Warning: the following contains spoilers for Justice League
After two polarizing films from director Zack Snyder, Warner Bros. was concerned that the DC Extended Universe wouldn’t survive another release with similar issues, so Joss Whedon was brought in to punch up dialogue, lighten the tone, and establish more connective tissue for Justice League. It was widely preached by those involved that Whedon was simply following a roadmap established by Snyder and wouldn’t drastically change the plan, but the final product says something else entirely, with obvious Zack Snyderisms kept to an absolute minimum in favor of a far simpler plot and a lot more comedic relief.
Unfortunately, the massive adjustment didn’t work out as WB intended. Instead of offering enough Zack Snyder to appease fans of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman mixed with enough Joss Whedon to draw in more casual audiences to love The Avengers, Justice League resulted in what many consider a worst of both worlds situation where an overly simplistic plot and shallow villain are accompanied by tonal whiplash, masked with the obvious seams of reshoots and bad mustache replacements, resulting in another critical lashing, an opening weekend box office that doesn’t even hit $100 million, and a second weeked box office where it’s overshadowed by a Pixar movie. With Star Wars: The Last Jedi on the way, Justice League’s box office troubles will only become worse in the coming weeks.
So, things may seem pretty bleak, but there’s a number of things Warner Bros. should do with the DCEU before it needs to consider something as drastic as abandoning a connected universe, shelving team-up films, or rebooting altogether.
One of the most prominent sentiments of fans coming out of Justice League was that “Warner Bros. blinked.” After two polarizing Zack Snyder movies leading into Justice League with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, the studio was clearly worried that Justice League would see a similar result and took evasive action to try to salvage the movie, reshooting and re-editing significant portions to simplify the story, lighten the tone, and change the characters – particularly Superman.
On one hand, the decision makes a lot of sense. After taking similarly drastic measures with Suicide Squad, the villain team-up went on to score big at the box office, despite scathing reviews. If the lesson learned by WB in that case was that meddling works – citing box office numbers as evidence – instead of learning that meddling is bad by assuming the reviews wouldn’t have been much better with Ayer’s original darker take, then the same logic is clearly being applied with Justice League. The only problem is it completely backfired this time.
Instead of potentially sacrificing reviews for box office or vice versa, Justice League split the DC fanbase between those who wanted a proper conclusion to Man of Steel and Batman v Superman and those that wanted something lighter, and the movie ultimately didn’t even serve to increase the audience. Justice League ended up not only underperforming but doing so to a tune of $20 million less than the first movie in the franchise, Man of Steel.
It’s not even clear that Justice League will even make a profit, but at this point the difference between barely squeaking by with a profit and the amount it should have made is so vast that even a “profitable” Justice League can’t be referred to as a success story.
Fortunately, Justice League is the first DCEU flick that can be definitively considered a bomb. BvS and MoS may have underperformed, but Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman both exceeded expectations, and Warner Bros. had some big hits in 2017, meaning it can afford to take a hit on something like Justice League without having to make snap judgments about canceling, rebooting, or anything of that nature. In fact, the DCEU is currently poised for its best run yet, and WB needs to let it happen.
Aquaman, Shazam, and Wonder Woman 2 are all different from previous DC films and helmed by competent directors. Warners needs to take faith in that fact and not try to change those films in reaction to Justice League. Let James Wan do his thing with Aquaman, let David F. Sandberg do his thing with Shazam, and let Patty Jenkins do her thing (again) with Wonder Woman. If all three of those films can get a positive reaction and do well financially, the failure of Justice League will be ancient history as the franchise moves forward.
That rule shouldn’t only apply to the upcoming solo-films either. There’s been a lot of discussion suggesting WB may abandon team-ups and more connected movies in favor of smaller stand-alone stories. While more stand-alone movies (taking place within the shared universe but without major crossover) could be a great thing, WB also needs to not blink when it comes to the Justice League and future team-ups. There are currently no Justice League movies on the calendar, but the failure of this first team-up shouldn’t deter WB from (carefully) looking into a sequel.
Justice League may have done a dirty job, but now these characters are out there in a way general audiences seem to appreciate more, and the hype generated from the post-credits scene with Luthor and Deathstroke needs to be acted upon. Stuff like the Justice League vs the Injustice League is the reason people show up to these movies in the first place. Putting in the work to make that movie possible, then shying away from the payoff would be a mistake.
Page 2: Branding and Budgeting
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