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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!