As reported earlier today by the Batman of Flickering Myth, Gary Collinson, Warner Bros. are pushing forward with their Justice League movie that has been rumoured for quite some time now. In fact, back in 2007, WB came close to getting one out the door with the George Miller directed mo-cap Justice League: Mortal, which would have included a recasting of Batman despite Bale already sitting in the cowl.
Since then, Marvel and Paramount (and then Disney) put into a motion a 5-year plan for “phase one” of their Marvel Cinematic Universe. For those of you who have been living under a rock, this culminated in The Avengers, which is currently the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time. With such success from such a simple premise, it’s quite obvious why WB would want to capitalise on their available character roster. Unlike Marvel, WB own all of the DC characters so they don’t have to worry about not being able to use Aquaman because he’s stuck at Sony or not be able to have Brainiac as a villain because he’s part of the Superman lore at Fox. They have it all at their disposal.
My worry is though is that, if WB's plans are to be understood, they are starting with the Justice League rather than finishing with it. So, I thought I would put my fanboy cap on and plot out 5 things DC and Warner Bros. need to do for this film to be as successful (if not more) as The Avengers.
1. Plan out in advance.
Where Marvel succeeded with The Avengers was more to do with the plan itself rather than the movie. Even if the movie had sucked, it probably still would have made a boat load of cash (the Transformers movies are evidence of that). But because Marvel laid out a 5 year plan, everything slotted into place. Deals were made in advance and a schedule was put into place so by the time The Avengers was ready for release, the general public knew who all the characters were, how they link together and how each of them act.
DC has an interesting challenge here however, as it’s not like their characters are unknowns. Batman and Superman are among the most recognisable comic book characters in the world. Wonder Woman is such a pop culture icon that she doesn’t need much of an introduction and The Flash has been a popular character in Smallville as well as mentioned several times over and parodied on The Big Bang Theory. On top of that, those who watched Entourage will know who Aquaman is, as a movie of him was being made in their fictional world. And despite the fact the movie was an unmitigated disaster, Green Lantern is at least now a known name in the cinema world. So of the six characters they would most likely pick, they’ve all in some form or another had an introduction.
Having said all of that, while the names may sound familiar, the back stories have not been established, nor has an actor been solidified in that role (save a few exceptions). A Justice League movie would benefit from each of the 6 characters having their own solo movies to establish character, motives and most importantly, the actor who is playing them. Which brings us to point number two...
2. Don’t recast.
Now this all does depend on the ‘epic conclusion’ of Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise. Should the Bats be killed off (given Bale’s recent comments, I don’t see that happening), they would have to recast Batman and that would make sense. But Christian Bale has established himself as Batman. When people think of Batman now, they don’t think of Michael Keaton or George Clooney or Adam West (sadly), they think of Bale. He has brought so much to the character that has not only registered with the comic book community but with your Average Joes too. Throwing someone new into the mix, in a multi-character movie to boot, would put them at quite a disadvantage.
With Man of Steel hitting cinemas soon(ish), it would make sense to keep Henry Cavill in the red and blue. But if the movie is deemed a failure, would Cavill meet the same fate as Brandon Routh and be re-cast? I know a lot people who were confused as to why Edward Norton wasn’t playing Bruce Banner in The Avengers after playing The Hulk in 2008, but imagine what the film’s success might have been like had someone else played Iron Man or Captain America? Audiences went in knowing that Chris Hemsworth was Thor and that Samuel L. Jackson was Nick Fury so the battle of ‘can they pull off the part’ had already been won. They could just settle straight into the movie and not ask questions.
So, in an ideal world, Warner would keep Bale as Batman, Cavill as Superman and (sigh) Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern. Should they re-cast those parts, it could be detrimental to the film (especially re-casting Bats).
3. Establish a villain / group of villains & his / her / their motives.
One thing The Avengers doesn’t get enough credit for was that they didn’t just establish their main heroes but they also established a villain and his weapon. From watching Thor we knew how much of an evil son of a bitch Loki can be and by watching Captain America: The First Avenger, we saw how powerful the Tesseract is. So when we went into The Avengers, we knew Loki was dangerous but with this new tool he could be unstoppable – hence why a team had to be formed.
For the Justice League movie, their best bet in order to ‘one-up’ the competition would be to emulate the Adam West Batman movie. While that may sound laughable, what made that Batman movie so much fun to watch was that Batman was fighting against all of his adversaries at the same time. We as an audience need to be given a good enough reason for why this team is forming rather than just dollar bill signs in the WB execs' eyes. In this DC Universe, wouldn’t it be great to see Bane teaming up with Lex Luthor to take down the Justice League? It would certainly work out better than just picking one bad guy at random to take over the world and therefore having to spend half the movie establishing a) him and b) his motives.
This also means that they need to work harder to establish that all of these characters live within the same Universe. Mock Batman Forever and Batman & Robin all you want (please do, they are terrible), but they actually did try subtly to set up the fact that Gotham and Metropolis are in the same universe (“The circus must be half-way to Metropolis by now”, “This is why Superman works alone”). I’m not suggesting that these lines were put in by WB to cleverly set a Superman / Batman movie should one happen, but these simple touches subtly installs knowledge into an audience that these characters could cross over – just like we did when Tony Stark showed up at the end of The Incredible Hulk.
4. Don’t just do it because The Avengers made a lot of money.
Because that’s what this news feels like. DC and WB should want to make this movie because it would be awesome, not just to balance out cheque books. Get someone in with a passion for this, get someone who can understand the characters and bring out something in them no one knew existed, get in someone who can raise the bar of this movie just as Joss Whedon had done for Avengers. Get in… get in…
5. Get in Christopher Nolan.
Of all the people walking this earth today, no man alive and well has done more for the Batman character than Christopher Nolan. After 1997, we all thought that Bats was dead and buried, but Nolan swooped in like the Batman to Joel Schumacher’s Joker and revived the series. He impressed so much (and made so much money) that he was brought on to help out with the Superman re-launch. If they trust him enough with their two huge money making franchises, surely they’d have the faith to put him in charge of this too. Plus, with Nolan comes David S. Goyer and Wally Pfister, and that team has a license to print money. If there was one man who could plan this out sensibly, it would be Nolan.
So in a nutshell, that’s what I think DC and Warner Bros. need to do in order for the Justice League movie to not only succeed, but compete against The Avengers. When you lay down all the chips, Marvel did everything right in their execution of their super hero team up, will DC learn from their success or just dive in at the deep end without so much as a creative thought?
Some could argue that DC shouldn’t just copy what Marvel did and do it their own way. But my counter-argument would be why fix what isn’t broken? If DC makes a Justice League movie next year with a whole new cast and crew with no lead in and without establishing anything, the movie will suffer. Sure, it would make a lot of money – but it won’t make Avengers money.
Luke Owen is a freelance copywriter working for Europe’s biggest golf holiday provider as their web content executive.