Breaking Into the Justice League

In keeping with the spirit of this month's holiday, I've dressed up an editorial just for you. This author explains why Warner Bros unofficial decision to dive head-first into "Justice League" isn't a bad idea after all.

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By Tainted87 - 10/1/2012
Let me start by saying that there is nothing wrong with using your imagination – on the contrary, I hope you do just that while reading this editorial. Imagination is, in fact, essential to understanding where I’m coming from.


You see, exclusively to the month of September, there have been at least 23 editorials describing users’ thoughts on how they would like to see a Justice League movie unfold. I imagine after this article, there will likely be 24 or so published in October – I do not intend to stop anyone from speaking their mind, nor could I. The thing is this: more than half of these editorials have roughly the same idea, which requires one thing to NOT happen that will happen: the Justice League movie will be coming before a Wonder Woman/Flash/Green Lantern sequel, ergo solo outings will not lead up to the film.


Let me take you back to 2006 or 2007, when Robert Downey Jr was cast in the role of Tony Stark. Fans who had seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang were excited, but a great deal shared my initial reaction – outrage. I had not seen Shane Black’s movie, nor had I any reason to think this washed-up and formerly drug-addicted actor with a DUI record should get to play a superhero. It was very shallow thinking, and I was immediately proven wrong.

I compare my reaction from five or six years ago to a few months back, when an announcement was made that a Justice League movie is in the planning stage to enter pre-production. Many fans took this as something of a betrayal – that DC saw the Avengers’ success and was rushing to duplicate it with half the effort. Some saw it as poor planning – how can you make a movie about all of these characters when they haven’t even been introduced to the non-comic book-reading audiences? I waited.

You see, I believe we are way too close to the genre to understand a great many things about these movies. We’ve come to think of them in terms of a certain formula (one I detailed in my previous article) to a great fault, and cannot see the bigger picture. Or perhaps we’re too far away, expecting something to grow into a marvelous sight, but have failed to notice much of anything. Fans have a knack for listing off Marvel’s “phases”, or what they believe the next “phases” will bring, with the Avengers movies as bookends. For DC, the same fans tend to have the same expectations.

Let’s set aside the way Warner Bros. works, and focus on what we actually want to see. Do we want to see great movies that we can make us laugh and cheer and applaud, or do we want to see FRANCHISES?

With this point, I return back to Iron Man, specifically its sequel, where the promised War Machine makes its glorified debut. Who is War Machine without Iron Man? A stooge for Justin Hammer? A stooge for the Air Force? Can Rhodey stand on his own without having to rely on his shoulder-mounted gatling guns and wrist rockets to satisfy the audience? Is he a charming enough character to be more than just an action vehicle, if he ever had his own spin-off? I don’t believe so.

And this is what I compare Darkseid to. The popular opinion, and what may in fact happen, is that Darkseid, the Lord of Apokalips, should be the big bad villain in the Justice League movie, if he’s not pulling the strings. I have to tell you, I’m not a big fan of the character. I feel that his only redeeming quality as the big-bad, is that he can go toe-to-toe with Superman and win. Likewise with Doomsday. Are these heavy-hitters really worth making a feature film just to set THAT up?


And off I go with another branch. Would solo movies that introduce these characters really be that important and relevant if they are only setting up the stage for Superman to be broken by someone from the Fourth World? What about Wonder Woman or the Flash? What climactic battle would they be a part of? Would the Princess of Themyscira be fighting Granny Goodness’ Furies? Would the Black Racer be chasing the Crimson Blur through time? And then what? What happens in DC’s projected future?

There is this website that I’m sure a few here know about, called Screened. I used to enjoy watching reviews until a certain reviewer took to gratifying his knowledge of the term “MacGuffin” in just about every review. Ironically, what I am about to demonstrate is something VERY similar. Simply put, a “MacGuffin” is a literary device that is the object of a plot, and could be substituted for anything without changing the story.

Ghostbusters
Three enterprising scientists invent a business for hunting and trapping ghosts in Manhattan. When their first client becomes possessed by a demon, the Ghostbusters discover an apocalyptic event is emerging to destroy all of mankind.

Fantastic Four
Genius scientist takes a crew into outer space on an exploratory mission, and find themselves imbued with superpowers. After the nurturing blind sculptor takes in a now disfigured astronaut, the Fantastic Four become puppet slaves to a bitter biologist.

In place of Ray, Egon, Peter, and Winston, the Fantastic Four would be made up of Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben. In place of Dana and Gozer, there would be (respectively) Alicia and the Puppet Master (and possibly Doctor Doom). I don’t want that movie made, as that would just be a copy of my favorite film of all time – but the dynamic is something to consider.

Why am I doing this? Because I want to illustrate that a comic book movie, whether it is “team-based” or focused on one superhero, is still a movie. It has a cast, a plot, tools to facilitate progression of the plot, dialogue to entertain and inform the viewer, and so on and so forth. Viewers, who don’t know anything about the comics or the characters, will go see the movie with the same amount of investment they put forth when viewing a non CBM. It’s not that complicated.

Examples:
The Joker from The Dark Knight (2008)

Possibly the most important character of the story, and he has no origin story. And that’s for the better – as whoever he was before he took to painting his face and terrorizing Gotham is completely unimportant to the plot. His actions dictate who he is.

King Xerxes from 300 (2007)

In basic form, Xerxes is a conqueror who is looking to take control of the whole world as Ancient Greece would know it. How he ascended to the throne, how he acquired all the riches and pleasures a Spartan hunchback could ever want – is all left to history and the viewer. He is the boot that would stomp the ant.

Harry Heck and the Russian from the Punisher (2004)

Two assassins are hired to kill Frank Castle – one serenades him at a diner, the other helps him remodel his apartment. While they both hail from “Welcome Back, Frank”, they carry NO origin story in the comics or film, nor do they need one – they have a singular purpose in the movie.

Bullseye from Daredevil (2003)

A sadistic psychotic assassin, Bullseye is all the more menacing because he doesn’t make you ask questions about his childhood upbringing, where he trained to make peanuts lethal objects, etc – he is there to kill specific people. And that is precisely what he does.

Mystique from X-Men (2000)

This particular shapeshifter is a lieutenant working for Magneto, and has but one line of dialogue in her natural form, which curiously, refers to her past. She enjoys playing mind games and enjoys using her mutant ability to be a sneaky b*tch.

You see, the above villains in their respective films do one of two things. They fulfill their role in the movie AND make the audience want to see more of them in future movies… or they simply do their job. For characters in a comic book, spin-offs are very, very common. In movies, (and this is possibly the reason why some critics and actors’ opinions are validated when they say they feel the CBM will burn out soon), the characters follow a formula. You can chalk it up to the studios not sharing characters, and the focus rests entirely on, say, Spider-man’s shoulders. Spider-man is a character who works GREAT by himself without stepping in Blade’s business, or swinging through Hell’s Kitchen to ask Moon Knight why Daredevil is being shot at by the Punisher. But some other characters aren’t built for it, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

DC has all of their eggs in one stingy basket. There could be cameos left and right, and no one would get sued. DC has the ability to film Darwyn Cooke’s period masterpiece: the New Frontier, without needing to explain why Wonder Woman is saving slaves in Indo-China, why Hal is getting shot out of a plane above Seoul, why Batman is an outlaw, or why the Martian Manhunter is repulsed by humanity. With the Justice League, or any DC story, a movie that is successful enough, enjoyable enough, interesting enough… will have an audience wanting to see MORE.

So here’s what we’re going to do. I want you guys to play a game with me. To take your mind off of Marvel’s accomplishments leading up to the most successful comic book movie of all time, we’re going to get in the spirit of role-playing. I already know some innuendo is going to pop up from that – enjoy it. I want you to consider one of your favorite movies – it CANNOT be a comic book movie. From there, I want you to alter it; I want you to change it up with DC characters like I did with the Fantastic Four and Ghostbusters. Have fun!
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16 Comments
StingyFox - 10/1/2012, 11:43 PM
Prometheus. Yes, some of you don't like it, but when I picture grand scope and wide open shots, mixed with a mystery, I think of Justice League. Switch the Engineers with the JLA and they're even more legendary.

That's what I really enjoy about the JLA though and why I think this kind of movie would work. Their characters have been around since the 30's and their symbols alone are everywhere. They don't need a comic book film to introduce them.

I hope that the way they make the characters in JLA is awesome and memorable so that we want to see them in their solo debut movies. Otherwise, I think it'll flop if they don't achieve that.
RedNTheHood - 10/2/2012, 3:39 AM
The only problem is for every example that you used talking about characters that don't need origins all of them were villains. No one gives a [frick] about mystique because she barley talked in the Xmen movies. Bullseye and Joker are meant to be clouded in mystery. King Xerxes wasn't the main lead so you wouldn't even wonder how he got to the throne. With heroes like Flash and Aquaman no one knows their origin and why do Superman and Batman and Green Lantern diserve movies, but not Wonder Woman or Aquaman or Flash. Yeah they dont have to be connected until Justice League comes along, but they need to be introduced. One movie to introduce every member of the JLA except maybe the Henry Cavill Superman would be un fair and stupid
Tainted87 - 10/2/2012, 7:29 AM
@RedHood13
Perhaps I got a bit carried away with the villains. Maybe I should have elaborated on the X-Men of X-Men, who are all introduced in the first movie, but have not a single origin story to their name when the film ends. Maybe I should have described more non-CBMs, like Star Wars, where Han Solo has not a single origin story to his name in any of the films, yet he is the character anchor. My point is that their part in the movie should explain who they are well enough to keep people interested, how they respond to things, what manner of dialogue they open, how charming or standoff-ish they can be - the story is larger than them.

Perhaps instead of Xerxes, look at the other 299 Spartans who have not one ounce of backstory - Michael Fassbender among them.

Ok, before we get a whole bunch of repeat comments, perhaps I should clarify.

Justice League is happening, or is all but officially confirmed to be happening - and before any other movie apart from Man of Steel will be made.

Maybe this article is incurring the rebellious side, since basically I AM saying we should accept that truth, where you're prone to say HELL NO! I sympathize, but again, what is going to happen?

Of course they deserve their own features. And when they save the world, maybe someone will ask em. I hope.
Tainted87 - 10/2/2012, 8:21 AM
Exactly, and that is why the Justice League movie coming BEFOREHAND is actually an excellent strategy, as audiences are already going to flock to it because Superman and Batman are there, and the interest in Flash, Wonder Woman, and possibly Aquaman will increase dramatically.

I wasn't comparing Ghostbusters to Justice League, I was simply saying the characters and story is interchangeable with the Fantastic Four (possibly). I was attempting to prove that yes, CBMs aren't all that different from other non-CBMs.

Watch this trailer, if your iPhone allows ;)

And if you've seen "Once Upon a Time in Mexico", that'll save you the trouble. Lots of characters who pretty much all have their own agenda. Only one origin story is told, and that is in flashback mode, and not so much an origin but more of a motivation for a character.

It's the reason I had wanted Robert Rodriguez to direct Justice League a while ago (not gonna happen, most likely).
RedSkull667 - 10/2/2012, 8:34 AM
DC comics fans make me feel embarrassed as a comic book reader
jjk2814 - 10/2/2012, 9:03 AM
Lot of good stuff here. I'm falling in line with you on this one.
Darklypse - 10/2/2012, 10:03 AM
Tainted, why do you not like Darkseid? If not, do you like Thanos?
Tainted87 - 10/2/2012, 10:13 AM
I like Darkseid a bit more than Thanos, but not by much. More accurate to say I tolerate him more. Thanos is in love with "Death", which means that you actually have to have a personification of Death in the MCU, which is just ridiculous. The alternate to "Death", is that Thanos is just schizophrenic and hallucinates Death, which is still really poor justification to kill off half of the universe - from a writer's standpoint.

Darkseid is only interesting when he assumes the role of Lex Luthor - when he is stabbing people in the back. I think that he is over-powered, and his search for the anti-life equation to completely dominate all life in the universe is too far fetched to swallow - and when it's shoved down our throats time and time again, it gets a bit irritating. Why is Darkseid the only one looking for it?
Darklypse - 10/2/2012, 10:27 AM
To be honest, I really couldn't stop myself liking him in the Animated Universe. Though the problems you listed could easily be fixed in films that may feature him. Say for example, if they did him a solo film or a New Gods, how about one of the people he is racing against to get the Anti-Life Equation be Grayven?

Also, sorry if this sounds ignorant, but isn't Darkseid the only one looking for the Equation, because it's theory that only he came up with? I still think he could be a good villain for the films.

Besides, comic villains always have over the top ways to take over the Universe. Thanos puts on a golden glove and shoves gems into it to destroy and dominate everything, Darkseid dominates the will and minds of everyone else with a maths puzzle. I personally think the Anti-Life Equation is pretty cool. Isn't it essentially a force of nature and the Equation is merely the answer to how to control it?
Tainted87 - 10/2/2012, 12:06 PM
It'd be just like old times, cipher :)
jjk2814 - 10/2/2012, 1:45 PM
When I look at this article for it's main emphasis and read some responses; Its nice to see some level-heads warm up to the idea of "Breaking into The Justice League"
dezdigi - 10/2/2012, 2:19 PM
A good article and represents this side of the debate really well.
I hope this inspires contributors to come up with more original editorials about the JLA film.
Tainted87 - 10/2/2012, 6:20 PM
Thanks guys!
lokibane2012 - 10/3/2012, 3:29 AM
I don't think the problem is if they'll be able to pull it off. Because, frankly, yeah it can be done.

The problem is that it won't be making anywhere close to a billion dollars even. It won't be a special team-up of different superheros coming together to fight one big threat. It'll just be a team movie to begin with like Fantastic Four or X-Men (none of which have been particular massive in terms of success).

And let alone that, the way WB is handling it, I can say with 99% certainty that they are, in fact, rushing it. And they're doing it for the purpose of replicating Avengers' billion dollar success.
6of13 - 10/3/2012, 3:08 PM
Nice article.

I like your example of Once Upon A Time In Mexico. It does illustrate how a good movie can tell an interesting story with numerous characters each with their own agenda and who don't have heavy background stories. I do agree that some characters like Mystique don't require much detail on their origins but Mystique and her purpose or job in the movie is more self-serving to the movie than to the character herself. While this works for some characters, it does not work for all characters. Some, like Batman, Superman and Iron Man do require plenty of fleshing out because not only because it is essential to the story, but also because fans and the audience want to see it a whole lot more than for characters like Mystique - simply because fans have a lot more invested in Supes, Bats and Tony Stark. You do raise a good point about Han Solo whose origins were not included in the movies, but Star Wars is so much bigger than Solo that it really was not essential to depict any origin for the character. It was sufficient enough to introduce him as the charming and likeable rogue - you don't really need to know more than that for the Star Wars movies. In the case of Batman Begins, it is essential that Bruce's origins are flayed out in order for the audience to sympathise with him and understand his motivations. It would not have had the same effect if all we got from Batman Begins was that Bruce was some rich guy who turned to vigilantism because his parents were murdered. In other words, in contrast to what I said about Mystique, telling Batman's origins is as much serving and essential to the character himself as it is to the movie. The same is true with Tony Stark and Superman. However, this is WAY more crucial with solo movies as opposed to team-up movies - and this brings me to absolutely agree with you a that solo movies are not required for the run-up to a Justice League movie. As Cipher stated, solo movies can come after where the characters are fleshed out a whole lot more than in a team-up movie.

I wrote an article a short while ago where I said used the idea of each character existing in their own separate universe only to be united under the threat of the Anti-Monitor whose actions result in combining all the separate universes into one resulting in the characters existing together as if they always had. While I don't expect everyone to like or agree with this idea, I was simply trying to point out that there are ways to get-around the idea of starting with the unified universe but ultimately ending up with of these characters finally together.

Well done for writing a point and then backing it up with some examples. That's why I like your articles, whether I agree with you are not.

Lastly, I think a movie featuring the Justice League should be called Justice League without the "America". I am not trying to be disrespectful, because I think the main theme of the movie needs to be about justice. In fact, unlike the Avengers which needed a threat in order to unite the team, the Justice League should be formed for the idea of justice.
6of13 - 10/3/2012, 3:45 PM
I too like Darkseid more than Thanos and I certainly think there are plenty of ways to challenge the Justice League without resorting to Darkseid. It is pretty obvious to say that Darkseid is over-powered and that we have seen numerous times a zealot trying to dominate the world/universe, but what makes Darkseid interesting to me is how he relishes in causing misery and suffering more than being a conqueror. If they do use Darkseid in the movie it should not be about Darkseid conquering planets and ruling the universe, but more so how he makes people suffer and relishes in it.

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