This week marks the American premiere of the Justice League. The movie that should be DC and Warner Brothers’ answer to the powerhouse Avenger franchise. The Disney owned Marvel Cinematic Universe’s perennial success changed how producers and the public view movies. Now a company can string together multiple movies, characters, and franchises, into a film-making superstructure.
So far, Marvel is the only company to truly pull it off. DC’s failure will be discussed later. Universal tried it too and fell flat on their face with the Dark Universe--failed to the point where few people realized that’s what they were trying to do--and Legendary Pictures wants to create the MonsterVerse with Godzilla and King Kong.
DC has struggled to get their universe off the ground. The reviews and box office for Man of Steel were underwhelming. Batman V Superman wasn’t that great. It pulled in a large amount of money, but a movie with two of the best known fictional characters should have made double the money. Suicide Squad was mediocre at best, and a tangled, heaving, silly mess at its worst. The only good movie was Wonder Woman. But, one for four is not good odds.
The movies are at least coming out, but the last few years have been rife with trouble. Batman V Superman underperformed. There was discord between the studio and the creative team over who was at fault. Geoff Johns was brought in to oversee the fledgling film series a single creative vision, similar to what Kevin Feige does at Marvel Films. This hasn’t worked so well. There still seems to be a disharmony about what the DC films should be. Wonder Woman’s success showed that they might need to think the somber, super serious tones from the first movies.
Behind the scenes, things are not much better. Because BVS was so panned, it looked for a few months that Ben Affleck wanted out of the projects altogether. Originally meant to write, direct, and star in, a new Batman movie (and potential series of movies) Ben Affleck suddenly wasn’t directing or writing. There were even rumors Warner Brothers might need to recast the role. The Flash movie has gone through multiple writers and directors. And, the decision to move the Flash and Aquaman movies to after the Justice League movie made the studio force cameos into Batman V Superman. There’s also the recent announcement that Gal Gadot won’t sign for Wonder Woman 2 until Bret Ratner is removed from the project and the movie’s financing is changed.
Literally, the only thing going for them is Wonder Woman. Heck, probably the only reason many people will see Justice League is Gal Gadot returning to the role.
So can Justice League save them?
Honestly, I don’t think so.
On paper, Justice League should be great. Let’s look at what they do have. They have one of the most lucrative source materials outside of Disney and Star Wars. Batman alone has carried several movie franchise installments. Their characters are more well known. The casting for the movie looks good. Ben Affleck was a controversial pick, but his Batman was one of the better parts of BVS. He’s also an A-lister and brings star power to the movie. Ezra Miller has a solid indy movie track record. I don’t know much about Ray Fisher, but he’s looked good in all of the spots they’ve shown. Jason Momoa is an excellent actor and he has a commanding screen presence. He’s also maybe the one person on the planet that could convincingly play Aquaman and not look dorky. Plus, they have Gal Gadot which turned out to be their secret weapon.
But, there are so many things that don’t look great. It looks like they shifted tone in the middle of a franchise. The trailers show the Justice League forming in response to the death of Superman. The world is mourning his loss. Except, the last time we saw Superman was under congressional investigation, and Ben Affleck spent more most of the time trying to murder him. But, Justice League trailer act as if he was the world’s fallen hero. They’re basically telling the audience to pretend the last two movies didn’t happen and to replace the dour Superman with the one from the comics and cartoons.
WB Executive: “If you could pretend that he was a symbol of hope, unity and an example what humankind could be, then that would be great.”
Audience: “You mean like Wonder Woman?”
WB Exec: “You guys really aren’t going to let that movie go are you?’
There’s another shift the movie took. They definitely got notes that people love those jokey Marvel movies. There were more jokes in the trailers than the entirety of Man of Steel, Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad. It looks like they might be using a lighter palette tone. I would even joke that they replaced Snyder with the Avengers director but Snyder left under incredibly difficult circumstances about which I will not joke.
Some parts look great. The Wonder Woman bank scene. The part where they meet Aquaman. These look great. But, a lot of the movie looks like it takes place from one of those cubes in Reboot. It was like some executive looked at Guardians of the Galaxy, and said: “hey let’s do that but really, really bad.” Nevermind that Marvel made two movies with a talking raccoon and literally a tree work, while DC can’t make people like Superman--literally the best person in the world.
So a lot rides on Justice League this week. If these movies fail, then DC will have to rethink the entire structure of the universe. There’s already evidence of this happening. There are rumors that Batman might become its own series. Gal Gadot could walk away. Without a successful Justice League, both the Flash and Aquaman movies will be scrapped. DC could focus on its other projects like Shazam and Black Adam. The Rock is supposed to play Black Adam sometime before he eventually runs for president. I doubt they want to miss out on the biggest movie star on the planet. Essentially, Justice League is the child everyone is hoping will save a bad marriage.
A lot is riding on it.