With the news that Gal Gadot will be playing Wonder Woman and Ray Fisher will be making an appearance as Cyborg, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Zack’s Snyder’s Batman vs Superman movie is rapidly becoming a Justice League movie. While some might be excited for the long-awaited JLA to make their first-ever live-action, big screen appearance, I can’t help but think that the way this whole project is coming about is a horrible idea, and quickly becoming in danger of careening towards disaster.
I can already hear fingers skittering across keyboards warning of me being overly paranoid. After all, the Avengers did it, and the JLA is just like the Avengers, except that their characters (for the most part) are more iconic and more well-known. Problem is, the differences don’t come CLOSE to ending there. Could a JLA movie be as well put together and as successful as The Avengers? Absolutely: if it was approached in the right way; and nothing about how Warner Bros. and DC are putting together this film suggests that a deft and delicate hand is at the helm.
I tend to chuck a lot of criticism Zack Snyder’s way, but he DOES have serious talent. I really enjoyed Legend of the Guardians and Man of Steel without an ounce of irony, and thought they were very well put together films. However, both times he had significantly less creative control (despite being director) than he had on his… less criticially acclaimed films (like Sucker Punch and Watchmen). Because of LotG being an animated film, it required significantly more coordination of story between writing and VFX production staff, and less mono-directional instruction both to those staff, and to the voice actors, from Snyder. Comparatively with Man of Steel, Snyder was reined in by the capable hand of Christopher Nolan, showing once again that the choice of a good producer on a film IS incredibly important.
The point here is that when Snyder both has a significant degree of creative control and an abundance of interaction with his cast, the combination doesn’t tend to be good for the quality of the film overall. That doesn’t mean that Snyder movies can’t have good performances in them, but rather that they become a rather mixed bag. Actors like Gerard Butler and Jackie Earle Haley who know how to wring a good performance from whatever material they’re given will reliably show up on game day, but other actors who (while talented) more heavily rely on solid direction will often flag. For instance, though Patrick Wilson and Matthew Goode have put in solid performances in other films (eg. Hard Candy and Matchpoint, respectively), both were uncharacteristically wooden and poorly realized in Watchmen. The same can be said for the majority of the supporting cast in 300, and, well… the entire cast of Sucker Punch.
A director who can handle actors well can get decent performances from their cast regardless of their perhaps not being Oscar calibre, but a director of actors Zack Snyder is not; and this weakness gets magnified when he is put in charge of movies with a large ensemble cast (again, Watchmen, 300, Sucker Punch).
Contrast this with the choice of Joss Whedon to direct Avengers. I’m a fan of Whedon, but not to the point of obsession that his vast army of Internet Whedonites are. However, one thing I can’t deny that he does extremely well are ensemble pieces. Buffy, Firefly, Dollhouse: all of these were written and populated with characters whose relationships were the heart and soul of their respective universes. The importance of those kinds of relationships among the JLA is just as, if not MORE important due to the Icons that populate its ranks.
Most people tend to be familiar with the fact that Superman has become less popular in the past few decades, owing to the assumption that he simply isn’t relatable enough. Though comic book afficionados know differently, it takes a LOT of narrative work to make his complexity come across to the general public. At least an entire movie’s worth. Thankfully, Supes has Man of Steel to serve as a prequel to endear the audience to who he is as a person. The thing that Warner Bros. seems to be forgetting is that the same could be said for the remainder of the JLA as well. We might have Nolan’s TDK trilogy to inform us of who Batman is, but as Hans Zimmer(composer for TDK’s iconic score) has said about the new films:
“It’s a new Batman that needs to have its own autonomous life. I don’t want to go and appropriate that […] into the other Batman.”
A new Batman (with a different identity than the one that protected the Nolanverse) needs the same kind of attention that the previous Batman got in terms of allowing the audience time to understand who he is, in order to build the kind of empathetic relationship with an audience that Christian Bale was able to.
While this might have been possible (though difficult) in a Batman vs Superman movie, throwing 3+ other hugely complex characters into the mix and still hoping to get the same degree of fully realized cohesiveness that Avengers had would be nigh impossible with a 2 or even 3-hour runtime.
Avengers managed to circumvent this problem by being, ostensibly, a sequel to five other films. It offloaded the brunt of the character development for each Avenger as an individual, allowing the movie itself to focus on the character development of the team as its own character. Batman-Superman/JLA doesn’t have that same kind of narrative support backing it: with the exception of Man of Steel, we’ll be introduced to these characters for the first time, many of whom have struggled to have their own stories done justice in the source material (Wonder Woman in particular languished in mediocrity for the better part of 50 years)!
True, there was a Green Lantern movie, but it bombed so horribly both critically and at the box office that DC has very quietly not-mentioned it out of existence. The Flash is getting his own spinoff series: one with an actor and writers that are completely unproven insofar as to whether they can portray the character well. Even if they can, the disparity between the budget for an ongoing TV show and that of a feature film is a factor. The Flash costume as it currently stands looks like a child’s Power Ranger Halloween outfit. I could very well be wrong, but as it now stands, I feel like the translation of such an outfit to the big screen would look flat-out silly.
The entire situation just feels as though DC is attempting to desperately play catch-up with the universe that Marvel has created. That in itself is nothing new, but the haste with which they’re attempting to slap together a ramshackle DCU place them in danger of creating nothing more than a rickety clusterfuck of two-tone characters and confusing dynamics between them that’s bound to come crashing down around their ears when forced to the support the weight of fan’s expectations.