Warner Bros. Pictures presented several films at its San Diego Comic-Con 2016 panel in Hall H, including the next three installments in its DC Extended Universe (established by Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice): Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Justice League. David Ayer’s DC super-villain team-up film received a rhythmically-structured preview during the panel, while Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman solo movie received its first trailer (read our breakdown and analysis of the teaser). In addition, Zack Snyder rolled out with a “surprise” reveal of a teaser trailer for Justice League (see above), offering fans their first real look at the film’s tone and the live-action versions of several key characters.
Obviously, as with all such early looks, a lot can change between now and the final release of the film, but this was no “B-reel” compilation. Cut like a trailer (to the tune of The White Stripes’ “Ickythump”) and featuring a unifying through-line of Batman and Wonder Woman traveling the world to recruit superheroes for their new team, it’s at least clear that the presentation is meant to represent what WB/DC wants people to know (or at least think for now) is the overall tone and texture of the film. That, more than anything else, is the point here: A mission statement – this is the movie you’re getting.
So what’s to be gleaned, so far?
Dawn of Justice
Justice League, judging by the initial footage, carries over the muted colors and darker visual atmosphere of Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. The main locations in the trailer included a grafitti-splattered hideout for The Flash, a poverty-blighted fishing village, a recently-wrecked city glimpsed behind Wonder Woman and more sparse, underlit warehouse/bunker locations than you can shake a stick at (obviously, there’s a lot more shooting yet to be done).
Fan reactions have proven that this particular aesthetic has both outspoken detractors and supporters – so at least for the latter audience, this is good news. Plus, in a business sense it’s logical for WB/DC to continue to establish their own unique superhero brand rather than trying to directly emulate the colorful “Silver Age” sensibility that Marvel Studios has mined with its Marvel Cinematic Universe. If nothing else, it looks like it will be easy for moviegoers to tell the Justice League and Avengers apart, in terms of color palette alone.
As pretty much everyone had expected, the main thrust of the plot looks to be driven by Batman’s absolute certainty that a cosmic-level threat is headed to Earth and that the eventual Justice League will be required to stop it. There are no Parademons, Apokoliptian vistas, Boom Tubes or even a glimpse of confirmed antagonist Steppenwolf in the trailer (in fact, there are no villains onhand thus far, period); but we do get a shot of what pretty-much has to be either a Mother Box or something to keep a Mother Box inside of (Mother Box Box?) being buried in a forest by medieval-looking persons at some point presumably in the past. Who are these folks? Atlanteans? Greeks? Someone else? Arthurian legends figure prominently in DC lore the same way Norse mythology does for Marvel, but with Warner Bros rolling out their own King Arthur franchise (with a trailer screened minutes later at the same panel, even!) would they allow that level of potential confusion?
Of course we’ve already seen one Mother Box in Batman V Superman, being used to give Cyborg his robotic replacement parts. It makes sense to use a “MacGuffin Hunt” for various Boxes as a structure to build the film around, though it will also be interesting to see what steps are taken to keep audiences and critics from reacting less-than-excitedly to the idea of another superhero team-up movie being premised around playing “hot potato” with a magic cube (one imagines the fact that the Mother Boxes have a much more specific, “big idea” sci-fi purpose than the Cosmic Cube/Tesseract will play a big part in that gambit).
Probably the biggest turnaround pre and post release for Batman V Superman was peoples’ reaction to Ben Affleck as Batman. Prior to release, many fans viewed Affleck as a potential a weak link (being the next Batman actor to follow Christian Bale). However, by the time that Batman V Superman had launched, even the film’s most ardent critics seemed to agree that Affleck’s brawny, Arkham Asylum-influenced Batman was a highlight.
As such, it’s unsurprising that it looks like almost zero change or adjustment has happened for this character in Justice League versus his portrayal in Batman V Superman – not even a costume swap, which is often a rule for superhero movies (if only to convince kids that they need to upgrade their action figures and/or Halloween plans). By now, you’ve likely decided whether or not your onboard with Affleck’s approach to playing Bruce Wayne, so the most interesting thing to note is that he does a lot of his non-combat business out of costume “as” Bruce. He’s shown introducing himself to both The Flash and Aquaman in his civvies, and also hanging out in what looks like a makeshift/pop-up Batcave with Wonder Woman in similarly casual fashion. That’s quite a switch from most prior versions of the character, which emphasized the idea that Bruce does all of his Batman-ing “as” Batman and rarely reveals his face even to his own teammates.
Granted, a lot of that is probably the reality of studios wanting the expensive movie stars hired to play these characters to show their faces as much as possible; hence why Iron Man’s faceplate flips open in a snap instead of being a helmet he has to pull on and off. And speaking of Tony Stark…
FLASH OF TWO WORLDS
One thing that viewers (especially on social media) seized on immediately from the Justice League trailer was how similar Bruce Wayne’s recruitment of The Flash (i.e. a famous billionaire in a suit is surprisingly already waiting for a young, nervously-jokey superhero to come home) was to Tony Stark scouting out Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. There’s even a beat where Bruce glances over what could be a prototype Flash costume – implying the plot detail of the rich older hero gifting his young protege new threads will be repeated as well?
Thankfully, what’s more memorable about Flash’s debut here is that Barry immediately undercuts the gravitas of the moment by cutting Bruce’s ominous recruitment speech off and volunteering straight-away because… he’s lonely.
Flash will be a closely watched character in Justice League largely because a fair-sized audience is already quite devoted to the television version of him currently heading into a third hit season on The CW. What’s noteworthy here, then, is that League doesn’t look to be going out of its way to be overwhelmingly different in its presentation of the Scarlet Speedster. He’s still the “kid” of the team, still funny, still working out of a makeshift hideout with a bunch of TVs and science equipment, etc. The armored look of the uniform is going to be an issue for some fans, given that Silver Age Barry’s “red onesie” look is pretty iconic, but the film’s interpretation of how the Speed Force works will likely draw some questions as well. It looks as though Barry steps almost-fully into another dimension when using his powers, like Frodo when wearing The One Ring. Something else to note? Clever sound design: When Barry moves his hands in any kind of gesture that would be “fast” for a normal person, you can hear a very subtle “air slice” (i.e. the “kung-fu movie arm-movement noise”) sound effect – nice touch.
Largely missing in action from the trailer? Wonder Woman – at least in-costume or engaged in any major action. Not exactly a surprise, since they had to have known that they’d be debuting this after a full-length trailer for her own movie had already run and that the point of the day was selling people on the three “new” heroes. The main takeaway from her scenes would be that her rapport and chemistry with Affleck remains strong, and that no attempt has been made to mitigate Gal Gadot’s unmistakable accent – probably a good idea, since it helps keep her performance naturalistic and adds a subtle extra layer to the idea that she’s of a different kind to the other (human) Leaguers.
NOT YOUR FATHER’S AQUAMAN
Aquaman is one of DC’s best known heroes and also one of the most unique, with a history and aesthetic that combines elements of golden age pulp adventure fiction, medieval mythology oceanic imagery. He has a cool power-set, an entirely different world to live in and explore apart from other traditional superheroes and he’s been a core part of most League incarnations for as long as anyone can remember. On the other hand, that his abilities are so unusual and that his world leans so heavily on old-fashioned pulp tropes and fairytale imagery (i.e. yes, he does in fact “talk to fish”) has often led to him being viewed as a “silly” character in need of fixing for a modern audience; often in the form of getting a weaponized hand or being transformed into a Conan-esque “badass.”
That certainly seems to be the take being leaned-into here. What are sure to be instantly-iconic shots of a buff, bearded Jason Momoa (say what you will about him as an actor, he’s got screen-presence) chugging booze straight from the bottle and standing growling at Batman are about as far away from the classic version of Aquaman (or anyone else in the DC canon outside of maybe Lobo), and more than anything else in the trailer carry forth what one has to assume (given Zack Snyder) is an implicit overall refrain that this is definitely not a “Superfriends Movie.” Beyond that, there’s not actually much to report on Aquaman from the trailer. We never hear him called by his superhero name (just “Arthur Curry”), we don’t seem him swimming, using his powers; even the trident (already glimpsed in Dawn of Justice) doesn’t make an appearance.
Outside of Wonder Woman (whose de-emphasis, as discussed, was almost certainly a conscious choice) Cyborg probably has the least screen time in the trailer, which makes total sense given that the special effects being used to create his cybernetic body are likely very expensive, time-consuming and largely unfinished. We do get a shot of him prior to his injuries and transformation, which indicates that flashbacks will be a big part of filling in the backstory gap for the new heroes. Otherwise, we see just enough to determine that his design is definitely inspired by the post-Injustice imagining of the character.
Of note, humor doesn’t seem to be part of his programming. That’s an interesting decision, considering that the main (only?) reason that the character became an A-lister and League fixture within the last decade is how popular he was with younger viewers who discovered him through the Teen Titans cartoon; where his personality was that of a boisterous, jovial hero. A team can’t have too many clowns, granted, and it looks as though Flash will be filling that particular role; but in terms of chemistry it brings the question of what exactly Cyborg’s interactions with the rest of the team will be all about.
THE BIG UNKNOWN
Considering how polished everything looked, it’s clear that we’re only seeing a tiny fraction of the final product here; with plenty of questions yet to be answered: We don’t see any of the villains, don’t get a sense of the main plot, don’t know if the League has a headquarters, don’t even known how long it will take them to actually get together. Perhaps biggest of all, there’s not even a mention of Superman or what might be going on with that particular story thread, even though he’s prominently depicted as part of the first official Justice League “lineup” photo. The takeaway for fans is that what’s already present looks big, ambitious and possessed of a clear vision, which should make everyone suitably interested to see what’s to come.
Suicide Squad is scheduled to arrive in theaters on August 5, 2016; Wonder Woman is slated for release on June 2, 2017; followed by Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash and Batman solo movie are currently without release dates.