Ever since Warner Bros. announced their plans to release a Justice League movie in 2015, the internet has been on fire with rumors and opinions as to the storyline, which characters would be involved, the timing and whether or not it can compare with the shared universe that the fine folks at Marvel Studios have bestowed upon the world. As a fan of comic books, movies and of DC’s characters in particular, I thought now would be a good time to get in some thoughts on some of the ideas that are flying around out there.
I should say, I have exactly zero outside knowledge of anything. Everything I’ve learned has come from screenrant.com and cinemablend.com. Everything else is pretty much my own guess work.
Justice League = Shameless money grab?
I thought I should get this out of the way first. The simple answers is, “yes.” Warner saw the Avengers’ dollar signs and decided they could do the same thing. Cut and dry. However, they have actually been trying to get something off the ground for years and have just not been able to pull it off, so they are also seeing it as being the right time accomplish a long standing goal. Still for the purpose of making money of course, but it isn’t as though they are simply copying Marvel.
The Right Approach?
That of course leads to the question of whether or not they should copy Marvel and its approach to the shared universe. Marvel has done a great job of individually introducing us to different characters and the unique elements they bring into the world they are building. They started by giving us the relatively grounded Iron Man and building up to the unavoidable fantasy elements of Thor (though they were heavily watered down) before bringing it all together in the geekfest known as The Avengers.
A lot of people say that Warner should do the same with their stable of characters from DC, basically arguing that it ain’t broke so don’t fix it. Others say that Warner should come up with a different approach to differentiate themselves. I certainly fall into the latter camp.
One reason for this is of course to avoid (or at least minimize) charges of copy catting. And who wants to see the same thing played out again with different characters.
Besides there is less need to introduce us to the DC characters. Everyone already knows who Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are. And a fair number are going to be familiar with others such as Aquaman, Flash and Green Lantern thanks to the large number of animated and occasional live action incarnations they’ve all had. It’s true that they will need to be built up as part of this new cinematic universe but the average movie goer already has a good handle on who these characters are and what they do. This gives the studio some flexibility in how it introduces their origins and supporting cast.
The Dark Knight, Green Lantern, The Man of Steel and tone.
Naturally, the next question that will come up is how the Chris Nolan Batman films, Green Lantern and the soon to be released Man of Steel fit into things.
As for the Man of Steel, it is generally accepted that it is the beginning of the DC shared universe. It isn’t really certain how this will play out though. Will there be a cameo from one or more Justice League characters? Just a mention of other characters or familiar places like we’ve seen before in Batman and Robin and Superman Returns? Or perhaps the film will just be the first to be considered DC universe canon with no Easter eggs at all?
Personally, I think that there will at least be some sort of Easter egg at the least. It is just too easy to write in a name drop or two. And it would be easy to drop in an after credits scene featuring Wonder Woman or Green Lantern. Yes, this would be copying Marvel here but in this case, I think they should embrace it with open arms.
Green Lantern is a bit of a tough call. The movie totally tanked and Ryan Reynolds seems a poor choice to play Hal Jordan. So, do they acknowledge the movie just enough so they don’t have to worry about an origin? And if so, do they give Reynolds another chance or go with someone new? Personally I’d given him another shot just for the sake of continuity but I wouldn’t blame them for ditching him and the whole movie.
Batman is the biggest and most important question here. Much has been made of director Chris Nolan’s desire to keep his films free of fantastic elements and very much their own thing, with many saying that Superman and others simply do not fit into that world. But watch the trailers for The Man of Steel. Their tone and dialogue is very much in line with the world Nolan built. It is also worth noting that Nolan served as a producer for the film and hand picked Snyder ad the director. I’m not suggesting here that Nolan is in fact secretly building a DC universe but these are indications that Man of Steel will bear Nolan’s mark and thus be compatible with The Dark Knight in terms of tone if they are not consciously tied together. And there is no reason at all that a Superman movie can’t be made that feels realistic. That means focusing to a large extent on how people react to him, and how those reactions will go from awe, worship (some would, you know it), fear, hate, envy, gratitude, cynicism, etc from one person to the next. The Sam Raimi Spiderman films did something like that with their man-on-the-street spots showing how different New Yorkers reacted to Spiderman. That however was done somewhat tongue in cheek in order to provide some additional humor. Superman should play it straight for the purpose of grounding the movie.
That was a bit of a digression but the point is that Nolanverse can be compatible with the wider DC world if those movies also take themselves seriously. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have characters with a sense of humor or that everything has to somber and depressing, just that the films need to take themselves seriously. Which does mean that if an alien invasion takes place they are actually go to have a plan rather than just rushing through a hole in the sky and shooting everything in sight.
To put it another way, DC should not under any circumstances copy the Marvel tone. Marvel movies are light hearted, occasionally up-lifting summer entertainment. While I have nothing against this approach, I think Warner would be foolish to emulate it. Fans, critics, the characters and ultimately Warner’s bottom line would be better served by striking out on a different path and crafting solid stories with many fantastic elements that feel like they could happen tomorrow. And yes, this is possible. Tolkien’s work is exactly the kind of work that shows that you can make a serious, sometimes depressing but ultimately up-lifting work with plenty of out of the ordinary elements that feels real. And Peter Jackson has shown us how this can be done on film. No, I am not comparing the DC universe of characters to Middle-Earth, just pointing out that a precedent has already been set for exactly the kind of universe I am talking about.
Alright, which Batman? (If you haven’t seen Dark Knight Rises, skip this part)
Assuming that Warner takes my sage advice and incorporates The Dark Knight into the shared universe, which one will they choose? Bale’s Bruce Wayne or Levitt’s John Blake? The obvious response is that Bruce Wayne is Batman, end of story. However, this is not at all what Nolan has set up for us. He gave us a symbol, a mantel that could be taken up by others which is exactly what the John Blake character does at the end of Rises. Yes, I know that he is essentially Robin and the first Robin became Nightwing. There are some obvious responses to that. First, he isn’t Dick Grayson and it is Dick Grayson who becomes Nightwing. John Blake is under no obligation to follow that path. Second, Grayson has actually filled in as Batman at least twice in the past. Third, since when is Hollywood that concerned with following continuity anyway? Fourth, Blake becoming Nightwing would totally undermine the point of the whole “Batman as symbol” story that Nolan set up. Remember, Batman is the symbol, not Nightwing.
I also think that this sets up excellent character development and franchise development possibilities. How great would it be to actually watch a new person learn to fill the role of a great and revered hero? To allow actuall character arcs to begin and end? To allow new actors to play of mortal characters? To allow those mortal characters to even die? Suffice to say that this would be breaking new ground for comic book movies and characters in general. At least if they let them stay dead. In the Marvel world, they have had exactly one major character die and it already looks like Agent Coulson will be back.
Early rumors have Darkseid a the major villain for the Justice League movie. While this is an obvious choice since he is the biggest gun in the DC universe, I think it would be a mistake for a couple of reasons. The first is that Darkseid is a super powerful alien with legions at his command, eagerly seeking the anti-life equation so he can kill (at least) half the life in the universe. The same summer Justice League comes out will also feature The Avengers 2. That film will feature Thanos as the villain. Thanos is a super powerful alien with legions at his command eager to destroy vast amounts of life in order to prove his love for Death (who is an actual person in the Marvel Universe). See the problem? They even have weird stuff going on with their chins for crying out loud. Though for the record, Darkseid was birthed into the comic world before Thanos just as the Justice League actually predates the Avengers. That aside, they are too darn similar.
Another reason this would be a bad idea is the Darkseid is the big one. The one you want to build up to. Not take down in your first outing. That’s a common mistake of comic book movies, going for the biggest villain first. Seriously, X-Men still hasn’t gotten past Magneto for Pete’s sake! Give the old man a break!
So, who should be the bad guy? I dunno. Doomsday is too soon also. Ra’s al Ghul has been played out in the Nolanverse, the Legion of Doom could also be too soon. Who does that leave? Lex Luthor comes to mind of course, who could make use of General Zod (if he survives Man of Steel), Vandal Savage would also be a good choice and either could lead into the Legion of Doom. Intergang is another possibility and would eventually lead to Darkseid. Personally, I think the threat should largely be terrestrial, possibly coming from a government or earthbound supervillain of some sort. This would again avoid comparisons to the Avengers and further serve to make the movie believable. Which way will Warner go? At this point it is anyone’s guess.
Marvel has already paved the way, showing that a shared superhero universe is possible. Warner now has a unique opportunity to push the envelop, showing that not only can superhero movies be successful financially and satisfy fans but they can also be genuine works of art, capable of being taken seriously by the establishment, much like Peter Jackson has done for fantasy films.
They’ve been shown the way (largely unintentionally) by Chris Nolan and his Batman films, with Man of Steel looking to follow on the same path. If Warner Bros. capitalizes on this, developing its own formula with which to portray their own stable of characters, they could deliver a product that will provide a worthy rival the already established and growing Marvel universe of films.
But enough from me! Tell me what you think in the comments below!