Superhero movies and what to do with the Justice League

I’m just going to talk about comic book stuff here for a moment, feel free to back slowly away.

DC are apparently full steam ahead on a Justice League film – hoping to release it in 2013. Predictably however, the news has raised a few questions, mostly because it sounds like DC are going to attempt to do this thing in the most bizarre manner possible. Rumours are that the Justice League film will have a different Superman and Batman (and probably Green Lantern) to any other film versions, which is especially odd considering it will be released so soon after the Superman reboot starring Henry Cavill. Ironically this confusion over continuity could end up mirroring the strange state that DC comics have been in for years, where explaining how everything fits together and how the continuity works has become the main focus of the comic book story lines, and leads to DC appearing confusing and muddled to new readers (though ultimately rewarding if you persevere).

Compared to how Marvel have set up their Avengers franchise, this move seems very amateurish and ‘me-too’, although if there is one thing Marvel knows how to do it is a blockbuster-style crossover. Marvel have been building the blocks for Avengers for years, with their individual film franchises like Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and soon Captain America establishing the main cast. Doing it this way means the Avengers films won’t need to be full of explanations and origins for the ensemble cast, they can just jump straight in, plus they have evidence that the films can make money. By contrast, the Justice League film is not only going to need to explain who it’s cast members are that don’t have films yet (potentially this would be the Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, etc) but it is going to need to explain how this version of Wonder Woman differs from the TV version (if that ever sees the light of day, which it may not), and why Batman is different from the Nolan films, and how come Superman is a different take on Superman to the one you literally just saw in that other film or from Smallville. Never mind how they will all differ from the comics. It’s also going to be financially risky as it could bomb horribly, so the budget is likely to be more conservative.

There is a problem where superhero films end up just telling origin stories over and over – like in the comics where Superman’s origin is rebooted constantly. And before they can progress the series gets rebooted because it isn’t gritty enough, or it was horribly mishandled the first time round like the Marvel films handled by 20th Century Fox – with Daredevil and The Fantastic Four set for reboots. Or the Spider-Man films owned by Columbia Pictures that prevent Spider-Man from being able to appear with the other Avengers and apparently doomed to be endlessly rebooted so that Columbia don’t lose the rights to the character (rights pass back to Marvel if a new film is not made regularly). Then we get a situation where films end up trying to patch over previous mistakes or try to fit into pointless existing continuities so we get Angel Salvadore in the first X-Men team, while the Wolverine: Origin film now exists outside continuity… and a sense that things will eventually be rebooted yet again. It can end up as a big hot tranny mess.

With a bit of foresight DC could prevent this from happening to the Justice League – or at least they can set up the Justice League films within their upcoming film’s continuity. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see a Justice League film with Ryan Reynolds, Christian Bale and Henry Cavill all bringing their established characters into the mix, but I don’t think that is going to be an option. I think DC is likely hedging their bets and aiming to make a cheaper film with potential to spawn a series and they may end up basically rebooting everything.

So how can we prevent the Justice League film from getting stuck in an endless cycle of confusion, origin stories and reboots?

I’m guessing that Ryan Reynolds won’t sign on for the Justice League film as he is probably too expensive to have in a high risk ensemble cast film, so the one obvious thing they can do is to use a different (some would say, more interesting) Green Lantern. Establish Hal Jordan’s story in the Ryan Reynold’s Green Lantern film – explain who the Corps are and at the end of the film introduce a second Green Lantern for Earth that could be the one who joins the Justice League: John Stewart (more personality) or Kyle Rayner (more imaginative light constructs). Ryan can still be in continuity, and can make cameo appearances, or star in sequels.

Batman is trickier. If you ask me it would be tragic to totally reboot Batman as the Nolan version is a rather definitive origin as far as movie versions go. But there is another way – in the third Batman film, introduce Dick Grayson, the first Robin. He wouldn’t have to wear the Robin costume if it is too camp for the big screen – maybe he could wear the Nightwing costume – but basically just establish him as Batman’s successor. He would mature to be Batman in the Justice League film, rather than a Bruce Wayne Batman. This means you could still have Bruce – played by Christian Bale – making a cameo as a mentor in the Justice League film. Obviously it would be great to stick with Christian Bale as Batman but he will be a bit old and too expensive to hire for many more outings.

As far as I can see the sole reason Superman can’t be played by Henry Cavill in Justice League is because DC want to shoot both films at the same time. With Sucker Punch bombing in cinemas, I can only hope that Zack Snyder will take some of the criticism into account and make a good Superman film, though I am calling it now: slow motion bullet casings falling to the floor. No-one cares about bullet casings! If you watch Dawn of the Dead and take a drink every time a bullet casing falls to the floor in slow motion you will get pretty wrecked. Anyway, Snyder’s film will apparently deal with Superman’s very early days when he isn’t sure if he wants to be Superman, because if Smallville taught us anything it’s that whiney, mopey self-doubt is everyone’s favourite thing about Superman. Hopefully the Justice League film could contain a grown-up, confident Superman that actually does super things like punch planets and save the Universe from evil gods or tyrant suns. Oh, and why isn’t Snyder making a Flash film instead? Slow motion would be essential there, it’s the film he was born to make.

Wonder Woman is a difficult character to get right. I don’t really have any ideas for this one, except don’t make her some embarrassed teenager. Wonder Woman only works when it is assumed everyone is in awe of her basically being an actual goddess with wisdom and dignity as well as power, not just some random girl in sparkly clothes that everyone pretends don’t look like a kid’s swimsuit with toy plastic accessories from a She-Ra Halloween costume – she’s got to have gravitas (and preferably accessories made from actual metal, why make these things from plastic? I’m looking at you Magneto’s helmet in First Class and everyone’s helmets in Thor). In a similar way to Batman, the moment the overall effect isn’t convincing or someone laughs, it becomes camp and any sense of credibility is irrevocably ruined. A plastic tiara is not convincing.

This just leaves the Flash, the Martian Manhunter, and possibly Aquaman. Of the three, the Flash would be easiest to do – he’s funny, has interesting powers and is ingrained in the public consciousness – he’s pretty self-explanatory really and no-one is going to care which version of Flash it is or where the powers come from so long as he makes jokes and moves fast. Aquaman suffers from everyone just assuming he is rubbish because his name is freaking Aquaman which makes him sound like a bottled water enthusiast more than a superhero – and people won’t ever care about his origins because it features words like ‘Atlantis’ – while the Martian Manhunter suffers from no-one having a clue who, what or why he is, with – I assume – not many people even having any idea of his powers. He might risk being ridiculed for basically being a big green bald guy in bright blue pants. He looks like the Mekon hit the gym and then stole He-Man’s wardrobe. I mean, I like the guy but I think he would be a hard sell on the big screen.

As for casting I have no real idea, but I think Viggo Mortensen would be a good old surly Aquaman and would prevent the character from being thought of as weak, Joseph Gordon-Levitt could play a young Dick Grayson Batman even if he is quite small. Michelle Rodriguez is about the only actress I can think of that could be taken seriously as Wonder Woman but I am not sure she is physically imposing enough, there are probably better choices. And the Martian Manhunter could just be Dr. Manhattan recoloured green though I’d suggest making him more alien.

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