Saturday, February 21, 2015
The DC Strategy (or at least what I think it is)
In case you missed it earlier, that picture is the recently released photo of Jason Mamoa as Aquaman. The reaction has been mostly good but as always there are some folks who were hoping for something more like this:
Uhh yeah.....that wasn't going to happen. Thanks to the Suuperfriends cartoons, which is where most of us got our first exposure to the character, Aquaman has been largely considered a joke and has been the least appreciated member of the Justice League. The comic series has long been an afterthought and gone through numerous re-boots, restarts, etc. The current series has been a godsend due to a 25 issue run by Geoff Johns, one of the best in the game right now, and a real triumph of the New 52 continuity. The cinematic version will likely have a storyline in the same vein as the comic series, reportedly with a change in his human heritage from the New England upbringing of comic lore to a Polynesian one to match the actor's, which is a good thing. This is undoubtedly going to be a serious, take no prisoners depiction of the character and not the one that has been the butt of jokes, Entourage plotlines, and Robot Chicken sketches.
The decision to make a big deal out of this costume reveal looks like what I'm guessing is a alrager strategy for the DC film universe, and that is to devote serious time and energy to characters that have real marketing growth potential. It wouldn't surprise me if there is a Cyborg costume reveal later on this year to coincide with the launch of his solo comic series, and he has a solo film of his own scheduled for a 2020 release. And of course Wonder Woman will be getting a solo flick of her own that has only been decades in the making. The goals here, if I'm correct, are to create two new viable movie characters (Cyborg and Aquaman) that speak to the changing demographics in the country, and to create in Wonder Woman a third stalwart movie superhero to go along with Batman and Superman, one that can be re-cast every 10 years or so if need be or dusted off after long breaks and get people excited by her return. If the DC film universe succeeds those will be the real triumphs. At this point in time Batman and Superman are what they are, business-wise: a good casting and a good enough movie are a license to print money but they've pretty much hit their ceilings box-office wise. The new money to be made is with new characters or old ones that haven't been used to their potential. What they're doing is an entirely different venture from what Marvel Studios had to do when they got started.
What do I mean? Marvel was starting off minus their most well known and most popular characters in Spider-Man and the X-Men (particularly Wolverine), and had to create a product that could resonate despite relying on B-listers like Iron Man and Captain America. And yes, in 2008-09 Cap and Iron Man were B-listers; even today their books don't sell like Spidey's or Batman's. As a result, it was crucial to land a top notch actor the likes of Robert Downey Jr who also happened to be a perfect fit for the role of Tony Stark. Once Iron Man succeeded they could go to lesser known (at the time) actors like Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans to fill the roles of Thor and Cap, respectively. DC is starting with Batman and Superman already established as icons and is using them to set up the rest of the universe, and is not relying on big names to get any of their superheroes over. (By big name I mean people who can be recognized by those who aren't movie connoisseurs. There are people who know Henry Cavill well but the average casual moviegoer has no idea who he is. Ben Affleck is the only player the average moviegoer knows well.) Now before you Marvel fans start firing up your 'DC Sucks!' remarks, let me be clear that I am not praising or trashing either approach. I am simply laying out two different approaches that are being used because of two different sets of circumstances. Let me explain a little more.
Marvel is building an NFL team, DC is building an NBA team. NFL teams need several good to very good players across throughout the different areas of the roster in order to succeed. You have three units (offense, defense, special teams) and you need several good to very good people in all three. One superstar does not make much of a difference if you're lacking everywhere else. (For proof of that see Sony, who could not ride Spider-Man past fanboy complaints, disingenuous web stories, and a hacking scandal). And NBA team is different in that you need superstars if you want to win big. A collection of good to very good players can get you in the playoffs, but not very far afterward so the strategy in building a team is to get a few superstars then fill in with good role players. Marvel is very much like New England Patriots in that you have your Tom Brady, your Rob Gronkowski and a bunch of guys who are very good but aren't as famous. DC is like the old Celtics with the Bill Russell-esque linchpin in Batman, Superman as Bob Cousy, and Wonder Woman as Havlicek, the sixth man who eventually became the star of his own championship teams. Both of them worked, they just work differently. Ultimately we won't know until we see finished products just how well the DC method is going to play out, but there's no reason to think it's a bad strategy. The players just have to execute. Marvel of course has already won a few Super Bowls and is trying to keep the dynasty going. My advice to you all is to just sit back and enjoy the next few years because as fans of this stuff, we're winning by getting a chance to see it all on the big screen.