Why DC's move to the small screen could be great

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I n print, DC Comics was the trailblazer for superheroes more than 80 years ago – while Marvel emerged as a 1960s enfant terrible, shaking up the genre by humanising its costumed crime-fighters and engaging with the emerging counterculture. On the big screen, despite mainstays such as Superman and Batman having made it to the multiplex long before Iron Man, the Hulk and Thor, DC Films has found itself playing catch-up following the astounding success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a superhero sandpit in which scores of mega-powered titans have been able to play for more than a decade now.

This picture doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon, following news that DC, owned by Warner Bros, is to move even more of its content to the streaming platform HBO Max. Industry reports suggest four movies a year will now be released in cinemas, and two will be released straight to the small screen. While the move has come in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the effect on cinema chains, it also looks a lot like Marvel’s activity at Disney+, where the studio is bringing multiple TV shows and movies featuring its core roster from the MCU over the next two years.

Cinemas shut, movies postponed: how Covid-19 upturned film in 2020 Read more

DC’s current release, Wonder Woman 1984, is debuting on HBO Max and in cinemas in the US, while the studio plans to bring the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League to the streaming service in 2021 as a miniseries of four one-hour episodes. Surely more TV projects will follow.

Is it too much to suggest that being forced to produce for the small screen might iron out some of the worst wrinkles in the DC Extended Universe project, if that is even a thing any more following the failure of the original Justice League and movies such as Suicide Squad and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice to pass muster? While DC’s movies have improved over the past two years, largely as a result of Warner Bros allowing film-makers to go their own way rather than being forced to follow the Marvel-style format of interlinked superhero stories, there is something about film-making for the multiplex that makes it easier for movies such as Suicide Squad and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice to exist. Watching these films at the cinema is like eating a burger made from the cheapest cuts of meat that has been slavered in delicious, home-made dressings and placed between gorgeous hand-crafted brioche buns along with the most excellent of pickles by a Michelin-starred chef. Multiplexes, with their high-quality screens and audio, significantly paper over any film-making cracks.

By contrast, it is hard to imagine the worst DC movies finding audiences on TV, because those massive special effects-laden sequences don’t work well when viewed at home on an iPad. Even Warner has had the sense to split Snyder’s Justice League into episodes, a move that hopefully might lead the studio to tone down its tendency for every third act to feature a knuckle-headed mega-battle between our heroes and the latest hellish, creation imagined by the guys in the CGI lab (always against the backdrop of a ravaged, fiery landscape, for some reason).

For all its faults, Wonder Woman 1984 shows encouraging signs that the DC special effects team have learned that going big doesn’t always deliver the loudest bang. Yet even if Diana’s final battle against Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah doesn’t descend into a pixel-fest, there is still something weak about the digital work on the feline villain compared to say, Marvel’s spectacular rendition of Thanos in the later Avengers movies. I’m not the only observer to think that there is an unfortunate whiff of Cats about it.

Cheetah waiting outside after getting her ass electrocuted in #WW84 pic.twitter.com/xVsl2uSikr

— dulcedeleche (@gex2049) December 26, 2020

What would a Wonder Woman movie made for TV look like? We can only hope that without the hi-tech upscaling provided by a theatrical release, DC film-makers will go back to basics. With luck, 2021 might even usher in a new era of comic-book film and television where the focus is on storytelling superpowers rather than the kind of movie experience that feels as if we’ve been repeatedly battered on the head with Snyder-esque heavy metal “spectacle”.

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