I can only imagine what DC entertainment president Diane Nelson has to deal with right now. The success of not just the Avengers, but the entire Marvel Cinema Universe highlights how much the DC properties not about Batman have struggled. The DC characters are very powerful and prominent intellectual properties, yet they have not be able to gain any traction.
I think the problem isn’t a hard one to figure out. It’s DC entertainment’s parent company, Warner Brothers.
Last August I looked at the Green Lantern movie in comparison to Captain America. Captain America was a movie that reveled in its comic book roots and yet remembered that it had to be an enthralling action movie for the general audience. Rather than dumb down the character for mass consumption Marvel made sure to build up Steve Rogers so that the movie going public would love him as much as the longtime fans.
Green Lantern by comparison was a stock summer block buster that had a generic action movie plot and Ryan Reynolds playing a character much like he has in most movies he has been in. In other words Warner Brothers was playing it safe. I have a feeling that the production of the movie was very influenced by focus groups.
The end result was a hit of Marvel and an underperformer for DC.
The point I am getting at is that Warner Brothers isn’t playing to the strengths of the DC properties. Marvel has made six movies that know full well they are action hero fantasies and instead of trying to bring their heroes into the real world they are trying to create a believable version of their superhero universe. Disney bought Marvel part way through this and made the wise decision to leave them alone as the plan is working.
Warner Brothers on the other hand does not seem to trust that the audience will embrace a theatric version of the DC universe. The words that keep getting thrown around are “Dark”, “Gritty”, and “Mature”. That works great for Batman as Christopher Nolan has shown, but not so much for Superman, or Wonder Woman.
If you don’t believe me on that point I suggest track down a copy of the recent Wonder Woman pilot. Instead of the strong but compassionate hero she was created to be, Wonder Woman was portrayed as a grim badass who would torture a bed ridden mook for information and straight up kill a security guard who got in her way. Basically she was unsympathetic and the show was terrible.
Not to say that this approach won’t work for all heroes, for example Green Arrow. There is a new Green Arrow series coming this fall that looks pretty good. It is going the darker route, but Green Arrow being a non-powered hero like Batman can make that work. But even this one seems to be victim to focus group shenanigans. The show and the hero in it are just being called Arrow. Apparently due to the failure of Green Lantern the word green is now taboo in a superhero name.
I have an idea that I would like to suggest to Warner Brothers. Bring on Bruce Timm for your film efforts. Timm was the driving force behind the DC animated universe that gave us Batman the animated series, Superman the animated series and Justice League unlimited. These were great and comic and non-comic fans alike loved them. Let Bruce write up some script treatments and whatever you do WB, do not let a focus group anywhere near them.