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– by David Kozlowski

It’s no secret that DC and Marvel have been one-upping each other on the publishing side for decades. Marvel’s Avengers comics were a direct response to DC’s Justice League series, while individual characters like Hawkeye/Green Arrow, Catwoman/Black Cat, and Aquaman/Namor have long drawn their own comparisons. More recently, Marvel and DC have renewed the competition in the cinematic realm with competing slates and franchises (such as the upcoming X-Force, which you could argue is a direct response to Suicide Squad).

Last year, Fox kicked the legs out from under the superhero genre with Deadpool, an R-rated movie about an ex-military mercenary with a bad attitude and mutant healing powers. Deadpool was a huge, huge hit and opened the door to other uber-violent, antihero films (Spawn, Hellboy, Venom). However, it might surprise casual moviegoers that the original Marvel Comics version of Deadpool was essentially a remake of DC’s Deathstroke antihero/villain — an ex-military mercenary with enhanced strength, speed, agility, durability, and intellect… and a healing factor.

Related – The Raid Director In Talks To Direct Deathstroke Movie Starring Joe Manganiello

Now WB and DC are considering a Deathstroke stand-alone film, with Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike, True Blood) as the lead and Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption, The Raid 2) as the director — inspired choices, to be honest. But is the combination enough to convince a large audience to line up and watch?

Some background, in case you’re light on intel. Deathstroke was invented by Marv Wolfman and Steve Erwin in 1980, as an uncompromising and unrelenting supervillain. Deathstroke’s comic origins and various iterations have been retconned a few times, but personality-wise he’s a really dark bastard (and probably not a lot of fun at parties). Basically, Deathstroke is the polar opposite of Deadpool. Incidentally, Deadpool was created about a decade after Deathstroke’s debut, by Marvel creators Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza — who openly admit that they lifted the idea from DC (the characters even share the same surname: Wade Wilson and Slade Wilson). Despite the character’s surface similarities, they’re quite different in style and tone, although both have a profound thirst for violence.

This leads us to the question we’re pondering today: will a stand-alone Deathstroke movie with Manganiello and Evans be a winning recipe or another sad Hollywood cash-grab?


Deathstroke Is (currently) A One-Note Serial Superkiller

Consider that the popularity of Deadpool has much to do with his warped sense of humor and his tendency to talk directly to the audience (aka breaking the fourth-wall). Deadpool pokes fun at himself, his friends/foes, and the mediums in which he resides. He’s also a human piñata, capable of enduring severe beatings/stabbings/shootings and coming back for more — with a smile! Deadpool’s demeanor and style are unlike any other superhero character, and audiences gravitated to him in a big, big way.

By contrast, Deathstoke (in the comics) has been generally portrayed as a supervillain (at-best he’s been an antihero). Deathstroke is every bit as violent and resilient as Deadpool, but while the latter is cracking jokes the former is just cracking skulls, and that can get old pretty damned fast.

A key reason for Deadpool’s success was humor (slapstick and self-effacing). Deathstroke has no discernible sense of humor, and the character is likely to be a grimdark monster. To make a stand-alone Deathstroke movie work DC will need to inject the character with more depth and give him an actual personality; a one-note killing machine is tired and clichéd.

Granted, the version of Deathstroke that appears on The CW’s Arrow is more nuanced, but there’s no indication that the TV version will have any bearing on the film version (it’s likely that WB will want the TV and film versions to differ, to avoid audience confusion).

Verdict: NO-GO


Joe Manganiello Hasn’t Led A Major Film (Yet)

Make no mistake, neither Manganiello or Reynolds are AAA Hollywood talents. However, Reynolds had a much deeper acting resume coming into Deadpool, and he was no stranger to the superhero genre at the time (Blade: Trinity, Green Lantern, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) — to be fair, these are awful films, but Reynolds clearly learned the ropes while accepting his critical lashings. Reynolds is most definitely a capable actor with range, timing, and charisma who’s proven that he can lead and carry a major film.

By comparison, Manganiello has a far slighter resume. He’s worked in comedy, action, and drama, but doesn’t have much experience in the superhero genre (his first acting gig was as Flash Thompson in Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man, but that’s about it). Manganiello has the looks and the physique to play Deathstroke, but it’s not entirely clear that he’s ready to put a major superhero film on his back just yet. However, he is married to Sofia Vergara (Modern Family), and that gives him an edge in my book, just because.

While Manganiello might have the acting chops to pull off the part, he’s not proven to be a legit draw, which puts way too much pressure on WB to cast bigger names around him. A Deathstroke movie wherein Deathstroke is not the major attraction is a serious problem. DC needs to recast.

Marvel has achieved a lot by hiring lesser known actors and directors in many of their films, however they tended to avoid packaging no-name talent with no-name directors and no-name characters, at least until they gained some traction with audiences. To-date, DC hasn’t earned such a free-pass with audiences — though Wonder Woman is a huge step forward.

Verdict: NO-GO


Gareth Evans Is An Inexperienced But Dynamic Directing Talent

While this article wasn’t intended to be purely Deadpool vs. Deathstroke — although, I’d love to see that movie — it’s where we’ve ended-up; don’t worry, we’re near the end, I promise.

Evans’ The Raid: Redemption (2011) and The Raid 2 (2014) are on a lot of people’s top-10 action/martial arts list for a good reason: they’re seriously bad-ass movies! Evans understands that close-quarters combat works best via long-takes and medium shots, rather than choppy, quick cuts that obscure and confuse the techniques (see: all of the Jason Bourne movies). Consequently, the Raid films have some of the best fight scenes you’ll ever see, hands down. However, beyond a couple low-budget, overseas exploitation films, there’s not a lot to Evans’ resume.

Despite Evans relative inexperience as a director, he’s obviously demonstrated a lot of skill within a relatively small body of work. It’s intriguing to see what he’s capable of bringing to Deathstroke. Evans possesses creativity, inventiveness, and an ability to shock — aspects that this character literally revels in. This could be a gutsy by high-ceiling hire by DC; Evans plus Deathstroke equals potential awesomeness.

Verdict: GO!


Deathstroke Lacks Sufficient Mainstream Recognition

What ultimately does DC expect from a Deathstroke movie? That’s the billion dollar question, right? DC’s announced film slate is a mess; DC continues to evolve, contract, and expand their schedule — it’s a monster unto itself. The DC films that already exist (or are in some tangible state of production) include: Justice League and Suicide Squad (team movies); Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Shazam, Man of Steel, and The Batman (solo hero films). And then there’s the stuff that may or may not ever transpire: Nightwing, The Flash/Flashpoint, Cyborg, Green Lantern Corps, Harley Quinn and the Joker, Batgirl, Black Adam, Gotham City Sirens.

So, where does Deathstroke fit in, and more important: how does he stand out?

Deathstroke has been a significant DC villain for a long, long time, but he lacks the mainstream recognition of other major DC supervillains (Joker, Lex Luthor, Captain Cold). However, Deathstroke has been pitted against major DC heroes like Batman, Nightwing, and the Teen Titans, so the hardcore fanbase is probably a resounding thumb’s up. Of late Deathstroke has appeared in The CW’s Arrow, played masterfully by Manu Bennett (The Hobbit), where he’s been Oliver Queen/Green Arrow’s friend, mentor, and foe.

DC has established that bad guys — even no-name baddies — can be compelling given the right context. Suicide Squad certainly introduced the concept of anti-heroes in DC films, but these characters were successful only as a collective group — it’s unclear if any of them could hold their own individual films. Suicide Squad also pulled its punches regarding gore and violence (it was PG-13, for some absurd reason). The basic problem is that Deathstroke doesn’t have enough street cred or star power to pull a sizeable, mainstream audience; even a powerhouse script might not matter, which means that DC would need to drop more noteworthy heroes into the film, and that would only dilute Deathstroke as the focal point.

DC does have the advantage of introducing a property that no one expects, and good marketing can go a long way. Deathstroke would certainly be the riskiest proposition for DC thus far, and maybe with a few more hits under their belts this won’t seem like such a stretch.

Verdict: NO-GO


Conclusion

A legit Deathstroke movie with Joe Manganiello and Gareth Evans could be awesome, but given the modest appeals of character, actor, and director it’s hard to see this film turning enough heads, given the established and ongoing competition from Marvel and DC’s other film properties.

Additionally, if WB/DC are serious about making a Deathstroke film, they need to decide how far they’ll take the premise and how deep they’ll lean into depicting the kind of evil this character is known for. Deathstroke is essentially an angrier and more ruthless version of Deadpool, buffed with with the brains of Batman and the strength of Superman. Deathstroke kills, a lot, and it’s seldom pretty — is DC willing to go this far? Re-imagining Deathstroke as a misunderstood murderer with a heart of gold is NOT faithful to the character, though I strongly suspect this is the route DC would go, in order to broaden the character’s overall appeal.

Considering all of these factors, it’s unlikely that a Deathstroke film (as currently defined) has any hope of being a Deadpool killer or out-drawing anything else presently on the DC slate. Perhaps a low-budget, hard-R, character study set in the DC universe (packaged with a few cool cameos and guest-stars) that really goes for mercenary-vigilante violence would turn some heads… but probably not enough to warrant the effort, at least not at this time.

Final Verdict: NO-GO

Do you think DC should take the leap and make a stand-alone Deathstroke film with Joe Manganiello and Gareth Evans? Let us know in the comments down below!

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SOURCE: THR , Newsweek

  • Bruce Norris

    First off, “BOURNE” #1 had at least one good fight scene (“ball point pen fight”). All the others left something to be desired.

    Second, I think it could be worth a shot, especially if they rework his original origin/storyline from “TEEN TITANS” where his oldest son tries to be like him and submits to a process that gives him similar abilities.

    – Hero cameo comes at start of movie, Deathstroke fighting hero(Batman or some such).

    – Son wants his father’s love/respect and follows in his footsteps, going after same hero (Batman or whomever). However, son’s abilities come at a price that taxes/burns his body out (doesn’t have dad’s exact genetics).

    – In the end, Deathstroke can only hold his decrepit, “burnt out”/aged and dying son.

    – LET THE REVENGE/John Wicking begin as he gets revenge on the ones that did the experiment on his kid.

    • I’ll give you the ball-point pen fight, that was solid. Agreed.

      I’m not saying that a Deathstroke movie would be bad, rather I’m suggesting that Manganiello isn’t a strong enough lead and Evans hasn’t proven he can handle a major film (yet) — both are problems when Deathstroke is a no-name property for most of the mainstream (granted, he’s been important to Arrow and has appeared in some Batman Arkham Asylum videogames and the first Injustice fighting game).

      • chaburchak

        If they shot this on the limited budget of a typical Gareth Evans action flick (okay, a little more than that) it could do modestly at the box office and still turn a healthy profit. Hollywood needs to shake this idea that all comic book movies need a $150 million for a budget…

        • Well said, we just had a great example of budget vs. reality w/ Denis Villenueve (Arrival was made on $47 million budget and was a success; Blade Runner 2049 had a $155 million budget, and made roughly the same money as Arrival, and is considered a failure).

          So I totally agree that a low-budget, no CG, fists-and-firearms Deathstroke movie could work and draw enough audience to be a hit. This is the lesson that few seem to get about Deadpool, which was made for $58 million; unless you’re making Avengers of Justice League, keep that budget similar to Deadpool and you’ve got a chance to surprise people, but make it for $150 million and the pressure is cranked-up to 11.

  • Victor Roa

    NAILED IT!
    It’s weird because anyone below the age of 44 (thanks dan didio) didn’t know that Teen Titans was the best selling comic next to Uncanny X-Men during the Kitty Pryde era. And X-Men story archs still ring the bell to the average fan, Genosha, Shi’ra Empire, Age of Apocalypse….. DC needs that, because they just keep hitting that Crisis on Infinite Earths every 3 years, fuck me, Arrow will probably do Metron and the Mobius chair at the Source Wall by the time these films cast their perfect actor to wait 3 years for a film.

    • Deathstroke936

      It is weird because …What the hell does stories like Judas Contract or Brother Blood or Trigon or Arrow have to do with anything within this article…??? I do remember a Teen Titans vs X-Men crossover… Deathstroke even took out Wolverine… good times…

      • Victor Roa

        I was a bit too hyperbolic because I did ignore the good Teen Titans stories, but I felt I was addressing more the current state of DC comics where anyone talks about their favorite DC Story as maybe Superman Red Son and that was 2003, not one saying Blackest Night was “clever way of handling powers to older characters,” or even for me personally I adore the Jonah Hex comics by Jimmy Palmiotti. It’s more grumblings about creators leaving titles after 3 issues or delays that lead into cancellations.
        As much as I enjoy this article, I actually stand more on the “they should make deathstroke movie because DC film series kinda hinge too much on Batman and Superman T Shirts and Deathstroke would actually add a new tone.” I activity buy DC comics but I do feel there’s a brand problem, and it feels accelerated in the film side but it’s perfect on animation, the CW shows and Legos..

        • Deathstroke936

          Got it. I agree with you all the way…

  • Deathstroke936

    “a one-note killing machine is tired and clichéd” … and here we go…

    What is the Raid about..??? Or John Wick…??? Or The Punisher…??? Or a whole bunch of Korean movies just waiting to be remade by Hollywood (The Man from Nowhere, I saw the Devil and a gazillion others)

    And of course the real reason The Raid is a fan favorite is because it’s full of character development and personality…

    And we all remember the acting Oscars all the way from Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Sly Stallone, Chuck Norris and don’t forget Keanu, Stathan or Vin Diesel…

    But hey, I really liked Dredd and that flopped… so who knows. But I’m in the camp of “I hope they make it instead of don’t bother…”

    A hard R with a decent but frugal budget with Gareth talent, killer action scenes and let the costume do all the acting, a couple of DC cameos and a cliffhanger… Hey I’m in. Hell I’d rather see that than boring new Spider Man…

    • I hear what you’re saying. I love martial arts and action films as much as anyone, but Hollywood is a business, and movies need to make money. I hope WB/DC make Deathstroke, but they need a better lead, a great script, and a proven director.

      Check out the box office results for Evans, Manganiello, and other recent bare-bones action films:
      The Raid: Redemption made $4 million
      The Raid 2 made $2 million
      Sabotage made $10 million
      Magic Mike XL made $66 million
      John Wick made $43 million
      Atomic Blonde made $51 million
      The Mechanic (remake) made $29 million

      None of the above were profitable films, not even close. They’re fun, exciting, and professionally-made movies, but audiences aren’t flocking to go see them anymore.

      Let’s say Deathstroke gets a $50 million budget (marketing costs are roughly double the production budget). So this movie needs to make at least $100 million to break even. I have a hard time believing that WB/DC will make a superhero movie this cheaply (they somehow dropped $175 million on Suicide Squad, and that was an awful movie but it had a few big names, a solid director, and a LOT of marketing help from WB.

      • chaburchak

        If John Wick wasn’t profitable, not even close, then why did they make a sequal?

      • Deathstroke936

        Funny that the most profitable on that list is the one I never watched…

        If your headline said “Would a Deathstroke film with Evans and Manganiello be successful” (semantics I know) I’d probably agree with you. But you asked do we want or even need one and the answer is 100 times yes!

        As a kid from the 80’s, I’m still waiting for this generation’s Commando, First Blood, Cobra or Predator.

        I’m thinking with the DC brand (the people that brought you Wonder Woman and JL (If it’s good) it could perform like Wanted … 300 million gross out of 75 million budget. But I’ll admit some bias here…

    • chaburchak

      Don’t quote me on this, but I think The Man From Nowhere was itself a remake of Man On Fire with Denzel Washington…

  • Kebert Xela

    this is what i was wondering about wonder woman. deathstroke is one of the most interesting characters in comics, why shouldn’t he get his own movie?
    and no, he’s not a one note blah blah blah, but this article was written by a cuck who doesn’t really know anything about the character.
    finally, reviewers need to let go of their obsession with “a sense of humor” and deathstroke needs a better live action portrayal than the australian meathead version from “arrow”.

  • Ghost2020

    Deathstroke can be a fantastic assassin/crime/betrayal type movie. Throw in an appearance by Red Hood as a foil and then a reluctant ally, bingo done and done.

    It would allow for a hard R rating, lots of cool action, but not too super-heroic, very gritty. Expand on the background of Deathstroke’s childhood, maybe some ties to that, as seen in some of the graphic novels. Expand on his mercenary career and how he got transformed into a super soldier and how that messes with his head (take some liberties for story telling purposes), even for the DCEU have him tied with Waller and the Cadmus project as part of their operation to have leverage against metahumans. Since the Suicide Squad is unreliable and hard to control.

    (During this flashback they can also nod to slade seeing a clone of superman – aka Superboy being grown).

    Leave out the Teen Titans, batman, etc.

    Red Hood can help tie the movie back to the BvS dead robin as he was raised by Ras Al’Ghul and stuff went sideways. We also get to see some background on Jason Todd being killed by the Joker, and his subsequent rebirth.

    Possible scenario is that Red Hood is taking down crime syndicates, Black Mask hires Deathstroke to take out Red Hood, there’s a double cross by Black Mask, and in third act we have a revenge flick as they team up to take out the Black Mask and his organization.

    Make it a good, have smart action set pieces, some decent gore and lots of bullets flying.

    Subsequent sequels can tie in with Suicide Squad and another one off Deathstroke movie can have him eventually facing off against Batman as they both race to kill for Deathstroke or capture for Batman an informant, rogue metahuman, etc.

    There’s lots of options with Deathstroke.
    I would think it could be made with the $60 million or less budget. Less risk as its an R flick.

    I would think that this is actually a no-brainer.

David Kozlowski is a writer, podcaster, and visual artist. A U.S. Army veteran, David worked 20 years in the videogame industry and is a graduate of Arizona State University’s Film and Media Studies.