Breaking Into the Justice League
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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