Image courtesy Justice League Facebook
Hey Chatterers! Bud here.
Huge DC buff, used to blog about comic book movies like it was my freakin’ job. Since then, I’ve become very jaded because I’ve worked in media and followed all this stuff to the point where I can very clearly observe all the inner-workings of how movies are made, marketed, and often, why they fail.
So, Justice League…I haven’t seen it in full, just skimmed a pirated copy online because why not. I certainly wouldn’t PAY to see it after I paid for Batman v Superman.
Which brings me to today…there’s been a lot of crazy speculation and misinformation out there, with a lot of younger, less aware audiences chalking the film’s underperforming box office up to “Zack Snyder didn’t get to complete his true vision!” or “the big, bad studio tampered with it!”
Make no mistake, Justice League didn’t fail because it was a botched product (although it was). It failed because of Batman v Superman.
Think about it…historically, third movies bear the brunt of their predecessors’ failings. Audiences can’t vote on quality if they’ve already purchased a ticket, so they often vote by NOT seeing the next one.
And in today’s world of Marvel-ization, we have more movies that are basically teasers for even bigger movies down the road. Hence why Sony scrapped the Amazing Spider-Man franchise…Amazing Spider-Man 2 was basically positioned as a teaser for Drew Goddard’s Sinister Six. When reception was poor and receipts weren’t good enough for them, they pulled the plug. Audiences simply weren’t interested and probably would’ve punished Sony in the form of lesser returns on Sinister Six for the failings of Amazing 2.
Hence why I, and I believe everyone else, avoided Justice League. Batman v Superman simply wasn’t an exciting enough promise of things to come to warrant another ticket purchase.
That’s aside from the fact that anyone who googled a thing about Justice League during production quickly learned of its troubled production history, and probably served as further reason to avoid the movie. That in mind, here’s a helpful timeline, as far as I can surmise and not to be held as Bible truth, of what went down through the course of the movie’s history:
- February 2016 – WB greenlights “Justice League Part I” but is cautious to proceed with the film, then a two-parter, before hearing reception of Batman v Superman. Regardless, production is scheduled to start in April 2016 from a script by BvS writer Chris Terrio.
- March 2016 – Batman v Superman opens. It abandons all of the high-flying fantasy and escapism the brand is known for, in favor of an…er…revisionist take on DC: darker, louder, uglier, more hyper-stylized than ever. It is poorly received.
- Internally, Warners begins to panic, audiences have turned against the brand but the studio has already invested in Snyder and his take on Justice League. Warners knows they know cannot change course now without breaking contracts and/or publically putting their plans for Justice League into question. Quietly, they begin to re-position some of their chess pieces, including swapping Snyder’s BvS cinematographer Larry Fong for Game of Thrones‘ Fabian Wagner. They also scuttle plans for a second film and tell director Snyder, “Hey, after this one you’re done. So make it good.”
- April 2016 – Justice League begins filming.
- May 2016 – Warners collects a series of buzzwords from the BvS reviews and, with DC films chief Geoff Johns, devise a campaign to convince fans to stay on board for Justice League. “We’ve heard you! Fear no more! Now our heroes will be BRIGHT and HOPEFUL and positively WWWWWHIMSICAL!!”
- October 2016 – Principal photography wraps.
- Some time later, Zack turns in a rough, unfinished cut of Justice League. Warners isn’t happy. Fans smell blood in the water.
- February 2017 – Warner invests more money to hire Joss Whedon to rewrite some scenes for the scheduled reshoots. Snyder is cooperative (No director in Hollywood would jeopardize his/her paid contract contract to fight for a “creative vision” that is A. Constantly in flux during production, as is the case for many, many studio movies, and B. Based on DC characters and not some sort of deeply intimate statement from the director on the world at large).
- May 2017 – Snyder’s daughter passes away. Snyder steps down from the film. Warners, while publically sad over the departure, sees this as an opportunity to further course-correct from Snyder’s dour vision and hires Whedon to direct the reshoots. Whedon’s name has credibility in the geek community having directed the first two Avengers films and his name will help bolster the flailing film’s sagging reputation.
- June 2017 – Wonder Woman opens. It is a surprise success. Warners hopes it will help Justice League. Gal puts on a brave face for the media during the press circuit. She is praised for it.
- July 2017 – Rumors circulate Ben Affleck has not only bailed on a solo Batman film, but wants out as Batman altogether. He does not particularly care for all the negative attention he’s getting over the unproduced solo Batman, BvS, and now Justice League and doesn’t want to endure it for another several years, potentially a lifetime. Warners tells him to shut up about it until Justice League opens in November. Affleck nonetheless has trouble hiding his true feelings.
- Mustachegate. That is all.
- Whedon does his best to Frankenstein together a new version of the film to better please fans and Warners. He makes finding Superman the heart of the movie, cuts the darker material (i.e. Black suit Superman), lightens the overall color tone, focuses the whole narrative a bit more, adds humor and warmth. Warners still aren’t happy. The project isn’t cohesive. Whedon isn’t happy that Warners isn’t happy but finishes the job and quietly backs away from the product, until word of him sending bottles of champagne to disenchanted actors, including subliminal messages in the movie as an apology to fans, and then publically showing his dislike for the villain gets out.
- September 2017 – Warners, knowing they have a bit of a turkey on their hands, goes for total and complete broke pushing a huge marketing campaign. They get Danny Elfman to do the score and re-use his old Batman theme and a variation of the John Williams Superman theme for further geek cred. Producers tell fans, “we don’t want you to think about how this movie was made” and “if you love these characters you’ll come see it!” The studio periodically teases other big DC movies, from a Deathstroke movie starring Joe Manganiello to a Joker movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the former of which features in a post-credits tease of Justice League, all to generate further interest in the product. In the end, much of the campaign is still marred by the behind-the-scenes drama and Ben Affleck’s continued disinterest in Batman going forward.
- November 2017 – Justice League opens to a disappointing weekend. Casual audiences see it, people who remember BvS avoid it.
Justice League didn’t fail because Snyder “didn’t complete his vision”. It didn’t fail because it was a hackjob of a movie. At least not fully. It failed because Batman v Superman failed, causing Warners to go into panic mode and change everything about Justice League before, during, and after production. Nobody really knew what the movie was supposed to be about, just that it had to make money, and ensure continued money from further installments. By the time they figured it out however, it was too late.
Listen to Bud on the Fireside Chatter podcast here on firesidechatter.com!