Five Ways to Make a 'Justice League' Film Work

Five Ways to Make a 'Justice League' Film Work

Feb 08, 2013

When I woke up yesterday, I was very disheartened to read the predominant story for comic book film news. According to, Warner Bros. has allegedly thrown out the Will Beall script for a Justice League film, largely due to the writing’s inability to attract a “quality director.” The report goes on to state that characters have been added and chopped seemingly at “executive will,” and that the studio has gotten “cold feet” in the process of this early development.
Yes, this is very disappointing, but unfortunately, it’s not altogether surprising.
As many DC Comics fans can tell you, continual “cold feet” on the part of Warner Bros. in getting DC properties off the ground is absolutely nothing new. I had personally hoped that the success of The Avengers would embolden it enough to move forward on finally getting at least one or two other DC properties off the ground beyond Superman and Batman, but, yet again, the studio’s “cold feet” has made the day a lot colder for DC fans everywhere. Maybe some Warner Bros. executives should invest in some Superman socks, or something.
Will Justice League happen? Now, that could be anyone’s guess. How could they do it? I happen to have five suggestions handy.
5) Test the Waters with Animation
Not the most desirable choice from my perspective, but it may help gauge the public’s receptiveness to a live-action outing in the future. While Warner Premiere and DC Entertainment release the occasional Justice League film in traditional animation (with last year's Justice League: Doom being the most recent example), a high-end CG outing for theatrical release could be a less risky proposal that allows the studio to still make a full-on Justice League film.
The scale of a CGI film can also exceed the limitations of even a high live-action budget, and the story can aim for those lofty goals with relative ease. With some experienced animation professionals already at Warner Bros. for the DC Universe Original Animated Films, someone like Bruce Timm or Jay Oliva would be able to help craft a solid outing worthy of the team. Storywise, the studio already has several experienced and acclaimed comic book scribes who have written the team (Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison and Mark Waid) who could take the reins in an animated project.
It may not have the widespread appeal that a live-action film might, but it would be a way for Warner Bros. to finally soak its feet in some warmer water, and show the fans that it at least is making an effort.
For a look at what a CG-animated Justice League film might look like, check out the opening video to DC Universe Online below.
4) Make a Stand-alone Live-Action Film
I’m personally not much of a fan of this approach (at least in concept), but it would likely be a lot simpler to make a single Justice League film instead of having a bunch of strings extending out of, and tying into, a shared film. Comic book fans are certainly used to this sort of thing: alternate realities, parallel universes, and different timelines have all been plot devices used to publish Justice League comics outside of the mainline, shared DC Universe that the majority of the company’s titles and characters take place in. The caveat with that in moving into the cinematic realm is that movie audiences, comparatively, aren’t used to this treatment.
Imagine this: you go and see Man of Steel this summer and love it. You’re not exactly a comic book fan, but you like the movies quite a bit and watch them when they come out every summer (as most people do). You hear that Warner Bros. is finally pushing forward with a Justice League film, and you’re ecstatic. You see a couple of posters, emblazoning Superman’s S shield and Batman’s iconic emblem together with the Green Lantern, Flash and Wonder Woman symbols.
You go into the theater, expecting to see Henry Cavill as Superman (and maybe even Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern) and... you don’t. It’s a whole new cast with different takes on the characters that you’ll have to reinvest in. I’m not saying it couldn’t work, but it might be a little jarring for movie audiences and has been something Warner Bros. has actively tried to avoid when it has had certain characters on TV and in film simultaneously (especially during the 10-year run of Smallville).
It could work, though! DC and NetherRealm Studios have a video game coming out in April called Injustice: Gods Among Us which takes a fundamentally different approach to the League, even radically altering the characters’ status quo (just ask Lois Lane). Check out the story trailer for that game below: do you think that a totally different take on the League like this could work as a movie while Henry Cavill and the rebooted Batman are around at the same time?
3) Arrive at a Team the Marvel Way
The reason we’re even talking about a Justice League film in the first place is because of the immense success of The Avengers. Because of that, it may not be very unreasonable for Warner Bros. to emulate that formula: solo films for each of the major characters that lead into Justice League as a large culmination piece. If it worked for the Avengers, why can’t it work for the League?
There are two glaring problems with this approach. The first, most pronounced one is public opinion. As was evidenced by the superhero film releases of 2011, if one film comes along that falls short of the others in a slate, then that film is punished to death by both critics and fans alike. Green Lantern was that film in 2011, and it was squashed by ThorX-Men: First Class and Captain America: The First Avenger. With a precedent like that in mind, would the public reward, or even tolerate, a second shared superhero universe if it falls even a little bit short of their established expectations?
2) A Smaller-Scale Crossover Film
Maybe the reasons these execs have serious foot-circulation problems are because they’re thinking too big and too fast. A more moderate approach would be doing a crossover film, but limiting the characters to two or three. The obvious first choices are Superman and Batman, but how about Wonder Woman?
The Amazon princess has come close a couple of times in the last couple of years to getting on regular TV, but a movie might be a better idea to pump up her public image. What better way to do that than by appearing alongside the two flagship characters of DC Comics? It would also be a less-risky way of rebooting Batman if the studio were hell-bent to do it ahead of the first new solo film.
Within the DC Universe, the “big three” have always been Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. In the public consciousness, Superman and Batman have always stood alone as the big guns. A film appearance alongside those two could help solidify her standing as it is in the DC Universe and largely as it is for DC fans, and could be a very interesting stepping stone to a full Justice League film. Warner Bros. couldn’t be blamed for aping the Marvel way, and it can still come close to emulating that method without actually doing it. It could be really cool.
1) Arrive at a Team in a DC Way
The way that I’ve long preferred, I think DC could accomplish the goal of a shared universe in efficient manner by starting with a Justice League film and then using that franchise to feed other, future solo films. It’s a fundamentally different approach than what Marvel has done, and DC would come out of the gate with both arms swinging in a definitive statement to both hard-core fans and the public at large that this is the way it’s going to be. The risk is high, yes, but the reward is also just as high: if the film is as successful as is hoped, then the fuse will be lit in several places at once for successful solo films on other characters like the Flash, or maybe even Aquaman.
To ensure its success will take a lot of quality assurance from a good director, a solid writer, and a studio with producers that won’t fight for cheesiness and one-liners to brighten things up for the kids. Good Justice League stories (with a few notable exceptions) are rarely going to concern people on a content level, but the strength of the team and seeing the characters on-screen together to kick things off in the right direction would definitely be a statement that the Justice League are here to stay. I can think of no greater statement to fans and the public alike.
This is just one person’s ideas, though. How do YOU think a Justice League film can be pulled off? Are there other methods that you think would work? Should they even try?
All of these are valid concerns, but as far as a team film getting made, I think it’s just a matter of time. The only question that remains is: how much?

Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and retailer, and geeky contributor to and You can find his weekly piece The Geek Beat every Tuesday and the Star Trek Into Darkness Countdown every other Wednesday right here at Check out his blog and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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