The immense box office success of The Avengers seems to have revitalized the excitement surrounding the comic book film. With two more major releases to go this year in Marvel’s The Amazing Spider-Man and Warner Bros.’ The Dark Knight Rises, 2012 is shaping up to be quite a year in superhero film. The future is already looking very interesting, with Superman returning to the silver screen next summer in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, in addition to the slew of new films coming from Marvel Studios based on many individual characters seen in The Avengers, including some new faces that general audiences haven’t met before.
The most important message to come from The Avengers seems to be to studios, particularly Warner Bros., that superhero team up films can work. WB seems to be a lot less apt to open up their major comic book properties to cinematic adaptations outside of Superman and Batman, but the success of The Avengers may well force their hand in that direction.
That’s where the big news has arrived that Will Beall, a screenwriter known as an executive story editor and writer on the TV series Castle, as well as the writer of the forthcoming Ryan Gosling vehicle Gangster Squad, a new Lethal Weapon film, and a remake of Logan’s Run, has been commissioned by WB to write a big screen version of the team that holds all of DC’s biggest toys: the Justice League. For those unaware, the Justice League is DC Comics’ premiere super hero team, a somewhat motley crew of many disparate personalities: the Man of Steel, Superman. The Dark Knight Detective, Batman. The Amazon Warrior, Wonder Woman. The ring-slinging space cop, Green Lantern. The Fastest Man Alive, the Flash. And even the King of the Seven Seas, Aquaman.
Now, it is very easy to look at The Avengers and this announcement concurrently and call WB a bunch of opportunists. The fact, though, is that the idea of a Justice League film actually predates the release of the first Iron Man film, where we first learned that there might be a larger Marvel Universe beyond Tony Stark’s palatial home. In 2007, Warner Bros. had nearly greenlit a film reportedly called Justice League: Mortal, with several parts reportedly cast and director George Miller locked in. Around that time, though, the WGA strike was in full swing and the studio didn’t receive the tax rebates it was hoping to for the proposed Australia shoot. This film would’ve been separate from the solo Superman and Batman franchises, with new actors playing the parts of Batman and Superman instead of Christian Bale and the then-incumbent Superman, Brandon Routh.
That film never came to pass. The success of The Dark Knight seemed to wipe the prospects of the film from the collective minds of Warner Bros., and Iron Man seemed to kick start a whole new franchise that only a few people were aware would lead to a team-up film. As noted in the Variety article, it seems as though Warner Bros. was planning the film before they were aware of the success of The Avengers.
This leads us to a very interesting question, though. Marvel made The Avengers the culmination of five separate films through meticulous planning, setting all of the films within the same shared world. Would Warner Bros. want to take a step in a similar direction? The last time they tried to start a new solo franchise based on a DC character, it didn’t work out too well for them in Green Lantern.
A lot of people seem to be bringing up Christian Bale’s name, wondering if he would reprise the role of the Dark Knight in a Justice League film. I hate to break it to you, but it seriously looks like that is NOT the case. Bale was contracted for three films, and after The Dark Knight Rises hits theaters on July 20th, that will symbolize the end of the actor’s tenure as Batman. So, where does that leave WB? A new, out-of-the-blue solo Justice League film? I might be tempted to say yes to that, if not for a few very important facts about several of the main characters that are essential to the team.
As many of you are aware, Superman flies back into theaters next summer. Superman is also the standard-bearer of the DC Comics brand. In the stories, the Man of Steel is also the unequivocal leader of the Justice League. Since we’re still over a year from seeing that film, that leaves plenty of time for the studio to structure it as the new, opening shot to a cinematic DC Universe. It would also be appropriate, since Superman is literally the first super hero, for him to appear in a collected universe as the first example of the name. If they wanted to, Man of Steel could be the launching pad to plant the idea in peoples’ minds that there is a world beyond Metropolis, and super-powered people beyond the Man of Steel on his world.
Batman is already going to be rebooted in some fashion. The new Batman film can be planned accordingly. Many fans I know would prefer not to see Batman in a team-up film at all, but I think the truth is that if a League film is made, he will be a very important part of it. The new Batman film series could take the best elements of what made Christopher Nolan’s films so gritty and realistic, but also take a few steps toward the fantastical so that it’s not too far of a leap to think that Superman could exist in the same world as the new Batman. I really believe that the current Arkham games showcase what the new Batman film should be: feeling very real, while also allowing for villains like Clayface, Mr. Freeze, and Killer Croc to inhabit the new cinematic Gotham City.
The same report from Variety also notes that writer Michael Goldenberg has been commissioned to write a solo Wonder Woman film. This has to be something that Warner Bros. is kicking themselves over, because a few years ago they had a writer on Wonder Woman. Know what his name was? Joss Whedon. Producer Joel Silver decided to pass on Whedon’s take, leaving the project dead in the water until now. But either way, with these stars aligning, it’s no wonder that Warner Bros. has their eye on a team-up film.
There hasn’t really been any solid news on a film for The Flash in recent years. DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns mentioned a few years ago that he would be helping to develop a story for a Flash film, but news on that front is few and far between. I personally think the Flash could be really unique and very, very visually electrifying, and should be on WB’s list for future franchises.
As for the Green Lantern character, I'm not really sure what WB is going to decide to do. I firmly believe that Ryan Reynolds is the right man for the job, but the studio probably disagrees because if he does return as Hal Jordan then people may associate the reception of last year's Green Lantern film with the forthcoming Justice League, and that may be too risky for the studio to do. The problems with Green Lantern were far from Reynolds' fault, and seeing him bring his trademark banter (that also happens to be a tenet of Hal Jordan's character) to the unreceptive ears of the Dark Knight or the powerhouse that Henry Cavill's Superman appears to be could build to a pretty cool experience. In truth, I'm very curious to see which direction the studio will take the Green Lantern franchise. A new solo film? Reboot? Sequel? Use Justice League as a (re)launch pad and get it moving again? I'll definitely be keeping my eye on that one.
So the questions rise: how should WB approach making a Justice League film? Is it the right time for a Justice League film? In terms of approach, I would love to see a shared DC cinematic universe. The concept is proven, and DC’s characters lend themselves to the broad canvas a feature film could a lot them. Will it happen? I’m not really sure, and I don’t think we’ll have any idea until we learn more about Man of Steel in the final weeks leading up to its release. Superman would be the perfect place to begin laying the groundwork for a League film in my opinion, and we’re far enough out from its release that if the studio decided to go in that direction, I think they could.
Is it the right time for a League film? Currently, no. Can it be soon? Yes, absolutely. DC has serious issues surrounding its ability to get its properties on the slate for WB releases when compared to Marvel Studios, and if this is a one-off League film not connected to anything, I think it runs further risk of failure. Now, if this is an idea they’re looking at for the long term, where the DC films can actively lay a track record for themselves and excite the general public into wanting to see, then yes: the time for development is now.
I think the Justice League has an advantage with general audiences that even The Avengers didn’t have, and that’s widespread cultural recognition. I’m pretty sure that The Avengers have it now, but before then, people were more aware of the League through the old Super Friends cartoon in the 1970’s, not to mention the critically-acclaimed Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series that came out in the early 2000s.
The biggest problem related to the news surrounding a Justice League film is that there is potential for this to be a simplistic studio cash-grab, taking advantage of a formula that worked somewhere else and attempting to replicate their success. WB is probably guilty of committing that crime with Green Lantern in trying to create their own franchise out of similar circumstances as Iron Man (though GL did have its supporters). If they take their time and give a Justice League film the care and attention it deserves, it has the potential to be even more resonant, more broad, and even better than The Avengers.
Superman and Batman are probably the two most recognizable super heroes in the world. Add to that the unique icon of feminine heroism that Wonder Woman is, along with the potential for the most visually striking character in film (and definitely up there in the comics) with the Flash, and you already have the makings for a great superhero film. Anyone that's curious about how a Justice League film could look if given the proper care, check out the video below from the opening of the DC Universe Online video game. In live action, this could be pretty breathtaking in my opinion.
The pressure is now on WB to make the idea of Justice League live up to the execution of The Avengers, which is no small feat. The single best decision that WB ever made was taking a chance on Christopher Nolan, whose strong vision for the Batman character, his story, reverence for the existing mythology, and ability to recognize the necessity of having allies that were fans of the source material translated into some of the biggest superhero success the industry has ever seen. They need to find someone who can dig in the toy box and tell a story worthy of placing all these characters on the screen at once. A League film for the sake of having one won’t cut it.
The Justice League is often referred to by an old moniker, you could say their nickname. My personal hope is that WB recognizes that name as more than a marketing slogan and gives us more than a reason to buy the film’s merchandise. They need to inspire us, and make us believe that their moniker is exactly what we're seeing when this film opens: the "World's Greatest Heroes."