Marvel Studios built their repertoire films with a distinct goal in mind. Kevin Feige had set The Avengers ball in motion back in 2008 with Marvel Studios’ Iron Man. Remarkably, the time frame for Marvel Studios’ solo films and the overwhelming mammoth that is The Avengers was about 4 years. For the purposes of this editorial I shall call Marvel Studios’ formula The Avengers Strategy.
Marvel Studios’ solo films are tightly contained within the same Marvel Studios cinematic universe (MScU). Essentially, Thor, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Incredible Hulk set a precedent that many feel should be utilised by the competition, Warner Brothers (WB). The latter studio announced that they too would give the big-screen treatment to their super team of Superman, Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern. This is indeed grand and exciting but one major letdown is the indication that Henry Cavill’s Superman and Ryan Reynolds's Green Lantern might not be part of it.
I have been an advocate for the shared cinematic universe for all of WB's comic book movie franchises. I was one of many voices shouting for WB to follow The Avengers Strategy and produce connected solo films for the individual members of the Justice League before leading to the piece de resistance. Many fans fundamentally agree that WB should definitely copy The Avengers Strategy. Upon some reflection on this matter, I realised there is an alternative approach that is distinctly different from The Avengers Strategy. It is radically different because unlike The Avengers it does not require a shared DC cinematic universe (DCcU) where all these superheroes coexist.
For the purposes of this editorial I shall call my formula, which I will describe below, The Justice League Strategy.
A Justice League movie will ultimately come with many issues not least of all how the status of both Superman and Batman affect the screen time and presence of Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter. My Justice League Strategy will resolve that concern. Furthermore, it might potentially offer the means for WB to attain considerable financial and critical success in a Justice League endeavour.
It has been categorically stated WB’s comic book movies are perfect to fill the gap after the extremely popular and successful Harry Potter franchise. WB are also fortunate to have been the studio behind another hugely successful franchise: the phenomenal Lord of The Rings (LOTR). Given the current trend of comic book movies, it would seem almost a wasted opportunity to ignore the potential of DC’s comic book movies – not only because it stands to make lots of money and please fans, but also because WB own all the rights to all DC comic book properties. The same of which is not afforded to Marvel Studios. Therefore, WB need to approach their slew of comic book movies as a whole with a plan that sees the bigger picture rather than one movie at a time.
The Justice League Strategy
Effectively, the formula can be described as: Follow a LOTR multiple narrative approach meets Watchmen meets JJ Abrams’ Star Trek meets Crisis on Infinite Earths with some theoretical physics thrown in. I am going to dissect this statement and splay it out.
Like LOTR, a Justice League franchise is going to require a trilogy where all 3 films are filmed simultaneously. There is another inference as to how LOTR will influence Justice League and that is through the split narrative. Both Watchmen and TV series Lost made practical use of flashbacks to the past detailing the characters lives (and in the case of Lost, before they became stranded on the island). The incorporation of this filming method allows a bit of character origin story whilst simultaneously focusing on that specific character. In that way, each character gets a fair share of screen time. The split narrative structure from LOTR not only allows time to develop both characters and plot but also gives the opportunity to see the characters follow different subplots. The entire narrative can therefore function without being dominated by Superman or Batman. Moreover, it would also give the film greater scope in terms of its scale, context and setting. This trilogy should be seen as more of a 3 parts of a single whole with each part approximately 150mins in length.
The threat that would serve as the major challenge to the Justice League would be dissimilar to the alien invasion used in The Avengers. In fact, it will be significantly greater in scale than an alien invasion. Now, that last sentence is not meant to ruffle any feathers, but I hope that if WB can not only step-up but also surpass the direness of the threat in The Avengers, then it would influence Marvel Studios to make Thanos or whatever the danger even more ominous in the Avengers sequel.
If the Justice League was only a single film (not 3 parts), then presumably it would incorporate a worthy antagonist (such as Brainiac) and the sequel would progress to one who is substantially more powerful and menacing. However, using a LOTR style split narrative divided into 3 parts affords the movie an opportunity of utilizing an ominously formidable villain immediately. I am going to suggest a villain whose goal it is to not only wreak an apocalypse upon the universe, but all universes. One villain in the DC comic universe has this power: The Anti-Monitor. The Justice League will be confronted with the possible obliteration of countless universes within the multiverse. An alien invasion of Earth pales in a scale comparison to the incalculable loss of life in the event of the sudden demise of the universe.
If you look back at DC’s movie projects that have met with favourable success with fans, non-fans and critics, you would notice that these movies have been based on a particular story or graphic novel. Watchmen and Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies did exactly this. In the case of Nolan, his Batman Begins was to some extent based on Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Rises definitely draws inspiration from Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween. In other words, basing a Justice League movie on an already existing notion would seem to work rather than simply making it up from nothing. Therefore, if the Justice League movie was looking for a muse, then it should look to Crisis on Infinite Earths. Now I am not saying that a Justice League movie strictly follow Crisis on Infinite Earths (in reality it cannot considering it practically featured every hero in the DC comics universe), but rather borrow the idea of the multiverse and its devastation by The Anti-Monitor.
Crisis On Infinite Earth’s Synopsis:
A spectacular and original novel based on the epic comics series that forever changed the universe of Superman and Batman by the man who created the original tale! Trapped in a timeless limbo, Barry Allen, the Flash, can only watch in silent and helpless horror as, one by one, countless universes fade from existence in order to feed the insatiable need for power of the Anti-Monitor, a being from the anti-matter universe of Qward. Under the guidance of the Monitor, his benevolent opposite, the super-heroes and villains of all realities are brought together for a last, desperate stand against the forces that promise the literal end of all existence. (From ComicVine)
The Anti-Moniter and my theory on combining separate universes into one:
Imagine a scenario where the Anti-Moniter threatens not only to destroy the universe, but all universes. The DC cinematic universe exists as a multiverse. Current theoretical physics tells us that multiple universes could exist and that they exist on separate levels or branes that do not touch. When these branes do touch, the result is a big bang - exactly like the one that created our universe. Several separate branes of the DC universe touch; however, instead of resulting in a release of energy that would destroy the universes, the relevant universes concerned merge into one. When these universes touch (when the Justice League attempts to thwart the Anti-Monitor), they merge into one, and the merger of all universes into one existence will automatically, by default, have all these DC characters inhabiting one universe as if they always had. In other words, the film would begin with the characters each originating from their own pocket universe but the ending would see a unified DC cinematic universe.
My preference would be for a shared DCcU from the start. Nonetheless, I think my Justice League Strategy effectuated from disconnected DC movies could work. It would be thrilling for Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel to include a Wonder Woman reference, but if somehow that prospect falls through, we would have to continue supposing that each DC character exists independently of other DC characters with each in their own pocket universe. The Justice League Strategy would be a monumental undertaking, but the obvious perspective is that it is substantially different to the one used by Marvel Studios. Regardless whether WB choose a unified DCcU or not from the start, the formula I have outlined where a multiverse Justice League movie takes advantage of the narrative style of Lord of The Rings, Watchmen, Lost and Star Trek with the villain from Crisis On Infinite Earths might be a viable one to consider.