Thursday, January 3, 2013

A League of Their Own

"Hol, look at the camera! Jordan, stop making a face! Okay, everybody, say: ' Spandex!'"
The internet (or, at least, some corners of it) have been abuzz the last couple of days with rumors about the upcoming (two or more years from now) Justice League movie. Of course, the rumors (provided by Cosmic Book News) aren't exactly earth-shattering:
The team will consist of Superman (the version from the coming Man of Steel film), Wonder Woman, the Flash, the Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern (a revamped version from the eponymous but ill-received 2011 movie), and Batman. Aquaman will also figure into the film as the King of Atlantis. Alfred Pennyworth and Lois Lane will have cameos, and the bad guy is Darkseid - or at least his elite underlings.
Given the huge critical and financial success of Joss Whedon's Avengers movie, it makes sense that Warner Bros. would be anxious to get DC's super team into theaters as quickly as possible.
I'm just not sure that - if there is any validity to the rumors above - they're going about it in quite the right way.
What made The Avengers work - really work - was the fact that audience members were familiar with these characters in their big screen versions already. There had been two movies familiarizing everyone with why and how Tony Stark became Iron Man, one origin film for the Hulk and one tying the character more solidly into the Marvel universe (and traditional comic-action-film storytelling), Thor and Captain America each had their own origin stories, and Black Widow and Hawkeye's assets to the team had already been demonstrated in Iron Man 2 and Thor, respectively. Nick Fury and Phil Coulson had made cameos across many of the films, Dr. Selvig was introduced in Thor, and Pepper Potts was principal support in the Iron Man franchise. Even the villain of the film, Loki, was carried over from Thor.
Honestly, this was all the character background I needed.
There was a little bit of exposition to catch folks up or somewhat clarify things for the uninitiated, but the fact that the film didn't need to establish in-depth character biographies and motivations for all of the major players before getting into the action, made this team film work where others have failed.
Background on all of the team members probably wouldn't have been necessary, but - if audiences didn't already know Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, and the God of Thunder's stories at least,  The Avengers would have been a very superficial film, in my opinion, and only comic book geeks like myself would have been invested in the characters.
It would still be enjoyable, and I know a few people who hadn't seen any of the preceding films who still enjoyed it. However, I really don't think that was an enormous part of the audience.
Really, this costume was even pushing
it a little. Not that I'm complaining...
It sounds like Zack Snyder's earlier assertion that The Man of Steel would exist in its own universe has been amended somewhat to allow for Superman's inclusion into the proposed 2015 Justice League film, but Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise was intentionally so grounded in reality that it is mostly only allegorical to the Batman mythos, and it is difficult to imagine a man in red spandex who can run at the speed of light existing in the same world as The Dark Knight. Besides, the conclusion of The Dark Knight Rises leaves "Batman" in such a way that incorporating him into a new team movie would probably not work very well. For more on that: check out this spoiler-heavy article on
What does that leave us with, then: A Superman that we've only seen for a few seconds in a couple trailers and a Green Lantern that not many people liked? (And, according to analysts, severely underperformed at the box office.)
I re-watched the introductory movie for the 2001 Justice League animated series to refresh my memory on how that team was introduced. The first act of the alien invasion story utilized Batman and Superman almost exclusively, with cameos from Flash (whom we had met previously in an episode of The Adventures of Superman animated series) and Diana-soon-to-become-Wonder-Woman. J'onn J'onzz a.k.a the Martian Manhunter was revealed at the end of the first act as tangential to the alien invasion, and we get his origin story. The two remaining members of the team - the John Stewart Green Lantern and Hawkgirl - were introduced unceremoniously at the beginning of the second act with Stewart apologizing to Superman for being late so that we know he and the Big S have already met. Hawkgirl's introduction to the audience occurs by Superman exclaiming something to the effect of "Hey, what's Hawkgirl doing here?" This way we know that he at least knows who she is. Wonder Woman (who isn't called that by anyone in this episode) shows up, explains who she is to the assembled heroes, and states that she wants to help. And that's it.
Now, this speedy exposition only works for a few reasons:
"And if you threw a party, i-i-nvited everyone you knew, you
would see, the biggest gift would be from me, and the card
attached would sa-a-ay . . ."
1) The Batman and Superman of this universe, at this point, had each had long-running cartoon series in which they encountered many super-powered villains and heroes and had even crossed over into one another's storylines. We know that this Batman and this Superman exist in the same universe and that this universe has heroes we haven't met yet.
2) It's a series. We know we will get the details about these newly-introduced characters somewhere further down the line. As for their motivations? Earth is under attack by aliens. The rest is just details.
3) It's a cartoon. Audience expectations are lower. (So is the production expense.)
I don't think the Justice League movie is going to actually happen in 2015. In fact, I actually hope it doesn't happen. I think it will be bad - messily bad - without a bit more prelude, and especially so, if it attempts to incorporate the world of the Nolan Batman.
I think they could get away with rebooting Batman in the Justice League movie, provided that they follow-up that reboot with a stand-alone Batman film. (And, that may be the plan as there are some rumors of a 2016 Batman reboot.) However, I feel they're going to have to do at least a partial reboot of Green Lantern as well - even if they choose to keep Ryan Reynolds in the mask. (I'd be okay with that. He wasn't what was wrong with that movie.) They might also get away with a "quickie" origin story for Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter as in the animated series, but that hinged upon an alien invasion story, which is a little too similar to The Avengers. This still leaves the Flash and Aquaman as unknown quantities in this new movie's universe, and, while I and the other comic book geeks will be able to follow along just fine, if Warner Bros. wants to make their money back, they've got to reach a wider audience.
"No cagarla. No cagarla. No cagarla...
So, here's my wholly unsolicited advice:
1) Move Justice League to 2016. Do it now. Man of Steel is still an unknown. Warner Bros. thought Green Lantern would be a slam dunk, and Green Lantern costumes were on the discount rack this Halloween.
"In my satin tights,
Fightin' for my rights,
And the old red, white, and blu-u-ue..."
2) Dig a little deeper into the Justice League roster. The Avengers movie only used three of the five actual founding members from the comic book. Warner Bros. might want to consider leaving Batman and Superman off the main roster. If Man of Steel cleans up, then Superman can have a small, but significant cameo. That's often how he was utilized in the animated series. Superman has a way of making others' super powers redundant. Speaking of redundant, you don't really need Superman if you've got the Martian Manhunter. Batman can be a presence in the film, but he's not really a team player anyway. While we're at it, let's leave Green Lantern in outer space as well - at least the Hal Jordan version. Think about characters like Black Canary, The Atom, and Hawkman or Hawkgirl (but not both).
3) Make a Flash movie. (Not a flash movie, a Flash movie.) Off-hand, I'd say give the Wachowskis a crack at it. Make a Wonder Woman movie. (J.J. Abrams, Simon West, Curtis Hanson, Kathryn Bigelow, Joe Wright, Renny Harlin?) I don't know precisely what was behind the failure of the 2011 Wonder Woman pilot because I never saw it, but I'd be willing to bet it wasn't Adrianne Palicki's fault.
If audiences respond to the Flash and Wonder Woman, then you've got a strong foundation for a team film, and give Sylvain White another shot. The Losers is a highly under-rated film.

But, that's just one man's opinion.

"The Ballad of Barry Allen" by Jim's Big Ego:

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