Sunday, July 24, 2016

How DC Won Comic-Con 2016

It has been a rough year for DC Comics at the movies.  While Batman v Superman:  Dawn of Justice (or as most fanboys refer to it, BvS) made $872.7 million worldwide, that was at least three hundred million less than what Warner Bros. was initially predicting, and most importantly, wanting.  Couple the negative critical response with a very mixed fan response, and DC has really found themselves in a PR pickle over the last few months since BvS came out.  Most notably because BvS, while itself being a sequel to Man of Steel, was meant to be the launchpad for DC's own cinematic universe, akin to what Marvel has done with The Avengers.

First, let me clarify, I actually liked BvS (for my full review, here's the link), but it wasn't perfect and was not the way I ideally wanted to see these characters represented, and clearly most other fans agreed with me.  At the time of BvS's release, Warner Bros. was already well into post-production on Suicide Squad, the villain mash-up movie that is releasing on August 5th, and was already filming a solo Wonder Woman movie to be released in June 2017.  Add on top of that the fact that Justice League, DC's answer to The Avengers, was already set to start rolling cameras just a couple of weeks after BvS came out, and there were just too many balls rolling for Warner Bros. to pull the plug.  They had to do damage control.

In the wake of the so-so reception of BvS, Warner Bros. tapped Jon Berg, the executive vp at Warners, to work with Geoff Johns, CCO of DC Comics, to oversee DC Films moving forward.  Before that, DC Films was mostly being run by Man of SteelBvS, and Justice League director, Zack Snyder, along with his wife and producing partner, Deborah Snyder, and The Dark Knight trilogy producer, Charles Roven.  Now, Berg and Johns are essentially playing the role that Kevin Feige plays at Marvel Studios, overseeing all of the DC movies in production.  Then came the news a month or so ago that WB made Ben Affleck an Executive Producer on any movie that features Batman, further wresting total control away from Snyder.  Add on top of that the unconfirmed word of last minute rewrites to Justice League to inject more lightness into the movie, as well as confirmed last minute reshoots to Suicide Squad that may or may not have been to do the same thing, and it's safe to say that everyone knows Warner Bros. were trying to reposition their chess pieces to fix the situation internally.

With all that said, being a moviemaker myself, I know that most of this was already in motion before BvS came out, so to necessarily say that Suicide SquadWonder Woman, and Justice League were retooled after BvS, is not all that realistic.  The movies that they are probably changed a little bit, but there's only so much you can do when two of the movies were already shot when everything hit the fan.  So really I think DC and Warners knew they had to just wait it out till they had enough stuff to show fans to try and win back their trust, which made Comic-Con 2016 perhaps the most crucial piece on their chessboard.

Comic-Con is the largest comic book convention in the world, held every single July in San Diego, with pretty much every major geeky thing that is coming out over the next year having panels to promote their work.  While some have debated whether or not a movie's presence at Comic-Con really impacts it's box office, it has been shown to be ground zero for positive buzz in the past, with the first Iron Man being the perfect case and point.

Robert Downey, Jr. was still seen as an iffy choice for Tony Stark, but when Marvel showed off footage from the movie at Comic-Con 2007, it started a parade of excitement in the fan community.  That exact same thing is what DC and Warner Bros. knew they needed after the months of negative press they'd had in regards to their DC movies.  It's bad enough that the casual moviegoing audience didn't respond as kindly to BvS as they had to The Dark Knight trilogy or The Avengers movies, but for a good portion of fans to have turned their back on the movie, that was the sign that the ship had to be righted.   Thankfully, I can effectively say that DC and Warner Bros. have won Comic-Con 2016.

While it is too early to say if Warners has righted the ship, they came out swinging at their panel on Saturday.  First, they finally made official the worst kept secret in Hollywood, that Ben Affleck was going to direct a Batman movie that he is co-writing with Geoff Johns.  Then, DC kicked things into high gear by showing trailers for both Wonder Woman and Justice League.  Both trailers emphasized lighter tones than Man of Steel and BvS had, with a fair few jokes sprinkled through.  And after that, DC capped things off with a new sizzle reel for Suicide Squad that makes the movie look even more fun than it already did.  All in all, DC and Warner Bros. did what they had to do and the fans responded accordingly, thanks in large part because Warners broke Comic-Con tradition.

Usually, most of the special trailers shown at Comic-Con are not released online and are only ever seen by those in the crowd.  Thankfully, after years of bootleg trailers, it seems the studios are learning their lessons and Warners released all of these trailers online immediately after they premiered at Comic-Con.  This made it easier for Warner Bros. to say, "We value the fans."  That's how I saw them, and I'm glad I did, because personally, I was super impressed by everything I saw.

I loved seeing more of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and really dig the World War I setting for her first solo movie.  From the looks of things, director Patty Jenkins has made one of the most visually stimulating superhero movies ever made, with Wonder Woman's home of Themyscira looking particularly amazing.  As well, I think Chris Pine looks charmingly fantastic as Col. Steve Trevor, the first man Wonder Woman ever meets, and her love interest to boot.

As far as Justice League goes, I loved the nice bits of humor in the trailer, seeing Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne going around to recruit the likes of Aquaman and the Flash.  The tone and feel of the trailer is very much the tone and feel I think most fans wanted from BvS, which is a tone that takes itself seriously, while still being fun and colorful.  It's a tough balance, but if Snyder has managed to apply that tone to the entire movie, we may be in for something special.

Then finally, the sizzle reel from Suicide Squad only furthered my interest in the movie, which has slowly been growing since last year's Comic-Con.  I'm still not a fan of Jared Leto's look as The Joker, mainly because I don't like the tattoos or the grill on his teeth, but there is no denying how entertaining the movie looks.

While it's always possible that DC and Warners used the few moments of levity in each movie to try and sell these movies as being different than BvS, I genuinely believe that the folks in charge have finally listened.  Fans don't like what they have been doing, and it seems that they are actively trying to fix things and change the conversation.

All in all, even though we have to wait till 2017 to see if Wonder Woman and Justice League deliver on their promise, Suicide Squad hits theaters in just two weeks.  If that movie succeeds with fans, as well as with critics and casual moviegoers, then BvS will start to become a distant memory, thanks in large part to an awesome Comic-Con.  While some might argue that Marvel Studios still won Comic-Con with a new trailer for Doctor Strange, some new Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2  and Spider-Man: Homecoming info (confirming Kurt Russell as Star-Lord's Dad, Ego the Living Planet, and Michael Keaton as the villainous Vulture in Spider-Man), as well as the announcement of Academy award winner Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, I believe DC won Comic-Con hands down.  Simply put, this is the first time Wonder Woman has ever had a movie of her own, and this is the first Justice League movie ever made.  Both of these comic books predate anything at Marvel, save for Captain America.  The time has finally come for these DC properties to shine, and fans have had their excitement renewed for these movies.  Well done, DC.

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