Well, They're Certainly Trying
DC FanDome 2021
With the pandemic upon us still companies have to try and find ways to get buzz for the media their producing out into the minds of their audience. Considering that not everyone is going to theaters, trailers aren't necessarily going to be seen before big movies. Meanwhile conventions also aren't really doing well, with much lower attendance than "normal", so companies can just put their willing fans in a giant hall and play trailers to a rapturous audience. Some kind of other solution is needed.
Taking their show Online, DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. elected to try the "convention" route, just without the convention. They brought out the FanDome last year when the pandemic was at it's (then) height) and the Dome is back this year for another round of trailers and talk. I won't lie, I skipped most of the talk but I did catch a bunch of the trailers after the fact and that certainly gives us enough to discuss to parse just what DC is thinking for the next year's worth of projects. It's a mixed bag, to be sure, but there's enough here to be at least a little hopeful about.
Starting with the "bad" part of said mixed bag we have the new trailer for The Batman. It doesn't look bad, mind you -- it's dark, it's gritty, it shows BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. (played by Robert "Sparkle Vampire" Pattinson, who has grown into quite the solid actor) beating the ever-loving shit out of people -- I just struggle to think why I should care. For starters, this film doesn't really show us anything we haven't already seen in the Christopher Nolan "Dark Knight" trilogy. If anything, this film feels like it wants to be an origin story for Batman done in the same vein as those films, but we already got that. It's called Batman Begins.
There's also the fact that this film feels out of place in the current direction of DC's theatrical output. after everyone complained that the Snyderverse was too grim-dark, DC turned on their heel and went lighter -- Aquaman, Shazam!, Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman 1984, plus more upcoming films. That's not to say DC lost their taste for violence, but the grimness of the Snyder films was gone. The Suicide Squad is violent as fuck but it also feels like an absolute rebuke of the tone of the Snyder films.
Then you have to couple it with the upcoming films from DC (which we will discuss below), such as The Flash and Shazam: Fury of the Gods. Tonally, how does this film fit into the larger DC metaverse? Not all films have to tell the exact same tone (I'd rather they didn't), but you can rely on the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. films to feel like they fit into the same narrative context. DC has yet to nail that and a film like this doesn't help that. Sure, The Batman isn't in the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe., but it is a DC movie and it feels out of place now.
Still, my biggest complaint is that I just don't see the point in the film. It's not tonally distinct from the older Nolan films, and it doesn't really seem to give us anything we haven't seen from the Bat already. It leaves me feeling like maybe we just needed some more time before Batman came back to headline his own film.
Or you can just throw Batman into a movie starring The FlashStruck by lightning while working in his lab, Barry Allen became a speedster known as The Flash, launching an entire set of super-fast superheroes.. Yes, it's a different Batman but that's fine. Where I really didn't like the trailer for The Batman, I felt like the teaser for The Flash gave me enough to actually keep me interested. This is a film that, from what we can see so far, much better suits the tone of what DC is supposedly going for in their larger metaverse.
I liked Ezra Miller's Flash over in Justice League, and while I felt like a lot of his good moments were removed in the Snyder Cut, he still had solid growth and great characterization. I know there were some that were annoyed by his character in that film but I dug it and I've been looking forward to this film for a while )it's just taken a couple of years to really get off the ground).
Thankfully the teaser looks to supply all that I want from this film. It has Ezra Miller's Flash (two of them, in fact), humor, a lighter touch, and a sense of wonder. Plus Michael Keaton as Batman, which everyone seems to like. While I'll reserve more heavy judgment until we get a real trailer so far this film seems to be right on track.
Black Adam & Shazam: Fury of the Gods
Even further back on the production cycle we have two Shazam related films. We'll start with the villain, Black Adam, who is getting his own eponymous film even though he didn't actually show up in the first Shazam film at all. What we saw, a single scene of his appearing and kicking ass, looked cool and, sure, Rock "The Dwayne" Johnson looks suitably imposing in the suit. But... eh, that's it. I need more before I can really judge.
Meanwhile we didn't even get real footage for Shazam: Fury of the Gods, just behind the scenes footage and talking head puff talk. That's not my bag at all so after a few seconds I skipped this. It's nice to know this film is still going but, yeah... give me a real trailer guys.
Young Justice: Phantoms
I feel much more conflicted about this show. I really loved Young Justice in its original run back on Cartoon Network (although, admittedly, I didn't get to watch it until it was canceled and on DVD, sadly). My hopes were high when DC Universe (that failed streaming service subsumed by HBO Max) brought the show back for a third season, but honestly that season didn't live quite up to expectations. Frankly I can't even remember what happened in the season and it air only a year ago. I vividly remember the first two seasons but the third was surprisingly forgettable.
Sadly this trailer doesn't really inspire confidence that we're going to get anything astounding this time around, either. While it's still nice to have the show back, the trailer for season four, dubbed "Phantoms", feels like a lot of recycled material without much new or interesting thrown in. Hell, I had the vibe I'd seen a lot of scenes before so I wonder if the show less "done" than DC is making it seem, like all these scenes came from previous episodes. Whether it is recycled, or it just feels recycled, this trailed didn't do a great job on selling the fourth season. I'll still tune in because I like this show but how many other people were sold on coming back (or coming in at all) from such a bland bit of footage editing?
You gotta give the people behind Harley Quinn credit: they were told they had to show off the new season but the show is so early in production there isn't really anything to show. Their solution: animate the smallest amount of Harley possible, have her crack jokes, cut to some animatics, and then make some more crass jokes. And, you know what? It worked. In comparison to Young Justice I actually appreciated what Harley brought to the table. It was silly, and the producers really should have been given more time to work up something real, but hey, the effort counted.
Also counting: the fact that the show is committing to letting Harley and Poison Ivy be a couple. The dynamic between the two characters, and their voice actresses, was palpable and this is the direction the show needed to go. Plus, them calling their romance the "Eat. Bang. Kill. Tour" is a good bit of word play. Whether a real trailer will actually sell he show as well as this remains to be seen but so far I'm on board with this third season of shenanigans.
Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League
Heading over into the land of video games, we now have to talk about the Arkham series. I know these games are huge and people really love them but I gotta admit I just didn't care for the series. It's wonderfully animated, and the voice acting is top notch, but frankly I found the level design to be lacking, there was too much emphasis on fetch questing and item collecting, and the combat didn't thrill me (which will sound like blasphemy to the supporters of the games).
I was surprised, then, to find myself cautiously interested in this new game spinning out of that universe. Introduced at the end of the last game in the series, the Suicide Squad will take center stage in this game that's dubbed as an "action-shooter". Watching the trailer, which is just cinematic footage stitched together mind you, I got a distinct BorderlandsConceptually, Borderlands is Mad Max but set on an alien planet, with magic. The game play might be action-shooter-RPG fare, with a bit of Diablo thrown in, but the aesthetic is pure, Australian post-apocalyptic exploitation. vibe that had me sit up and take notice. Playing as four psychos running around with guns in a brightly lit world while each of them has their own powers to use? Yes please.
Mind you I don't know if the feedback loop of game play will be here. In fact, there's so little known about the meat of the game that these allusions to Borderlands could be in the bright neon coloring and the gun but the game itself may not really have any relation at all. Still, this is a game I'm going to keep an eye on because if it can scratch that itch better than Borderlands 3 (which sucked) then I might just have the next game to get absorbed into for years and years. We'll see.
Speaking of a game that only has cinematic footage, WB Montreal released a "cinematic trailer" for their couple of years in development Bat-related title, Gotham Knights. This game looks much darker, and much less candy-coated, even though it too features four heroes going on a quest through their city to save everyone within. Here the game is being billed as a co-op RPG, but lord only knows what that means. Is it an Arkham-type with a thin veneer of RPG elements stacked on. Is it a Diablo-like with just a little bit of extra action? Does it play at all? We just don't know.
The game looks pretty enough, and I've already told my friends I call dibs on Batgirl (gotta try out the lady first just to see if the story treats her any different from the rest of the cast) but, frankly, we're over a year into development in this game and there's no footage of how it plays. That leaves me worried about just what this game actually will be. If it's more Arkham slugfests, that's going to be a no from me.
Judge For Yourself
And that's it. Those are the highlights I actually cared to discuss. If you're interested in checking out all of the DC FanDome specials from this year, and not just the things I highlighted, DC still has it up on their site.