Following the success of The Avengers, which pulled in a
monstrous Hulking $1.5 billion at the global box office, attention has turned to fellow comic book publisher-turned movie studio DC and their own superhero team-up film. As Marvel plots out phase two of their shared cinematic universe, DC is just now attempting to connect their upcoming film properties - in the interest of delivering an equally profitable (and hopefully satisfying) Justice League movie.
Studios are aware that, eventually, the superhero movie bubble could burst and with only Man of Steel in full-scale production, DC is left with basically two options: 1) green light a number of standalone hero films with a Justice League movie roughly four-to-five years out or 2) start with a mega-blockbuster team-up and then spin-off worthwhile solo films afterwards. While option one resulted in one of the most memorable superhero movies of all time for Marvel, insider reports out of Warner Bros. seem to indicate that the studio appears anxious to get Justice League into production ahead of further standalone projects.
Admittedly, in addition to Henry Caville's Superman, other previously established DC movie characters could see a return in the Justice League. Regardless of the standalone film quality, Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern is a possibility - and, given the right script or a lot of money, DC could potentially pull a Batman out of Nolan's trilogy franchise (even though all signs point to a Justice League reboot of the caped crusader). That said, even if a few familiar faces return, a good chunk of the ensemble will be unfamiliar to a lot of moviegoers. At the very least, viewers (especially casual filmgoers) wouldn't outright know the intricacies of each character, even if they know the basic premise for each hero, which could lead to a convoluted Justice League experience.
In our one-on-one interview Marc Chu, ILM Avengers Animation Director, asserted that Marvel's approach to the superhero mash-up, introducing the characters in their own standalone films first, was essential in making the ensemble work - since the intricacies of each character had already been established before they "assembled." Instead of bogging viewers down in exposition, The Avengers ensemble succeeded because each character ducked in and out of the overarching story and action set-pieces, providing audiences with a "nice little wine tasting," as Chu describes it, of the diverse team of heroes:
It was like a nice little wine tasting of Iron Man. And it was like that for all the other characters. I think it was a good balance of how they introduced the characters [through individual films in the shared universe]. In that final battle, it was a balancing act when you have all these superheroes competing for screen time. I think Josh did a great job in making sure that they all had their voice and we weren’t missing them too much.
Following up on the challenges of an ensemble superhero movie, we asked Chu for his thoughts on DC's shared universe approach - specifically the rumors that many characters in the proposed Justice League film would be introduced as part of the team only to receive standalone films after their appearance in the mash-up film.
Oh, that’s interesting. I don't think it would have worked as well. I think the success of this movie is purely built on Marvel and Kevin's vision to get to that goal. To introduce you to this group who has pulled together. You’ve seen the movie, they’re not one happy family right at the beginning they’re all fighting with each other, they all have issues with one another. So I think it was only fitting to have them be united by a common enemy - forcing them to deal with each other. I mean The Hulk punches Thor right? It’s like “Okay I hate you, you’re a good ally but I still hate you for what you did to me. So I don't think it would’ve worked because you don't have the back story of the characters, because they do function so independently and they all have their own worlds. If I just saw a movie that would start off with all of them I’ll be like, “So Thor is a God, but how did he get to earth and where’s he…” So you kind of need to tell those stories to tell how they got there. It’s like, “Okay So Captain America was created from a super soldier project in World War II, but how is he here in modern time? You can't tell that without explaining the origin story.
Chu's sentiments echo concerns voiced by comic book, and movie fans, regarding DC and Warner Bros. approach to a Justice League shared universe - which, on the surface, lacks the patience and investment that payed off big time for Marvel. It's certainly possible, with the darker toned DC script and the right director at the helm, that DC could pull double-duty and deliver a quality Justice League film experience that also sets the stage for standalone spinoff films. Though, as Chu hinted with his "wine tasting" analogy, there's also a tremendous risk for lesser-known characters to get lost in the shuffle - potentially spoiling the chance that they'll ever see their own films outside of the ensemble.
The relationship between Loki and Thor added a lot to The Avengers, as did Captain America's "fish out of water" shtick. Most notably, the death of supporting player, Agent Coulson, is ultimately responsible for uniting the superhero team - a testament to just how important prior continuity and inter-connectivity was in Marvel's efforts.
Of course Chu isn't saying a good Justice League movie would be impossible without standalone films: there's no written rule for superhero mash-ups and nothing that says DC needs to follow Marvel's footsteps; however, time and time again, we've seen superhero movies crushed under the weight of two many competing character stories (Iron Man 2, Batman & Robin, etc.) - so it's hard to argue with Chu's logic. Most moviegoers are rooting for a DC shared universe and will likely line up for a Justice League film - even if the ultimate experience doesn't hit Avengers quality. However, DC probably does need to be mindful of the longterm effects of whatever approach they take - as rushing a Justice League movie with only a few (possibly one) shared universe characters could hurt their chances of bigger box office money (and further movie experiences) down the line.
For more on ILM’s contributions to The Avengers be sure to check out The Avengers Blu-ray (read our review) and check back soon for more Avengers interviews.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future interviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.
The Avengers is now available on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD.