Please Don't Botch the Justice League Movie...

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Disclaimer: Though the following paragraphs seem incredibly negative towards DC, understand this - I would love nothing more than a Justice League film. This article stems not from a Marvel hard-on but from sheer disappointment in the recent management of DC's properties on the screen.

Bold, Warner Brothers. Very bold. While it’s clear to the rest of the world why you feel compelled to announce a Justice League movie and decided to forego the gradual building to the big ensemble superhero flick, I have to say I'm perplexed by your belief that you'll be ready by 2013. But hell, if I had as many misfires on a project as you’ve had in trying to build up to a Justice League movie, I might have just yelled “Screw it!” and jumped to the end too. Unfortunately, that’s playing with fire.

christopher_nolanThe only successful comic book film franchise you’ve had and maintained beyond one film in the last two decades is? Can just about everyone in the room guess? Christopher Nolan’s Batman series. If you were at least leading in with that, I’d say you have hope. Yet, that day Nolan said he was capping his saga at the trilogy marker, fanboys around the world let out a false sigh of relief. “Well, at least there’s an endpoint so he has something to work against.” That’s what they said, but we all know the subtext was something akin to “No! No! No! No! No!” To their credit, that was the proper reaction for them (and myself) and for Warner Brothers. Save for a not impossible reversal on Nolan’s decision, the most successful DC movie franchise of all time will come to an end. But what of it?

The Dark Knight made over $1 billion around the world. The Dark Knight Rises will probably beat even that. And why shouldn’t it? Nolan has shown he has a better grasp for the Batman world than Burton or Joel Schumacher ever did. Unfortunately for Warner Brothers, placing the Batman franchise in Christopher Nolan’s capable hands is the only smart thing they’ve ever done with any of their comic book (most importantly DC) properties. As they seem content to further torpedo the future of their established heroes by entrusting them to worthless directors or allowing iterations that have a poor aesthetic realization, I can’t help but feel Marvel superhero films are going to utterly trounce DC in the coming decade.

There have been plenty of missteps in the Marvel movie world, and fans of comic book films are quick to point them out: X-Men 3, Spider-man 3, Daredevil (assuming it’s not the Director’s cut), Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Elektra, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (and now, most likely its sequel thanks to Darren Aronofsky’s departure). Forgive me if I’ve forgotten anything, but by most accounts, these are the big mistakes. This isn’t to say the rest were perfect, but they managed to do a decent or great job portraying the heroes and villains in their respective sandbox. Look at the DC side of the table, and at best you can count Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and possibly the classic Superman films, however those were of a different generation of superhero film and in those regards even Burton’s Batman films are pushing it.

Now look at the upcoming takes on DC properties.

The Dark Knight Rises is the only one on the docket that seems to have anything at all going in its favor, but what it does have makes it nearly impossible to think it’s going to be anything other than incredible. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman all return in their roles, but then you have Tom Hardy joining as Bane, Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in an unknown role, Juno Temple as a street-wise girl, and don’t be surprised if a few more notable names sign on considering how many people seem to like Nolan and his films. While it’s impossible to assume the quality The Dark Knight Rises on its cast and director alone, it already has more promise than countless other DC projects already further along. How sad that the most promising thing in the DC slate still exists solely on paper.

Remember when Superman wasn’t the embarrassing stain on the DC name? Yeah, for awhile, thanks to Joel Schumacher and nippled batsuits, it was Batman. Not anymore. Thanks to Smallville, the tepid relaunch that was Superman Returns, and the now grim truth of Superman: Man of Steel – it seems that Superman has officially taken over as the red-caped stepchild of the DC universe. I know Smallville has undeservedly loyal following willing to overlook the many many faults that plague its production…

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…but the show has so thoroughly screwed around with the Superman mythos and maintained such a low level of standards in terms of costumes that it’s hard not to credit it with pushing people away from Superman. Nevermind that the writing on the show is of the soap opera grade, but with the occasional character wearing tights or slugging it out with a monster. That last part is right, the melodrama not so much.

What about Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns? It was an incredibly anti-climactic take on the last son of Krypton, the most badass moments of which involved him saving a plane in freefall, a bullet traveling in slow-motion hitting Superman’s eye and some thugs beating him up on an island made of kryptonite. Were they cool to watch? Sure. Did the movie have lots of fun making throwback jokes to old Superman films? Quite a bit. Is that what Superman fans wanted from the long awaited reboot of DC’s most iconic hero? No. Can Zack Snyder do better?

(Pause for laughter)

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Zack Snyder promised to fix those problems. Who are we kidding, though? Zack Snyder isn’t the director to call when you want to fix a problem. He’s the director you call when you want a film that’s 100% candy-coated visual flair and absolutely devoid of sense and substance. Sucker Punch has been called one of the worst films of the year (granted it’s only April, so that’s ridiculous hyperbole), but the rest of the critical response is less than positive. It’s downright negative. As of this writing, Sucker Punch sits with a 19% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (10% if you’re looking at critics with careers). His best film is his first, Dawn of the Dead, but even that pales in comparison to the zombie film that came two years before it: 28 Days Later. At best, Zack Snyder achieves mediocrity in his filmmaking, and every film he’s made has gotten worse.

Dawn of the Dead > 300 > Watchmen > Legend of the Guardians > Sucker Punch

You see that? He failed to best a film about magical owls. Magical. Owls.

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His filmography proves him to be a one-trick pony whose reliance on eye-popping action is a weakness and not a strength. His films have underperformed ever since Watchmen and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he lost the gig. Though that’s wishful thinking, because Christopher Nolan’s saving hand seems to be guiding the way. Nolan can’t save it as long as Snyder is in the director’s chair, he can only help steer it away from utter ruin. For the survival of the Superman film franchise though, underperformance at the box office is just as bad as total failure. Just ask Bryan Singer’s relationship with DC.

What must be truly frustrating for the folks at Warner Brothers and DC is that the Superman animated properties have been quite good. All-Star Superman might be one of the better direct-to-DVD animated features produced by Marvel or DC. And if you account for the great animated series featuring the man in red and blue by Bruce Timm like Superman or Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, then it begins to redeem itself.

It seems like for every one of the major DC heroes a film gets right, another gets totally trashed, making a Justice League movie seem like an impossibility. What’s that you say? The Green Lantern could be okay? Not so fast.

While I’m happy to see Ryan Reynolds playing about in the comic book world, Hal Jordan he is not. Deadpool he is. But Hal Jordan he is not. Then you have to look at the costuming for the film:

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A CGI dependency has doomed more big-budget pictures than it has saved. Remember how comic book fans groaned during Wolverine when his claws came out the first time? Somehow, some way, they had lost the CGI technology that made his adamantium claws flawless in the X-Men films and replaced it with rendering that made it absolutely clear that those claws didn’t exist in any reality the characters on the screen could see. They looked awful. Now look at that Green Lantern suit in the picture above, and then watch it in this trailer below.

You know what just might be one of the most important aesthetic things to get right in a superhero movie? The costume.

Remember when the incomplete copy of Wolverine linked on the net, and Fox insisted quite loudly (across major news outlets) that the effects would be improved (obviously that was on top of inserting the effects that weren’t even present in the advance cut). Can you remember what Warner Brothers said when the web threw out some major backlash against Reynolds’s poor looking suit? They too insisted the effects were incomplete. Messing up the Green Lantern suit is the equivalent of screwing up Wolverine’s claws.

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(courtesy of Cosmic Book News)

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And though some of the other members of the Lantern Corps look pretty great, there’s one character design that’s been gnawing at me. Abin Sur aka the purple Kelsey Grammer

In a time when films are able to create increasingly outlandish creatures, the director always has to choose the route they'll go for major alterations in character appearance. And while the makeup job for Abin Sur isn't awful (because hey, every movie needs a purple Frasier Crane), it looks like garbage when you compare it to the transformation Hugo Weaving went through to become the Red Skull for Captain America: The First Avenger.

It's kind of tragic, but once again it seems that DC's best effort for one of it's iconic heroes will be in the form of an animated film. If you want to see a solid Green Lantern flick, go pick up the animated feature Green Lantern: First Flight.

At this point, the only other member of the Justice League that’s going to be committed to some sort of screen and that we have a visual representation of is Wonder Woman. Woe be to the costume designer that screwed that one up. Let’s look at the initial design for Adrianne Palicki…

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Pretty awful. Now, whether or not you believe this was ever intended to be the actual costume or that WB leaked the image just to get fan feedback, that’s rather immaterial. That plastic dime store costume never made it past the costume rack, at least not completely.

The revised Wonder Woman suit made a few of the right changes, but they failed to change one of the biggest issues fans had with Adrianne Palicki’s initial debut in her costume: Palicki herself. I know there’s this mass of fans who will defend Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman to the grave – but suck it up, that show was goddamn embarrassing. Yet it seems Carter was the template they used for finding the newest heroine. Nevermind that fans have become quite enamored with her portrayal as the strong, Amazonian warrior with sharp, distinct features and an actual jawline. Oh no, god forbid we draw from that version of the character. Let’s go with the old campy Carter version. Heck, campy seems to be working for Smallville, let’s repeat that mistake.

Yes, Smallville is and always has been a mistake.

So let’s look at the scorecard going into this supposed 2013 Justice League film:

Batman? Assuming Nolan’s version is truly retired and isn’t carrying into the Justice League film (which seems like it’s set in stone), then they’re starting from scratch with an unknown.

Superman? Assuming Snyder’s assertion that he’s following in Nolan’s “My hero lives in his own universe” path, then this too is a blank, meaning another unknown.

The Flash? No word at all.

Wonder Woman? God help us if they use Palicki, but they won’t, so it’s yet another unknown.

Martian Manhunter? Warner Brothers is dreaming if they think the casual audience has any idea who this is.

Green Lantern? The film will help people recognize him when he shows up in the Justice League film, but if DC follows in the footsteps of Batman and Superman, chances are we don’t know who’s going to be playing this one either.[Update: It was recently confirmed that Reynolds is signed to play the Green Lantern in the Justice League film]

Let’s compare Marvel’s strategy for The Avengers against DC’s for Justice League.

DC will be putting up a bunch of actors for their first time in the role (presumably) which is going to make anyone not following superhero film news somewhat confused. It’s going to feel like a reboot within months of (presumably) successful films.

In contrast, Marvel has invested money in major films for Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and the Incredible Hulk and will, at the very least, have introduced a lot of the other Avengers in smaller roles within those preceding films.

If there was a way to take incredibly popular comic book entities, mix them into one super-production, and then have them fail – DC has the strategy in action right this moment. When you compare that Green Lantern trailer above to the trailer for Joe Johnston's Captain America: The First Avenger or the trailer for Kenneth Branagh's Thor, you can't help but feel that one of these comic book giants is taking a serious misstep just to keep up.

Just watch, first go look at that Green Lantern trailer again. Then watch the Thor trailer...

Now, watch the Captain America trailer...

Hell, even the X-Men: First Class trailer puts it to shame...

To make this even funnier, even the upcoming video game trailer for Batman: Arkham City is better than The Green Lantern trailer.

DC is in no shape to put out a Justice League film anytime in the next 5 years. Do the legwork, build up characters in their own franchises and do it proper.

Apr
02
2011
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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