"Dark and gritty."
This seems to be how Warner Bros. is conceptualizing its DC properties. But is dark and gritty really necessary? I realize that dark and gritty is a way of setting DC films apart from Marvel films, and Nolan's Batman trilogy was undoubtedly darker and grittier than anything Marvel, Sony, or Fox have yet done, but Marvel has also done dark and gritty.
The part in the first Iron Man where he's held prisoner in the cave? Dark and gritty. The part in Winter Soldier where Nick Fury almost gets killed? Also dark and gritty. Marvel is just as capable of getting dark and gritty, but they realize that dark and gritty gets old after a while. It's an easy fit for Batman, but not such an easy fit for Kryptonians, or guys running around in red and yellow tights.
We'll see if Warner Bros. can get past dark and gritty. I certainly hope so, because if all that sets DC films apart from Marvel films is dark and gritty, then we're going to see those DC films fail. Setting the right tone for a film (or a cinematic universe) is important, but it's not everything. Dynamics are also important. A bit of humor is important. Superheroes that don't always take themselves seriously is important. Batman does dark and gritty well. But Shazam? Green Lantern? Not so well at all.
With this in mind I offer my thoughts on the proposed additions to DC's cinematic universe. Here's hoping that they don't suck.
March 2016: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Marks Against It: I never had a big problem with Ben Affleck as Batman, though I would have preferred Josh Brolin. Josh Brolin could have easily played the kind of Batman they're striving for, and he's a great actor besides. One persistent criticism of this movie (which we have yet to see!) is that it might be overkill to introduce Batman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg in one movie. I tend to agree with this point of view, though maybe they can overcome this obstacle.
How to Make it Not Lame: My feeling is that this movie will be good, but not great. It will probably get bogged down in its own subplots, especially since they're trying to introduce Lex Luthor and Metallo at the same time. If it's great it will set the stage for the DC Cinematic Universe in the same way those Marvel post-credits set up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but if it's only good it will probably burden the entire enterprise with unanswered questions and unsatisfied desires.
I'm hoping they focus at least 90% of the movie on the relationship between Batman and Superman. This is the plot point that really needs to be "sold," and this is also a crucial relationship within the DC Universe. I'm hoping they limit the involvement of Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman, and the other characters. Man of Steel should have been a much simpler, more focused film, and hopefully Zack Snyder has learned a thing or two since then.
August 2016: Suicide Squad
Marks Against It: I can't think of any so far. I actually think this is a fantastic idea for a movie, and far different from anything Marvel has attempted. If you're not familiar with the Suicide Squad, they are a group of supervillains coerced into serving the government.
David Ayer has been linked to the project, and in my opinion he is the perfect choice for a movie like this. In the case of Suicide Squad, dark and gritty is necessary, and movies such as End of Watch, Training Day, and the underrated Dark Blue are all movies that capitalize on dark and gritty.
How to Make it Not Lame: Bring out the big guns. I'm not talking about Deadshot here, but about the real star supervillains of the DC universe. Put Joker on the team. Put the Reverse-Flash on the team! Anticipating villains from future DC films would be an even bigger draw. DC has always had more interesting villains than Marvel, and there is a lot of material to draw from.
July 2017: Wonder Woman
Marks Against It: Gal Gadot. She looks nothing like Wonder Woman. Call me sexist if you will, but really. She looks nothing like Wonder Woman. We need a woman who really looks like an Amazon. We need a woman with curves. Wonder Woman has always been about sex and gender, and that part of the character needs to be embraced.
To further confuse the issue, Warner Bros. is apparently going with the New 52 backstory, which largely eliminates Paradise Island and the Amazons. This seems like such a shame to me. The contrasts between Wonder Woman, "Man's World," and the Amazons could have made a very compelling movie.
How to Make it Not Lame: Recast. I really don't care what kind of actress she is. You wouldn't cast Robert Downey Jr. as Thor, would you? Bringing the battle of the sexes into a Wonder Woman movie would also be important. Wonder Woman works best when she is challenging male ideas of what women can do. Her sex appeal is also part of the character.
November 2017: Justice League Part 1
Marks against it: Zack Snyder is directing. I liked Watchmen, but this guy is starting to irritate me. Also, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. No. Just no.
How to Make it Not Lame: This one's a tall order. By the time this film gets released, we will have seen TWO Avengers films, not to mention a boatload of X-men films, one of which features Apocalypse. Finding an original threat for DC's superfriends to face is going to be difficult, especially since Marvel has largely co-opted Darkseid in the form of Thanos (a Darkseid clone).
Recent rumors suggest that Braniac will be the villain. If so, this is unfortunate, because Braniac is going to come off as an Ultron clone, even though Braniac predates Ultron by over a decade.
One idea worth exploring is the multiverse-type storyline that DC has always done better than Marvel. Give us a window into different universes, and even different versions of established characters. This is something Marvel hasn't attempted yet, and moreover something that might lead to a lot of interesting contrasts between universes.
March 2018: The Flash
Marks Against It: This movie is still far away from production, but one drawback might be the Flash TV show, which features one of the worst Flash costumes ever. If that show continues until 2018, then a Flash film might have trouble forging its own identity.
Super speed has also been done before. We've already seen Quicksilver in X-men: Days of Future Past, and we'll see him again in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Yes, Quicksilver started out as a Flash clone, but it's going to be hard to erase those two characters from the public consciousness.
How to Make it Not Lame: Make Flash more godlike than either version of Quicksilver. Make him equal (or even superior) to Superman. There is really no way to explain the Flash's powers in the absence of super strength, so throw physics out the window. His powers CAN'T be explained, so don't bother. His only really interesting foe is Professor Zoom/The Reverse-Flash, so use him from the start.
Also, get the costume right. That costume in the TV show is just BAD.
July 2018: Aquaman
Marks Against It: I've heard people groan about this one, but I think Aquaman could be a winner for DC. Marvel Studios has yet to do anything with Namor, and Aquaman has a somewhat volatile personality as well. Volatile personalities always make for more interesting movies.
Jason Momoa has also been cast as Aquaman, and I think he's a great choice.
How to Make it Not Lame: Push the ecological angle. And no talking to fish. Make him an environmental crusader, opposed to the damage mankind has inflicted upon the oceans. Pitting him against an industrial magnate like Bruce Wayne would also provide a compelling conflict within the ranks of the Justice League.
April 2019: Shazam
Marks Against It: "Dark and gritty" and Shazam don't go well together. Making this movie more kid friendly would be the easiest route to take, and is in line with roles that Dwayne Johnson (already cast as Black Adam) has done before. Billy Batson and the element of wish fulfillment make Shazam a potentially more interesting character, but people are probably going to expect something more "adult" from DC.
How to Make it Not Lame: Make it a period film. Yes, this has already been done for Captain America, but I think Shazam was only really interesting when he was fighting Nazis, alongside the rest of the Marvel Family.
June 2019: Justice League Part 2
Marks Against It: None. I'm sure I'll have some reservations after I've seen Justice League Part 1.
How to Make it Not Lame: 2019 is a long way away from now, and by the time this hits theaters we might have already seen Avengers 3, which might even get released alongside Avengers 4. By then the idea of a super team will be old hat, and a new set of tropes will either have to be acknowledged or overcome.
April 2020: Cyborg
Marks Against It: Deathlok has been done in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Not that it matters all that much.
How to Make it Not Lame: The "is-it-a-machine-that-thinks-it's-a-man-or-a-man-who-thinks-he's-a-machine" angle from the Robocop remake could be explored, especially since it was wasted on that movie. Cyborg has always been a bit player in the DC universe, and this lack of visibility could either be the movie's downfall or its salvation. Hopefully it won't bring to mind the movie version of Steel.
June 2020: Green Lantern
Marks Against It: I'm sorry but Green Lantern is just a lame superhero. He has a ring that can basically do anything. Where do you go with that?
How to Make it Not Lame: A more compelling adversary for a start. It would also be good to see the existing cinematic version of Green Lantern, and then do everything opposite.
I'm assuming this will be a reboot of the character. If so, perhaps they'll give his ring some kind of convincing limitation. The Hal Jordan seen in DC's New Frontier might be a good place to start.