A Hater Tours The JUSTICE LEAGUE Set
Picture credit: Clay Enos
Intro: In Which I Get Invited To The Set Of Justice League And This Upsets Certain Elements Of The Reddit Community
When Reddit’s “DC Cinematic” subgroup figured out I was headed to London to visit the set of Justice League its lunatic fringe just about filled their diapers in outrage. How dare Devin Faraci, the avatar of hatred for the DC Extended Universe, be invited to see this hotly awaited film while it was in production?
As often happens on that subreddit, weird theories popped up. Maybe Zack Snyder had invited me to the set in order to exact his revenge. Maybe this was all a set-up to get me humiliated or beaten. Some redditors happily imagined Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill chewing me out for my many post-Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice thinkpieces. One guy wrote an elaborate fan fiction wherein I was tied to a chair and tortured with a razor.
They were right, I was invited to the set because I was a hater. But the mission wasn’t to humiliate me or to take me down a notch. It was to convert me. It was to show me that things were going to be different with Justice League. Hell, if I had to sum this entire set visit up in one quote it would come from producer Debbie Snyder, talking about the lessons she and Zack learned from critical and audience reactions to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice:
"We learned that people don't like seeing their heroes deconstructed.”
Let's roll it back a week. Bebe Lerner, Zack Snyder's publicist, got in touch with me. I've known Bebe a long time, so this wasn't that unusual. What was unusual was the offer she had. Bebe told me that Zack and everybody at DC Films had been reading all the stuff I wrote about BvS (as I mentioned, I was not fond of that film) and that Zack wanted to invite me to the set of Justice League so that he could show off how the crew was righting the ship. They heard the criticisms, was what I understood, and they wanted me to see how they were reacting to them. What’s more, the embargo would be short - I could have this piece up almost immediately. They clearly wanted to get the conversation about Justice League changed ASAP.
So off I went to Old Blighty, where I would interview Ben Affleck while he was in the Bat costume and find that he was really funny, really smart and really into making sure we know that Batman isn't killing people anymore.
1. In Which I See The Concept Art And Learn The Basic Plot Whilst Having Previous Scoops Confirmed
Justice League is shooting at Leavesden Studios, about an hour outside of London. It used to be an aerodrome and then it became a movie studio and they shot all the Harry Potters there and now it's WB's official London digs. Ready Player One is in preproduction there right now. But the big Batman on campus is Justice League - it's sprawling over a number of soundstages, filling them with greenscreen and truly massive sets.
I'll be honest: the first half of the set visit didn't light my fire. Our first stop was 'the War Room,' which is a room every production has where the department heads meet and where the walls are covered in concept art. We saw a ton of stuff here, like maybe the whole first half of the movie, so I'm gonna try to just lay it out for you:
There are three Mother Boxes on Earth. One Mother Box is for the Amazonians, and it's burgundy and beautifully ornate and highly detailed. One is for the Atlanteans, and it's white and really organic looking, with scales and tubes and stuff. And one is for humanity, and it's bronze and has big rivets on it and looks like something the Ancient Greeks would make.
We learn about these boxes in a scene called "the History Lesson." That scene, according to the art we saw, will feature an ancient Atlantean king, Hippolyta of Therimysca, some old fashioned humans and the god of all gods, Zeus himself.
The Mother Boxes come from Apokolips. You saw one in BvS - it turned Cyborg into Cyborg in that whole '.wmv Origins of the Justice League' sequence. They're hyper powerful super computers with undefined but vast abilities, including the abilitiy to open up Boom Tubes that can teleport you across the universe. They're the macguffin of this movie. Parademons and their boss, Steppenwolf (oh hey, that's a scoop confirmed) are hunting them down. The JL gotta stop them.
But first you gotta get a JL. The first half of the movie is about Batman recruiting the team (I reported that like two years ago, by the way), and he does it using a couple of cool new vehicles whose concept art we saw. One is the Knight Crawler, an all-terrain vehicle that has four big spider legs instead of wheels. Batman uses it to climb around places, like inside an abandoned tunnel under Stryker's Island, halfway between Gotham and Metropolis. Concept art showed us that in that tunnel he uses a flamethrower on the Knight Crawler to toast some Parademons.
He also has a new jet, a big jet. Really big. It's called the Flying Fox and it's big enough to transport the whole JL and to carry a Batmobile for good measure.
So we saw all that, and it was okay. The concept art is all from December 2015, before the movie was released and everybody was like 'Wait, this isn't what we want,' so it's all crazy dark. Like there's concept art of STAR Labs that is lit like my favorite dive bar. Who does science in a place lit like that?
It was in the War Room that Debbie Snyder started setting the tone of the set visit.
“I think this is a totally different movie than Batman and Superman,” said Debbie (nobody on this set called it Batman v Superman. Batman AND Superman, Batman VERSUS Superman, never Batman v Superman). “I think that Man of Steel and Batman versus Superman were kind of origin stories. You kind of saw them really at points in their life that they were challenged. It was a darker movie. But this is a movie about coming together. It’s a movie about building them up. I think we’re going to see all the heroes in a way that people know them from the comic books.”
2. In Which I Visit The Costume Shop And Am Both Impressed And Reminded This Is Still A Zack Snyder Movie
The next stop was the costume shop, and the first thing we saw there was Aquaman's costume. It's a scale mail outfit, and the pants are made with a special urethane fabric that is really tight and stretchy (for Jason Momoa's butt) but that can have texture printed on it. Aquaman's outfit is.. fine? It's got a gold top and his pants have a greenish tinge if you're looking at it in the right light. Also on display was Mera's outfit, which is more clearly green, and is also a cool scale mail thing, and an Atlantean Guard outfit. They have neat helmets with fins on them - I dug it. Also: Vulko's outfit. That's the guy Willem Dafoe is playing (you'll remember I first reported that Dafoe is playing an Atlantean some weeks back).
Aquaman looked like Zack Snyder's Aquaman, you know? Really desaturated, very badass. So my fire still wasn't lit.
The next stop was Cyborg's costume, which does not exist. Cyborg is all CGI, so Ray Fisher is wearing pajamas on set all day. He has this little light on his face to replicate the glow of his cyborg eye. We did see the designs, though. Cyborg is cool and has lots of spots at his joints where there should be human flesh but instead there's just empty space. It's pretty clear that there isn't much of Vic Stone still in there. He has this red light emanating from his chest, and his arm can turn into a gun. When he goes into full battle mode his whole face gets covered. Also he can grow two extra arms for fist fighting. It's kind of silly, but I'll be honest - I want kind of silly. I perked up at that.
And then The Flash. This costume is red. RED. I don't know how it'll look after post production color correction, but in person the costume is bright and primary. It looks unlike the usual Zack Snyder aesthetic, color-wise. As for the rest of it... well, I'm mixed. The premise here is that Barry Allen has built himself a prototype suit using high tech materials he may or may not have stolen (there's a Waynetech brand on one piece of his outfit). It's the kind of ceramic plating they put on the space shuttle to keep it from burning up on re-entry. The armor plating is kind of piecemeal, because it's super home made. And the helmet is great - it has the aerodynamic shape of a downhill skier's helmet. And he has these cool Flash sneakers with his lightning bolt logo on the sides and also on the sole. Everybody is going to want to buy themselves a pair of red and gold Flash kicks.
But there are also these wires all over the costume, these high-tensile wires. The concept here is that if you've ever seen a comic book illustration of The Flash he is often drawn as having crackling energy all over him. And so costume designer Michael Wilkinson decided to really lean into that and give The Flash all these wires that can conduct the energy as he runs. Here's the thing: I didn't like it up close, but later on I saw Ezra Miller in the costume, standing with the rest of the Justice League and I loved it at a distance. It's a really sleek costume, so his silhouette is unique, and at a distance you can't quite tell how immensely busy it is or how many wires are on it. This may be yet another superhero costume that looks way better in action than it does on a mannequin (so many of them are like that).
The Flash was where I started to perk up. Then I got really interested in Batman's costume: it's the same as the last movie. He gets a second costume later in the film - a tactical costume, with more armor plating (but UNDER the carbon mesh fiber of the suit, so he doesn't look like he's a robot again) and with cool goggles and with a bunch of straps on it - but otherwise it's the same suit. That's really unusual - they tend to heavily redesign these costumes every film in order to sell more toys. Keeping the suit the same is a really interesting choice, and it speaks to how much Snyder nailed Batman on a visual level - don’t mess with aesthetic perfection.
The tactical Batsuit is asymmetrical. The idea is that Bruce has modified it so that it supports his old broken body better. Like there's a bigger pad on one shoulder because he has a bum shoulder. It makes the suit look cool, and not over-designed.
This time Batman's cowl is made of a different, thinner material. It should move even better than in the last film, where it moved as well as any Batcowl ever has. We got to look inside the cowl and see how many little ways they designed it to get heat away from Affleck's head. It was neat.
The final costume was Wonder Woman, and just like Batman it's the exact same costume as last time. And again, that's unusual. Just in case we forgot this was a Zack Snyder movie Wilkinson explained the deep crimson of her breastplate by saying it reflects the "centuries of congealed blood of her victims."
Baby steps. We’re taking baby steps.
3. In Which I See A Scene Being Shot Featuring Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg and Commissioner Gordon Featuring Someone Smiling On Camera
Then we went to lunch. And we were like, is this it? Is it just a regular set visit? Shouldn't they be selling us on the idea that this is a new direction for the DC movieverse? Well, I don't want to leave you in suspense: they did that after lunch.
Spoilers: I had the curried mutton.
We hit some sets - a huge, sprawling tunnel that's under Stryker's Island (where Doomsday landed in BvS) that has been abandoned since the 1920s, and the Batjet hangar, where Bruce works on the Flying Fox, and which is in an old WWII submarine hangar - but I want to jump ahead to where it gets good. I want to jump ahead to what we saw being filmed. To when I realized they were really making something different from the last two films.
Here's your set-up: it's a rainy night atop the Gotham Police Department roof. The Batsignal is lit and Commissioner Gordon is standing there. He is joined by Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and, eventually, Cyborg. They have some exposition, and it is really cool. And there are jokes. Batman makes a joke.
First, Gordon. It was JK Simmons' first day on set, and maybe you thought he would be doing some kind of ripped grandpa version of Gordon based on that pic of him working out that was going around online last week, but he isn't. He's absolutely classic Gordon: brimmed hat, head of grey hair, big brushy mustache, trench coat. I was blown away. It's a perfect Gordon. And Simmons plays him with a kind of weariness.
The scene itself was largely exposition. Batman, The Flash and Wonder Woman show up (as the scene starts Batman comes up from a crouch, so I’m thinking he may swing in and leap into frame?) and Gordon asks how many of them there are. “Not enough,” Batman says. Gordon tells them that there was an abduction last night, and it was seen by a dozen witnesses. It was the same creature that abducted someone in Metropolis - a Parademon.
“The bad guy’s flying monkeys,” Batman says. Batman makes a joke! And it’s a real Batman type of line, one that would work in the comics! “Sardonic” is the word Affleck uses later to describe Batman’s sense of humor. I got very excited.
Batman says that it is scientists being abducted - eight of them so far. “Nine!” says Cyborg, as he strides out from the shadows and joins the group. “The head of STAR Labs was taken last night.”
Fisher’s costume is pajamas, with all the cyborg stuff to be added, but you could see that he was walking in an exaggerated swagger, throwing his shoulders forward with each step. He was getting the particular gait of Cyborg.
All of this is great, but get this: as Cyborg walks up to the group Wonder Woman looks at him and gently smiles. A smile! In a Zack Snyder superhero movie! I was over the moon. This is what I want from a movie like this - people who are at least happy to see one another.
We worked out a theory as to the whole smile thing - the team had tried to recruit Cyborg earlier but he wasn’t interested. Now, with his dad abducted (that has to be who he’s talking about), Cyborg is all in and Wonder Woman is happy he has joined.
The team talks among themselves for a moment, which in and of itself is a miracle in a Zack Snyder superhero movie. They’re all in costume and they’re talking to each other. For reference, here’s Zack in an Empire Magazine interview explaining why he doesn’t like characters in costume conversing:
"I kinda came to the conclusion also that they couldn't really talk in their suits, um, with any credibility..."
"... more than 4 or 5 lines and you start to notice, like wait, these are two guys ... one guys dressed up like a bat and the other has a big red 'S' on his chest, and they're being super serious about how mad they are at each other..."
But it gets better - the members of the League aren’t just talking in their suits, they’re having a super serious conversation about demons! And about where the Parademon nest is! They look at a map of the abductions and realize they are all clustered around one place - Stryker’s Island. Hey, isn’t there an abandoned tunnel set that we just toured a minute ago? I think so!
Batman rounds up the team and they head out. But with Cyborg the dynamics will be different.
“Now that he’s here we can’t all fit in the car!” says The Flash.
“I have something bigger,” Batman replies, which is like perfect.
Gordon turns away. He knows what’s up. Batman’s gonna disappear. He starts giving a speech to the city below him (it’s actually a huge green screen). He turns around, expecting to be alone… but The Flash is still there! Gordon is startled!
“You’re still here!” he says.
“Yeah, hey they all left,” says The Flash. “That’s rude.”
(By the way, I got to see Batman sneaking away from Commissioner Gordon. That was pretty cool).
Watching this scene be shot - I saw about five takes, two different set-ups (one was a close-up on Wonder Woman as she smiles at Cyborg) - I couldn’t help but geek out. Yes, I hated BvS, but here was Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Gordon in perfect costume (and also Cyborg in his jammies) standing next to the Batsignal talking about Parademons. This is the sort of shit a comic book nerd lives for.
But more than that, as a hater this scene really went a long way to convincing me that Snyder and company truly understand how they fucked up BvS. They’re not just paying lip service. They really get it.
While we watched the scene be shot the actors came by to say hi. It was mostly quick stuff - Ray Fisher hung out for a second and then Ezra Miller showed up to hassle him (they were really fun together, and their chemistry is supposed to be part of what makes Justice League lighter than BvS. I could see it). Gal Gadot, stunning in full costume, told us how fun the movie is doing a team movie: “I think we found a very interesting dynamic. It’s fun, it’s funny. It’s different, each and every character brings their own flavor and color to the team.”
And then Affleck came by. In costume. Except for the cowl, which left his smeared mascara visible.
“Christian was smarter than me,” he said. “He never let anyone see him with the make-up on his face.”
I’m gonna pull the whole Affleck interview and run it separately because I like getting pageviews but also because every word of it is good and worth reading and this is already long enough, but there was something he said that I want to focus on. It gets to the point of the set visit. I asked Affleck how they follow up BvS, which was adapting The Dark Knight Returns, a story where Batman quits being Batman at the end. It was a story about the end of Batman, and that was where they started him!
“You can’t go past the end,” Affleck agreed. “This is now not a guy at the end of his rope but kind of a guy at the beginning. Starting over, reborn and believing. Finding hope. And he really believes in this idea of forming this group. Obviously that’s something different because that’s a guy who’s not nihilistic, he hasn’t given up. He deeply believes that this is something that needs to happen and he’s in the awkward position of being kind of out there with a cup in his hand like, you know, ‘Believe in this, this is a good idea.’
“The interesting thing about this Batman is that on the one hand, he’s sort of the ultimate loner, but on the other hand, he’s sort of tasked with putting together a group. So is the guy who basically broods in a cave all day really the best person to put together a team of superheroes? And he doesn’t have huge success initially. He rubs some people the wrong way or they rub him the wrong way, he’s got to figure out how to play well with others. He barely knows how to play well with Alfred.”
There’s more (click here to read it all) but Affleck wanted to make sure that while we understood this Batman has more humor (“That sort of Bruce Wayne, wry, ironic gallows humor comes out. He’s not like a ‘haha’ jokey, but that sort of stuff comes out a little bit. A bit of, his sort of darker humor stuff is present.”) and while this movie is lighter, DC movies need to have a different tone than Marvel movies:
“DC movies, their nature are a little more mythic than some comic book movies are. But BvS was very dark and heavy because it was really rooted in Dark Knight Returns which is a heavy, dark book. And this is not that. This is a step in evolution in that to bring together all of these characters who have had their origins. It’s about multilateralism, and it’s about hope and about working together and the kind of conflicts of trying to work together with others. It’s a world where superheroes exist, so there’s comedy in that necessarily, trying to work with other people and people trying to accomplish goals together is the root of all great comedy in my view. So there’s definitely, hopefully some fun in it. But it’s not unrecognizably these characters or these stories. It’s not turning it upside down.”
4. In Which Debbie Snyder Really Says All The Right Things
Let’s move back in time. Before we saw the filming we hung out on the Batjet Hangar set, and we took pictures with the Batmobile. While we were doing that I started talking to Debbie Snyder, hoping to get some more info out of her about just how this movie was different from the last film. And I’ll tell you, she had all the right answers.
These are the questions I asked her.
Q: When you’re making a whole universe worth of superhero movies there’s a vision you have to have, you have to know where you’re going. But at the same time, you have to kind of know what the audience is going to want. So how do you sort of pivot from all the reactions to BvS to sort of institute that going forward?
A: Listen, I think every film is a learning experience. Right? And we hear what everyone has to say because we care what the fans say, at the same time, every story that we’re telling is a completely different story, and I think what’s really great is that where we were going is kind of what the audience is wanting. We just had to take the characters from somewhere to bring them up to where they are and that was kind of our journey.
Q: If each film is a learning experience, what do you think is the main thing you learned from BvS you used here?
A: I think the main thing we learned is that people don’t like to see their heroes deconstructed. I think that’s hard because it’s people we’ve grown up with and that we care about. They like seeing them in all their glory.
Q: So who do you guys see as the target audience for these films because one of the things I think was interesting with BvS was seeing a lot of parents discovering that in the case of their younger kids, it was a little darker than they were ready for. That maybe 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds maybe weren’t the target audience for a Superman movie, which they weren’t expecting. So is Justice League more inclusive for that crowd?
A: Justice League is much more inclusive. I think also it’s all about the characters too. And we have these two very young characters, Flash and Cyborg. And you know, they’re definitely lighter. I think they’re going to appeal to a younger audience.
I think the darkest where we’ll be is where we’ve been.
I’m probably going to quote that last sentence again at the very finale of this piece.
5. In Which I See A Cut Together Scene From Justice League That Is Funny, Well Lit And Full of Heart
Our final stop on the set visit was back at the War Room. There was now a bar there, and I had a couple of Dark and Stormies (dark rum and ginger beer) while waiting for Zack to wrap for the day on set and come see us. The War Room now had TVs in it, so it was clear that we were going to see some footage. And boy did we ever.
The scene we were shown was where Bruce Wayne recruits Barry Allen, and more than anything else that day this was the scene that convinced me that Justice League could be truly different from either of the previous DC movies.
In the clip Barry returns to his apartment, which is like a big warehouse space. There’s grafitti on the walls and a dozen TVs. He turns on a sparking fuse box to bring light to the place and the TVs jump to life. He walks into the main room and sees Bruce Wayne sitting in a chair.
“Barry Allen, I’m Bruce Wayne.”
“You say that like it explains why you’re sitting in my place in the dark in my second favorite chair,” says Barry.
Bruce, dressed impeccably, gets up and approaches the younger man. He holds out a printout of a screenshot of that Flash mpeg from BvS. He asks is Barry knows who that is.
“That’s someone who looks exactly like me but isn’t me,” Barry says. “He looks like a very attractive Jewish boy. He drinks milk, though, I don’t drink milk.”
Bruce tells Barry he thinks he has special skills.
“Sure,” Barry says. “I can code. I know sign language. Gorilla sign language.”
Bruce looks at the Flash costume that is mounted right in the middle of the room. “And this?”
“I’m into competitive ice dancing,” Barry says.
Bruce notes that the costume includes ceramic plates, the kind they use to keep the space shuttle from burning up on reentry.
“Very competitive ice dancing,” Barry says.
Then Bruce spins around and throws a batarang. Everything goes into slomo except for Barry, who quite casually steps out of the way of the oncoming blade. He slowly looks at Bruce, at the batarang, and plucks it out of the air. Everything returns to normal speed.
“You’re the Batman!” Barry says. “Can I keep this?”
“You’re fast,” Bruce replies.
“I think that’s underselling it,” Barry says.
“I’m gathering people with special abilities. There’s a great enemy coming -”
“I’m in!” blurts Barry.
Bruce is taken aback. So quickly?
“I need friends,” Barry says.
That scene couldn’t have happened in Man of Steel. It couldn’t have happened in BvS for sure. It was funny, and Affleck and Miller had good chemistry. But more than that it was written from a place where these characters were being treated affectionately. It wasn’t a deconstruction or a teardown or a real world version of these characters. It was full of love, and it was full of humanity.
Maybe there are no other scenes like this one in Justice League, but this one scene will make the movie infinitely better and more enjoyable than BvS.
6. In Which Zack Snyder Finally Has His Say, And What He Says About The BvS Backlash Is “Woof”
We thought we would talk to Zack earlier in the day, but we didn’t get a chance until it was all winding down, and he stood with a mojito in his hand amid a huge cluster of journalists with their recorders out.
He talked about the scene we had just watched.
“When I saw the scene -- we just cut it together the other day -- I was like, ‘Oh God, this is fun.’ “ And he was right. Not in the Jimmy Olsen getting shot in the head way, either. It was really fun.
“This is an interesting way of understanding how the movies have gone in a progression,” he said, continuing a thought Debbie had given us earlier, that the intention had always been to make BvS the dark middle chapter of a trilogy that would end on the hopeful note of Justice League (your mileage may vary when believing that it was all planned). “So it's fun for me to finally get to this point now in the progression of these three movies where we are building a team and making the Justice League, if you will.”
Zack said that tone was important to him, and that he was very aware of the tone of this movie. “Tone has always been the main thing that I go after with a movie, and I really wanted the tone of the three movies to be different chapters and not be the same note that you strike like, ‘Okay, there's this again.’ I really wanted that, and I do believe that since Batman Superman came out and we've wrapped our heads around what Justice League would be, I do think that the tone has, because of what fans have said and how the movie was received by some, is that we have kind of put the screws to what we thought the tone would be and I feel pushed it that little bit further.”
Zack thinks out loud; I’ve interviewed him a lot and he definitely tends to chase his own thoughts down different alleyways, but what I got from that is the idea that he’s heard what fans said about BvS’ tone and that he’s adjusting on Justice League.
What’s interesting is that he was surprised by the reactions fans had (as I had previously reported to you). He spoke about that a bit as well:
“You know, when Batman Superman first came out, I was like, 'Wow, okay, woof.' It did catch me off-guard. I kind of felt like - and I have had to, in my mind, make an adjustment, and maybe it is my hardcore take on characters as far as I love 'em, and I love the material. I do, I take it really deep. So I think the nice thing about working on Justice League is that it is an opportunity to really blow the doors off of the scale and the bad guys and team-building and all the stuff that I think I could justify as a big, modern comic book movie, if that makes any sense.”
7. In Which We Wrap It All Up And I Give You My Hater’s Eye View of Justice League As It Stands At The End Of Its First Month Of Shooting
I flew out to London for one reason: I wanted to be convinced that Justice League wasn’t going to be a write off. I wanted to be convinced that even though the movie was in pre-production before BvS came out that the people behind the scenes were leaning hard on the steering wheel and trying like crazy to course correct.
I came away believing that.
What I saw on set was a movie that definitely has plenty of Zack Snyder flourishes - the GPD roof has bas relief figures that are all grinning death’s heads - but that is coming from a place of love for the characters. I did not feel that in BvS. Justice League, from what I saw, is being created with the idea of fun in mind. That doesn’t mean endless laugh lines or pop culture references or characters being silly, but something as simple as the characters liking each other, looking at each other fondly, caring what happens to each other.
I do not believe this was always the plan. That was sort of the narrative on set, that this was always going to be the triumphant return to the light for the DC movieverse. I think that the plan was closer to Injustice: Gods Among Us, as hinted at by the Knightmare in BvS - a story where an evil Superman has to be stopped by the assembled League. After this set visit I do not believe that future is in the cards for the DC movieverse anymore (or if it is it’s like three more JL movies down the road). You know how Barry traveled back in time to warn Batman about the future? BvS did that to us, and I think the future is changing for the better.
Ben Affleck had already convinced me he was a great Batman, but now he convinced me that his Batman would be great as well, a character more in line with the classic non-deconstructionist takes. This Batman can have a family, Affleck hinted. Batman is best when he has a family.
Ezra Miller is going to steal this movie. If Cyborg and Flash have the same rapport that Miller and Fisher have they’re going to be fandom’s new favorite team. You know how Tumblr reacts to Marvel characters who have great chemistry? Get ready to finally see that coming from a DC movie.
The big question, the one I can’t answer is: will it be good? The plot - the Justice League must come together and hunt down Mother Boxes before Steppenwolf and the Parademons can get them - seems fine. The tone seems to be on the right track. The new vehicles are not just cool, they’re deeply fun. But what will the execution be like? Will Snyder pull it off? Is the daily work they’re doing to steer this ship away from the dark iceberg saving it or is the ship going to be swamped?
Here’s something to keep in mind: this trilogy of Snyder’s might end up being the most reactionary franchise in film history. Nobody expected the audience to freak out about the destruction at the end of Man of Steel, and as a result BvS became a movie about mistrusting superheroes. But nobody expected the audience to freak out about the tone of that movie, and so there’s another course correction. That course correction feels like it’s bringing JL to the right place, but at what cost? Changing up a big movie like this in such a fundamental way isn’t easy.
I did walk away from the set hopeful (well, I geeked out about interviewing Batman a bit but then I settled into just hopeful). BvS presented a DC universe that was so dark, so ugly, so unpleasant, so resistant to fun or whimsy or happiness that it seemed like the Earth 3 (home to the Crime Syndicate, the evil Justice League (aka the Justice Lords for those of you who only know this stuff from cartoons)) to the lighter Earth 1 DC universe that was on TV. That’s no longer the case. This world may still be darker than the CWverse, but there’s humanity in the heroes - and heroism in them as well - that was missing from BvS.
So I’m cautiously optimistic. The task ahead of Snyder and crew is a huge one, and the stakes are very high for Warner Bros and DC Films. But even if they started making these adjustments very late, the fact that they’re making them at all is good. Yes, I’m a hater of BvS. I hate hate hate that movie. But I’m not, despite the popular Reddit opinion, a hater of DC. It’s my love of DC and Superman that made me hate BvS so much. These are great, iconic characters with rich (if occasionally confusing) histories, and what makes them special isn’t that they’re dark or angry or brutal. It’s that they’re towering figures, at once like us and better than us, doing the right thing because they can’t imagine being any other way.
I didn’t see that reflected in BvS. At all. But after spending a day on the set of Justice League, this hater thinks that this time they could be getting it right. I may be skeptical about some of the things I was told on this set visit, but there’s one thing Debbie Snyder said that I am taking very seriously:
I think the darkest where we’ll be is where we’ve been.