How Casting (Among Other Things) Has Ruined The Live Action DC Universe.

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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.

  • ChiNyC

    Great Article and i couldn’t agree more. I’m not excited about Superman vs Batman and a Justice League movie is going to bomb, hard. DC really needs to get it together and build their characters and story lines before ever releasing a Justice League film.

    • Jimbus_Christ

      The funny thing about it too, is that DC’s animated universe is so very strong. Whoever is making WB’s animated DC features continues to kill it with almost every release.

      Why don’t they have those guys running the show!?

  • Danny-E

    All DC had to do was get Bale back as Batman. Turn Blake into Robin and Batman vs Superman would have been the biggest box office ever. At the end of MAN OF STEEL. You have Bale watching the television about Superman. Catwoman comes in and asks him what is going on. Bale says that they have to go back to Gotham. Or something like that.

    • Jimbus_Christ

      I would have been happy with that too… But I believe it would have flown in the face of Nolan’s intentions. Those films have an incredible legacy that should be preserved and respected.

      I like to think the offer was made to Bale, and he refused.

      • Jimbus_Christ

        Although I do like the idea of Blake as Robin. I think the opportunity to have a sympathetic and more engaging Batman with Blake under the cowl would have been akin to Morrison’s Batman run. Which saw Dick Grayson as a more sympathetic and altogether human Batman. It was one of the most exciting and original takes on the character, and a logical extension of the mythos.

  • weresmurf

    So much negativity in this article. I do understand what you’re saying but I will say this. At one stage, Marvels movies were in a shambles too. Infact, outside of the core Marvel films, they kind of still are. Xmen movies are hit and miss, Spiderman was so-so, the further back we go, if they’re not in the core Marvel/Disneyverse, then they’re pretty shakey in terms of quality. It’s only now those outside the core universe are getting their act together, with one or two bright spots here or there (X2).

    DC sucked for a long time, no doubt, however, I don’t know wether you’re a massive marvel fanboy, or whatever, personally it doesn’t worry me, I love both DC and Marvel. I think DC should be somewhat applauded for taking a multi-faceted approach. “A” tier characters in films, B tier characters in tv shows so they all get equal coverage. It allows you to flesh out the lesser known characters even moreso.

    Hell, Arrow was fantastic season 1, if they manage to pull off the same with The Flash, bring it on. Nightwing would be great to do in a series with him in Bludhaven, spinning off of Arrow, given they already mentioned Bludhaven in season 1.

    Not to mention they can easily cameo Cavil, Affleck and co if they have to at some point or other? As for recasting, is that your assumption of do you have factual basis for it?

    • Jimbus_Christ

      It is totally my assumption. Which I know is a broad generalization when the material hasn’t even really been discussed as of yet and while I agree “Arrow” was pretty good, it can be a whole hell of a lot better.

      I’m not a Marvel fanboy at all, in fact I have my gripes with what they are doing as well. I absolutely adore DC, and I do like the idea of fleshing out lesser known characters via TV, but my main argument is, with the difference between television and film being blurred with every day the distinction should wash away. Instead DC push characters to the side, make no effort at unifying their live action brand, and in doing so push to tell less interesting stories.

      I’m all for Superman vs. Batman if its done right. However, we don’t even really have a basis for Cavill’s Superman as of yet. Now we’re pushing him against a new Batman. It doesn’t seem to make sense.

      As for a Nightwing series. Yes please.

  • lilmarkuk

    why are people referring it to BATMSN VS SUPERMAN its not that king of movie, they team together to fight lex luthor

    yes they wont be best buds but its not a VS movie

    • Jimbus_Christ

      The VS. title has been flying around the internet for some time now…

  • Dr. Detfink

    I’m not sure Justice League will bomb hard. With international box office, it is feasible to believe that films with this much hype will most often break even at worst due to the curiosity involved. After all, if Fox’s X-men Origins: Wolverine made a crap load of money despite it being putrid, there’s your proof. Now, whether or not the profit margin is enough to green light a sequel is another story. That brings me to my next point…

    Casting in comic book films have very little to do with actors trying to capture the character. Sure, every now and then you get a perfect match but really its about attaching a high profile name to attract non-comic book fans. More often than not, it’s about the bodies and winners of the genetic lottery cosplaying than really capturing the essence. It didn’t just start today, it’s been going on for a while now. Let’s not forget Brando took the brief case and ran in Superman.

    The difference being, studios don’t consider a $200M blockbuster to be successful if it hits $350M. No, the target seems to be what is the bare essential story/CGI pop shots/stars needed to more than double our ticket sales?

    Not thinking millions but billions. THAT kind of thinking is making what shouldn’t be very hard into something convoluted.

    • Jimbus_Christ

      I couldn’t agree more. You make some excellent points. Its a sad state of affairs that these “blockbusters” exist within. That being said, the onus is on us to push back against them if they suck.

      The genetic lottery is spot on. I just wish we lived in a time where good storytelling and casting went hand in hand. We’re further dividing the films from the medium that inspired them.

      All in all I look at recasting like a different team coming on to do a new arc on a book. When it works its awesome, but when it doesn’t it feels jarring and disconnected with everything before it. I suppose there is no right approach to appease everyone.

      But these shouldn’t be films to appease everyone. Comics have an audience just like films, studios want to believe certain properties are universally applicable, but when it comes down to it, its the story, certain stories are universally applicable.

      The Avengers made huge bank because it was incredibly well told team movie, where the team didn’t get along immediately and it explored the unique elements of each member of the team.

      Perhaps blockbusters are ruining everything…

  • Canucklehead

    JC you obviously have strong feelings about the manner in which DC has presented their comic content in other mediums, however your post was so poorly written it made it difficult to read. let’s clean it up next time.

    • Jimbus_Christ

      I appreciate the criticism, but care to elaborate? That way I can make it easier to read next time. :)

      • djblack1313

        Jimbus, i had no problem reading or understanding your article. i have no idea what Canucklehead is talking about. :)

      • Canucklehead

        I dont mean to be a grammar Nazi but passages like “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.” and “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.” are poorly structured and limit your ability to make your point

        • weresmurf

          I’m a secondary English teacher, I can tell you now, if that’s the worst thing you’ve read today, then you’re doing pretty well…

          • Canucklehead

            Fair enough. I like this site and the writers, don’t want to make a federal case out of it.

  • Darkness69

    I don’t get the hate behind Superman Returns. I think any actor who would try to walk in Reeve’s shoes would inevitably be crucified, yet Brandon Routh did a tremendous job portraying Superman, even besides the terribly bland Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. But nooo, they wanted to nolanize the title hero a la Batman and then we get Henry Cavill and an overly pretentious movie with a too long fight sequence in the end and not the right feel to it overall. Also, totally not a fan of Batfleck – he ruined Daredevil and now he’s gonna ruin Batman too.

    • Jimbus_Christ

      I agree on Returns. I think Routh was a worthy replacement for Reeve, and I think Cavill brought nothing to the role.

      As for Batfleck, Daredevil was a different time. Affleck has grown a lot since then. I think he can pull off the brooding Batman we need.

  • oneofthosedeadfckers

    Who gives a shit about the Flash, I just want a Lobo movie.

    • Jimbus_Christ

      With Dwayne Johnson as old school Lobo? Since they rebranded Lobo as a sleeker sexier new 52 model I think my dream is dead.

  • djblack1313

    Jimbus, great article! i admit i’m not really a comic book person but (like most people!) i do love superheroes/superhero movies (even movies with superhero-ish type characters like Selene in the awesome UNDERWORLD movies. being a HUGE Wonder Woman (tv show) fan, Beckinsale’s Selene seems to be, at this point, the closest I/we are going to get to a great WW portrayal).

    while i’m not really a Tom Welling fan and i never got into SMALLVILLE (i do adore Kristen Kreuk though!) i do agree with or have questioned many of the points you bring up (for example, why they don’t cast the same actor/actress in both mediums).

    and i agree 10000000% regarding the way too soon Superman VS. Batman gig. i’m fine with Cavill (smokin’ hot!) as Supes but MOS was easily the most empty, unengaging Superman movie i think ever. the only parts of that movie that had any impact were the superb flashback scenes (an adorable young Clark hiding scared in the closet talking with perfectly cast Diane Lane’s Martha Kent was my favorite scene) and anything Faora related!

    i was hoping for a 2nd Superman only movie that allowed us to get to know/like and ultimately connect with Cavill’s Supe. at this point, as much as i like Cavill, i feel absolutely no connection to the Supe/Clark we met in MOS. and now we get a new movie that will give even less screentime/character development than what we got in MOS.

    i love the XMEN movies (Famke’s Jean Grey is my favorite!) and i do like the Garfield SPIDERMAN movie (i never liked the Toby/Dunst films) but GIVE ME AN AWESOME WONDER WOMAN MOVIE AND DO NOT MAKE IT END UP LIKE THE ABOMINATION THAT WAS HALLE’S “CATWOMAN”!!! lol. :)

    • weresmurf

      “but MOS was easily the most empty, unengaging Superman movie i think ever.”

      Ever watch SuperStalker Returns? I mean Superman Returns?

      • Jimbus_Christ

        I’m going to have to agree about MOS. I thought Routh channeled a moody, more responsible Clark Kent/MOS than Cavill. Cavill was all brawn but hardly held any ideals or anything, all the heart in MOS belonged to the flashbacks.

        Kevin Costner FTW.

  • theCr0w

    They should just do a Justice League, Flashpoint Paradox and Injustice movies in that order and you won’t really need a lot of context.

    • Jimbus_Christ

      They need to start mining established stories to create more engaging movies. Flashpoint would be incredible as a live action film. I don’t know much about Injustice, but from what I’ve heard it would be incredibly engaging as well.

      Tower of Babel would be a good arc to mine for a “Justice League” film.

  • HYD

    I agree,Superman needed AT LEAST one more stand alone movie before teaming with ANYONE.It’s almost as if DC and the studios who own their rights are A) trying to catch up to the Marvel franchises and B) CANNOT WAIT to get their hands on the box office receipts that Avengers brought in and most assuredly ANY JLA movie will bring in no matter how hollow and/or crappy it is.

  • anezka

    I had never thought this way, but that might be why I’ve always preferred the DC Universe before and now I would totally pass any DC movie to watch one for Marvel.