The experience of watching Justice League comes with a powerful sense of deja vu: isn’t this just a bit similar to The Avengers? Sure, it’s the first time Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) teamed with The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to save the world but it’s understandable if fans feel like they’ve been through this before – and it was better the first go around.
This is because Justice League feels an awful like The Avengers, in a great many ways. Right down to the presence of Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed The Avengers for Marvel, and was chosen by DC Films to not only direct reshoots but oversee Justice League‘s post-production. As a result, Justice League delivers much of what The Avengers innovated in the summer of 2012, but without the overwhelming success and acclaim Marvel’s Phase 1 capper earned.
Marvel Studios can rightly be lauded for the method they used to create the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Starting with Iron Man, four of the six core members of the Avengers headlined their own successful films before assembling in a huge superhero team up. Fans got to know Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and the Hulk in their solo outings (though Mark Ruffalo would take over the role of Hulk/Bruce Banner from Edward Norton, it all worked without a hitch). Even Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) were properly established by guest starring in the previous films before everything coalesced in The Avengers under Joss Whedon’s guidance. Marvel took their time, played their hand, and the massive success they reaped speaks to how brilliantly Marvel’s Phase 1 master plan was executed.
DC Films obviously wanted to emulate Marvel’s success but went about creating the DCEU in almost the exact opposite method. While filming was still underway on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in the fall of 2014, Justice League (originally intended as a two-parter) was formally announced. After 2013’s Man of Steel established Superman (and only Superman, though the film contains a tiny Easter egg about Wayne Industries) in this universe, it was decided Batman v Superman would be a gigantic grab bag to introduce the multiple components of the Justice League all at once. Wonder Woman would have a major role while the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg would have cameos to establish their existence in the DCEU. Dream sequences would also establish the Justice League villains, revealed to be Steppenwolf and the Parademons invading from Apokolips.
With only Superman and Batman – divisive incarnations of both for fans at that – actually established (thankfully Wonder Woman not only impressed fans in BvS but won the world over with her solo film, the most acclaimed DCEU movie to date), DC Films seemed to be putting the cart before the horse. Zack Snyder, who certainly has a great many fans and defenders, promised a lighter, more fun and optimistic tone for Justice League and the DCEU.
However, when his assembly cut of the film wasn’t well-received, some outside help was brought in to punch up the screenplay: Joss Whedon, the Avengers mastermind who was now estranged from Marvel and was announced as the writer-director of DC’s Batgirl. When Snyder had to step away from Justice League due to a family tragedy, Whedon was given the reins to direct approximately two months of reshoots and to oversee the film’s post-production.
Instead of coming up with a new type of superhero story as the Justice League‘s first adventure, DC instead ultimately hewed all-too-closely to the formula Whedon used for Avengers. Both films have many basic similarities in their plots: six superheroes having to form a team to stop an alien invasion; cubes which are alien power sources; space portals the aliens come through; only one female hero can be a founder of the team; the heroes lose the first fight but win in the end, etc.
How much this was the original plan is unclear, but it must have been a no-brainer for Whedon to step in since what he was asked to complete in Snyder’s place was already so familiar to him. Whedon punched up the humor, literally brightened the picture, and gave Justice League some of the crowd-pleasing touches he already knew worked for The Avengers. Unlike Avengers, however, Justice League was mandated by the studio to come in at 2 hours long, which caused many scenes to be deleted and affected the pacing of the story.
With lots of scenes already shown in the trailers cut out of the final picture and the respective visions of two directors visibly clashing, Justice League feels like not just a clone of Marvel and Whedon’s previous success but also a weird chimera of a movie that seems to be missing some of its own necessary body parts. Yes, it’s certainly a Justice League movie, but it’s hardly an original movie by any means, even considering the derivative nature of the superhero genre. Even its marketing reeked of similarity: Justice League‘s trailers feature a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together” not unlike how The Avengers‘ trailer utilized Nine Inch Nails’ “We’re In This Together”.
It’s hard to blame DC Films and Warner Bros. for hoping their crown jewel would equal the success of Marvel. The lesson here is in how the entire DCEU was rushed from inception without exercising the patience and necessary steps (as well as learning from trial and error) that Marvel took to ensure the success they currently enjoy. Many fans naturally ask why the Justice League teamed up before Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg had their solo features first – or before Ben Affleck’s Batman even had a movie of his own to better establish the DCEU’s version of the Dark Knight to further wipe the slate clean from his controversial depiction in BvS.
The answer to all questions is simply: there was pot of gold DC and WB imagined at the end of the Justice League rainbow, and they wanted it quickly and at all costs, even before the League itself was truly ready to win over the world. Instead, they hedged their bets with a case of monkey-see/monkey-do and tried to ride Marvel’s original Avengers wave. The result is another DC movie not just dividing fans but now also disappointing at the box office. Hopefully, for the sake of the Justice League and its fans, the ride ain’t over yet.
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