EDITORIAL: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and The Justice League (A Trilogy) 2 - Electric Boogaloo

Would a Justice League movie even work as well as an Avengers movie did?

For part 2, I will examine whether or not a Justice League film is creatively viable. Part 1 can be read here.

Don’t forget to read the disclaimer from the first article so you don’t piss off the comic gods and start an epic comments section showdown. Also, like a lot of sequels, this editorial is slightly longer and has more stuff in it. I’m such a sellout.

Would a Justice League movie even work as well as an Avengers movie did?

If we’re going to ask the question as to whether or not DC will make a Justice League movie then we have to ask the question as to whether or not a Justice League movie would even work well, much less as well as the Avengers movie did. And I think that the answer, at least at this point in time, is no, it wouldn’t.

My reasoning is as follows: for a comic book movie to succeed both critically and financially, a filmmaker must find that which is essential to a character or characters and discover the manner in which to translate that into something that is both cinematic and appealing to a wide audience. As comic book fans, we insist that the filmmaker stay true to the source material, but we must always remember that movies and comics are two different mediums. Not everything that works in one will work in the other. Therefore, a filmmaker must find the appropriate balance. Being too faithful to the source material will turn off the casual fan and straying too far will turn off the hardcore fan. Now, when you add to this formula the idea that whatever character you are adapting is already extremely well-known worldwide, all of the above gets amplified to the nth degree.

And what does this have to do with the Justice League and the Avengers? It’s the idea that the Justice League essentially contains all of DC’s biggest characters while the Avengers (at least the film version and the original team in the comics) do not contain Marvel’s biggest characters. Do a Google search on lists of the greatest comic book characters. You may not find a consensus on specific rankings, but you will consistently find that characters like Superman and Batman are almost exclusively in the top 3 while characters from the original Avengers (not counting one-time Avengers like Spider-Man and Wolverine) frequently don’t even crack the top 5. (Mind you, I'm not bashing these characters, I'm merely pointing out what I've found in several top 10/25/50/100 lists.) Granted, these lists are purely subjective and are by no means an end-all-be-all, but many of the lists take into consideration a character’s overall appeal to both comic fans and non-comic fans in addition to their longevity. Superman and Batman, and Wonder Woman, for that matter, have been in continuous publication for roughly 75 years. Even Captain America had a near decade-long hiatus in the 50s and 60s before being re-introduced in The Avengers in 1963. And consistently, Marvel’s highest ranking character on these lists is Spider-Man with Wolverine being their second highest (although at some point both characters have been part of the Avengers in their history, so bad on me).

To further illustrate the point, look at the most popular comic book movies of all time. As movies certainly reach a wider audience than comic books do, they would seem to be a better barometer of how wide the appeal for a character is. In the case of comic book films, it makes sense to look at a film’s gross adjusted for inflation, for the purposes of looking through a historical lens. (Please note that these statistics don’t necessarily mean that the movies referenced are critical successes but financial ones. Some of these films aren’t necessarily good movies, to put it mildly.) If you look at the all-time-adjusted-for-inflation chart (domestic grosses at 2012 ticket prices) from Box Office Mojo, you’ll see that the top 5 has two Batman films, two Spider-Man films and 1 Superman film. Furthermore, there is 1 more Spider-Man film and 1 more Batman film in the top 10 (not to mention 2 more Batman films and 2 more Superman films in the top 25). The highest ranked films from the Avengers characters are Iron Man (2008) at #8, Iron Man 2 (2010) at #10 and, with a bullet, The Avengers (2012) at #22 and likely climbing into the top 10 by the end of next weekend.

What is the point that I’m laboring to make? It’s this: with all due respect to fans of the Avengers characters, until Iron Man was a success in 2008, these were essentially B-list characters, at least in terms of wide appeal. And even the success of Iron Man did not elevate these characters on the level of wide appeal of Batman, Superman and Spider-Man. These characters are popular, but Batman, Superman and Spider-Man are the level of cultural icons that Mickey Mouse or Elvis are. The Avengers characters aren’t there. At least, until The Avengers raised the bar. Maybe.

Yes, Iron Man’s popularity and wide appeal certainly elevated considerably after 2008 (not to mention Robert Downey, Jr’s). The level that Iron Man had risen to was just high enough to where his popularity could be a viable anchor for a team-up movie. But it was not to a level of Batman, Superman or Spider-Man. And that worked. Had Iron Man bombed at the box office, the chances of an Avengers movie would have dwindled considerably. But let’s say that Iron Man had reached the grosses of Spider-Man ($400 million domestic) or even The Dark Knight ($530 million domestic). I think an Avengers movie would have definitely been fast-tracked but I also think that it would have essentially become another Iron Man movie. In short, in that scenario, I think that Iron Man would have been too much bigger than the other characters in order for them all to fit in the same film. Make no mistake, Iron Man’s success was the primary reason The Avengers became possible. But one of the things that made The Avengers work so well was that no one character dominated the film. A legitimate argument can be made that the Hulk stole the show, but he didn’t dominate the film, and there’s a difference. In short, the stars had to align just the right way for The Avengers to even get made and then the right filmmaker had to be chosen to take on the task of making it all work. That’s a tall order for those who will tackle the development of a Justice League movie.

How does all this relate to the Justice League? In essence, it would be extremely difficult for Batman or Superman not to dominate a Justice League movie. Yes, both characters are constantly teaming up in the comics and the writers of those projects often find a way to make it work. In fact, the idea that these two characters are virtual opposites creates a natural conflict that can be easily mined. But that is in the comics, which are, as said before, an entirely different medium than film.

For a few years, there was some development of a Batman vs. Superman film prior to Christopher Nolan taking stewardship of the Batman franchise. It never came to fruition, but it makes one think of the idea of two of the most popular and iconic characters inhabiting the same feature film. It would be a daunting challenge for any filmmaker. But, while I’m not advocating a Batman vs. Superman premise, I can see how putting those two characters in the same movie would work. But what I can’t see is throwing in Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter or Cyborg (depending on if they chose to go the route of DC’s New 52 from creators Geoff Johns and Jim Lee and make Cyborg part of the team instead of Martian Manhunter). Again, I go back to the size and scope of how popular these characters really are to a wide audience. How do you put those characters in a movie with Batman and Superman without the film becoming a Batman and Superman movie with supporting nods from other characters? How does it become a team-up? With all due respect to fans of the Avengers, putting Superman and Batman in the same film is not the same as putting Captain America, the Hulk and Iron Man in the same movie.

The Avengers did prove that you could make a team-up movie with balance. Upon closer examination of The Avengers, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a film with four lead roles (Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk and Thor), two major supporting roles (Black Widow and Hawkeye), a lead villain (Loki), the sage “old” wise man (Nick Fury) and a host of other supporting roles. I classify Black Widow and Hawkeye as major supporting roles because they do not have the benefit of their backstories (as they pertain to this cinematic universe) having been fleshed out in a previous film. Captain America is the man out of his time, the fish out of water. Iron Man is his opposite, completely of his time. But both are in their element (one from the militaristic aspects of the fight, the other from the technological aspects). Thor’s stake in the fight is that it is his brother who has become the opposition (but remember, he’s adopted) and that he has vowed to become a protector of this realm due to his relationship with Jane Foster. The Hulk is the x-factor (no pun intended. Really). He is powerful enough to tip the scales in whichever direction he chooses. Fury is the man who brings them together both physically and psychologically.

Now that I’ve finished my incredibly boring analysis of the makeup of The Avengers, I can only give props to Whedon and company for somehow making it work. I am also trying to picture how one can do the same with Superman, Batman and company. And I’m drawing a complete blank. Of course, I’m not Joss Whedon or Christopher Nolan either, but I don’t think that totally disqualifies me. I mean, Joel Schumacher got to direct two Batman films, so expertise isn’t exactly a prerequisite here, is it?

Ultimately, like The Avengers, the creative viability of a Justice League film will come down to the filmmaker. But, also like The Avengers, the stars have to align just right for the world of the Justice League to be built prior to a film even being made. Then the stars have to align again.

(Here is one more sentence in parentheses just so I can prove how parentheses-happy I am, as you could probably tell.)

In part 3 of this editorial, I will examine the likelihood of a Justice League film being made and take a further look at the developmental challenges of such a film.

For further analysis on box office results, go to boxofficemojo.com.
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BarnaclePete - 5/9/2012, 3:32 PM
Whether or not a Justice League movie would work has nothing to do with The Avengers or any other movie for that matter. It's all in how the movie is handled. If it works or doesn't, it would be my it's own merits.
Minotauro - 5/9/2012, 4:56 PM
"You may not find a consensus on specific rankings, but you will consistently find that characters like Superman and Batman are almost exclusively in the top 3 while characters from the original Avengers (not counting one-time Avengers like Spider-Man and Wolverine) frequently don’t even crack the top 5. (Mind you, I'm not bashing these characters, I'm merely pointing out what I've found in several top 10/25/50/100 lists.)"

I just quoted you on this perticular thought. Something marvelites might take to much to heart.
Gerrit - 5/9/2012, 5:31 PM
That's actually the only problem that REALLY makes a Justice League movie seem too far fetched, all the others can be handled if they try hard enough. It seems that DC/WB don't know how to handle their characters, excepct Batman, and we will see if they can bring Supes back to his full glory. With the Justice League, they need the right man, someone who understands every character and can manage to create a journey for each one in the same movie. Marvel has Whedon, who does WB/DC have?
RidiculousFanBoyDemands - 5/9/2012, 5:32 PM
The Avengers work better on screen than the Justice League would. In fact, save for Iron Man, I prefer The Avengers movie to any of the solo movies. It will be interesting going forward to see the reception of the solo movies after The Avengers.
Knightrider - 5/9/2012, 5:44 PM
I think I can see where you were going, however, it all comes down to who they get etc, take The Avengers, now if they had got someone terrible to to write and direct it would have not of worked that simple, it is all about talent they hire.

People say about sticking Batman next to Super powered beings just wouldn't work, well Hawkeye, Black Widow and to an extent Captain America were all placed next to a God, and suddenly that is ok for one and not for another.?

Yes Supe's and Bat's have icon status, but that is actually something a decent writer could work into a film.

Not denying it would be a difficult road to a JL film, but so was the road to Avengers, I think it can easily work, all I will say don't rush take the time to get there the right way.

incrediblesuperbatspider - 5/9/2012, 6:08 PM
Wow, great editorial and excellent read. Make no mistake,the success of.the avengers has the execs at WB/DC watching closely and maybe they're getting ready to bring their own " JLA initiative" into fruition.

I really think that making a JLA film would be a daunting challenge, but with the right talent and the right passion, it can be done and executed successfully sometime this decade.
TheMyth - 5/9/2012, 6:09 PM
Without reading the article, the short answer is yes. Matter of fact it could be bigger if you can believe it. At the very lieast, a JL flic would smash the 1 billion mark as well. I'm a life long Marvel fan (not a Merveltie, there is a difference, the main one being I'm capable of rational thinking) and I'm not about to deny the draw of having Supes and Bats in the same flic. It'd be outstanding. Then we could have JL and Avengers in the top 5 highest grossing films ever!
Gerrit - 5/9/2012, 7:21 PM
Of course a JLA movie could be bigger. It should be bigger if they do it because they already know how to do it right now that The Avengers is out. It would be disappointing if it weren't.
Thanos005 - 5/9/2012, 10:07 PM
So make Worlds Finest. Just Batman and Superman. I made a similar editorial awhile back, and that was the general consensus in the comments. JLA COULD work, but WB is impatient, and for a lack of better words, lazy. Marvel busted their ass. I dont see WB doing the same. But Worlds Finest. Batman and Supes. That'd sure as hell sell.
kingshnake - 5/10/2012, 12:53 PM
A Justice League movie is at least 5 movies away:

Man of Steel, A Batman reboot, a new Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and The Flash.

They can't rush it there's a whole lot of universe building to do first. I don't mind waiting 10 years for a JL movie as good as The Avengers.
tzxfgl - 5/10/2012, 9:37 PM
Really can't rush this would-be epic phenomenon!Justice League is so different and one just can't compare and even copy the mode of Avengers or any other film before. The characters are so God-up-high and less human and many of them seem so serious and righteous all the time except Flash joking around onc in a while.Add to that,WB has no one else but Christohper Nolan to continue the darkness and depressing style of DC superheroes.
My plan is as follows:
in order to successfully make the JL film,WB has to build more single and new character movies like green lantern,Flash(the born story is good enough and it would be a lot like spider man) and Wonder Woman(Amazon land,all model-like warriors,and the pilot accidental intrusion and invisible plane definitely a hit!) and add a little bit of clip to connect other characters.
2013 Man of Steel
2014-15 new green lantern or batman reboot
2016-17 Flash and Wonder Woman
so the Justice League would be at least 2018 but i really don't mind waiting another 5 years...
Huguex - 5/11/2012, 1:02 PM
I'm no marvelite or anything similar. But in this case I have to stand for the Avengers. How is it come to this??? It seems the only purpose of the Avengers was to find out if a JLA movie is possible... c'mon! Give them a brake! It's Avengers Time!


Anyway... JLA movie it's so out ot the scene. With the Avengers the only actual fantasy you have to get is Asgard.

When you have JLA... you need to stablish:
1. Aliens (Krypton). I know we had a big invasion in the Avengers, but that was in the Avengers movie, not in the stablished universes around the solo movies.
2. More Aliens (tons. And then more. More aliens than Star Wars... y'know: OA).
3. Laboratoy Accidents Happen (this is more in the line of Marvel's).
4. The Olimpus, and the fact that an Amazon is willing to carry the American Flag in her uniform.
5. More Aliens. This time, from Mars.

What I'm saying is:
You stablish each universe in the solo movie, but it's hard to make them work togheter because they got nothing to be related to. Same happens with Batman. Yes, in the Nolan's Batman Universe... there can be an alien in a meteor rock... but for that alien to be almost human, but powers... c'mon...

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