Monday, December 3, 2012

Justice League Movie - How to Not F#&% It Up

There have been rumors swirling about regarding the planned "Justice League" film for quite some time now, but I've refrained from writing about most of them because A) I've been spending most of November writing for NaNoWriMo (in case you're wondering, yes, I won) and B) At this stage, rumors change on a weekly basis.

However, the director of the upcoming "Man of Steel" film, Zack Snyder, has gone on the record saying that while he doesn't know anything about the planned "Justice League" film, he's not really sure how they could make one that just blatantly ignores the existence of his film. And my guess is that the only reason it hasn't been 100% confirmed yet is because there's always the possibility that "Man of Steel" will go over just as badly as "Green Lantern" did. They are probably planning on staying "in-universe", but they don't want to tie themselves to a reboot that has yet to see the light of day.

Additionally, the consistently reliable El Mayimbe of has confirmed that the villain for "Justice League" will be Darkseid. Over the years, I've learned that if El Mayimbe says it, it's probably true.

Beyond those two things, we basically know nothing with any certainty beyond the fact that there will probably be a "Justice League" movie in 2015 and it will likely include (at least) Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

I don't like to speculate without some nugget of truth to ground me, but right now is an interesting time to speculate. We know just enough to spark the imagination, but not enough to come up with any reliable guesses. Plus we'll get our first full trailer for "Man of Steel" when "The Hobbit" comes out in a couple weeks, which will likely make WB's intentions far more clear, particularly if the reaction is positive enough to give them reason to take a few more risks with the film continuity gamble. So, I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring for as long as my ideas are still plausible enough to be interesting.

The New 52 Connection

So far, WB and DC have been very, very cautious regarding their plans for a movie universe similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They likely have been planning something similar since late last decade, but their steps have been very hesitant. If "Green Lantern" had been as successful as they were hoping, they likely would have used it as a launch point for a new universe, but since they were never officially committed to the idea, they weren't forced to keep it around. Similarly, they didn't actually announce their intentions for a film continuity until "Avengers" was a proven success. They are playing it very, very safe, but I think they've been planning this in some capacity for probably a number of years.

At the same time, DC has been trying to re-establish its brand like never before. They changed their logo. They started a new programming block on Cartoon Network called DC Nation, which introduced two new cartoon series and will apparently be including more when it comes back next year. They started a new TV series on the CW, "Arrow", which is actually not too bad now that he's not doing voice-over monologues every five seconds. Most notably, however, they did a universe reboot.

While I don't plan on going fully down THAT rabbit hole again, the reason I bring up the New 52 relaunch is because there are interesting connections between it and the direction the film seems to be taking.

Specifically, in the relaunched universe, Superman's origin was modernized and he was deemed the first "superhero". Or at least the first one in the public eye. His new identity (at least when he started out) was closer to who he was in the Golden Age, where he was kind of an asshole and was a "champion of the downtrodden". While we don't know that much about Zack Snyder's film, I won't be surprised if in his film, Superman is the first superhero the world has ever seen.

Additionally, the first time the Justice League came together in the New 52, they fought Darkseid. Just like they will in the movie.

One more connection that is largely superficial, but worth noting, is that Superman's movie design is the same as his design in the New 52. Specifically, no more red undies. Supposedly, Zack Snyder tried to keep the red undies, but he was overruled.

Now, I know I'm just connecting three dots, but let me throw out a crazy theory.

Warner Bros. and DC did this relaunch and rebranding as a way to build momentum and set the stage for their upcoming films.

Like I said, I don't think WB and DC just all of a sudden decided to make a "Justice League" film after "Avengers" was a success. I mean, they knew that TDKR would be the last Nolan Batman film and Harry Potter was about to end as well. They needed a new cash cow, and given the resurgence of the popularity of comic book movies, it was the best option they had. But the comic book universe was kind of a mess and they hadn't had a good TV show since "Smallville" started sucking. So they started looking to slowly turn their properties into a mega-franchise.

I wouldn't be surprised if the New 52 relaunch was done (at least partially) to clean off the slate so the public consciousness could get excited about the prospect of a new media franchise.

All Hail Geoff Johns

It's no secret that Geoff Johns is currently widely considered to be the man at DC right now. He single-handedly saved Green Lantern AND Aquaman, he penned the most well-received comic events since the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, and he's seriously prolific. It's no surprise that they've got him working on a large number of projects, including even getting him to write a little bit for "Arrow". They used his emotional spectrum idea for the "Green Lantern" film (and then promptly shat all over it) as well as the new CG animated series. While I doubt they'll go so far as to get Geoff Johns to actually write the screenplay for a "Justice League" movie, I wouldn't be surprised if they used the first arc in his new "Justice League" series as the template for it.

Like I said, I don't have a lot to go on to support this theory, but the Darkseid connection intrigues me the most. Even if they aren't specifically TELLING prospective screenwriters to use the arc as a basis for their treatments, if their requirements are that it has to be about the team forming and fighting Darkseid, then it's rather convenient that there just so happens to be a very recent story arc in the comics where the exact same thing happens.

And you know what? I think that would be great. Seriously. While I'm not 100% in love with every aspect of the New 52 (and in fact I've fallen behind quite a bit in recent months), I think that the new "Justice League" title was one of the better things to come out of it. And more than that? Johns' "Justice League" solves a lot of the problems that probably worry most of the producers regarding the universe.

Aquaman is Lame

If that Bleeding Cool article from a few months back is even remotely genuine, it would not be surprising to learn that WB and DC executives are hesitant about including Aquaman in the fold. He's often perceived as a joke character, mostly thanks to his appearance on the "Super Friends" cartoon from about 50 years ago. DC had been trying to make him more interesting over the decades. They gave him a hook for a hand, he grew out his hair, he became more scowly... It was a weird time. 

Aquaman has always been kind of interesting because he's probably the only Leaguer average people would recognize outside of the "trinity" (maybe Flash too). But the reason people recognize him is because he's a joke to them. He's the silly one who talks to fish and wears bright orange.

So when Geoff Johns got to reboot the character in both "Aquaman" and "Justice League", he decided that the best way to deal with Aquaman's image problem was to face it head-on. Within the universe itself, Aquaman is treated as a joke, often in the exact same ways he is treated in real life, and it makes him incredibly compelling, specifically because audiences (particularly American audiences) love the underdog. Aquaman is underestimated constantly, so it gives us great joy to see him kicking ass and leaving his critics dumbfounded. Even more hilarious is when he shows up in the "Justice League" comic as a bit of an egomaniac.

If anyone else said or did these things, they'd come off as trying too hard to be cool. But when the "lame" Aquaman does it? It's awesome. It's the equivalent of the quiet nerdy kid at school pile-driving a school bully twice as big as him. We like seeing the underdog not only overcoming the odds, but completely destroying them. It's one reason people like Batman so much. He has no powers, but he can kick anyone's ass with "enough time to plan".

If they included Aquaman and took the same approach as in the comics, I guarantee you he would be everyone's favorite character. If they put the shark scene (above) in the trailer, there would be Aquaman t-shirts on sale at Hot Topic the NEXT DAY. I guarantee it. Teen hipsters would wear them to school, other kids would be like, "Man, Aquaman's LAME!" and the hipster kid would just smile smugly, knowing that once everyone saw the movie, he would be the guy who liked Aquaman before he was cool.

But yeah, Geoff Johns solved the Aquaman problem, and I think that if there's ANYTHING the screenwriter should steal from the New 52 comic relaunch, it's this.

The Green Lantern Snafu

We all know that "Green Lantern" sucked. I know it, you know it, Warner Bros. knows it. It wouldn't be surprising if they just kept him out of the upcoming movie altogether, at least until they've established a successful groundwork.

But, you know what? I think if they went with the Geoff Johns storyline, bringing in Green Lantern wouldn't be a bad idea. He could even still be Hal Jordan.

Let me explain. In the Geoff Johns storyline, Hal Jordan has been Green Lantern for a little while. He's still green (hahaha), and he hasn't really developed much of a presence on Earth in the same way that Superman did, but his origin story has already happened and he's already somewhat well-known.

He's also an insufferable prick. Seriously, if you read Geoff Johns storyline, pretty much all Hal does is act like an overconfident jackass and then promptly get his ass handed to him.

So yeah, we all hated "Green Lantern", but if they had the Ryan Reynolds Hal Jordan acting like a jackass and then getting shown up by Batman, Superman, and even Aquaman, then it would be a sort of meta-punishment for his awful characterization in his film. I personally would be OK with that (so long as they ditch most of the continuity from that movie).

Still, I think that's probably too ballsy for WB to attempt, so in all likelihood, we either won't have Green Lantern, or they'll give us John Stewart instead of Hal Jordan. Because he's black, no one would confuse him with the "bad" Green Lantern, and fans of the DCAU TV shows would recognize him (honestly, I think John Stewart is probably at least marginally more recognizable as the character than Hal Jordan at this point). I'd probably be OK with this.

Character Overload

If there's anything they'll likely try to change from the "Justice League" story, it will be in the number of characters used. While I personally think the lineup of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Cyborg (or Martian Manhunter if you wanted to go DCAU) would be fine, it's hard to juggle that many characters AND introduce them at the same time. For this reason, it won't be too surprising if they stick to JUST the trinity for the first film.

However, I think that would be a rather large mistake. While those characters are certainly well-known and need no introduction, that's also sort of their biggest weakness. It's hard to get audiences excited about seeing characters they think they already know everything about. That's partially why I think it would be wise to throw Aquaman into the mix. If they took the Johns approach, people would probably see the movie just to see this badass new version of Aquaman.

Still, including JUST Aquaman feels weird, so you'd probably need to include Flash as well since he's also pretty recognizable and makes for good comic relief. Honestly, those five could probably carry the movie, but if they wanted to make the team more diverse (a problem that garnered "Avengers" some fair criticism), they would likely also want to include either John Stewart or Cyborg. At that point, you've pretty much got a full roster.

I know it's somewhat problematic, but frankly, no one really NEEDS to know the origin story of anyone but Cyborg, and guess what? His origin story is a part of Geoff Johns' storyline. Almost like they planned it.

I personally would prefer they go with half-a-dozen rather than just the three iconic characters. I'm not saying you CAN'T make a good movie out of just the trinity, but it limits the range. You basically have three VERY SERIOUS characters fighting a VERY SERIOUS (albeit fairly ridiculous) supervillain and I have a hard time thinking of ways to make that interesting.

You could probably survive cutting out Green Lantern and Cyborg (though Cyborg would probably get fans of the old Teen Titans show vaguely interested), but you should probably keep ONE of them so that you can establish a connection to Darkseid and, yeah, so you can have a PoC in the cast. And for the love of God, don't cut out Aquaman and Flash.

Stop Playing It Safe

I get that WB and DC are scared to take big risks. And in the case of "Green Lantern", their hesitance spared us all a very awful starting point for a connected universe. But they can't keep tip-toeing around commitments anymore. Once the trailer for "Man of Steel" hits, they will hit the point of no return. They can't wait for something to be a proven success before building on it. Movies take too long to prepare and if you don't have these things planned from the beginning, it can feel tacked-on and half-assed (like "Green Lantern").

I mean, let's say that "Man of Steel" fails. WB and DC won't be able to scrap their plans for a "Justice League" film that late in the game, but they might try to drastically sever any ties it might have to "Man of Steel", recast Superman, and possibly retool the entire franchise. That's really the only reason I can think for why they haven't officially announced a connection between the films. Because they want to reserve the right to change their minds in the event of a disaster. This is exactly the sort of thing that ruins their projects. They lack conviction. They have no confidence in any of their creative decisions unless they have numbers to back them up. This is why Marvel and Disney have been running circles around them for the past few years. I mean, they announced the cast of "Avengers" before most of the cast had a chance to even play their characters. They showed audiences that they were serious about this and were willing to take chances.

I think that WB and DC can make this project work, but the fact that they're planning a 2015 movie without a definite screenplay, an attached director, a cast, or even the guarantee that the movie will have any connection to any other movies shows their abject fear of fucking this up.

Guys? Trust me. The fastest way to fuck this up right now is to pussy-foot around every decision and only support it once it makes you money. The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.