Justice League’s Dry Run: What ‘Batman vs. Superman’ Can Learn From the Animated ‘Justice League: War’
Warner Bros. has been trying to bring the Justice League to the silver screen for some time, if only to compete against Marvel’s ‘The Avengers‘ franchise. Following Christopher Nolan‘s now-famous trilogy of Batman films, Zack Snyder stepped up to the plate and served up a rebooted take on the ‘Man of Steel‘. After that film’s success, Snyder agreed to direct the follow-up, a still untitled ‘Batman vs. Superman‘ movie, which will feature three of the most famous DC heroes of all time — Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) — and will mark a major step into making ‘Justice League’ a reality.
But before that happens, Warner Bros. Animation recently released the latest the animated direct-to-DVD ‘Justice League: War,’ which unites the DC superhero team for an epic battle to save Earth from destruction, and may also serve as a dry run, for a live-action ‘Justice League’ movie.
Adapted from the Geoff Johns- and Jim Lee-created ‘Justice League: Origins’ graphic novel, ‘Justice League: War’ follows Darkseid (who is like the Thanos of the DC universe) unleashing his winged minions to take over and terraform Earth. As Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash, Superman, Cyborg and Shazam (replacing Aquaman, who was featured originally in the comic) are all dealing with the problem in separate ways, the fight soon draws them together to face Darkseid as a team.
Aside from the fact that fans of ‘Origin’ will surely find joy in seeing the comic play out on-screen, Warner Bros. should pay attention to the film’s various issues and successes. With ‘Batman vs. Superman’ on the way and the inevitable live-action ‘Justice League’ farther off still, here’s what Warners can learn from ‘War.’
Simplify the Story
'Justice League: War' opens in Gotham, where Green Lantern and Batman meet for the very first time. Both are tracking down one of Darkseid's minions -- Lantern is more interested in putting the hurt on him, while Batman tries to discover the reason behind its elusive activities. From there, the film splits off to introduce us to Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg and Shazam before finally bringing in the "big gun" with Superman.
Though there are a lot of characters to introduce into the story, most of their actions make perfect sense without seeming forced, and that's really a testament to the comic source material. 'War' is a pretty faithful adaptation of 'Origins' -- except for the glaring trade of Shazam for Aquaman (though it's explained in a post-credits scene) -- and the film maintains a lot of the same successful pacing and progressions. (Although, Green Lantern's simplistic and unprepped "plan" to gang up on Darkseid should have been more thought out.)
What ended up working for 'War' was that it wasn't overly complex. With so many moving parts -- introducing the various characters, telling an origin story for one, finding a cohesive means of teaming up -- a simple and clear threat in Darkseid and a somewhat clear path to neutralize him ended up working in the film's favor. So for the big-screen 'Justice League,' David S. Goyer (who we're predicting will script it) should take a hint and realize there's beauty in simplicity.
Don't Spread the Characters Too Thin
A common problem that can occur with major team-ups with all kinds of moving parts is the watering down of certain characters, and, unfortunately, that's part of the problem of 'Justice League: War.'
Wonder Woman, voiced by 'True Detective' star Michelle Monaghan, is, at worst, a caricature of a time-displaced ancient Amazonian who shouts overly enthusiastic phrases with gusto. There are a few opportunities for her character to show more depth or personality -- mainly her introductory scene where she's faced with a crowd protesting her pagan beliefs and hack-n-slash way of solving problems -- though she's unable to provide anything more than surface emotions and responses.
The cause in this case is likely the film's short running time. In 79 minutes, 'War' introduces all the characters, bands them together, and pits them against the villain (with a few complications along the way), which is kind of an impressive feat, though it leaves little room for, say, Superman to do little else besides roughing up some baddies.
We do get to see an interesting relationship form between Cyborg and Shazam -- mainly because the former gets his origin story told and the latter is slightly involved -- but for the most part, the characters left us wanting more, which is what a feature-film rendition should be keeping in mind.
Don't Overload on Origin Stories
In this origin story of 'Justice League,' as is also the case in the source material, only one singular character gets his personal origin story -- Cyborg. 'War' sees Victor Stone as a promising young football player who, in confronting his scientist father at S.T.A.R. labs for not supporting and being there for him enough, suffers major injuries from one of Darkseid's explosions. To save his son, Silas Stone merges him with technology that transforms him into the half-robot, half-human Cyborg.
While it may be tempting for Warner Bros. and DC to offer up an extensive background on more heroes besides Stone, doing so would've meant cutting out more time from the rest of the film, and for the upcoming 'Justice League,' it's not needed. If you look at 'Man of Steel,' which rebooted the Superman tale, many were asking, "Why do we need yet another Superman origin story?" Some of these characters, especially Supes and Batman, are so prominent that an in-depth backstory isn't always necessary. Sticking to Cyborg in this way proved to be an interesting incorporation of the character into the overarching story without slowing down the pacing or hindering the narrative.
What's interesting about the live-action 'Justice League' is that it won't need to waste much time introducing Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, as Superman already got his origin tale ('Man of Steel') and the Caped Crusader will be introduced as a more seasoned vigilante in 'Batman vs. Superman'. The question now is, Will Warner Bros. take the 'Avengers' route and introduce the remaining members via standalone films, or will most be jammed into the main 'Justice League' story?
Don't Forget to Crack a Smile
A small but noteworthy hangup on 'Man of Steel' was that the film was almost too serious to the point where all the humor that's inherent in the original comics was lost amidst Superman's insistence to continually puff out his morality. 'Justice League: War,' however, never loses the comedic gestures, if only through Green Lantern's perpetually goofball demeanor.
That said, some of the comedic relief in 'War' was unnecessary. Green Lantern, for one, has these random lines along the lines of "What the frack?" and these Ned Flanders-isms both completely broke attention away from what was actually happening and ended up transforming Hal Jordan from the cocky superhero we've come to know in the comics into something more basic -- a raging incompetent jerk who couldn't even manage to lead the 'Justice League' when Batman asks him to, despite the fact that he's an Air Force pilot and should be willing to give orders.
Henry Cavill's Superman, similarly, was so uptight and devoted to his savior persona in 'Man of Steel' that he lost some of the fun of what made the comic book character. We just hope the same fate doesn't come to pass for the other members of the League.
Find a Worthy Opponent
The premise for 'Justice League: War' is one worthy of framing the origins of this iconic team and could very well be good for the live-action run, as well. However, the villain was not portrayed with much gusto in the animated film, and this goes back to the issues with character.
Darkseid is the embodiment of all evil, being the conniving, sadistic ruler of the planet Apokolips, but here he might as well be a robot floating about shooting lasers from his eyes. Godzilla has more of an emotional range than this guy.
Warner Bros., thankfully, already has an interesting bad guy for 'Batman vs. Superman' in Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor, who's one of the most complex and intriguing comic book villains of all time, so the same should be done for the live-action 'Justice League.' If you look again at 'The Avengers' (last time, we promise), the presence of Thanos, a similar force to Darkseid, in the post-credits scene of 'The Avengers' and in the upcoming films is very much "the hand that pulls the strings," which will make his grand debut down the road much more riveting. So to give the DC crew anything less than an opponent, no matter how physically strong, anything less than the most stark-crazed, intelligent mind in the galaxy is a disservice to these beloved characters.