Today’s big news is that JJ Abrams and his Bad Robot will be leaving Paramount to set up shop at Warner Media in a very lucrative deal that will see JJ producing movies, TV and games for WB. It’s a big move, and it’s part of WB’s recent signings intended to try and safeguard some talent from being tied up at Disney forever and ever.
The word is that Warner Bros wants JJ to create original, new franchises, and that’s admirable, but I’m not sure he’s the guy. Let’s put it this way: he’s never done that. He’s created/produced some successful TV series, and I think he’ll probably do more of that with Warner, but he’s not launched a new movie franchise yet.
(Yes, I understand that the Cloverfield movies are, technically, a franchise, but I feel like a trio of unconnected films (one of which is so terrible it was dumped from theatrical to streaming and afterwards seemingly forgotten about forever) does not constitute what WB is hoping to achieve in the franchise space)
On some level the good people over at WB have got to be hoping that JJ is interested in coming to their DC Expanded Universe in some capacity. If you’ve spent any time on the internet you know that the big problem over there is the lack of a Kevin Feige figure, and with Abrams they have their Feige ready to go.
What’s more, JJ has a DC background. In 2002 he wrote Superman: Flyby, one of the attempts to relaunch the franchise. At one point to be helmed by Brett Ratner, at another by McG, the film was a modestly radical re-envisioning of the Superman mythos. In this version Krypton is riven by civil war, and Superman’s evil uncle is battling it out against his dad, who commits suicide in jail (!). When Clark Kent comes of age he reveals himself as Superman, and he gets killed by Kryptonians. Then he comes back to life, beats the Kryptonians and flies to Krypton, which has not been exploded, to finish the battle… in a sequel. It was a cliffhanger ending.
I read Flyby a long long time ago, so my exact memories are hazy, but I didn’t like it at the time. Having Krypton unexploded is one of those “bold” choices that, I think, misses the point of the character being adapted – Superman’s home planet being dead feels very essential to me, in terms of giving him the right gravitas as someone who wants to desperately protect his adopted world. And it rushed the death of Superman, but it seems like killing Superman was the main priority for Warner Bros between the Christopher Reeve films and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The rest of it was… well, it was 2002. Superhero movies were different then. It was bigger in scale than many of its contemporaries, but it felt of its time in many other ways.
Could WB get Abrams to reboot Superman? It seems kind of like a no-brainer to me, but what is more interesting is what that would look like. They have a newly successful DCEU just getting underway, but I can’t imagine JJ just picking up Superman where he was left off by Snyder/Whedon. This isn’t Star Wars, where he’s taking a legacy. If JJ rebooted Star Trek, clearly Superman would get the same treatment.
But how does that work with Aquaman and Wonder Woman? I guess WB could do a rolling retcon, just sort of forgetting the events of Justice League (which they’re probably doing anyway) and making the heroes all be friends with histories that we don’t need to explore. Shazam! paved the way for that, having a non-Henry Cavill Superman show up from the chest down.
If JJ did come in and take Superman, would he then become the Kevin Feige of the DCEU? I feel like James Wan is the guy they should be turning to, but if he isn’t already running the whole deal I have to assume there’s a reason. JJ is the perfect guy to take the reins, if only because the announcement would really reset the public’s relationship with these movies. It would feel like the final removal of the stink of the Snyder versions, and the DCEU could get a fresh start.
Could WB want Abrams to take on other franchises? Maybe, but I’m not sure which of their major ones would work for him. There’s the Wizarding World, which I imagine is firmly locked up with the existing producers. Then there’s the Monsterverse (aka the Godzilla movies) which are having their own issues, but are also with Legendary. That’s off the table. I cannot imagine him stepping in on the new Matrix movie. The Conjuring movies are handled. It would be wild if JJ came in and started playing with Looney Tunes, but it wouldn’t totally surprise me, as WB has not been able to get that franchise running right (we’ll see what happens with Space Jam 2). Honestly, I could see him coming in and putting some motion behind the eternally stalled Jonny Quest.
Looking at all that it seems to me as if the big plays for Abrams are original franchises/new or adapted IPs and DC. Getting Superman into the billion dollar club simply must be a priority for the studio, and this deal looks to me like a way of making that happen.