Now that WB has shown they’re not going to follow Marvel’s formula – with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice introducing multiple Justice League characters immediately – it seems possible to avoid some of the same growing pains. Beginning with the fact that the film’s title heroes aren’t being ‘recruited’ for some grander purpose at all.
Many scoffed at the idea that DC and WB wouldn’t follow directly in Marvel’s footsteps by giving each hero an introduction origin film, all leading to a team-up (actors Armie Hammer and even Henry Cavill among them). But at the time, all parties involved were assuming that Man of Steel would give way to a titled and marketed Justice League story – essentially taking a shortcut to Marvel’s ‘payoff’ film. Now, we know that is far, far from the case.
Despite the rumors and skepticism, WB has gone ahead with their less predictable plan, shrugging off the pyramid-shaped structure used by Marvel and introducing (at the very least) Ben Affleck’s new Batman alongside Henry Cavill’s Superman, with a new Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) in the mix as well. Don’t call this a team-up, however: the title confirms Bats and Supes will be opposed, with Wonder Woman’s role a total mystery.
The reasons why Ben Affleck’s Batman would take issue with Superman can be deduced by all who witnessed Man of Steel‘s fallout on Metropolis, and is the first sign that WB may be letting their characters guide their universe, not simply following a marketing strategy that was successful for another studio. At present, it seems that Batman’s immediate role in Dawn of Justice is holding Superman accountable for the events in his standalone film; a refreshing twist, and one that the most devoted DC Comics fans know is 100% faithful to their respective histories.
But what any other heroes have to do with the story is a complete unknown. Long before Man of Steel even hit theatres, we offered an explanation of why a team-up film (then thought to be Justice League) would allow WB to draw attention to heroes capable of sustaining a solo franchise, but not popular enough to warrant one financially. Now, it seems the studio has found a way of eating their cake and having it too.
In short: a film that calls on multiple DC Comics heroes, but is not – in terms of story or marketing – intended to introduce the superhero alliance known as ‘The Justice League of America’ (at least not as most know it). Instead, audiences are set to meet an Amazonian princess in disguise (and potentially an Atlantean King) before unlocking the secrets and origins of each character in later films. In some ways, a more traditional approach to movie-making when beginning with an ensemble cast.
Mysteries abound (including whether or not one particular cast member will become a cyborg superhero over the course of the film) about how large a role – if any – the rest of the future League members may play. But when it comes to justifying team-ups and departures, a bit of mystery is a good thing. Plausible deniability, if nothing else.
If global events or catastrophes are important enough to draw the attention of new peoples, new kingdoms, or even new realms of magic existing secretly alongside our world, leaving details to be fleshed out later pays off. No overarching villain pulling the strings behind the scene means no deadline for when or how these heroes must unite. We know that they will appear in a film called Justice League in 2017, but the two-part nature of the team-up also leaves plenty of doors open for the solo films set to follow it (without the jarring departures seen in Marvel’s stable post-Avengers).
It may not be as easy to predict, but with DC’s ‘Trinity’ taking center stage as independent, enigmatic figures – before heading their separate ways unguided by some master hand – Warner Bros. has allowed creative freedom for years to come. By introducing the heroes together, the audience can’t take exception with the idea that they’ve got ‘other things to worry about’ (another distinction from Marvel). And launching the shared universe with a battle between two of DC’s biggest heroes sends a clear message that in this fiction, heroes who work together most certainly do not need to stay together.
We won’t make the case that WB will take full advantage of these differences, or handle the problems and pressures Marvel is now facing any better. For all we know, the League cast may be manipulated by some cosmic villain into uniting forces – leaving them in the same boat as their competition. But at this point, it’s worth acknowledging the restrictions and boundaries Marvel put into place to bring their universe together – and what benefits may lie in doing things another way.
What do you think of our points? Are you eager to see a DC movie universe that is free to twist, turn, or simply wander as the story demands it? Or would you prefer a more rigid structure like that of Marvel? Be sure to share your thoughts or concerns in the comments below.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters on May 6, 2016. Justice League: Part One opens in U.S. theaters on November 12th, 2017
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