Hopes And Fears: 'Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice' And The Future Of The Justice League
There is no greater moneymaker than superhero films right now. The Avengers, Iron Man 3 and The Dark Knight have grossed over a billion dollars and it’s surprising to see a superhero movie these days not gross at least six hundred million; Amazing Spider-Man 2 (which is technically the fifth Spider-Man movie overall) generated seven hundred million and Sony considered it “underperforming.”
Despite having their characters grace the silver screen first, Warner Bros. (who own DC Comics) have had a difficult time in establishing their characters (Superman) in the modern market. Largely, this is due to rushed decisions and poor planning; in short, they want the success that Marvel is enjoying, but they’re not patient enough to let things unfold more naturally.
The Casting of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Kevin Feige runs Marvel’s cinematic universe (except for X-Men and Spider-man which are owned by Fox and Sony respectively) and has engineered connectivity throughout multiple solo features – Iron Man, Captain America – that lead into the first Avengers film. Many have said this is the track DC should adopt, and to an extent they are, they’re just avoiding common sense.
With Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (a title thought up by an eleven year old no doubt) considered the only lead-in to a Justice League movie, it’s already overstuffed with characters such as Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons) plus Superman (Henry Cavill) and his supporting cast from Man of Steel. However, the problem is not with the amount of characters — or even the awful title — it’s with everything else.
We’ll begin with the casting. Never have so many people disliked an entire cast for a movie. Jesse Eisenberg simply doesn’t command a certain level of fear and respect that normally is attached to Lex Luthor; Bryan Cranston was the obvious choice here — the Internet was in love with this concept, but WB went in a different direction.
Gal Gadot, meanwhile, was in the Israeli military and had a decent fight scene in Fast & Furious 6, but lacks the body type of Wonder Woman and has a rather thick accent that can be difficult to understand. My choice would have been Gina Carano, who has enough experience with acting to do a decent job of the role, as well as having the body type and physicality associated with the character. Other popular options were Eva Green or Jaimie Alexander (Sif in Thor) who meets all the standards and is a noted Wonder Woman fangirl — she campaigned loudly for the role, as did Katie Sackoff (Battlestar Galactica) who also would have been a good choice.
While Jason Momoa seems like a bizarre choice for Aquaman, it’s probably the right way to go. Momoa is known to fans as Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones, a brutal warrior. Aquaman’s reputation in pop culture isn’t one of an unbeatable badass, but of a punchline. While Aquaman fans know better, public perception would need to change in order for him to be taken seriously in the film. Casting Momoa is a simple shortcut that could very well pay off.
Despite the many casting missteps, it was Ben Affleck’s casting as Bruce Wayne/Batman that had fans frothing at the mouth. Truly, he doesn’t really fit the mold — he himself has admitted this — but he does have experience playing dual personalities in Hollywoodland, for which he received some Supporting Actor Oscar buzz. Since they are doing an older, more seasoned Batman, I personally would have tried to get Daniel Day Lewis, though it’s unlikely he’d be interested in a superhero role. While I’m hesitant about Affleck as Batman, it’s certainly not the worst casting decision made for this movie; that honor belongs to Jesse Eisenberg.
Zack Snyder and DC Comics
While the Marvel movies are far from perfect, there doesn’t seem to be as great a divide between Disney (who owns Marvel) and the fans. That is, they tend to cast actors and hire writers and directors that fans would generally respond to. While I don’t think that every decision needs to be made to specifically appease a frankly unappeasable group, it would be nice to at least know that WB hears fan complaints and will respond with something more than Man of Steel screenwriter David Goyer’s annoyed mockery.
The greatest problem the Justice League film has is its creative staff. David Goyer is an admitted comic fan, but not a particularly talented writer of the genre. People will point out he wrote the Christopher Nolan-helmed Dark Knight trilogy; I’ll point out that he co-wrote them or was given a “story by” credit, which means he wrote a draft that someone re-wrote (usually because the previous draft was terrible). When partnered with someone talented, Goyer can come up with decent to good work. When on his own, he writes films like Jumper and Blade Trinity. A ray of hope comes in the form of screenwriter Chris Terrio, the Oscar winning writer of Argo. Terrio was hired under Affleck’s urging to re-write Goyer’s original Dawn of Justice screenplay which wasn’t received well by the studio. Terrio could very well write a great script, but we’re still left with Zack Snyder.
Zack Snyder is set to be the director of both Dawn of Justice and Justice League. He directed Man of Steel, Watchmen and 300. He’s a huge comic book fan, but not a particularly talented director. His films are more style than substance—quickly resorting to fast/slow motion and a lazy reliance on CGI—and tend towards thin plots and a lack of character development. Considering this is the League’s live action debut, one would assume character development would be necessary. The fact is, Snyder has great intentions but he doesn’t have the talent (or the credibility) to deliver something meaningful. As a director, he’s Michael Bay with a slightly better reputation. My choice would have been Rian Johnson who directed Brick and a number of classic Breaking Bad episodes; just recently he was announced as the writer-director of Star Wars Episode 8.
DC vs. Marvel
Now, I’m going to say something unpopular. By and large, Marvel’s movies have been mediocre at best. Iron Man and Captain America 2 are both fine features. The rest, not so much. As they go on, the Marvel movies strike similar to a Zack Snyder film; they feature lots of pretty shots but remain ultimately hollow. The decision to have solo movies to lead in to an Avengers film made sense on paper (and at the box office), but in practice the films were much more miss than hit.
They tend to rely on camp and physical comedy that tend to overrun the plots — the Thor films and the Iron Man sequels for instance. The Avengers is one predictable contrivance after another with no actual unifying threat that feels earned. (Loki was beaten by Thor in the first Thor film, why would we then consider him a threat to the entire Avengers team? In the Avengers film, everyone — even the merely human characters — take turns beating up and outsmarting him. How is he a threat to anyone?)
Justice League does not have to follow the Marvel way of using solo films to kill time until the team-movie. I think the more audacious thing would have been to go into a Justice League movie with no tie-ins. Have the team already fully formed and dealing with a threat. We could skip the tedious and predictable origin stories and focus on how these disparate personalities attempt to work together. They could use Mark Waid or Grant Morrison’s run on the Justice League comic or Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Dwayne McDuffie’s animated series as a template.
Marvel set a course with their features that has undeniably worked for them. What Warner Bros. needs to do is to set their own course, not only tonally but strategically. You don’t want your brand to be identical, you want it to be different; make a loud noise that will turn people’s attention to you.
The comics have this pretty well figured out: Marvel has generally lighter themed stories and focus on their heroes more than the villains; DC tells darker stories and focuses more on their villains than their heroes. Neither one is intrinsically right or wrong. They’ve both been successful. A Justice League film should stand on its own merits, not be an echo of what we’ve already seen.
A recent leak depicting eleven films rumored to be in-development by Warner Bros. shows a desire to dive headlong into the DC Comics library. Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Shazam are listed as receiving their own features, and those stories should be spun out of what happens in Justice League, not only for the sake of continuity but for actually depicting consequences, something that comic books and their movies have always struggled with.
That doesn’t mean all of these movies have to be dark and dense. Not every franchise needs a Nolan-esque, gritty re-imagining. The Flash isn’t a dark character; he doesn’t need to be. Green Lantern has certainly dark moments, but the theme is of willpower and light overcoming the dark.
What’s heartening is the fact that they are again trying to develop franchises other than Superman and Batman. By giving these characters — as well as lesser known properties like the Suicide Squad, Sandman and the Fables series — allows Warner Bros. to show casual fans the depth of the well, the different options—the full scope of what DC Comics can offer. While these features don’t have to be reliant on their interconnectivity the way Marvel’s is, they should at least thread a through line that establishes the range of the universe; show the casual moviegoer that there’s more to the DC Comics oeuvre than a blue and red alien demi-god and a bat obsessed rich boy that beats up the mentally ill.
The fact is, this is an opinion piece. We don’t really have anything more than indications to work with so far. I’d love to be wrong about my assessment of Justice League and find that Gal Gadot brings a new energy to Wonder Woman and Ben Affleck’s Batman voice will make us forget about Christian Bale’s hammy rendition. I even hope that Zack Snyder will rein in his tics and focus on creating a substantive product. However, the contrary seems to be more accurate. My most realistic expectation is this: Dawn of Justice and Justice League will be overlong diversionary action movies that are darker than Marvel’s but suffer from the same lack of substance. They’ll make enough to warrant sequels and spinoffs but they won’t exactly make what was expected. DC and Marvel will see the bubble but ignore it. When it pops — and it will, probably sooner than we think — it will likely damage both companies because neither of them learned that quality is always better than quantity.