With the completion of 's Batman story arc; the mediocre (at best) reviews of Green Lantern; the controversial reception of Man of Steel; the failed Wonder Woman attempts to launch both a TV series and a feature film which was penned by the nerd-god himself, ; and all the stuttering steps that DC has taken towards a JLA movie, I have to wonder, will we ever see one? And if so, will it be any good?
Inevitably, the comparison is going to come between Marvel and DC, so let's get that out of the way first. Marvel has, with some notable exceptions, taken their less popular and less well-known characters, and turned them into a successful franchise, both individually, and as the Avengers. DC has taken some of the most popular and most iconic characters in all of history, and created a string of movies that are, with some notable exceptions, not great (to put it gently). Of the 15 feature films based on DC characters over the past 40 years, they are about 50/50 - half range between good and great, and the rest between mediocre and awful. Why is that? And what can DC do to compete with Marvel and provide fans with the kind of movies we want to see? Where DC does succeed are with their animated videos and TV series. Notably, their animated universe has churned out success after success. And then we have recent series like Smallville and Arrow, which are both very successful and well regarded. So why can't they seem to translate that to the big screen? I think all this leads up to their main problem. DC characters are TOO iconic.
Part of the success of Marvel comes from the fact that, for many, this was their introduction to these characters. Many may have heard of Iron Man or Thor, but few probably knew anything about them, other than a few basics. This means that there won't be a many people with pre-conceived notions about these characters. Where DC has succeeded most - TV and animation - they have either given unique takes which make them different enough, rather than a mistake; or they are able to match it very closely since they are adapting a drawn static medium into a drawn animated medium. Smallville was able to take the lore of Superman, but place him in a different setting, showing him in a different light. Arrow is a character that not a lot of people are familiar with, much like with Marvel. And their animated universe is able to accurately capture the design of the characters, and marry them with the brilliant voice casting by Andrea Romano.
This is where the proposed Justice League Dark could make a huge difference for DC. The characters in that series are less well known, and more human, than those in the standard JLA. And of course, the stories are much grittier - hence the "Dark" in the title. It would follow well with the tone of the Nolan trilogy. Of course, that means that they will have to follow Marvel's lead and introduce the characters one at a time, in order to get audiences interested in seeing them together. The difference is that Marvel had the currency with the audience to let them make a movie about a character that not a lot of people knew. DC doesn't have that, and the characters that they would be making movies for would be even less well known than Marvel's Avengers lineup. It would be a bigger risk, but I think you would also end up with a bigger reward.
However, everyone (myself included) wants to see a JLA movie. And it can be done, but it's going to take a lot of work.
First, they need to get serious about it. They missed a perfect opportunity with Man of Steel. A few easter egg references to other characters doesn't cut it. Man of Steel should have had the Nick Fury style scene at the end that introduces us to the rest of the universe. They should have cast a new Batman and introduced him as a teaser at the end of this film, the way Marvel did with . Right on the kickoff, they fumble the ball. But that's ok. They still have a chance to recover.
Second, they need to play to their strengths. Do NOT try to copy Marvel. DC is not Marvel, and they shouldn't try to be. Where Marvel had to go with second string characters that they had to introduce individually, DC has the all-stars that everyone knows. So dive right in to the origin of the JLA itself. Tell that origin story, and then go back and give solo movies to Wonder Woman, Flash, and all the rest once audiences are hyped to see them.
However, one thing they can do by way of introduction, is to cast their lineup and then introduce them through their already established properties. For instance, write a script for an animated movie, and cast as the voice of Superman, and the rest of the cast who are going to be in the live action JLA as the voice of their characters in the animated prequel. It will serve to set the stage for audiences to accept them as the characters by associating their voices with those characters. The animators can even make the characters look like the actors. Or introduce some of the characters on Arrow. This would accomplish the same thing as a solo movie, without rehashing origin stories again, and without actually producing a full movie and making us wait for years to finally get the JLA film.
Another strength is that their villains are just as iconic as their heroes. One possibility is to throw the Hail Mary pass right off the bat - the JLA vs. the Legion of Doom. Yes, it would be crowded with characters, and wouldn't leave much time for characterization. But this is a blockbuster film. A movie like this doesn't need a whole lot of character development. It needs people in skintight suits beating the crap out of each other. With a few well placed jokes for comic relief. Save the in depth character studies for the solo films. In this one, we just need enough development to make the characters interesting enough to leave audiences wanting to know them better.
That still leaves their greatest weakness/strength, which is the iconic status of these characters. Everyone has an idea of who these characters are, what they look and sound like, and how they should act. There really isn't any getting away from this. Any time you make a transition from one form of media to another, you'll run across this problem, though because of how well known they are, this will be even more so. The best they can do is hire the best. Hire people that love these characters as much as we do. That is the key to making a good movie great. Someone who has that kind of passion is going to both know more about what they are working on, and will treat it with the same level of love and respect that audiences have. The writers, the directors, the actors - they all should have that same level of love for it we do.