Saturday, April 28, 2012

Can We Talk About the Justice League?

As the buzz grows and grows for the new Paramount/Disney summer superhero spectacular, "The Avengers," the culmination of an ambitious multi-year, multi-movie game plan that is going to make oodles of money for everyone involved. I can't help thinking about the Justice League. As far as comic book superheroes go, I've always been a DC girl. I grew up with the live action "Batman" and "Superman" movies, and I've followed practically every animated incarnation from "Batman: the Animated Series" up to "Young Justice" and the direct-to-video movies. I'd much rather be seeing a "Justice League" movie premiering in the theaters this summer than an "Avengers" one. Sadly, Warner Brothers has fallen far behind its competitors in exploiting its roster of superheroes. The only character they've managed to build a successful modern film series around is Batman, with "The Dark Knight Rises" due in theaters this July.

The rest of the potential "Justice League" lineup is a mess. After the 2006 "Superman Returns" got a mixed reception, Warners decided to move on with a reboot starring Henry Cavill in 2013. "The Green Lantern" was a highly publicized flop that may have soured the studio on riskier films in the same vein. "Wonder Woman" almost became a television show last year, but didn't make it past the pilot stage. Multiple attempts to give her a movie have also ended in failure. Ditto The Flash, whose announced feature is apparently still stuck in development hell. Various other DC hero-based properties like the Aquaman TV show and the Green Arrow movie "Super Max" never got off the ground, though a proposed Green Arrow TV series called "Arrow" is still in play. Despite a lot of buzz about the subject last year, it look very unlikely that DC will be able to create a set of lead-up films for a "Justice League" movie in the same vein as the ones for "The Avengers" any time soon.

So if I was in charge, I'd take the opposite approach and make the "Justice League" movie first. I mean, there's no point in following someone else's formula, especially when it's clearly not working the way it's supposed to. Some of the Marvel movies were less successful than others, but they didn't have any outright disasters on the level of "Green Lantern" that created such a large setback to the big team-up movie. So if Warners wants to make a cinematic "Justice League," I say they should just go ahead and make one without all the lead-up. Since the new "Superman" is already in production and Batman will be due for a reboot, they could position "Justice League" right after those two and use the film to give fans the Batman v. Superman matchup they've wanted for years, and to introduce all the other members of the League. Then they could use that as the starting point to spin off all the lesser known heroes like The Flash and Martian Manhunter. Marvel may be doing something like this too, having talked about the possibility of individual movies for Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Hawkeye after "The Avengers."

Back in 2007, George Miller of "Mad Max" fame almost managed to get a "Justice League" with no ties to the rest of the DC superhero films made. Alas, he was thwarted by the writers' strike and concerns about the budget. Mostly unknown actors would have been cast, including D.J. Catrona as Superman and Arnie Hammer as Batman. I was skeptical about the project when I first heard about it, mostly because it felt like Warners wasn't really committed to the idea, and the talent involved just didn't seem up to par. However, looking back now think it was a missed opportunity for them to do something very bold and radically different with the DC comic book universe.

As a fan it has been endlessly frustrating to watch Warners keep stumbling with all of these characters, because I know the potential to equal the franchise glory that Marvel has achieved with "The Avengers" is right there. DC's comic book history is unparalleled, and they were the first to do superhero movies with any kind of vision and faithfulness. On the other hand, Marvel deserves all the success it has won. They've managed to pull off one of the most ambitious cinematic experiments in recent years, and proved all the doubters wrong - me included. If it weren't for Marvel's movies, I don't think DC would have ever even considered making a "Justice League," or even a "Green Lantern."

So hopefully "Avengers" can provoke Warners to keep trying for something bigger. And then someday, somehow, we'll finally get a "Justice League" movie.


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  2. I agree with you, except on one crucial point: it is not a good idea to start with a JL movie as you said, and then release spin-offs. No, the only thing that would work here is following the Marvel formula. OK, sure, they'd be copying them in a way, but haven't Marvel copied everything DC did? Marvel's Superman is Thor, Marvel's Batman is Captain America, and the Avengers were created as a response to the Justice League. If WB release a JL movie straight off the bat, you're introducing too many characters at once and the audience will get confused. No, the only way to do it is the Marvel way - they tried it and they were successful. OK, so the Green Lantern film was a flop. No worries, just try again! That's where DC have failed and Marvel have succeeded... they had a vision and ambition and they never gave up.

    1. I don't think it would be a problem to introduce so many characters at once. After the last thirty years of Batman and Superman movies, we definitely know who those two are, and you wouldn't have to go into much depth for the other characters on a team picture - the fun of a Justice League/Avengers movie is the group dynamics. Besides, there have been several superhero team franchises like X-Men and Fantastic Four - both Marvel movies, by the way.