So Justice League had a disappointing opening weekend at the box office. The news comes in the wake of mixed reviews from critics, and off the back of previous DC Extended Universe entries that split audiences.
It’s plain to see that Warner Bros has tried to address the criticisms levelled at the franchise in Justice League, but troubles behind the scenes have resulted in a messy movie that tries hard to please and ultimately fails miserably.
It’s no secret that director Zack Snyder left the project at the eleventh hour due to personal issues and that Joss Whedon was drafted in to finish the job, which can’t have helped its chances. Although, of course, plenty of films have been subject to reshoots and gone on to enjoy great success. Rogue One, anyone?
For our money, here’s what Warner Bros could have done to make Justice League, well, better.
Add in the Cut Scenes
There’s currently a petition in circulation calling for a director’s cut of Justice League to be released. The originator of the petition has got it into his head that there’s a whole load of Zack Snyder-shot footage floating around that didn’t make the final cut.
While there’s no formal confirmation that there’s a stack of footage in existence that could be used to assemble a wholly different film, there are certainly plenty of shots and bits of dialogue we saw in the trailers that weren’t in the finished film. In addition to that, some deleted scenes recently emerged online which could potentially have been used to address some of the more problematic areas of the film, including fleshing out characters’ backstories.
Beef Up the Backstories
While there is evidence of team-up films working without fully fleshed-out characterisation, in this instance, the film could have been improved with a little more depth. We got half a story when it came to Cyborg, whose tragic accident and complicated relationship with his father are only hinted at, and The Flash, who is an unexplained bag of neuroses.
The problem is surely partly in the shortened running time, which was ordered in an effort to tackle criticism of overlong previous entries in the franchise. An early cut of the film reportedly had more on The Flash and Cyborg, and also Aquaman. This would have made audiences feel more invested in the events on screen and given more explanation for why the characters behave the way they do. That they seem to bicker incessantly really comes from nowhere.
Appoint a Different Collaborator
Joss Whedon’s style is at odds with Snyder’s. Snyder favours a gritty, unhurried, stylised and humour-free approach, while Whedon likes breeziness, pace, a tried-and-tested formula and funny one-liners. Whedon was seemingly instructed to dial up the dialogue during reshoots. As writer-director of The Avengers, he’s known for creating wry exchanges between characters and in that arena, they work. Juxtaposed with the hallmarks of Snyder’s very personal style, however, they simply rub awkwardly against them.
joss whedon touching justice league's production was the biggest mistake warner bros has ever made
— ana (@hiqhwaytohell) November 19, 2017
Superman’s remarks in a scene in which he reconnects with Lois Lane after coming back to life, for instance, are just plain weird. And not in a good way. They’re clearly meant for laughs, but the scene plays out like it was meant to move us. Certainly, neither Amy Adams nor the film’s score composer, Danny Elfman, seems to have been told there was any change in tack when the scene was shot. Consequently, the whole scene makes you squirm.
Be Careful What You Wish For
The way to improve DCEU films is probably not to copy the Marvel blueprint. Lots of people seem to have been calling for this. And maybe it did seem like a viable option. But Justice League, obviously influenced by this comparison to Marvel films, is proof that it isn’t. Besides, let’s face it, not all Marvel films have been an unmitigated success. Most recently, as Spider-Man joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time in Spider-Man: Homecoming, we got a film that suffered from a sense of smugness and relentless gags.
Big-screen Batman has always had a darkness to him that audiences have lapped up. Whether its Tim Burton’s 1989 version starring Michael Keaton or Christopher Nolan’s take on the Caped Crusader, its what audiences have come to expect from the Bat. Wider DC properties are also recognised for their grittiness, including Snyder’s own movie version of Watchmen as well as V For Vendetta and Preacher, which is now a popular TV series. (Both V For Vendetta and Preacher are published under DC’s Vertigo banner.)
Warner Bros should have had the courage of its convictions and kept Justice League dark and gritty. There’s absolutely a way to do this without losing people the way Man of Steel and Batman v Superman did, although both of those films have their fans, of course. Warner Bros just need to persevere and find the right balance. And while Wonder Woman was a success partly because of its similarity to Marvel films, I’d warn against relying on this overused blueprint. The DCEU has got to find its own way in order to make its mark and carve out an identity.
Bite the Justice League, Lady, and just show us Gotham
— Rebis Kahler (@Rebis_Kahler) November 10, 2017
It could do worse than look to Gotham, the successful long-running TV series that tells the story of Batman’s origins alongside multiple other characters in the universe. It may not be perfect, but it balances a dark comic-book feel and sometimes pretty graphic violence with a sense of almost campy fun at times.
Yep, there’s definitely room for some dark and dirty superhero fare on the big screen. And DC’s universe is full of lowlifes, gangsters and killers that are ripe for the R-rated treatment.
A Better Villain
For a start, don’t mo-cap the actor’s performance in isolation. Steppenwolf actor Ciarán Hinds apparently recorded his role without the rest of the cast present. As a result, the film suffers from the lack of real interaction. It isn’t helped by the questionable CGI.
It’s also a good idea to consider making him a bit more of a three-dimensional character, and ditching the boring, clichéd dialogue. According to some sources, Steppenwolf’s nephew, evil overlord Darkseid, was originally meant to have more of a presence in this movie, to set up the sequel in which the Justice League would go up against him after Steppenwolf has prepared Earth for his arrival. There’s also a hint that there’s some conflict between Steppenwolf and Darkseid, which would have been interesting to explore.
Instead, Darkseid, who is being prepped to become the big bad of the DCEU, is mentioned only once in the film – and it’s almost throwaway. It’s certainly easy to miss. As it is, Steppenwolf fails in his wishy-washy plan which is to unite the three Mother Boxes to bring about the rebirth of his home planet on Earth.
Had Darkseid been more prominent, Steppenwolf would undoubtedly have made more sense.
Despite Justice League‘s failings, we haven’t lost hope that there’s a great DCEU film right around the corner — and the film’s post-credits scene certainly gives us something to look forward to…