You know Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink"? That moment when you look at something and you know it's wrong? That happens to me when studios announce a new project that is a really bad idea.
Some movies based on good ideas just turn out badly, and plenty of great movies turn out to to be less than commercial, or cost too much to turn a profit.
Then there are movies that are just not ever going to work with audiences, where the degree of difficulty is too high, or the potential for getting it wrong is too great. Or else it's just not the right time. Many of us saw coming a long way off the inevitable disappointments "Cowboys & Aliens," "Battleship," and "The Lone Ranger" (which had its pleasures, but was never going to make money).
Sure, it's a major power move for Warner Bros. to announce at Comic-Con that they're putting two of the biggest comic heroes of all time in one movie. You can almost hear them saying, "Take that, Marvel!" But as Warners rushes headlong into a project that is not "Justice League"--which calls for multiple DC superheroes to unite in one movie, as they did in Marvel's global blockbuster "The Avengers"-- they are in fact revealing weakness.
The Superman and Batman movie is a bad idea.
Warner Bros. has been through many iterations of DC's Batman at this point, from Tim Burton and Michael Keaton through Val Kilmer, George Clooney and finally, the winning Chris Nolan trilogy starring Christian Bale, who is now emphatically done with the franchise. So apparently, despite viral rumors, is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who seemed to be set up for a sequel but has denied any intention to work on a non-Nolan Batman.
While Diane Nelson is supervising the D.C. universe, she isn't running the creative on the movies the way Marvel's Kevin Feige does. Even when Marvel's long-term strategy under Feige became apparent, and was hugely successful: they carefully established major comic characters in one consistently high-quality movie after another that eventually yielded a unified world in which they could meet in "The Avengers."
Warner motion pictures under Jeff Robinov--who understands the comics world quite well--never got its act together regarding D.C. Each project changed and evolved under different directors, from Burton to Nolan to Snyder. "Green Lantern" was a bust. "Superman Returns" directed by Bryan Singer was almost a home run, but was too expensive and riddled with crucial errors. WB abandoned Singer's carefully constructed world and started over from scratch. Which took years.
And Snyder's "Man of Steel" didn't get it quite right either. But it did score $630 million worldwide. Now Robinov is gone, after chafing under Warners' new studio chief Kevin Tsujihara--who I met today at Comic-Con, which he has attended for years, he says, reminding me that he used to run DC. He's the one making this call, to lean on "Man of Steel" collaborators Snyder and writer David S. Goyer again to unite Batman and Superman in a film, as they have in many comics.
But Batman and Superman exist is distinct universes, as Goyer himself has said. Metropolis and Gotham are very different. It appears that Warners has opted to reboot Batman inside the Superman universe, en route to "Justice League." This means casting a new Batman. It feels like WB is in a hurry, and slightly desperate. They aren't taking the slow painstaking time to establish these characters inside a unified DC comic book world.
Not only has Tsujihara lost his experienced studio head, but he's losing financing partner Legendary to Universal. Clearly, CEO Thomas Tull was ready to move on and grow and expand as an active creative producer in a way that his accustomed relationship with Warners didn't allow. The studio wasn't willing to let Tull expand Legendary's horizons. Now he can.
But Tsujihara doesn't have a strong single experienced executive running the studio. For now he's relying production president Greg Silverman (who has a close relationship with Nolan, Snyder and Goyer) and marketing president Sue Kroll to run Warner Bros. and Toby Emmerich to run New Line Cinema. Remember Paramount's Gail Berman? Universal's Marc Shmuger and David Linde? Disney's Rich Ross? They were all creative, smart and successful execs who were moved into leadership roles with huge learning curves. It helps to have someone who really knows what they are doing in charge, or you can wind up with a $200 million write-off like "John Carter."
Tsujihara is making a bold power move with this Superman Batman project. He's sending a message to the town--especially Disney, with its mighty Pixar, Marvel, DreamWorks and Lucasfilm labels-- that Warners is still strong and powerful.
But that's not the way to come out ahead. There's only one way to do that. Make the right movie. The one that works for the fans. That's hard to do. Harder than it looks.
See the press release below: