The problems with Man of Steel were largely structural and born in writer David Goyer’s script. So when Zack Snyder was announced as the director of a forthcoming Justice League movie, I had to tuck it back a little when it came to my own knee-jerk pessimism.
But man, am I wary. Because I can’t be the only one who doesn’t want Justice League to follow a bunch of bickering dicks snapping necks and taking names throughout the DCU, right? And based on Snyder’s filmography, I’m worried that’s what we’ll get.
Here’s our wishlist of terrible things we hope Justice League doesn’t do.
9. Don’t Make Us Hang out With Hal Jordan Again
Okay, this isn’t really a Snyder thing so much as a DC/Warner Bros. thing, with both entities seeming really, really convinced that Hal Jordan has been anything other than the most dreadfully uncool character in the DCU. Hell, old Hal spent most of the ’70s catching shade from Green Arrow, a man whose shtick is being a philandering Robin Hood.
The Ryan Reynolds film was such as disastrous misfire in introducing the filmgoing audience to a universe of magic wishing rings and weaponized feelings, that it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to revisit the character.
But it’s not the JL without a GL, which is why I propose that the film give us the one, true Lantern that everyone knows and loves: Ch’p.
Alright, seriously, it should be John Stewart. I actually don’t have any real affection that particular Lantern (he, Hal, and Kyle couldn’t be any less interesting to me), but no one is going to put Guy Gardner in the first Justice League movie, so that’s that.
In fact, if we’re talking about lineups that will never, ever happen…
8. Don’t Forget Plastic Man
First off, there will probably never be a Plastic Man movie and this is the only idea I’ll cop to being a bad one on this list.
But for the love of god, I can’t tell you how much I would love Plastic Man as part of the Justice League in the DC Cinematic Universe. Crook-turned-superhero Eel O’Brien is such a great, potential POV character and his power set offers so many weird visual opportunities in a movie that could be stuck with a lot of characters good at lifting and smashing things.
Plus, Plastic Man would offer an excellent counterpoint to the super-grounded lineup we’re likely to see, while offering viewers a sample of how strange this Universe of Characters can get (I wanted Captain Marvel here, but DC seems determined to spin him off into not only his own separate movie but a separate universe).
If DC’s not willing to make it weird with Billy Batson, then at least make it weird with Eel O’Brien. And that’s not the only kind of weird I’m hoping for…
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Go Cosmic and Weird With the Villain (But Skip Darkseid)
Imagine it: our heroes assembled in the middle of a big city, squaring off against some seemingly insurmountable foe(s) while buildings fall and civilians flee in panic. It worked well enough for The Avengers. And Nolan’s Dark Knight films, and every Spider-Man movie, and if I see one more New York taxi get smashed in a superhero fight, I’m going to retire to my fainting couch.
So in the same way that I’m hoping we’ll see more powers beyond “punch until it falls” in Justice League, I’m also hoping that we’ll see something unusual this time out – if only a shout-out to Starro or something beyond the confines of a big city to show that it’s a big, cosmic universe.
But let’s leave Darkseid out of it – no matter how much we want him to be the heavy they have to fight. Old Stoneface Miniskirt is an excellent villain and yet he would just feel like warmed-over nihilism after (presumably) the next wave of Marvel films teases Thanos as the big bad for the next big Avengers team-up.
Hell, why not threaten the very fabric of the universe itself and give us the Anti-Monitor and all of the multiverse-shattering insanity that that brings. And if DC could pull something like the Anti-Monitor off, that would introduce so many more corners of their shared universe that could be explored, like more Guardian and alternate Lantern stories (for some reason), while providing an explanation for where the Greek pantheon responsible for Wonder Woman comes from and all of the great stuff that the biggest DCU stories offer.
And keeping it weird could be fun, which I suspect this movie will need. Because…
6. Don’t Confuse “Joyless” With “Serious”
Batman Begins was able to counterbalance Bruce Wayne’s grim quest for vengeance with warm, human performances from Michael Caine and Gary Oldman while giving us a Batman prone to making mistakes and able to joke about himself. Hell, even The Winter Soldier, a story about betrayal and paranoia knew when to let off the throttle and show us an evil scientist made of TV’s.
Meanwhile, Man of Steel featured a hero who went nearly the entire running time of the turgid film without cracking more than two smiles, tops. That film confused relentless joylessness, muted colors, and a moody score with “serious,” all while having the seriousness of a teen’s Livejournal account circa 2002. It equates gravitas with constant, grinding pain and misery, smashing out any possibility of joy or uplift in the human spirit.
I should note, Man of Steel isn’t the only culprit here as in its first year, the New 52 went out of its way to strip out the fantastic and the fun for the same kind of plodding “groundedness” in the hopes of elevating stories of vigilantes in masks to some kind of high art.
Which would be kind of a shitty way to approach a movie that has (presumably) seven characters who define what being a superhero is in pop culture. Let the Flash be bright, shiny, and colorful; let Wonder Woman be warm, sweet, and naive; let Superman smile.
Save the tough act for the bad guys…
5. Don’t Get Stupid With a Pile of Villains
Let’s call it the “Curse of Spider-Man 3” (or, if the advance word is the be believed, The Amazing Spider-Man 2). With a team story like this, ideally each hero should meet their match in the form of a well-developed antagonist. Justice League will have the challenge of not only establishing the dynamics of our super team, but the major threat that’s against them while providing adequate room for any characterization that Batman/Superman might not have been able to allow.
Basically, Justice League is going to need one single compelling big bad with several cool but disposable henchmen who could eventually return in a sequel. If each has some need or want of their own for going up against the Justice League, all the better, but don’t try to crowd the movie with arcs for both a set of heroes and villains.
4. Don’t Be a Sausage Fest
The most cynical part of my brain thinks that someone in the planning stages for these kinds of things says to themselves “Well, we’ve got the black one and we’ve got a woman. If only we had a black woman, we’d have room for a second Batman. Somehow.”
But in truth, I know that the bench isn’t especially deep when it comes to well-known female characters in the DCU (Wonder Woman? Power Girl?) who also have power sets that are different enough from Wonder Woman’s to be visually interesting on screen. Maybe Hawkgirl, yet another character from the DC Animated U who’s pulled in her own fans over the years? (Movies need more rage-filled bird people.)
Likewise, Black Canary and Zatanna could make for an interesting fit (with the latter addressing how magic works in the cinematic universe), but I’d like to offer a very decent proposal.
It’s an easy fix and addresses one of my earlier don’ts: give us a female Green Lantern. Again, unless you’re Geoff Johns, you do not care about Hal Jordan, like, at all. So straight up replace him, or say that our sector has more than one protector. Do something better than one of out seven when it comes to female members of the League’s membership (ditto minority representation with Cyborg).
And speaking of giving us the same old same old…
3. Don’t Make it “Batman is Awesome (and the Justice League Does Stuff, Too)”
There’s probably no one who loves “ultra-competent, shit-kicking Batman” more than me, but it’s also a little played-out. Here’s hoping Batman/Superman defuses some of that in its depiction of the Caped Crusader, but if anyone involved in Justice League has an itch to show Batman outwitting not only the villains but his teammates… let’s not.
The thing that I love the best about those stories where it’s Batman vs. the League is that they’ve been earned: the character has established trust with his fellow heroes and a very human relationship with them. Contrast this with an early issue of the New 52’s Justice League where Batman punks Hal Jordan and steals his ring right off of Green Lantern’s finger.
Now, allowing for how incredibly stupid and illogical this scene is (so anytime Green Lantern is distracted, his ring will fall off?), it also makes Hal Jordan look like a punk and Batman, in turn, like an unrepentant dick. From a practical standpoint, it does a disservice to your potential line of superhero movies when you’ve spent a couple of hours showing that your super team is pretty cool, but Batman is really the only one that matters.
2. Don’t Give Us Another Last-Act Punch Party
Allow me to reenact the final act of Man of Steel:
Cue: inexplicable Lois and Superman kiss.
My senses felt assaulted by the time Man of Steel was over and done, nearly done in and worn out by a repetitive series of grimly-lit action beats which neither escalated the story nor showed us the cool powers that our super powered characters had.
Now magnify that with an entire super team and I’m already prepared to carry around a bottle of Ibuprofen for the inevitable headache.
Not only should a Justice League movie be a showcase for the varied and interesting powers of our heroes, but it should also give them threats that tax them both mentally as well as physically. Seriously, if Batman (ninja genius detective), Flash (brilliant scientist, forensics expert), and Wonder Woman (the world’s greatest tactician) are on your team, give them more than just things to hit, give them challenges.
And don’t make “working with each other” the main challenge.
1. Don’t Make Them All Horrible Dicks to One Another
With Batman/Superman, Zack Snyder has promised a battle royale between the two heroes inspired, in part, by The Dark Knight Returns (if you’ll recall, he used one of Frank Miller’s particularly scathing attacks on Superman as a quote accompanying the announcement of the sequel). Good, go ahead, more power to him – let that film get the heroes vs. heroes thing out of everyone’s collective system.
Then give us a badass team movie where the strongest and smartest people on Earth are actually teaming up to do something, rather than stopping their own in-fighting long enough to punch something else.
At the heart of most great stories is conflict, and at the core of the best team-ups is conflict and tension. That’s great, exciting stuff from which we can see our characters grow, evolve, and learn to trust one another. But that doesn’t mean they should be out for blood or necessarily out for one another’s blood.
If, however, it’s just collection of angry, bickering assholes, then what’s the point? It’s reductive and juvenile, making a collection of grown-ass adults instead a collection of moody teens (again, see the New 52 version of the JL early in its run for the clearest examples of this). It robs the story of any kind of warmth or sense that any of these characters would bothered to be around one another once the credits roll.
And that’s what we want, ultimately: a story about a bunch of heroes who learn how to be heroes together.
Previously by Charles Webb