HEAT VISION

How 'Supergirl' Could Reinvigorate the DC Movie Universe

Supergirl - DC Comics -Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of DC Entertainment
This is how the Superman family of characters can finally compete with those from Gotham City.

The news broke this morning that the girl of steel, Supergirl, is on the path toward receiving her own feature film as part of DC’s growing cinematic universe. While the project is still in the early stages of development, Oren Uziel (22 Jump Street, The Cloverfield Paradox) will be penning the feature centered around Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El, who debuted in 1959. This will be the second feature to follow her adventures, following the critically maligned 1984 film starring Helen Slater.

Despite not having the silver-screen presence of her cousin, Supergirl has made quite an impact on the small screen, where she has guest starred in Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League: Unlimited and Smallville, and more recently led her own scripted series, Supergirl, on The CW, which is heading into its fourth season. Though her self-titled comic series has seen a number of creative shifts and directions in recent years, the current series, which sees Kara’s mission more directly tied to Clark’s, seems to promise a more integral and consistent title. Despite approaching her 60th anniversary next year, the time for Supergirl to take flight has never been more pertinent.

The announcement of a Supergirl film is another sign of the shift at Warner Bros’ DC division as executive Walter Hamada guides the cinematic universe forward. With Batgirl, and several projects starring Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in development, including Cathy Yan’s film based on the comic Birds of Prey, Warner Bros. is fully embracing the appeal and necessity of female superheroes, no doubt fueled by the success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman in 2017. But a Supergirl film doesn’t just have the power to boost the cinematic power of DC’s leading women; it also has the potential to open up the world of Superman on film in a way that hasn’t been done before. Despite the fact that many are eagerly waiting for Warner Bros. to announce a new Superman solo film, a Supergirl film can keep the property alive, and hopefully feature Henry Cavill in some degree, while the studio figures out how to best reintroduce the character for a film of his own.

Warner Bros. is in a similar situation with Batman. Despite the caped crusader’s next solo feature having been announced, with Matt Reeves at the helm, the studio seems committed to getting the script right before a release date is set. Instead, properties like Birds of Prey, Suicide Squad, and the Joker will keep the spirit of Gotham alive while the Bat waits in the shadows. As many audience members and fans know, Batman is bigger than Batman. Batman is Gotham, and — to borrow a sentiment from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on the character — Gotham is Batman, Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, the Joker, and a whole host of others. Gotham is a feeling, and an identity, one we’re still seeing shaped within DC’s cinematic universe. At least in terms of films announced, Warner Bros. recognizes the potential for Batman’s universe, a cinematic universe unto itself (though it's unclear if and how Reeves' movie connects to properties like Suicide Squad and Batgirl, as it's said to focus on a younger Batman). Supergirl could be the means for a similar strategy that sees the world of Metropolis opened up and expanded in the same way as what Warner Bros. plans to do with Gotham. In fact, this plan, though having surely evolved, may have been in the works since Man of Steel.

The seeds for Supergirl were planted, in 2013’s Man of Steel, when Clark Kent steps into the Kryptonian ship for the first time and discovers several pods, its inhabitants long deceased. But there’s one pod that’s open, the occupant seemingly escaped. For years, fans have speculated that this open pod was an Easter Egg pointing to the existence of Kara Zor-El, a theory given further credibility by the Man of Steel prequel comic written by Sterling Gates from a story by David S. Goyer, Geoff Johns and Zack Snyder. That comic, Man of Steel Prequel, introduces Kara as a young pilot assigned to help Krypton’s expansion and sees her crash-land on Earth long before the U.S. military discovers the scout ship that eventually provides Clark with the truth about his heritage. While it’s unlikely the tie-in comic will be used as fast and hard continuity, it may provide the basis for how Supergirl will be inducted into the cinematic universe.

Supergirl also opens the door for other Superman supporting characters to be introduced and eventually receive their own films. Superboy, a clone of Superman and Lex Luthor, seems like a ready-made conflict for Kara to encounter. Steel, an engineer who builds a metal suit and protects Metropolis’ inner city, and who was infamously the star of the 1997 Shaquille O’Neal dud, is another viable property Warner Bros. could tap into to give Metropolis just as much weight and points of interest as Gotham City. There’s also the added factor of Supergirl’s position as a teenager, which could create interesting superhero dynamics outside the Justice League as she encounters the Shazam family and Batman’s sidekicks, and it could perhaps pave the way for the Teen Titans or a similar equivalent. Supergirl could not only change the scope of DC’s film but pave the way for additional tonal avenues these films could take.

On that previous note, an R-rated character study set in Metropolis could also have appeal. If Todd Phillips’ Joker film proves successful, then perhaps a Luthor film, also unconnected to the larger cinematic universe, could explore the origins of his villainy and human exceptionalism with another prestige actor filling the role while Jesse Eisenberg creates mayhem in the connected films.

A Supergirl film doesn’t just provide the means to introduce a new character but to tap into DC’s rich history and build up the mythos of Superman on film in a way that’s equal to those of Batman. With its fictional cities and fictional histories, DC has the cinematic potential to create a sense of place that’s as strong as its characters. Maybe it’s not team-ups and event films that Warner Bros. should build the future of their cinematic universe on, but on the heroes, villains and people who populate every corner of these cities. Supergirl may be the first part in the statement Metropolis is, and if Warner Bros. can see her in this way, then there’s nothing stopping it from taking this cinematic universe, up, up, and away.

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