With Justice League now playing in theaters, audiences have finally had the chance to see DC’s premiere superhero team on the big screen. However, due to the film’s (mostly) negative critical reception and disappointing opening box office totals, Warner Brothers still has some tough decisions to make.
Specifically, they have to figure out what went wrong with the movie (as well as what went right) so that their burgeoning universe can continue to grow. If they don’t, then the entire franchise will suffer and public perception will only break down further. In order to avoid that, WB needs to use JL‘s criticisms and disappointing box office as a lesson on what to do (and what NOT to do) in the future – and that’s what we’ll be exploring here.
Of course, it’s to be expected that this article will be filled with tons of spoilers and discussions of plot points, so if you haven’t seen the film yet and don’t want to know all of this beforehand, please bookmark this page and come back to it later. Also, as always, we encourage you to use the comments section down below to air your thoughts and grievances, but let’s keep it classy, okay?
10) Give Side Characters A Purpose
Didn’t it seem like Lois Lane’s character arc took a step backwards in JL? Her previous appearances in Man of Steel and Batman V Superman included purposeful storylines in which she brought Superman out of hiding, gave Clark the motivation to embrace his superhuman gifts, and uncovered the major conspiracy at play by Lex Luthor. In Justice League, though, she talks with Martha Kent about Clark, calms Clark down, and then tells him to go save the League. She, along with most of the other side players, have very little to do and in turn, feel pretty much wasted.
Instead of feeling like her own character, she feels more like a means to get Superman through his own arc. Same goes for Henry Allen with Flash and Mera with Aquaman. Alfred fits a similar role, but he at least has enough screentime to be his own person beyond his “helping Bruce grow” scenes. It makes sense why these characters wouldn’t get major focus (as they’re likely being saved for each member’s standalone), but their lack of distinct purpose is difficult to ignore.
The focus of the film may be on the League members, but that doesn’t mean these side characters should be used simply as plot devices or stepping stones.
9) End Credit Scenes Work Well (But Don’t Rely On Them Too Heavily)
Although this wasn’t the DCEU’s first venture into post-credit scenes (Suicide Squad had a mid-credits scene), this was the first pair of end credit scenes that offered fans a genuine sense of thrill. The first was enjoyable fan service and the second gave us an exciting hint to the potential villains for Justice League 2. Judging by the very positive fan reactions to these scenes, it’s likely that future films will continue this trend of keeping us in our seats until the credits run out.
However, it’s important that WB doesn’t start relying on these after-credits sequences for more than just sneak peeks and exciting teases. While it may be more because of fan expectations, they can end up feeling more important than the movie itself. You notice this with certain Marvel films where the after-credit scene(s) is what fans pay to see instead of the two-hour movie preceding it. It becomes a case of putting up with dinner just so you can eat dessert.
To prevent this, it’ll fall more on the people behind the camera and at the studio to make films that are perfectly relevant and captivating on their own without these additional scenes. Also, don’t do what Marvel does and have end-credits sequences just because other movies in the universe have them; if there’s nothing to tease, then don’t include an extra scene just because the last one did it.
It trivializes the extra time audiences spend sitting in the theater. Post-credits scenes are great when utilized properly, and it’s up to all involved parties to ensure they remain worthwhile.
8) Don’t Treat The Score Like An Afterthought
Following the downright excellent work done by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL for the MoS and BvS soundtracks, Danny Elfman undoubtedly had some big shoes to fill. Yet, even with the occasionally unique track, the produced score came across as mostly generic. This led to several major moments in the film feeling far less epic and emotionally resonant than they could’ve been. Lacking the gravitas that came with the previous soundtracks, Elfman elected to go with a nostalgic “celebration” of DC’s musical history instead of something more original.
It’s unclear why Junkie XL was replaced/left the project, but it’s difficult not to be disappointed after thinking about what could’ve been. That being said, after recent reports that Danny Elfman had to use storyboards when making the soundtrack and how his inclusion was “very last minute,” it’s difficult to really blame anyone except WB (or whoever it was that hired him in place of Junkie).
They were so adamant about replacing Junkie’s score that they brought someone in las tminute to basically create ANYTHING that works. Without a proper creative process, the score got de-prioritized, Elfman got lazy, and his work ended up being pretty forgettable.
If there’s something the DC films clearly have over the MCU, it’s the well developed scores. With JL, the music is weak because it simply supports the action/events happening on screen. It doesn’t enhance them or end up doing more than just blending in with the scenery.
Superhero scores, when done right, heighten a movie’s quality far more than people realize. WB needs to think these things through and consider how their over-zealousness can lead to issues like this. Learn from this Warner Bros., and make sure that whoever ends up doing the next score gets the chance to provide a suitably super soundtrack.
7) Stop Saving Major Changes For Post-Production
Both Suicide Squad and Justice League went through notable struggles as reshoots and tone adjustments ordered by WB heavily influenced the films’ original structure. SS was initially darker, but because of the positive reaction to the more light-hearted “Bohemian Rhapsody” trailer, Warner Bros. lightened up the tone.
Justice League, meanwhile, was already going to be a far less serious movie than BvS, but because WB knew that previous films were criticized for their dark tone, they committed even further. They had Joss Whedon add in more jokes and replaced composer Junkie XL (who had worked on previous DCEU soundtracks) with Danny Elfman, who would have a “lighter” and “more fun” sound. These types of dramatic change should be planned and implemented early on, yet these two movies dealt with these major alterations after production had ceased.
Now, while the reshoots are (rarely) too noticeable, the way that a character’s personality would change simply to allow an extra joke became pretty jarring. Having a funny line at the end or in the middle of an intense scene isn’t bad, but if a joke is superimposed into a moment where it wasn’t meant to happen, then it loses a lot of authenticity in the process.
Regardless of what tone you want or even if you simply wish to just alter the mood of a particular scene, work out all the technicalities as you’re filming instead of when you already have the finished product and are simply trying to shamble together something that makes execs happy.
6) Meaningful Dialogue Never Goes Out Of Style
What happened to the long, purposeful monologues present in BvS? While there have been serious discussions of fate, true intentions and morality in previous movies, that’s mostly absent here. Too much of Justice League‘s dialogue lacks the same depth and purpose. BvS had many different conversation-driven scenes in which character motivations, important themes, and more were covered in natural, organic ways. In Justice League, character motivations and themes are explicitly stated and lack the same sense of nuance.
The tones (and intentions) between both films are undoubtedly different, so the script will adapt with the characters. However, it’s impossible to ignore how often the movie depends on banter and quick quips in favor of character-building dialogue. Maybe this issue came with Chris Terrio’s initial words lacking some needed personality or light-heartedness, so Joss Whedon attempted to course-correct in some areas. Moments like the “Save one person” exchange with Batman and Flash serve as an example of when Whedon’s light-heartedness added to the characters while still being enjoyable. More of these kind of scenes and less of the Martha-Lois “Thirsty” kind of scenes would have worked wonders.
Audiences like to laugh, but there’s no need to dumb down things to make it happen. Clever, well-written dialogue will always reign supreme over humor-reliant, improv-dependent scenes.
5) Simple Villains CAN Work (But Give Them Motivation)
Superheroes movies are only as good as their villain. If you don’t allot a proper amount of time for your antagonist, then your movie WILL suffer for it. So often you see film that may nail the heroes, but lack a proper adversary to balance it out. JL‘s antagonist Steppenwolf was a suitably imposing force, but he won’t be topping many “best of” lists – if any.
His motivations are quickly glossed over and he offered little more to the movie than a strong fighter. He mentions being exiled and how he’ll regain his place in his society, but it’s only once and is a mostly throwaway line. Without an easily-identified motivation, viewers didn’t really have a means of connecting with the character. It makes sense why they didn’t want to dedicate too much time to a villain when the focus is on the heroic ensemble, but Steppenwolf’s backstory is one that was perfectly interesting enough to allot some time to develop on screen. Instead, there’s a quick “this is who he is” narration scene and then it’s over.
For a frame of reference in how to do a simple version, use MoS‘s General Zod. He gets a limited amount of set-up, but the movie firmly establishes his personality and motivations right away. These motivations are maintained throughout while still providing a character that’s never bad for the sake of it. Simple villains like Steppenwolf CAN work well, but similar to the heroes they face, they need some screen time to earn the audience’s attention/hatred.
4) No More Time Limits/Mandated Run Times
Whose idea was it to make Justice League the shortest movie in the DCEU catalog? Like much of WB’s decisions for the franchise, it’s undoubtedly money-driven. What they failed to think/care about is how short-changed/rushed much of the film ends up being. I mean, Aquaman’s time in Atlantis (the audience’s first time seeing it in this universe) is limited to one sequence where he basically shows up, talks to Mera about responsibility, then leaves.
Sure, this may allow WB to play the movie more times in theaters, but if you (once again) weaken the overall product, what’s the point? It’s a seemingly never-ending circle of consequences with these films lately. WB cut BvS down to 2 and a half hours because they believed that three hours was simply too long. Yet, the Ultimate Edition comes out on DVD with 30 extra minutes and earned a lot more praise than the “more palatable” theatrical cut. With Justice League also getting a decent amount of its runtime axed, only time will tell if history repeats itself with its home video release.
WB needs to stop putting time limits on these movies. It’s clearly not been working for them as they’ve consistently put out the lesser version of the film in theaters and saved the best version for home video. While it may earn plenty of money overall, Warner Brothers will only frustrate more and more fans with this tactic. If they wish to earn some good faith from the hardcore DC fanbase, then it’d probably be best for them to start putting the BEST version of their film in theaters rather than the one that’ll get more showtimes.
3) Avoid Overloading The Humor
Considering how often it’s been discussed at this point, you’d think the word “quip” was a newly-established curse word. This is due to the consistent bickering/one-liner-exchanging dialogue that’s present in MCU films becoming so popular in recent years. Ever since The Avengers, many comic book movies have adopted this system of comedy where many characters make jokes constantly at almost every opportunity. While Justice League doesn’t quite abuse this as heavily as it could’ve, it’s clear that it went too far with the inclusion of humor.
While everyone loves to have a good laugh, it’s important to not try and force one too often. This leads to an audience that grows tired of constant joking and eventually forces one to stop laughing altogether. Audiences are prone to laugh, but they can feel when a humorous moment is being forced onto them, too.
Justice League has plenty of funny moments, but there are a number of them that feel like they were added purely to gain a laugh and not because it fit the character. Flash seemed to suffer the most from this as he’s forced to joke constantly. While much of what he says is hilarious, it pigeon-holes him into the comedy relief character. Add in almost every other League member who crack jokes at multiple points, and you get a film that tends to lean too heavily on its funny side.
It’s important to remember that not everyone has to be “a funny character.” More importantly, someone who isn’t the funny character doesn’t automatically become the boring one, so don’t feel obligated to make them comedic. Allow them to conduct themselves in a way that suits their own characterization without compromise. There’s no harm in humor, but don’t feel a need to give everybody jokes for the sake of forcing a potential laugh.
2) Don’t Be Afraid Of A Dark Tone
Ever since MoS, the DCEU has faced critical and audience backlash for its dark and gritty tone. WB was clearly taking inspiration from The Dark Knight trilogy and were attempting to encapsulate that same feel. Since it hasn’t received the same acclaim as TDK, though, they’re moving far away from the grim-dark tone. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s vital that they don’t elect to avoid dark tones altogether simply because they’ve been criticized for it before.
The last thing these movies need is to avoid seriousness in favor of constant quips or humor. There’s plenty of dark subject matter and backstory for each character and they must be handled properly. Now, it’s highly unlikely that DC will ever return to the BvS/MoS days, but it’s essential that they achieve a strong balance. Serious moments, when done well, serve as some of our favorite scenes in these films. Everyone loves the funny in-between moments and the banter-filled conversations, but it’s when the characters dig deep and find something truly interesting that audiences begin to connect.
A dark tone shouldn’t be seen as a negative, especially when the TDK trilogy proved it worked so well. It just has to be utilized properly so that the seriousness feels earned, but not overwhelming.
1) Let The Creators Do Their Job
And finally, the biggest lesson for WB to learn from not only Justice League, but every movie in the DCEU canon, is the following.
Whether it’s David Ayer for Suicide Squad or Zack Snyder for any movie except Man of Steel, Warner Brothers has all-too-often altered the finished product significantly in the name of making the film more marketable. It’s not in the name of creative differences or anything constructive, but for the purpose of having the movie be more audience-friendly and popular.
WB has made the claim that they’re “creator-friendly” when it comes to these pics, but they’ve yet to choose what the director envisions over what critics would complain about. Zack Snyder may have seen Batman V Superman as a well thought-out deconstruction of Batman and Superman as characters, but WB saw it as a movie that was 30 minutes too long and a less-marketable film than what their competitors were offering. Justice League suffers from some significant identity crisis at points because you’ve got the man with the original vision of the project away from the camera and a studio-embraced option (Joss Whedon) was given more power than he likely should’ve had.
Justice League was meant to be a culmination/celebration of the DCEU films, yet it felt the most out of place among the four other entries. This was because WB didn’t trust Zack Snyder enough to follow his vision to the end. Even if the vision isn’t what you’d expect or what you were hoping for, fans would always rather see a fully-realized vision than one that was altered based on a test audiences response so that it was the most enjoyable to the most people.
Viewers can feel when a film is more factory based than creatively developed (so don’t try and hide it). In the end, it’s vital that WB just acknowledges the vision provided by the filmmakers they hired and embrace it best they can. You hired these talented people behind the camera for a reason guys, now it’s time to let them show off their (unfiltered) product.