There's no denying that Disney (NYSE:DIS) and its Marvel Studios have been more successful than Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) when it comes to adapting superhero properties to the big screen. Outside of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and solid international numbers from this year's Man of Steel, the Warner studios have made disappointing use of DC Comics' vast array of properties. Disney, meanwhile, has mined the Marvel Universe to great effect and looks to continue these efforts with a slew of new super-properties.
After years of being criticized for its mishandling and underuse of available superhero licenses, Warner Bros. hopes to make a big play with the tentatively titled Batman vs. Superman in 2015. The film will pair the eponymous heroes together for the first time in big screen history. Warner is also hoping that the film will serve as a successful introduction to some of DC's other big name characters, such as Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and The Flash. Will this strategy help Warner create a suitable rival to Marvel's Avengers, or could it all prove to be too much, too soon?
There was a lot that could have gone wrong when Disney laid out its plans to have Marvel's Avengers united onscreen in a massively budgeted and highly advertised spectacle.
Planning for the team-up film began in 2005. In the four years between Iron Man's 2008 release and the debut of The Avengers in 2012, five films set in the same universe were released, and gradually the members of the team were introduced through the various lead-in films. The amount of contractual work and conceptual unity involved in the successful lead up to Disney's box office achievement makes the new megaseries among the most impressive feats in the modern film industry. Warner Bros. is aiming for similar results, but is working with a smaller timeframe.
Casting for the future
In order to successfully launch its desired Justice League franchise, Warner Bros. needs Batman vs. Superman to be a massive hit and introduce other members of DC's super team. The film will also require the right cast. The Avengers success was rooted in the original Iron Man's status as a breakout hit, and that film's achievements were largely thanks to star Robert Downey Jr. His turns as Tony Stark propelled him from the initial stages of a comeback to becoming the highest-paid actor in Hollywood.
Actor Henry Cavill will reprise the role of Superman, while Ben Affleck is set to don Batman's famous cowl. Gal Gadot, most known for her work in the Fast & Furious franchise, will play Wonder Woman. The film will take place in the same universe that Zach Snyder established in 2013's Man of Steel. The Flash and Green Lantern are also reportedly set to appear in the upcoming sequel, but to what extent they will be featured remains unknown.
The film's Green Lantern will almost certainly have no continuity with the disappointing 2011 film starring Ryan Reynolds. If the recent rumor that Denzel Washington will land a Lantern role is true, it would be a huge get for Warner. A different take on Green Lantern will be necessary after the last attempt, and Washington has the draw and industry credibility needed to make the character cool again while hyping the formation of the Justice League.
As the film that could potentially enable Warner Bros. to actualize the value of its DC properties, Batman vs. Superman is by far the most important film on the company's slate.
Warner looks to The Flash for inspiration
One of the reasons that Disney took its time in introducing the Avengers team was that it was believed an attempt to debut them all at once would inevitably lead to a mess of a film that did none of the characters justice. A failed superhero team-up has the potential to damage overall brand value and also to kill off individual franchise potential until enough time passes to make reboots feasible.
Warner's rapid introduction of its Justice League characters is evidence of just how far behind it is in the superhero game. That's not to say that Warner won't find success in its ventures, but Man of Steel is not the same envious starting point that Iron Man was.
Better rise to the occasion
Warner and Zach Snyder have their work cut out for them. The prospect of Batman and Superman in the same movie is certain to pack theater seats. Whether audiences wind up with a film that is closer in quality to 2005's Batman Begins or 1997's Batman and Robin is less clear, but it will be a deciding factor in how Warner's broader ambitions for its Justice Leaguers come together.