The Justice League cometh, or maybe not


Well, we all saw this coming; actually it’s been coming on for some time now. On the back of the success of Marvel’s Avengers, we stand ready for DC’s envious reply in the form of The Justice League. Truth be told, JL was in the works long before Marvel started assembling their “A”-team.
DC even had a cast and Director too (not too long ago, mind you) – George Miller, though he’s only known for Directing/producing such works as Happy Feet and Lorenzo’s Oil, so thankfully those plans fell through [ED note: I quite enjoyed the Mad Max series, but not a true reflection of the ability to handle an ensemble cast].
Of course times have changed and with comic book heroes becoming quite the meal ticket, it’s no wonder the JL project has been revived, especially with (or because of) the valued contributions made by Chris Nolan’s Batman films. However, great characters does not a great film make.

As expected, there are a number of problems facing this franchise, many of which are issues still very much up in the air. One could almost say that The Avengers benefited from the topsy-turvy reception its individual superhero films received in the build-up years. As a group they tend to galvanize and take the best of each individual. DC however, face pretty much the opposite dynamic, with Batman specifically, and the imminent Superman reboot, bringing a healthy fan-base and loads of expectations. Warner Brothers though, curiously and optimistically, set late 2015 as the deadline – most likely the year in which production should begin, or at least be given the official ‘green-light’. If this goes ahead then it sets it on the collision course with Marvel’s The Avengers 2 out in the same year.

In reality though, some might see this move as wishful thinking. Much of WB’s hopes are being penned on Man of Steel, serving as the veritable springboard for the League.

Here are the Main problems:

• Questions hang over the League’s most bankable member, Batman. Who will be the new Bruce Wayne?
• Several members need/deserve their own film (mostly Flash, and then maybe the ever risky Wonder Woman – Joss Whedon submitted a script for a WW film some years ago but nothing came of it… just highlighting how cautious/skeptical studios are about bringing her to cinema), whilst another unfortunate member needs a lifeline – the Green Lantern, after the deplorable Ryan Reynolds incarnation. Logistically though, many of JL’s characters need to be updated and adapted to fit into a less corny world, in line with the creative direction WB is taking.
• A credible writer who can pen a great story is definitely required because, some ginormous crap needs to be smacking the proverbial global fan to justify the need for a Justice league get-together.
• Which leads to the next point of: a credible and powerful (not to mention kickass) villain needs to be selected.
• And then the usual filmy issues such as full cast and director issues need to be sorted (easier said than done).
• Needless to say I’ve left out a few smaller technical issues like the relationship dynamic – call it chemistry – between the two biggest characters Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne.
• It would be very easy to slip into some old formula and end up making an expensive Avengers copy.

Here are some answers:

• With the way Nolan constructed The Dark Knight trilogy, it would be very difficult to fit his version into the Justice League Universe, with concern over the relatively quick turnaround – studios will effectively have to reboot the character to pull him into line with the superpower and CGI infested world. Warner Brothers have already announced a planned Batman reboot to make landfall in 2016 – those close to the fold suggest the new caped crusader could emerge from the confines of Arkham Asylum, much in the vein of the recent Eidos video game.
• A writer is already at work on the JL screenplay. In fact Guillermo Del Toro is said to be leading a small ‘team’ on the project and has confirmed that he would like to tackle directing duties. He also claims that, although he didn’t drop any names, the writer working with him is top notch and someone to be “very excited about”. – This is by far the best news regarding this entire project. A few days ago though, a writer was confirmed, one Will Beall – the little known man (former real life homicide detective) with writing credits to titles like TV’s Castle, and the recently released (average) Gangster Squad. Warner has since scrapped Beall’s script contribution. It seems they’ve decided to wait on Man of Steel’s on-screen performance before moving ahead any further.
• From there on it becomes a bit more technical. Since Henry Cavill already possesses a contract to reprise his role, so that at least ticks one casting box.
• In addressing the Batman issue: I have heard the pseudo ‘confirmed’ roster for the film, which includes all the characters already mentioned here, with potential cameos from Hawkman, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, and then the obligatory extra-terrestrial villain in the form of Darkseid. However, unlikely as it may be, there is a whispered belief that Batman doesn’t need to feature in the film at all, since this universe totally contradicts Nolan’s in which there were no superpowers. It would be a brave move, but also a very intelligent one (and similarly catastrophic), perhaps have the characters reference Batman during the film only for him to make a cameo right towards the end, effectively rebooting Batman. (Though JL fans would be aggrieved to see a film bearing that name without it’s coolest character).

So, evidently this project has loads of problems, as well as the burden of expectation. However, with the new direction WB have taken, to retell Superman’s origins and instil a grittier, darker edge to the character, a la TDKR, and with Del Toro’s (maybe) influence, they may well tread the tightrope, just.
Coming back to video games though, the recent Justice League video game trailer revealed a very interesting dynamic, perhaps paving the way for studios in providing a clearer vision of how such a mammoth film would play out on screen, with close attention paid more to the character interactions than the storyline and setting/timeline. (Although, the storyline is begging to be borrowed from, if not entirely adapted – it would make for something pretty awesome.)


Man of Steel:

It’s just about winning the ‘hype’ battle with Ironman 3, I believe mostly due to curiosity into the ‘granddaddy of superheroes’ and his latest incarnation.
Because it’s slated as WB’s new money-spinner franchise, and with the big names attached in Director and Producer roles, not to mention that it’s touted as the potential Justice League catalyst film, one has to wonder: is this not too much of a burden? I saw this title in a prospective list of ‘Top 2013 risky box office bets’ – not because it’s expected to be a bad film, but merely that it won’t meet the high expectations, both with audiences as well as earnings. Many believe that it just has too much work to do… And if you look closely, there are one or two very apparent cracks.
The contrast between the new “gritty realism”, may not mix well with the CGI rich backdrop. Then there’s the fact that portions of the film were rewritten – and as we know, last minute adjustments to films don’t really bode well. Let’s also cast our memory, for a second, to the tentative reception Batman Begins received – many took a while to come to terms with the new look and new take on our beloved vigilante.

So, new beginnings then tend to take a bit of getting used to, and studios are hoping that audiences will adjust quite quickly: to like, and then share the experience. Luckily they don’t need to win us over altogether as they’re riding the Nolan wave quite well, as appose to the Schumacher low tide/dry sea bed that the Nolan films rode in on. From the start though, Man of Steel was filled with hitches – it was meant to be released at the end of last year, and WB has had a few legal battles to fight in the interim. The screenplay by David S. Goyer was a little rushed and then Kurt Johnstad (300) rewrote it… Bottom line from Warner Bros. is: if Man of Steel fails, or doesn’t meet their expectations – Justice League is a no-go. So it’s wait and see then… If it succeeds, then we’re looking at the first installment of a Superman trilogy.
Here’s the Man of Steel trailer if you haven’t seen it already…


Another note on Batman

Although many believe Joseph Gordon Levitt to be the one poised to don the cowl, this happens to be a large misconception. The truth is, as was mentioned at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, that he was Robin, and to put it plainly, Robin is not Bruce Wayne, and hence cannot be Batman – that’s just the way it is – how can you have a Batman who’s called Robin in his off hours? The Nolan franchise then is just yet another interpretation of the character – a story unto itself. It did a fantastic job of setting the tone for what’s to follow though, as well as raise the bar for all others, but it cannot exist in or alongside the worlds of other superhero’s – because it isn’t a superhero tale, it’s simply an epic tale of heroism.
The re-imagined character, would of course be modeled  as one that can compete against villains like Clayface and Man-bat (a guy who actually turns into a bat-like creature). Those sort of characters, if done right, could play the perfect climactic foil for the caped crusader while he does battle in the dark background with utterly terrifying and sadistic (and very realistic) killers like Calendar Man (a very methodical serial killer a la the Zodiac), Deadshot (an expert marksmen who terrifies Gotham by killing random people – he wants Batman to find him and be killed in a ‘blaze of glory’) and Victor Zsasz (a serial killer who can match Bruce for strength – he also has countless scars over his body – a cut for every one of his victims). So, if Man of Steel fails (which will hail the shelving of the Justice League plans), Warner Bros will turn their focus on reinventing Batman – perhaps a complete and renewed trilogy with many of the characters missing from Nolan-verse.

2015 may seem like an ambitious deadline for WB, but then again, if Man of Steel even mostly lives up to its billing, momentum can perhaps inspire them, and, well you know, a lot can happen in a year, and they have a little over two to sort themselves out… What seems pretty clear though, is that for the Justice League to work, they’ll have to do some wholesale changes to the most iconic superheroes, whilst also delivering a product that can at least match Marvel’s The Avengers – no small feat, when you consider, no one had seen such an ensemble of characters in a quality feature film before. So now, everyone already has an idea of what to expect. Adding to speculation is that Warner Bros have appointed a new CEO Kevin Tsuijhara (as of 28 Jan), meaning JL progress will almost certainly hinge on the success/failure of Man of Steel.