You don’t have to be the world’s greatest detective (which would be Batman) to realize that the DC movie universe is hurting. The much-hyped “Suicide Squad” opened to buzz as bad as “Batman v Superman,” which itself was supposed to have turned around the bad mojo of “Man of Steel.”
Now, unnamed insiders are writing nasty letters about “Wonder Woman,” and suddenly the days of Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern seem kinda quaint.
Meanwhile, hit DC television shows are popping up everywhere like Multiple Man after chugging a triple espresso. From old standbys like “Arrow” to “The Flash,” “Supergirl” and even “Legends of Tomorrow,” The CW has more men in tights than the Imperial Russian Ballet.
So, how can one corner of the DC universe be getting things so right, while another corner isn’t? Below are five lessons the DC films should be learning from their sister series.
Drop the baggage
Some people think Ben Affleck, Jesse Eisenberg and Will Smith have been perfectly serviceable in their DC work; to others, it’s impossible to get past the fact that we’re looking at Ben Affleck, Jesse Eisenberg and Will Smith. With big stars come big baggage, and at a time when movie stars are becoming increasingly irrelevant, folks want to see the cape, not necessarily the person in it.
You know why you never heard any drama about Stephen Amell playing Green Arrow, Grant Gustin playing Flash or Melissa Benoist slipping into Supergirl’s cape? Because no one knew who they were. None of them once dated J-Lo, starred in “The Social Network” or rapped alongside DJ Jazzy Jeff.
New blood makes it easier for the audience to lose themselves in the character. Also, all that saved salary money can be used for better special effects. Most importantly: These actors often seem to want it more.
Up the romance
Google the term “Olicity,” and look at all the impassioned arguments over whether Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak should be together, how Laurel Lance fits in, etc. Now, think back to the last time you heard someone passionately discuss the romance between Henry Cavill’s Superman and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane.
How did the DC movie universe manage to drain the greatest romance in the history of comics of any dramatic heft whatsoever? In some ways, it seems more unbelievable than the notion that a man can fly.
Kick out the auteurs
Sure, Christopher Nolan turned his Batman films into masterpieces, and time has treated the Tim Burton movies well. But just as often, filmmakers like Ang Lee, Martin Campbell, and Josh Trank have stumbled with making superhero blockbusters.
Although the CW shows have significant creative talent behind them, you never get the feeling like you’re watching a square peg getting hammered into a round hole — or more specifically, a Zack Snyder movie trying to meld with a comic book character created in 1933.
The DC movies need to stop being so obsessed with who’s making them, and instead focus on letting the stories breathe. Superman thrilled audiences for decades without slo-mo, angst and CGI. And there’s no reason to assume he can’t still do the same.
That’s not to say auteurs can’t fit in this genre. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has made good use of them — from Joss Whedon with “Marvel’s Avengers” to James Gun with “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Its a matter of finding the right director and writer for the project, regardless of whether they’re an auteur.
Be truer to the source
Even more-so than Marvel, DC’s mythical superheroes have decades upon decades of scripts, complete with storyboards, waiting to be utilized. They’re called comic books!
So, why does the DC Extended Universe keep shoehorning characters and plot contrivances together rather than simply giving us a beloved tale in live-action form? The DC shows have done a far better job at this, likely because they have many more hours to fill. But nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong with adapting a comic rather than re-writing it.
If there is one recurring criticism of films like “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman” — and even to a lesser degree, “Suicide Squad” — it would be best summed up by Heath Ledger’s Joker: Why so serious?
While the CW shows do sometimes fall to very moody levels — “Arrow” is a very dark show a lot of the time — there’s usually light at the end of the tunnel. Superheroes are fun, and what fans want is to see enough anguish to feel like Batman, Superman, Green Arrow or Flash walk among us — but enough smiles to be reminded that we’re all just playing make-believe.
Even despite the recent misfires, every true fan is pulling for DC movies to get back on track. Here’s hoping that someday, the TV shows will be looking to them for inspiration.