It’s hard to believe that a movie that opens to $96 million (domestic) is considered a “flop” or even worse, a “disaster,” but those are words that are flying about in reference to Warner Brothers’ ‘Justice League’. And unfortunately, it’s not hyperbole. Yes, it was just the first weekend. Yes, it will make more over the next few weeks. But big budget tent poles like this are front-loaded. It’s completely normal for huge spectacles to make half their total gross in the first weekend. With a budget of approximately $300 million and at least $150 million in advertising… well, this just isn’t good and like it or not, heads are likely to roll at Warner Brothers.
This has nothing to do with the quality of this film. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did most of the people I’ve talked to that saw it. Our site’s review of ‘Justice League’ was not gushing, but certainly favorable. Clearly, Warner Brothers listened when viewers decried the bleakness of ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’. Reportedly, Joss Whedon‘s reshoots and edits only tweaked about 15-20% of the overall film. It would seem that original director Zack Snyder had altered his approach and gone for a lighter tone even before the alterations. But quality has nothing to do with the bottom line and this is show BUSINESS.
After the horrible response to ‘Batman V Superman’, WB completely scrambled its top brass and those overseeing the DC movies. Many people were demoted from very high positions. DC’s Geoff Johns— a creator and a fanboy– was brought in to bring the films more in line with the comics. Reportedly, Johns attempted to offer input to ‘BvS’– to lighten the tone, to emphasize Superman as a symbol of hope and optimism– but was ignored.
It really must be stressed just HOW important ‘Justice League’ was. This was the culmination, the crowning jewel of the five year-old DC film universe. This was supposed to be WB’s ‘Avengers’. But it wasn’t. ‘Justice League’ had the poorest opening of any DC movie in this cycle, when it should have easily had the biggest. There are many opinions as to why this was. Some feel that new characters Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg weren’t established and therefore didn’t draw anyone to the the movie to see them. But Wonder Woman was there and hers was the biggest film of the summer in the U.S. But fans didn’t even turn out for Gal Gadot’s latest turn in the role.
Instead, it seems the bigger problem is that the spectre of the clunky earlier DC movies loomed too heavily over this project. ‘Man of Steel’ was a success, but highly controversial, with its dark tone and that ending. Skipping ahead, ‘Suicide Squad’ had its fans, but was also a bit of a jumble, having undergone massive reshoots in the aftermath of ‘Batman V Superman’. Ah yes, then there’s that. ‘Batman V Superman’ has basically become a laughing stock. Jesse Eisenberg’s misguided portrayal of Lex Luthor (not the actor’s fault, btw). The nonsensical script. “Marthaaaaaaaa!!!” WB was reportedly shocked that this picture wasn’t a home run. SHOCKED!
But even with all the behind-the-scenes shuffling, Zack Snyder was already locked in to direct ‘JL’, based on a script by ‘BvS” Chris Terrio. Because of the timetable, there was no backing out. And because fanboys and girls knew this, they were apprehensive, to say the least. And the thought of another director coming in to reshoot and edit chunks of it– even if that second director is Joss freakin’ Whedon– sounds like another ‘Suicide Squad’ mishmash waiting to happen. (And even though I liked ‘JL’, I could clearly tell which bits were added by Whedon… not hugely detrimental to my enjoyment, but obviously not a seamless integration.)
Warner Brothers put a lot of eggs into this DC basket, but more often than not, these eggs are turning out to be rotten. ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Justice League’ were meant to course correct the missteps of the earlier pictures, but at this point does it make sense to continue to keep building a mansion on this shoddy foundation?
We’ll see– most likely within weeks– when WB starts announcing more changes within its business structure. The DCEU has already seen its schedule mixed and remixed with various films announced, scheduled and then taken off the schedule, while new projects were announced, most with no firm releases in place.
At this point, ‘Aquaman’ has been completed. And considering that those that saw ‘JL’, mostly found Jason Momoa‘s role to be one of the brightest spots, this should do well (hopefully). ‘Shazam!’ is just shy of kicking off production. But with ‘Shazam!’, WB could actually allow this film to stand on its own, erasing any references to the DCEU. After all, for much of his career at DC, the adventures of the Big Red Cheese were actually set on a parallel Earth. There is buzz that Superman (Henry Cavill) will pop up in ‘Shazam!’ but that could be scrapped in order to let this film fly on its own. The fact that WB already has a ‘Joker’ origin movie in the works, completely unrelated to the DCEU shows that they are at least open to free-standing DC movies.
And while it hasn’t begun production, a ‘Wonder Woman’ sequel is in the works with a 2019 release date and is a no-brainer.
WB has a lot of plans for additional DC movies: ‘Batgirl’, ‘Black Adam’, ‘Cyborg’, ‘Deathstroke’, ‘Gotham City Sirens’, ‘Green Lantern Corps’, an unnamed Harley Quinn and Joker movie, ‘Justice League Dark’, ‘Lobo’, ‘Man of Steel 2’, ‘Nightwing’ and ‘Suicide Squad 2’. But after ‘Justice League”s massive stumble, I think the chances of seeing a lot of these just got a lot slimmer. Those who didn’t like ‘JL’ are already calling for a complete do-over with the DC film universe and that just got a lot closer to being a reality.
And then there’s ‘Flashpoint’. A ‘Flash’ solo movie was supposed to follow ‘Aquaman’ but after going through two directors, the project was scrapped completely with a ‘Flashpoint’ movie announced in its place. As comic fans and those of the TV show ‘The Flash’ know, ‘Flashpoint’ is a plotline that revolves around Barry Allen traveling back to change the past with disastrous consequences. It was also the way that DC Comics basically wiped away its past continuities and relaunched their entire line up with the New 52. Some now suspect that a ‘Flashpoint’ movie could be the escape clause for the DC film universe. Have Ezra Miller’s Flash go back in time, change things, then WB gets to cherry pick the parts of their movies that worked (like ‘Wonder Woman’) but negate what didn’t (Luthor, arguably Jared Leto’s Joker). (This could also be a great way to segue from Ben Affleck‘s Batman to… Jake Gyllenhaal or whomever they end up picking.)
At this point, it would be foolish and unlikely for Warner Brothers to stay the course and simply carry on with their DC slate as is. Things WILL change, but we’ll have to wait and see how.