While Zack is away, here’s his pal Andy Feldman filling in with his thoughts on the theoretical Justice League movie.
News broke last week that Ben Affleck was in line to direct Warner Bros.’s attempt at making big, Avengers-like bucks with a movie about the Justice League. This news was promptly followed by a statement from Affleck’s reps saying that he’ll likely take a meeting, but that’s as far as it can go. Nevertheless, even the hypothetical involvement of Affleck brings to light how serious the honchos at Warner are about making sure a Justice League movie doesn’t become the mega-budgeted equivalent of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four (or Tim Story’s Fantastic Four, for that matter). They are clearly looking at directors who may have the skill to pull off such a feat, but that doesn’t leave the project without some concerns.
First of all, a Justice League movie is by no means a bad idea. The Avengers proved you can take a collection of superheroes from their own respective realities, throw them into a pot, cook for two and a half hours and come up with a delicious cinematic experience. Though with The Avengers, most of the heroes had already been established on screen, had the time to grow separate fan bases, even with the knowledge of a big, bombastic crossover movie coming soon. With a potential Justice League flick, well, it should prove more difficult.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman series just ended (in case you didn’t know). No one’s clamoring for a new take on the Caped Crusader just yet, but I’m sure if one were to come out tomorrow, besides the usual “too soon” complaints, we’d all be lining up to see it. Because Batman has a universal appeal. He’s a real man without any powers. It puts the possibility that we could do this, a point that’s actually made in The Dark Knight Rises. Anyone could put on a suit and fight crime. It’s an insane notion that no regular person would do (save for maybe Phoenix Jones), but the fantasy makes the character more relatable.
The other heroes that would be standing by Batman’s side in the face of danger? Not so much. No one can deny that Superman is an American treasure (let’s not even start with how popular he is on Krypton…oh, wait, never mind), but that may be an old fashioned concept at this point. Before my midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, they showed the teaser for Zack Snyder’s upcoming Man of Steel. Some schmuck in the audience shouted, “Superman sucks!” There were groans for the dummy to shut up, but nobody refuted him. And the fact of the matter is that this younger generation does think that Superman sucks. It doesn’t help that the last movie blew chunks, but the whole idea of a guy who just flies, lifts up heavy things and flies some more while no intelligent person can put two and two together regarding his secret identity because glasses are apparently better than a mask…it’s hard to swallow at this point. Plus, flying, super strength and x-ray vision? It’s all kind of Super Powers 101, isn’t it?
Then there are the other heroes. What can Green Lantern do? Create metaphysical objects with his mind? Cool…sort of. But when you tack on the fact that he gets his powers from a magical alien piece of jewelry, it’s a tad laughable. And it really doesn’t help that they’ve already tried and failed to bring Green Lantern to cinemas; even Peter Sarsgaard’s giant, varicose-veined head and Geoffrey Rush’s calm fish-dude couldn’t save that stinker. But beyond that, all the other DC heroes come off as a little bland. What’s Wonder Woman remembered for? She’s got bracelets, a whip and an invisible jet. But who is she? What are some of her more famous storylines? The Flash? He’s fast and wears a red tracksuit. But who are his foes? What’s his origin story? Seriously, off the top of your head, anything? Now think of the Marvel heroes. Spider-Man: he’s a teenager whose parents left him in the care of his kindly aunt an uncle, then said uncle is killed because the kid made a tragic mistake, and now he has to make amends for that error for the rest of his life. Wolverine: he’s an amnesiac healer with anger issues, a soft heart and a mysterious past who was experimented on and now has remarkable metal all over his bones. Jean Grey: a telekinetic and telepathic doctor who underwent a dramatic transformation into the Phoenix only to let her powers get the best of her and make a dramatic switch from hero to villain. There’s complexity there, there’s back-story, and if someone wants to label me as biased or say I’m lacking in knowledge, I won’t stop you, and by all means, please enlighten me. But I guarantee if I asked anyone my age who does not happen to be a comics fanatic, they could tell me all about Gambit and nothing about Green Arrow.
My point is that with the Marvel crew, there’s youth, there are real world parallels. The characters from DC, save for Batman, just don’t have that same kind of real world connection, at least to audiences made up of my generation. The heroes come from a world of optimism, of color, of flashy costumes and simplistic powers. While that initially sounds like the greatest example of escapism ever, something going to the movies is supposed to be about, my generation and those younger than me are filled with a snarky anger that’s hard to pacify. We’ve been raised on battles, whether it’s between reality show combatants or red states and blue states or our soldiers versus terrorists that mean to and have done us harm. So even though the DC-verse is the pinnacle of comic book lore and represents good vs. evil through and through, we’ve been raised to digest nothing but grit, realism and darkness now. We don’t want cartoons.
This is just one side of the matter, though. Those at the helm have a lot to do with the success of the story as much as the mythology does. Tim Burton’s Batman movies were successful because they introduced people to a Gothic world that looked cool and had intriguing villains. Then Joel Schumacher came along, and that ended in neon lights and bat nipples (although I’ll admit a certain love for Batman Forever, but it is pretty terrible, if you think about it). Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series was successful for the most part, content-wise, but there was a certain level of camp to it all, as that’s just Raimi’s style, and that all came to a head with the dreadful third entry. Bryan Singer’s two X-Men movies paved the way for how a comic book movie could be done well, and then Brett Ratner defecated all over that with The Last Stand. And we won’t even go into Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil or Ghost Rider; the less said about those, the better. My point is that with the right director and writers, people who have a vision that not only stays true to the source material but also manages to turn our expectations upside-down and deliver us something unexpected, then it doesn’t matter how popular the hero was or is. Do you see anyone really asking for a movie about Ant Man? No. Who the hell’s Ant Man? But with Edgar Wright behind the lens, excitement is building, because he’s an interesting and popular cult filmmaker.
Which brings me to Affleck the director. Now Affleck the actor, while not great, gets a bad rap, in my opinion. Look at Good Will Hunting. Look at Chasing Amy. Look at…well, that might be it (he cries in Armageddon, doesn’t he? That’s good acting, right?). But Affleck the director is certainly two for two, and his performance in The Town can actually be ranked among his best, and Argo looks to be a winner as well. Though he gets much flack as an actor, he is an actor first, and that makes him well suited as a director to get A+ performances from his cast. He led Amy Ryan and Jeremy Renner to get Oscar nominations for their roles, after all. And even if his actors never get awards attention ever again, he still lines up a fantastic bevy for his movies. I doubt this will change.
So until there’s an official confirmation that Affleck doesn’t want the job or someone else is taking the reins, for the purposes of this essay, I’m going to stick with the potential of Affleck directing and say it doesn’t bother me at all. Is he the greatest choice for the job? Who knows? There are plenty of other directors out there who could do wonders with a superhero franchise (Duncan Jones? Rian Johnson?), but Affleck appears to have the writing chops, the directing ability, and just the right amount of grit, realism and darkness a superhero movie needs in this post-Dark Knight world.
Of course, a superhero movie doesn’t need to be nothing but grit, realism and darkness; Watchmen wasn’t perfect, and the aforementioned Daredevil was a bit of a mess (didn’t I say the less said about it, the better? Oh well). There’s certainly room for light, flashy and hopeful, and that’s probably what my fellow millennials and I need right now. The only thing that matters is whether or not the story is good. So what needs to happen is Warner Bros. needs to concentrate on this movie and this movie alone. They are probably planning to branch off from a Justice League movie and start a whole mess of franchises, and who’s to say that hasn’t already started if Henry Cavill’s new Superman will be the Superman who fights alongside Aquaman? I, for one, think this world is big enough for two Supermans, but I digress. I know Warner Bros. is in the business of making money and making as much of it as possible, but instead of setting up sequels and spin-offs from the get-go, those should be rendered afterthoughts, allowing all focus to be centered on a narrative and theme that will make Justice League as amazing as it can be. Only then will the appeal of Superman come back, as well as any love Green Lantern may have forfeited with his CGI onesie, as well as some new love for relative strangers like the Martian Manhunter. The big ol’ Avengers plan worked once, but there’s no guarantee lightning will strike twice, and yes, that’s a good place for a Thor pun, but I will not make one, so sorry.
If anything should be emulated by The Avengers, it should be putting all faith into a storyteller who cares for his characters and treats them all with respect. A storyteller who has a keen eye for how a movie should look, sound and feel. A storyteller with the ability to handle a large, rabid fan base who will scrutinize everything you do, call you names and deem you unworthy of such a task, even if they love everything you have done up to that point. Ben Affleck is a blossoming director who has experience as a tabloid fixture with many run-ins with the paparazzi. Those are his superpowers: talent, and thick skin. I think he’d do just fine.