How to Make the Justice League Blockbuster Work
Hint hint: Watch season two of the animated Justice League series for the answer
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece detailing how great I thought the first season of the animated Justice League show is.
Starting from a very loose adaptation of War of the Worlds, and ending in an imaginative revised history of Nazi…medium.com
Season two was better and it’s not even close.
I’d love to detail JL season two in a separate piece but I think there’s a fun angle to play with here.
In the superhero blockbuster culture we live in right now where so many of these films are just lackluster, the Justice League film is in a mercurial space.
I watched the last half of Man of Steel and quickly saw that Zack Snyder’s direction just didn’t fit the Superman we’ve come to know, love, and loathe.
Dawn of Justice brought around the narrative from Man of Steel of Superman being the good in humanity, which I thought was a nice touch, but didn’t do a great job of humanizing Superman the character.
It’s apparent to see that Zack Snyder has struggled with his entrance into the DC universe. Snyder nailed the Watchmen film and is acclaimed for directing 300, so it’s certainly not a lack of knowing how to make a good film, but Snyder isn’t the right guy for the Justice League. But he is the guy, so expect the dark thematic elements he’s incorporated in his past films.
The dark side of heroes works in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight because this is understood as Batman’s character. We love the Batman internal struggle as a way to reflect on our own.
Superman is of the opposite kin. Superman is the outsider that comes in to represent the good in people. Superman is the moral high ground, even when it becomes despite himself.
This is best represented in two ways during Justice League season two.
Superman versus Darkseid. And Superman versus the Justice Lords.
Superman flashes his first signs of true hatred when forced to come to the aid of Darkseid who has embarrassed Superman in a previous encounter. Darkseid of course turns on a hesitant Superman and the disgruntled Superman goes on a mission to destroy Darkseid even if it threatens his own life. Batman saves Superman from himself allowing Darkseid to escape.
In the episode, A Better World, Superman opens the episode with a life changing decision to kill Lex Luthor. During the exchange, Luthor tells Superman that Superman needs Luthor. The superhero needs the supervillain in order to self serve the heroic ego. It’s the beautiful chemistry, and the Justice League’s greatest love story of the two seasons. Superman and Luthor.
Superman decision leads to the creation of the Justice Lords, changing the League into a tyrannical authority. This exists in a different dimension where the real League takes away the power of the Lords via the assistance of Lex Luthor. There’s a moment where Luthor knows he has a chance to break his word with Superman, but decides against it. It’s a touching moment where the understanding between Superman and Luthor defines their relationship.
So how does this all relate to making the Justice League blockbuster film?
Consider the stories told in the animated series. Just as I talked about in my season one breakdown, season two continues the trend of less talk, more show.
1. Less talk, more show
Superheroes are better defined by their actions when they’re in the Justice League.
In Marvel, Iron Man and Captain America have more leeway to sit around and talk to build the tension of a brewing fight, or maybe a civil war, wink wink.
In the Justice League, a villain launches a plot, and the League reacts. Sometimes the League gets their ass kicked and must regroup, or the League kicks ass but the problem is much deeper.
For the Justice League film, I would prefer the latter. The best episode of JL season two (best episode of the animated series) is Joker’s masterful Wild Card episode where the League fights the Royal Flush Gang. There’s a building tension when Joker unleashes Ace, who was the basis for his real plan.
Now because this was a Joker centric episode, Batman ultimately saves the day. So far, Lex Luthor is confirmed for the Justice League film and Jared Leto’s Joker is rumored. The ending focus should be on Batman and Superman.
Which stories do you like better? Embattled heroes embarking on a quest to defeat their internal struggles, or…medium.com
The idea of less talking and more showing, more doing, actions speaking for the League as a whole brings me to point number two.
2. Choreograph your fighting to tell a story
The first three Star Wars movies are the shining example of choreography used in swordfighting to tell a narrative without words. Whilst words were used, they were seamlessly interwoven into the fighting much like JL season two would throw in one-liners to further the story.
My assumption is that there will be a lot of talking to set up a fight in order to justify why said fight is going to occur.
There’s a lingering effect Michael Bay has left with his monstrosity known as the Transformers series. Highly criticized for being too explosion focused (who knew?) and lacking any semblance of story, Transformers has developed a lore that a movie has to have so much plot focus in order to pass as critically acceptable.
Especially a plot with depth. I’m not arguing that there shouldn’t be depth to the Justice League plot because their certainly will be, but you can’t sacrifice focus for depth of plot. The more focused the Justice League film stays, the better off the film will be.
3. Give Everyone An Appropriate Amount of Shine
It’s a lot easier in the JL animated show to distribute shine to each character of the League. But even with the show, Superman and Batman are the guys and Wonder Woman is on a pedestal when considering who gets the preferential treatment.
Superhero mashup movies like the Avengers are concerned with secondary and tertiary characters becoming the focus. Of the three Marvel mashups, Civil War did it best by focusing on it’s two primary characters Iron Man and Captain America. If their roles are the most important, than they are the focus.
Justice League has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman now all on the same screen. Superman’s role will be murky and likely far lessened due to the continuity of Dawn of Justice. My anticipation is that with so much stock DC puts into the Batman character, his role will likely be over-inflated.
What Justice League will hopefully do is give us a reason to invest some in Cyborg, Flash, and Aquaman.
It’s the dynamic of the group that is more important than the individual characters doing their thing.
Hollywood has tempered my expectations for superhero films. It must be stressful to direct these adaptations minus the paycheck.
I’m not expecting to be wowed by the Justice League blockbuster, and my best hope is that we’re surprised by what could be a good film.
But in a Hollywood superhero world, we’ll have to take what we get.
And where the hell is Green Lantern?