner Bros. (WB) learn from their success? Actually quite a lot, but just as Marvel Comics has a roster of heroes vastly different from DC Comics, so too must Warner Bros. differ their approach to a super hero team-up movie.
Hey Warner Bros., this is your chance to avenge your subsidiary, DC Comics by one-upping their rival in a competition that began 51 years ago. Marvel icon and creator, Stan Lee has made no secret over the years that he looked to DC for inspiration for many of the Marvel heroes we know and love today but tweaked the characters to make them more relatable; an adjustment which has resulted in Marvel becoming the dominant comic book company of the modern age. There is a common saying in the geek community, "DC did it first but Marvel got it right." Well WB, here's your chance to return the favor all these many years later. Marvel Studios has achieved something previously unprecedented in cinema, they've created a shared universe across 5 films and then brought the main protagonists of each film into one big team-up movie; essentially, they've brought the "Big Crossover Event" comic book blueprint to the world of movies. Obviously,the recent success of The Avengers has WB looking hard at their own superhero properties but I believe it must approach the situation from a new perspective. Simply following Marvel's formula may indeed lead to success but greater glory and revenue can be achieved if the focus is placed on WB's greatest comic book assets, the DC villains.
Today, thanks to cartoons and movies, the world probably knows Spider-Man, Iron Man and Hulk just as well as they know Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. However, I'd be willing to wager that more people know Lex Luthor, the Joker and Hades than say Green Goblin, The Mandarin and The Leader. It's a toss up between each companies' heroes but Warner Bros. has the distinct advantage when it comes to antagonists, especially since the rights to major Marvel baddies such as Dr. Doom, Apocalypse and The Kingpin are held by other studios. Heck, Batman alone has untapped rogues that could provide fertile fodder for 10 more Dark Knight films. Sure, we've seen Lex Luthor in plenty (every) Superman film to date but let's be honest, we've yet to see the Lex Luthor from the comic books (the closest we've come is Smallville) and even still, the likes of Parasite, Darkseid, Braniac, etc. are all ripe for a big screen debut. The Flash has his own unique cabal of adversarial foes and Wonder Woman has the Greek pantheon to battle. The mistake Green Lantern made was going with an immaterial Parallax instead of the cold and calculating Sinestro, a mistake I'm sure will be rectified in the reboot/sequel. In many ways, the villains of DC have the same relatablity as the heroes of Marvel. Often these individuals are flawed human beings who use their abilities for personal gain instead of the greater good. You take Lex Luthor and make him a force for good and you have Tony Stark, give Solomon Grundy a personality and you have the Hulk, Talia Al Ghul a slightly different career path and she's Black Widow and so on and so forth. My point is that there's an opportunity here for originality, a chance to be daring and focus on the villain's story and show a different side of the comic book world to the movie going populace. And what happens when the villains lose the climatic battle against their superhero counterparts? Why, they assemble of course.
In today's society, and magnified a hundredfold in the geek community, the ability to successfully implement an original idea in our "been there, seen that" era is invaluable and is the chief reason why Marvel's currently riding high. The other side of that coin dictates that Warner Bros. will never achieve the same level of success if they simply copy what we've just experienced in The Avengers. We've seen the alien invasion, we've seen the long, meticulous recruitment of heroes, we've seen atypical humor immersed in realism. An end-scene where Amanda Waller shows up to talk to Superman about the Justice League initiative is not going to have the same impact. Take the The Avengers formula and build upon it. Regardless of whether you're purely a fan of Marvel or DC, the fact is ticket sales for The Avengers were roughly the same as those for The Dark Knight. Add a 3D revenue boost to The Dark Knight and it theoretically has the better box-office numbers. Now imagine what a 'dark and mature film' taking cues from Christopher Nolan's movie formula and featuring Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman could earn. Applying Marvel's formula, a Justice League movie can still be original by following the DC antithesis of S.H.I.E.L.D., (maybe H.I.V.E.) in their recruitment of defeated villains to form The Injustice League. Instead of assembling superheroes to defend the Earth from threats that a secret government organization can't handle, a secret terrorist organization assembles a group of super-villains to combat an indestructible force for good, Superman. Apply the Marvel formula but play to the strength of the DC universe. When Superman is unable to single-handedly oppose this organized, calculated and ruthless threat to “Truth, justice and the American way,” he seeks out allies, namely heroes who have dealt with these villains before. You'd be hard pressed to find someone that isn't interested in seeing Lex Luthor, Black Adam and Deathstroke combining their talents to take down the Man of Steel. This method would also attract some big name acting talent who probably have no desire to play a superhero but would jump at the chance to play a menacing, merciless anti-hero (see Hugo Weaving in Captain America: The First Avenger).
Hopefully someone at DC is in the ear of every writer currently working on bringing a DC hero to life. The key ingredient to Marvel's success is that all of the top execs, directors and writers have been fans of the genre and have striven to stay as close as possible to the spirit of the source material. Foregoing a focus on the villians, if WB takes only one lesson from Marvel Studios then hopefully it's the realization that this their subsidiary has endured for decades because even though society has changed, their characters have stayed true to who and what they are, the Man of Tomorrow, a Dark Knight and an Amazon Princess. Perfect the formula Warner!