Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. They are the Justice League, banding together to battle the might of a giant alien starfish called Starro (I only wish that was a joke, check out The Brave and the Bold #28 to see for yourself). They quickly moved on from a backlog team up story, to their own on-going series, taking the Baby Boom generation by storm and beyond. Since those early days we’ve had mounds of comics, the nostalgic Super Friends cartoon, plus countless spoofs and references. Despite the innate iconography, a Justice League feature has been trapped in development hell. We daydreamed about it during the days of the Reeves and Keaton era, but it always seemed like far-flung fanboy fantasies trapped in the spinner racks.
…Then Joss Whedon’s Avengers hit theaters.
1.5 billion greenbacks later and an avalanche of positive reviews, for the first time possibly ever, the full effect of reading a comic book was realized on the big screen, and Warner Brothers and DC Comics went to Defcon 1. Despite having a couple years head start on the page, Marvel Studios beat Warner Brothers to the punch in making a nerd-gasmic shared universe where thunder gods and big green monsters could share the screen without a single cry of foul. Now me personally, I prefer the Justice League over the Avengers. I don’t know if it’s my love of Bruce Timm’s Saturday Morning cartoon or the piles of back issues gathering dust in my basement, but there’s something so iconic and classical about watching the Justice League in action. Regardless of my excitement and child-like wonder towards it, I readily and regretfully admit that a Justice League movie has astronomical hurdles to jump.
Right off the bat they have to do some major world building to give this film any relevance to audiences. Sure Flash, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman are out there in the public consciousness, however it’s a roll of the dice to bank on the fact that people have background info on your characters before they buy a ticket. Marvel had the benefit of solo movies to build up all the characters, cut and paste hints of S.H.I.E.L.D., and bolster a little sympathy towards their big bad. Some would argue Man of Steel is the kick off to a DC Cinematic Universe, but one motion blurred Wayne Tech logo doesn’t really constitute as a true blue shared universe easter egg. Especially when you consider that the people behind the camera didn’t claim it was tied to anything until the Avengers box office results hit the net. An even greater margin would point a finger at the Nolan Trilogy as that stepping stone. While after Dark Knight, I’d be right there with you, the conclusive ending to Dark Knight Rises puts the kibosh on Bale donning the cape and cowl again and Chris Nolan seems keen to move on to other projects away from men in tights. What, Green Lantern you say? Yea….let’s forget that ever happened and the world will be no worse for wear.
Now I’m not saying every member on the team needs an origin story, I’d prefer it if they didn’t and there is a ton of movies that take this road. J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek dropped us smack dab in the middle of the lens flare ridden Starship Enterprise for a kick-ass space opera, with only Kirk and Spock given childhood flashbacks. The Hobbit delivered us a baker’s dozen of dwarves and we didn’t know too much about their origins either. Hell the best example I can pull out of my bag of tricks is a DC movie, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, whose inventive title sequence gave us the origin of TWO superhero teams before plopping us into the thick of things. The point, and also the number one rule of film making, is show not tell. I’d much rather find out what these characters stand for during an alien invasion rather than a laboratory accident. If you want to take the time and care, give us a three-hour epic, by all means sign me up. Use that as a springboard into solo movies, I guarantee you’d have an audience (Just take a look at how many people saw the Avengers, AKA everyone)
The second biggie is the talent, both on and off screen. Marvel Studios, Fox, and Sony have bled Hollywood bone-dry putting leading men and women on contract. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Andrew Garfield, Hugh Jackman, are all off the table along with countless more. Keep in mind this is Hollywood, and they’re going to want to cast the young, hip actors/actresses to rope in a wider audience. Personally, I think DC and Warner brothers have struck gold with Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel. He’s likable, well spoken, and I’m sure eye candy for the ladies. Unfortunately, one man can’t bear the weight of the DC Universe on his shoulders. I’m well aware there’s a large contingent of Bat-fanatics clamoring for Bale to reprise his role, but with Nolan slowly stepping away from the DCU and Bale getting older by the day, I don’t see this stunt being pulled. It’s been rumored Armie Hammer (Social Network, The Lone Ranger) is the likely candidate to inherit the keys to the Batcave, which I believe is a missed cast. I can see the playboy, rich kid snark of Bruce Wayne, but the sternness and torture I believe is just so integral to Batman stories will be lost in his performance. Warner Brothers execs are throwing around the idea that Gina Carano (Haywire, Fast & Furious 6) real life girlfriend of Henry Cavill will portray the Amazonian princess known as Wonder Woman. Again, I think this is a missed cast. Although she can truly kick some ass with a background in mixed martial arts, she is a terrible actress. Overdubbed throughout Haywire, and almost completely silent during Fast & Furious 6, if you’re acting is too crappy for the Fast and the Furious franchise I think its time to head back to the octagon.
First and foremost is acting ability, if they have name value and looks in the end that’s a bonus. DC Comics has usually lucked out behind the camera, Chris Nolan needs no introduction and Zack Snyder pulls off action like no other. Nolan has no interest in helming Justice League, Snyder is in talks, but I believe Warner Brothers should unload a dump truck of money on Ben Affleck’s lawn and beg him to take a second look at the project, for he dropped out upon reading the quote on quote “terrible” script penned by the mediocre Gangster Squad screenwriter. With David Goyer (Batman Begins, Man of Steel) apparently now taking a crack at it, Warner Brothers would be wise to tap the award-winning director of the Town and Argo to give their start-up franchise some clout with cinefiles. As to which character I think he should play in the proposed film, since he prefers to both act and direct, Steve Trevor would be perfect. The liaison between the world’s governments and the Justice League, Affleck would effectively be the Agent Coulson of the Justice League franchise and not have to squeeze in a solo movie among his already cluttered schedule.
When the credits roll, the only thing that really matters is genuine fan passion. I’ve heard a disturbing lack of comic appreciation from the Warner Brothers higher-ups, for example not knowing there is more than one Green Lantern, when in fact there are roughly 6000 (guess that explains the Green Lantern movie). Not to mention, and this is nitpick only a fanboy would have, the numerous changes made to the DC mythos. Why must we ground bachelors in bat suits and alien farm boys in footie pajamas? I love Marvel movies because they take what I read on the page, and put it in theaters so everyone can get in on the fun. That’s not to say I don’t love me some DC movies, I enjoyed Man of Steel, and the Dark Knight is my favorite film of all time. But when Christopher Nolan says, "The source material is irrelevant,", it makes my depressed as a long time comic reader. He didn’t invent Alfred, or the Joker, and definitely not Batman. Bob Kane and Bill Finger brought him to the page in 1939, and every creator including Nolan himself are merely renting the character till the next creative team comes along. The real hero of Marvel Studios? Kevin Feige. He along with Jon Favreau and a host of other filmmakers and comic book professional outlined the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and consistently nailed it over four years. They took their time; they respected the source material, and gave the fans and the mainstream quality films to enjoy. I love the idea that kids who would be wearing football jerseys and shouting, “Hike!” in 2007, now in 2013 are exclaiming “I like it, another!” while swatting at imaginary Chitauri with foam mallets. People like that continuity; people like knowing when they buy that ticket their buying into a world, and history of heroes. I believe and hope that when Warner Brothers and DC Comics gets their house in order and brings the joy I feel reading their comics to the big screen, I see the neighborhood kids dress up as the Justice League that Halloween. (I pity the poor kid that has to dress up as Starro)