The Justice League Film Faces Some Super Challenges

Even before the Avengers started breaking box office records, rumors were circulating about a possible Justice League film. Now the mega-success of the Avengers has jump-started the once stalled project and a script has been commissioned for a Justice League film. According to the June issue of Variety, the script will be written by a guy named Will Beall. Beall is a fresh face on the Hollywood scene who is currently working on the scripts for the reboots of Lethal Weapon and Logan’s Run.  Beall and whoever the director turns out to be will have numerous challenges facing them with this highly anticipated project.

Justice League 3

The first question people will ask is “Is this going to be a shared universe like Marvel Comic’s recent films or a stand-alone franchise, like Nolan’s Batman trilogy?” The initial word from DC Comics is that it will probably be a stand-alone project but given Hollywood’s propensity for imitation, it’s not ridiculous to think that Warner Brothers will try to extend their film universe in the style of the Marvel Master Plan. Whichever route the WB decides to go, there will be problems. Let’s look at each method.

What are the problems with a shared universe? Well, a shared universe, of course, means crossing over various franchises into one. How would that work with the DC Comics Universe? For the sake of discussion, let us assume that the Justice League membership will consist of six members (just as the Avengers did). Let’s say those members are Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Aquaman. We’ve already seen a film for the Green Lantern, disappointing though it was.  Also, Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot Man of Steel is heading for the screen soon, so it wouldn’t be very hard to combine these two franchises. But it gets complicated from here on.

Justice League

Christopher Nolan has insisted that his Batman trilogy be a stand-alone franchise, and Christian Bale is retiring his cowl after the Dark Knight Rises, so don’t expect Bale’s Batman/Bruce Wayne to appear in a Justice League movie. Obviously, a Justice League film without Batman would be like Tom without Jerry, so what will the filmmakers do about the caped crusader?

Should they do a franchise reboot of Batman before the Justice League film is released? Is it too soon for that? Marvel’s recent revamp of Spider-Man came just a few years after the end of the popular Sam Raimi/ Tobey Maguire Spider-Man franchise ended and the film has done pretty well. However, most of the negative criticism about the Amazing Spider-Man revolves around the fact that it was made so soon after the previous franchise that it seems to have no reason to exist at all. Also, a reboot coming just on the heels of the most successful super hero franchise ever will draw far too many direct comparisons, and the newer film will have trouble living up to the illustrious reputation of its predecessor. Do the people at DC Comics and the WB want to deal with that kind of backlash? I wouldn’t if I were them.

Superman

Its better that they should just defy the wishes of Nolan and recast the character, connecting him to the existing Nolan continuity, similar to the way Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton as the Hulk in the Avengers, while keeping the Incredible Hulk as part of the shared universe. This is the most viable way to go. Of course, this might infuriate the legions of loyal Nolanites, but then again, diehard Nolan fans will probably never accept any other version of Batman beside Bale’s, so the WB might as well go ahead and recast. It’s true that whoever is cast will face inevitable comparisons to Christian Bale, but it’s possible he’ll give a knock-out performance, as Ruffalo did in the Avengers, and he’ll establish himself as a worthy successor to the cowl. Recasting while retaining canonicity is probably the best answer to the Batman issue.

What about the other three heroes; Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Flash? They’ve had no prior films to introduce their characters. What WB/DC needs to do between now and the time that a Justice League film comes to the screen is to squeeze a Wonder Woman film out in the interim. This will serve two purposes: One is that it will give an origin for the amazon Princess, so that the Justice League film doesn’t have to cover it. The second thing a WW film can do is to introduce a secondary hero in a supporting role; possibly Aquaman. This has been done before. Iron man 2 introduced Black Widow so she could appear in the Avengers. The Ben Affleck Daredevil film introduced Electra so she could get a spinoff film. X-Men Origins: Wolverine gave us Deadpool, who has a spinoff film in the works. Given these precedents, having Aquaman appear in a Wonder Woman film would not be too surprising, especially since many people have doubted that the character could support a film of his own. If the WB/DC did this, that would handle the origins of five out of the six characters, leaving only Flash without a clear origin. The Flash could be the ‘Hawkeye’ of the team—meaning the one character whose origin has to be filled in during the movie. A good writer can manage to slip in one origin story without taking too much time away from the main plot.

Justice League cartoon

What about a stand-alone franchise? Suppose they make this film as a solo franchise, with no canonicity to Man of Steel, Green Lantern, Nolan’s Batman trilogy or any other film? The challenge here is to introduce a whole new cast while telling a good story. It’s expected that the audience should have some frame of reference for the origins and alter-egos of the heroes that appear in a film.  In most team films, like X-Men, Fantastic Four or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the heroes all have the same origin, so there’s no need to go into separate backstories. One origin fits all for those films, but that’s not the case with a group like the Justice League. Each separate origin and identity needs clarity. Also, people who watched the Smallville TV series but never read comics regularly might only be familiar with that series version of the Justice League—consisting of Green Arrow, Cyborg, Impulse, AC (Aquaman) and Black Canary—and so might go into a Justice League film with certain preconceptions and would need to be reoriented to a film version by having the origins of Flash and Green Lantern explained to them. Introductions are necessary.

Some might say that there is no reason to go into detail regarding the origins of Superman and Batman because they are so well known. Fair enough, but what about the rest? Perhaps the filmmakers could pass on Green Lantern as well, hoping that people had seen the Ryan Reynolds film, even if it isn’t canonically connected to the Justice League. At the very least, the Reynolds film will allow the filmmakers to skim over his origin rather than going into details. That’s three down, three to go.

Justice league Smallville

Now we come to Wonder Woman. Is she well known enough to skip her origin completely?  Certainly everyone knows of her but do most non-comic fans really about her? How familiar is the average non-comic reader with her origin? There was a Wonder Woman TV program but do fans of the 1970s series know that Diana Prince no longer exists in comic continuity? Perhaps some people have seen the recent made-for-TV pilot film with Adrianna Palicki and confuse that quick-to-kill, corporate raider interpretation with the comic version. And how about Aquaman? Do people brought up on the Super Friends know that he has any powers beyond talking to fish? Finally, we come to the Flash. Do any non-comic fans know anything about the Flash other than the fact that he runs fast? What do the filmmakers do about these three characters?  Well, the Flash’s origin is pretty simple and it could be brushed over with some quick exposition about a laboratory accident. That’s four down, leaving only two to go. As for Wonder Woman and Aquaman, I can only suggest that the writers try to connect the reason for their arrival in America with the main plot, which would allow the opportunity to explain their origins and powers without going off on some distracting tangents.    

Aside from introducing the team of heroes, a film needs to introduce a supporting cast. The Avengers didn’t have to worry about this because Pepper, Nick Fury, Agent Coulson, Jarvis and Professor Selvig were all introduced in prior films so there was no need to spend any time introducing them.  A stand-alone Justice League film would have to set up new relationships for the characters. The best thing the filmmakers can do to solve this problem is to use the supporting casts from Superman and Batman—Lois Lane, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Lucius Foxx—because they are all so well known, even to non-comic fans. These characters can interact with the other heroes in place of characters like Carol Ferris or Steve Trevor.

Justice League movie

A villain needs to be introduced in the film, and his motives and powers must be made clear. In the Avengers, Loki was familiar to fans because of Thor but a solo Justice League film would need to establish the villain. In such an unwieldy film as this, the best thing to do would be to bring in some alien race from the DC universe like the Khund or the Citadel or the White Martians. Audiences can easily understand the concept of evil aliens attacking Earth so there’s no need to spend a lot of time on personalities or motivation. Perhaps a well-known villain like Lex Luthor, who needs no introduction, could be added to inject some flavor into the antagonists.

So how long would the running time of such a stand-alone Justice League film have to be? The Avengers was able to take a lot of short cuts because of the prior films, and it was still close to two-and-a-half hours.  How long would a Justice League film have to be in order to do Justice (pun intended) to all these characters—main, supporting and antagonists—and still tell a good story? The Dark Knight Rises and Watchmen were both over two-and-a half-hours, and I’d imagine that a stand-alone Justice League film would have to be just as long.

Justice League movie

Another problem with having different actors playing the same hero character in a solo film and in a Justice League film is that DC and the Warner Brothers don’t like to do this. When Smallville was on TV, fans kept asking for a Batman appearance but the powers-that-be refused to allow Bruce Wayne to show up on TV because they feared it would cause too much confusion with the Nolan film franchise. They were afraid people would wonder about the canonicity of the Smallville Batman in regard to Batman Begins and Dark Knight. This makes it less likely that they would have solo franchises running concurrently with–but unconnected to–a Justice League franchise. However, it’s not impossible for DC to change their minds if they see the potential for enough profit.

Whoever writes the final script of Justice League and whoever directs it will have their work cut out for them. Let’s hope they can manage to straighten all this out and come up with a winner.