Given the success of not only Avengers but the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s not surprising that other companies would attempt to copy the idea of an integrated superhero universe: Fox has hired Mark Millar to piece together a Fantastic Four and X-Men-focused universe, and Warner Brothers, of course, is trying to figure out how to pull off a DC Cinematic Universe.
It seems like the DC Universe should be easily translatable to the big screen as you’ve got massively iconic and famous characters ready to roll, yet it seems every few days there’s another story about how the JUSTICE LEAGUE movie is having more difficulty getting off the ground than a pig flapping it’s legs. Warner Brothers put a stake in the ground for 2015 but that seems impossible given the recent news that the script they had commissioned by Will Beall (the writer of Gangster Squad) is terrible.
There have been plenty of rumors about directors (Ben Affleck, Ridley Scott) but no one has signed on.
Think about that for a moment. We’re talking about a film that has the honest potential to be the highest grossing film in the history of history, and WB can’t get a director to sign on for the project.
I think it’s because the time isn’t as perfect as everyone in corporate thinks it is to get that JUSTICE LEAGUE movie off the ground. For starters, the company’s two biggest characters are at completely opposite ends of the cinematic spectrum. Batman has just finished his most recent trilogy, and there’s been no indication that either Christian Bale or Joseph Gordon-Levitt has any real interest in pulling on the black latex.
Which, to be honest, is a good thing. Nolan designed his Dark Knight trilogy around the idea that there was no other superheroes in the world but Bats, and so building off that world sets a bleak, unforgiving tone. How is Metropolis, Star City, Coast City, and Keystone City when Superman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and the Flash set up shop? And given how Bruce Wayne ran away like a selfish coward at the end of Dark Knight Rises to go live in seclusion with Anne Hathaway and leaving “his” city to fend without his expertise, are we really going to want to watch Bruce hobble around complaining about his bum knee and back for 2 hours?
Probably a good idea to leave the Nolan Batman collecting dust on everyone’s Blu-ray shelves and start new. Batman is as close to a sure-thing as cinematic superhero projects get, so there’s not the same risk in starting over with a new Batman as there would be, say, trying to do Avengers with someone other than Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark.
If WB is going to start new, the upcoming Man of Steel Superman relaunch would seem to make for the ideal launching point. This presents some problems, too. One, we don’t know if the movie is going to be any good and/or if Henry Cavill is going to be the type of actor you can build a multi-film, multi-billion dollar franchise around. To be fair to Cavill, he could turn in the greatest ever superhero performance or the worst ever superhero performance. We just don’t know. To be doubly fair to him, it’s not like Marvel attempted to build the Avengers franchise around Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth, either. They built it around Downey, who has the personality and presence and desire to be a centerpiece.
Superman and Batman are hugely popular superheroes, of course, but I don’t know if either of these characters has the presence to lead a cinematic universe. Bats lives in the shadows and Superman is short on personality. Do you really want to build a whole cinematic universe in 2013 around a guy whose idea of fun is flying home to see his mom?
The other problem with building the JUSTICE LEAGUE around Henry Cavill’s Superman is that it’s being directed by Zack Snyder. Now, I love Snyder’s visual approach, even when I’m not crazy about his movies. We don’t know how Man of Steel is going to look and feel in total. I’ve described the vibe in the trailers as Thin Red Line-esque, which is great for me because The Thin Red Line is the best war movie of all time. I think something quiet and contemplative can make for an excellent Superman film, but I personally don’t want to see that tone carried through all of the films.
Now, we don’t know if that tone will be the dominant tone in Man of Steel, either. It’s a bad idea to rush to judgment about a film based on the trailer.
But look at the Marvel movies – all of them feel like they’re taking place in the same universe. They have a similar look and feel and it helps, if you’re going to build a cinematic universe, to have a style that’s all your own. DC and Warner Brothers don’t need to do this, of course, but it helps, which is why I’ve been arguing they need to appoint their own Kevin Feige before they go ahead and find someone to direct JUSTICE LEAGUE. Putting one person in charge of everything can only help the franchise and ensure that the films feel like they’re taking place in the same world. Warners could likely attract a big name director (not that they need one – Marvel built their success on hiring quality rather than names) if the director knew there was someone in charge to help facilitate the sprawling franchise.
The first question that needs to be answered, of course, is whether to follow the Avengers model and do solo movies that lead into a team movie, or work it in reverse, by doing a team movie that feeds into solo films.
I’ve gone back and forth on this idea. Originally, I thought they should do the JUSTICE LEAGUE film first and then spin movies off of it. This would allow WB to determine which characters and actors have the most momentum with fans. If they’d done this with the Avengers, it’s possible we’d get a Black Widow movie instead of a Thor movie. Given that WB has need of a new Batman and hasn’t committed to a sequel for Green Lantern, this idea still makes a lot of sense. The risk, of course, is that if you do JUSTICE LEAGUE first (or second, given the existence of Man of Steel) and it bombs, you could screw the franchise. Marvel had time to develop its style and feel over the course of multiple films and build momentum through the linking mechanism of Nick Fury, Agent Coulson, and SHIELD.
I think the slow rollout is the better idea, but I also think there’s no way Warner Brothers is going to make us wait four or five years or so while we get a Superman movie in 2013, then Flash in late 2014, then Wonder Woman and Green Lantern in 2015, Batman in 2016, and then Justice League in 2017. I don’t even know if they can get a movie out by the end of 2014.
What WB really needs to do, of course, is just stop, take a breath, figure out a strategy, and then go about executing it. Forget about release dates or artificial deadlines or hiring people to do individual films until they hire someone to oversee the entire catalog and let them get to work. The fans and the money will be there.
Over on the Better in the Dark Facebook page, the JUSTICE LEAGUE film has generated decent discussion and so I offered a writing challenge for people to submit their pitches for a JUSTICE LEAGUE movie. Both David Ellis and Sean Taylor responded, and here are their pitches.
This might be too long but, here’s a Justice League movie pitch: SUPERMAN, BATMAN, WONDER WOMAN, GREEN LANTERN, THE FLASH, and AQUAMAN are each established in his or her respective status quo (it’s assumed that each of them has been operating for at least a year, and spin-off movies could show what happens afterward or backtrack and show origins, depending on the preference of each spin-off project). One deep-voiced narrator informs another narrator about what makes each of them tick. Two things keep the info-dump interesting: the sight of each of them doing extraordinary things alongside ordinary activities, and the revelation that the deep-voiced narrator turns out to be J’ONN JONZZ. The other narrator, a roboticist named PROFESSOR ARTHUR IVO, has captured the shape-shifting Martian and has trapped him in a machine designed to boost his telepathy to a near-global level in order to learn (in short bursts) as many secrets as possible, including the secret of immortality and unlimited power.
J’onn focuses on the heroes’ nobility and humanity, while Ivo is only interested in their power and weaknesses; Ivo sends robotic minions to test and distract the heroes. J’onn is being caused incredible pain even as he struggles to maintain his sanity; he manages a distress call to the heroes, who converge and try to rescue the Martian. They find that Ivo has figured out a way to be immortal: he’s downloaded his consciousness into the AMAZO android, which is able to duplicate the heroes’ abilities based on J’onn’s intel (supposedly all of their strengths, but none of their weaknesses). After an initial defeat, the heroes butt heads with each other and learn how to work as a team, in the process utilizing aspects of their character that J’onn had revealed as strengths but Ivo had previously dismissed as inconsequential. Amazo is destroyed, and in the aftermath the heroes decide to band together to form a permanent team. In the stinger at the end of the movie, Ivo’s consciousness has survived; it’s been uploaded into an alien computer system, which is scanning his memories for useful data. The computer turns out to be aboard a skull-shaped starship belonging to BRAINIAC.
Mine would be far different than most for a JL movie.
We begin a knee-deep in the middle of an all-out war with an alien race that is not from Apokolips (perhaps the Dominators or the one from Legion Lost original series). In the first five minutes, the League goes down. The first to get handed his butt is Superman, followed by Green Lantern Hal Jordon, but in the end, they all go down … HARD. Which leads to the guerrilla war that takes up the bulk of the movie, led by not the core seven but the extended JL (led by GL John Stewart, and consisting of Fire, Green Arrow, Metamorpho, Nightwing, and a core group of B-Listers). They search out other heroes now hiding away from the invaders and build up a group to rescue the core seven from the alien invaders. In Act III, the JLUnlimited frees the JLCore and together they kick some alien butt, teaching the Core JL that they’re not the end-all-be-all in superheroes and they decide to open up League membership to the other deserving heroes.
Cast: Superman (Clark Kent), Batman (Bruce Wayne), Wonder Woman (Diana of Themyscira), Green Lantern (John Stewart), Flash (Wally West), Hawkgirl (Shayera Hol), and Green Arrow (Oliver Queen).
Space. War. Green Lanterns vs. Red Lanterns. The battle has raged for years and has now come close to the planet Thanagar. Both sides are exhausted and near defeat. Hal Jordan is missing. Debate rages in the Thanagar capitol over whether the planet should get involved. The ruling class wants no part of it, while the Wingmen security force believes it’s their duty to help their comrades in arms, the Green Lanterns. This faction is led by Katar Hol, who makes a passionate plea before the council. He leaves and the council turns to their secret adviser: Sinestro the Yellow Lantern, who has ingratiated himself into Thanagar politics. Sensing an opportunity to grow his own power, he convinces the council to let Katar and the other Hawkmen go. When the Hawkmen join the fray and tip the battle in favor of the Green, Sinestro calls Parallax forth and he decimates both sides and takes control of Hol. Wanting revenge on Hal Jordan, Sinestro claims leadership of the Hawkmen and orders Parallax to Earth. The Thanagar elite are happy with thoughts of conquest, but Katar’s wife, Shayera, is disgusted by this and steals a Wingmen outfit and uses some Rann tech to beam to Earth. Unknown to her, the Green Lantern for this section is killed and the ring was seeking her out, accidentally hitching a ride to Earth with her. When she appears on Earth, she immediately finds herself in the middle of a fight in Star City between Green Arrow and Deadshot. The villain uses her appearance as cover to exit, shooting her square and knocking her out.
This leaves Oliver Queen with a strange woman in a coma and the question of what to do. Any thoughts of taking her to the hospital are immediately erased when he sees the Green Lantern ring zip away. Recognizing this “Hawkgirl” is an alien, he takes her home, knowing he needs to get help, and knowing he has to ask for it from people he cannot stand.
We cut to Keystone City where kids are wandering around the Flash Museum. Everything is Barry Allen related, including the big statue out front honoring him for giving his life when the world was in crisis. A news report breaks in, telling us there was an explosion at the police station. Kids are being huddled together when all at once every window in the museum shatters. Glass rains down. People scream. And then just as the glass is about to hit the kids, the danger is passed. People look around to find all the fallen glass placed in a corner and Barry Allen’s costume missing. The green lantern ring is seen floating away in the aftermath.
Metropolis. Day. Overrun by demons. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman fight to stop Hades and some massive demons. The demons are defeated. Hades is defeated. The heroes turn to leave … and an arrow whizzes straight past Batman’s ear. Superman and Diana rush forward, but Batman tells them to stop. They do. “You can come out, Oliver Queen.” Green Arrow emerges, a smirk on his face, and points behind them, where they find Lex Luthor stuck to the wall with an arrow in his shoulder and some kind of crazy tech gun in his hand. Ollie tells them he needs their help and explains Hawkgirl. Luthor is apprehended and they leave.
The ring follows them out but as it moves past a broken piece of the building, a large chunk falls. The pauses, watches it go, and way down on the street, a man runs into harm’s way to save a group of people from being crushed. The ring descends, and follows the man home.
In Star City, Hawkgirl awakens, tells them what’s coming and and Superman agrees to fly into space to see what he can find. On the moon, he runs into Parallax, who takes him over and leaves Katar for dead. He returns to Earth and after a huge battle, defeats Batman in Gotham and Wonder Woman in Washington, D.C. He holds them both aloft and declares himself the conqueror of Earth when the new Green Lantern and the new Flash arrive separately and battle Superman hard. They can’t beat him, but they do manage to get Parallax out of him.
They feel good, someone cracks a joke about getting schawarma, but then Superman tells them all of their individual cities are under attack and they split to find themselves facing both Yellow Lanterns and Hawkmen. They’re outmatched, overwhelmed, and barely able to keep themselves going. Batman realizes they have to team up and go after Parallax and Sinestro directly, even though that means sacrificing their cities in the short term. The heroes can’t stand doing this and they tell Batman to come up with another plan.
That’s when Superman hears a voice in his ear. “I can help,” says Luthor from his prison cell. “How?” Superman asks in the middle of battle. “Haven’t you wondered how I was able to hide from you during the fight with Hades? Break me out of prison and I’ll give you victory.” Superman does. At Luthor’s office, he activates his teleport tech and disappears. Superman curses, but then he hears Luthor’s voice. “Look up, up, and away.” Supes does and discovers Lex Luthor standing on the bridge of the Watchtower, a massive space station in Earth’s orbit. Batman and Luthor work out a plan to get the Lanterns and Hawkmen into space, and the final battle is a big space brawl taking place both in space and in the Watchtower. The heroes (and Luthor) win, but Parallax escapes to Earth. They go after him and he takes over all of their minds, forcing them to fight their biggest fears. The heroes are getting beat until they start to join together and fight each others’ fears. They win, defeat Parallax, crows goes wild.
Reporters roll up on them. Lois Lane questions whether they’re a team or whether this was a one-off. Superman says, “As long as there’s a fight we cannot handle alone, we will work together.”
“So you are a team?” Lina Park asks.
Superman starts to say no when Lex Luthor splits the group to stand in front of the reporter. “We are most definitely a team, Ms. Park.”
“And what do you call yourselves?” Lois asks, rolling her eyes. “Luthor’s Legion?”
“Do not be silly,” Lex replies charmingly. “This is bigger than me. We are … the Justice League.”
Lex is the only person smiling.
Epilogue. The camera zooms across a planet of fire and metal and death before zooming beneath the surface. We hear screams of pain and sounds of torture. The camera zooms into a room and comes to rest behind the hooded head of a man promising another man that this is only day 47 of his torture.”
“Is that all, Desaad?” an unseen voice asks. “How many days do I have left?”
“Eternity minus 47,” the torturer smiles. “Now, let us see if we can remove that sparkling ring today.”
And we see that chained to the wall in yellow energy resides the battered, bruised, and broken body of Hal Jordan.
And that’s what we’ve got, folks. Any ideas on how you’d do a JUSTICE LEAGUE movie? Go ahead and post them below in the comments. Heck, if you’ve got two ideas, post them both. My pitch is how I’d do it today, but by tomorrow I’ll have another way I’d go. Thanks for reading.
And if you like superhero movies, please check out:
The paperback version of ATOMIC REACTIONS: MARVEL COMICS ON FILM is now available for purchase at Amazon. I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out. Thanks for reading, everyone.
Taken from my reviews here, MARVEL COMICS ON FILM contains every single one of my Marvel reviews, and covers every single instance of Marvel Comics on film that I’m aware of.
Here’s the book’s Table of Contents:
Table of Contents
Fade from Black
Part One: The Marvel Cinematic Universe
1. Iron Man (2008)
2. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
3. Iron Man 2 (2010)
4. Thor (2011)
5. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
6. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
The Avengers Reactions
1. The Hawkeye Reaction
2. The Agent Coulson Reaction
3. The Black Widow Reaction
4. The Nick Fury Reaction
5. The Maria Hill Reaction
6. The Captain America Reaction
7. The Chitauri/Thanos Reaction
8. The Hulk Reaction
9. The Thor Reaction
10. The Loki Reaction
11. The Iron Man Reaction
1. The Consultant, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer, and Item 47
Part Two: Spider-Man
The Sam Raimi Trilogy
1. Spider-Man (2002)
2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
3. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
The Marc Webb Relaunch
4. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Part Three: The X-Men
1. X-Men (2000)
2. X2: X-Men United (2003)
3. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
4. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
5. X-Men: First Class (2011)
Part Four: Blade
1. Blade (1998)
2. Blade II (2002)
3. Blade: Trinity (2004)
Part Five: The Punisher
1. The Punisher (1989)
2. The Punisher (2004)
3. Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Part Six: The Fantastic Four
1. Fantastic Four (1994)
2. Fantastic Four (2005)
3. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
Part Seven: Ghost Rider
1. Ghost Rider (2007)
2. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)
Part Eight: Daredevil & Elektra
1. Daredevil (2003)
2. Elektra (2005)
Part Nine: The Non-MCU Avengers
1. Captain America (1944 serial)
2. Captain America (1990)
3. Hulk (2003)
Part Ten: The Nexus of All Realities
1. Howard the Duck (1986)
2. Man-Thing (2005)
Part Eleven: The TV Movies
1. Captain America (1979)
2. Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979)
3. Dr. Strange (1978)
4. Generation X (1996)
5. The Incredible Hulk (1977 pilot)
6. The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988)
7. The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989)
8. The Death of the Incredible Hulk (1990)
9. Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998)
10. Power Pack (1991)
11. Spider-Man (1977 pilot)
Part Twelve: The Marvel Animated Movies
1. The Invincible Iron Man (2007)
2. Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme (2007)
3. Hulk Vs. (2009)
4. Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008)
5. Planet Hulk (2010)
6. Thor: Tales of Asgard (2011)
7. Ultimate Avengers (2006)
8. Ultimate Avengers 2 (2006)