After a string of underwhelming critical and commercial DCEU movies (the one exception being Wonder Woman), the direction of the franchise lately has seemed uncertain. With several future DC properties now becoming stand-alone films, some films being pushed back seemingly indefinitely and rumours of the plug being pulled on the DCEU as a whole, most of the news coming from the DC/Warner Bros. camp lately has been met with cautious optimism at best.
However, the news of legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg signing on to produce – and possibly even direct – a film adaptation of Blackhawk is one of the most promising statements to come from the studio in a long time. It’s a cause for celebration, and if the film lives up to expectations it could breathe new life in to the DCEU… which is ironic, since many have never even heard of Blackhawk before now, and some have even mistakenly assumed that Blackhawk is the name of a superhero.
So, if Blackhawk isn’t a superhero then who – or what – is he/it? And how can a non-superhero save a franchise that’s struggling even with Superman, Batman and the Flash in its roster?
Blackhawk was originally a World War II series which focused on a team of adventurous fighter pilots of various nationalities who banded together to defend the world from the Nazi invasion. Led by their mysterious leader who goes by the name Blackhawk, the team of Blackhawks operated from a hidden island equipped with state-of-the-art technology and would fly into action in their Grumman Skyrocket fighter planes. While all of this may sound bland to an audience expecting capes and spandex, just imagine the first MCU Captain America film mixed with Indiana Jones and classic aerial dogfights. Plus, above all else, it can be fun – something sorely lacking in the DCEU so far.
The popularity of the Blackhawk comic book series led to a 1950 radio show and a 1952 cliffhanger serial starring Kirk Alyn (yes, the former Superman actor), and have been a constant – albeit more background – presence in various DC productions over the years. They’ve featured in various animated shows and movies, including the DCAU Justice League show’s pivotal story arc The Savage Time, Justice League: The New Frontier, and have even been referenced in the live-action Arrow and Flash shows. Meanwhile, back in comic books, they’ve played significant roles in major events like Kingdom Come and have been a regular presence in the DC Universe.
All of which sounds perfect for Spielberg, a man whose work has focused on both dramatic period pieces, action-packed war stories and thrilling serial-style adventures. In fact, it was partly because of his (and George Lucas’s) love of cliffhanger serials in particular that led to duo creating Indiana Jones. More importantly, Spielberg appears to be a fan of Blackhawk in particular, since rumours abounded of him wanting to make a Blackhawk film… all the way back in 1982. If it’s true that he’s a fan and has been wanting to make this film for over 35 years, it’s a fair bet that he’s passionate about this project, has a vision for it, and will do all he can to make it work.
Beyond Spielberg’s involvement, Blackhawk also offers an opportunity to expand the DCEU in a way that DC/Warner Bros. have mostly failed to explore so far: Legacy. Wonder Woman was, up to this point, the only film in the series which bothered to show its past properly, and talk of previous costumed heroes has been practically non-existent. Yet the legacy of former heroes has been one of DC’s strongest themes in comics over the years, and still remains one of its best features as its characters look to the past for inspiration. For the DCEU to not capitalise on this aspect has been disappointing.
However, the WW2 time period of Blackhawk allows everything from a cameo of Wonder Woman – which would help fill in a large gap of why she’s been absent since World War One – to a brief appearance by the Justice Society… the forerunner to the Justice League. By establishing a rich past full of old-fashioned genuine heroes who pave the way, it would help lay the foundations of a stronger DCEU by giving its current roster a legacy to uphold and live up to.
Blackhawk, with Spielberg’s involvement, has the potential to not only be a top-class action/adventure thrill-ride but could also to strengthen the entire franchise moving forward. The DCEU may be down but it certainly isn’t out. It could all be saved by a team that few have ever even heard of.