With the recent casting announcement of Grant Gustin as Barry Allen in the CW’s backdoor pilot for “The Flash” something dawned on me. This too will result in a watered down version of another member of the Justice League. Which is to say, the CW’s chief export is melodramatic, episodic storytelling. While any semblance of an over arching plot can be attributed to character growth, shows like “Arrow” and “Smallville” push iconic superheroes into a realm devoid of any of the features that made the characters hugely popular in the first place. Namely: good storytelling.
While Geoff Johns would have been nothing to scoff at a couple of years ago and granted his work on “Aquaman” actually made people give a shit about the character, this television work is hardly anything to write home about. Which is almost staggering to think about. A staple of any comicbook is the serilized “story arc.” CW shows rely on an episodic approach to characters who are used to engaging in deeper and more meaningful storylines. Instead the most we get is a two-part episode. With over twenty episodes of Arrow a year, this is absolute anarchy. The character deserves better… and so does The Flash.
In an effort to battle Marvel’s fantastic work fleshing out their cinematic universe, DC has tried to fire on all cylinders to establish their own. It is clear that the WB is playing a game of catch up, and is relying heavily on casting buzz and other backhanded bullshit to generate publicity for their efforts.
Let’s take a chronological approach to this problem. In 2001, the WB gave “Smallville” the greenlight. A show that delved into the origins of arguably the most iconic superhero of our time. For what it was, “Smallville” was an entertaining reimagining of Clark Kent’s formative years. Tom Welling’s take on Clark was vulnerable and likeable. While Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor was menacing, sympathetic and relatable. In fact both were able to endear a generation of viewers.
Four years later we have the beginning of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Things on this effort are widely publicized, and I think most would agree that the films are nothing short of legendary.
After “Batman Begins” we had “Superman Returns” seeing the continuation of the pervious “Superman” cinematic universe. While most seem to find the film a total bore, I myself quite liked the effort. Yet, this is where the problem stems from. The WB has literally made no effort to unite their universe. Time and time again, we’re treated to separate iterations of heroes engaging in different adventures. The smart thing here would have been casting Tom Welling as Superman. Ditch Spacey and give Rosenbaum his due respect. Instead the WB opted to establish distinctly separate versions of the characters between cinema and television. Now perhaps this argument is more valid today when the lines between cinema and television are blurred, but in any event the WB had the chance to set a trend and chose not to.
After “Superman Returns” astounding box office failure “Smallville” and Nolan’s Batman trilogy continued on. “Smallville” was doing incredible work in establishing other DC characters within its own universe. Now, bearing this in mind, the universe of “Smallville” was much lighter than Nolan’s world. However, given everything, Nolan’s films ended with John Blake accepting the mantle of Batman. Not only that, but the thematic through line of Nolan’s films was that Batman was more than a man, he was a symbol, and could theoretically be embodied by anyone. Or at this point pushed into any already established universe and fleshed out further as something similar but different with John Blake.
Don’t expect Ryan Reynold’s Hal Jordan to rear his terrible CG head any time soon. So let’s just pretend “Green Lantern” doesn’t exist.
So we come to the time of “Man of Steel” and the CW’s “Arrow.” Both of which opted to recast the titular hero in an effort to further alienate the cinematic DC universe from anything before. In both cases the logical choice would have been to run off the cast of “Smallville” which had just seen the end of its ten-year run. Five years of which it had its own Green Arrow. “Arrow” saw Stephen Amell take the role of Oliver Queen, and “Man of Steel” with Henry Cavill. While I wasn’t fond of Cavill in the role, I can understand recasting given Superman Returns, but there was absolutely no development given to Clark in “Man of Steel.”
So “Arrow” becomes the flagship of DC’s television world and the WB announces “Batman vs. Superman” along with the CW’s “Flash” at comic con. Of course we all know they end up casing Ben Affleck as Batman and have been enjoying the publicity ever since. While I’m a fan of Batfleck I just don’t understand not continuing with John Blake. It allows for the world established in Nolan’s films to carry on, without actually ruining them. In fact it would represent a vote of confidence in the character of Batman. Instead we get a recast and a reset of the status quo.
So in an effort to further bastardize their characters, they give Flash to the CW. In which our hero will struggle with melodramatic bullshit weekly and fail to see the light of day in the cinematic world for the time being.
However, If DC’s plans are to take both “Arrow” and “Flash” and use them in the grander scheme of their cinematic efforts it would lend credence of them as storytellers. A “Justice League” movie is sure to be a result of the upcoming “Batman vs. Superman” junk. DC moves to compete with Marvel in establishing huge tent pole films based on their characters. Yet, spends absolutely zero time developing characters.
Take for a moment the most recent “Man of Steel.” By the end of that film, Cavill is just becoming the Clark Kent we know and love. Instead of spending another movie developing his character and giving us someone to care about, we’re treated to a team movie with Batman. Almost ensuring Cavill’s Superman will be devoid of any personality for at least a few more years.
The sheer abandonment of most of their television personalities and their persistent recasting, fails to engage audiences. People go see superhero films for character. Plot is always light, and the world is always in danger. Yet, with a focus on character audiences begin to sympathize with the hero’s plight, and they root for their heroes because they’ve watched them grow and develop. The people watching “Arrow” will surely have a hard time accepting anyone other than Stephen Amell as Green Arrow. Now if Grant Gustin is a good Barry Allen it will be hard to see anyone else up there.
Yet, if DC has their way the entire team will be recast in a “Justice League” film. We’ll get the hollow Henry Cavill as the leader of a team in which nobody cares about. Marvel spent years getting audience buy in. They did the time and people responded positively when they saw all their favorite characters on screen together. While DC has spent the time and made the effort to develop their characters on television and in cinema, the have chosen to reset the table with almost every new effort. Ensuring that by the time “Justice League” does hit theaters, no one will give a shit.
Sound off in the comments if you agree or disagree, and feel free to yell at me via Twitter.