These days, every big budget comic book movie is met with speculation about the amount of “studio interference” involved in production, but with Justice League, this speculation is augmented by the question of where director Zack Snyder’s work ends, and where the additional material and reshoots of Joss Whedon begins.
This is because Snyder had to depart the project after production ended, and Whedon – who had already been working on the script – was drafted in to handle post-production and reshoots. Producer Charles Roven subsequently conceded that the theatrical release then consisted of about 15-20% Joss Whedon footage, but fans suspect that may be underselling it a bit.
Now, as the film defies expectation and actually gains momentum at the box office, after a somewhat muted start, actor Holt McCallany (star of the Netflix series Mindhunter), has shed some interesting light on his own involvement in the movie, and the fact that – contrary to the content of the rumour mill – Joss Whedon was not free of “studio interference” on Justice League, either.
“I love Joss Whedon. My scene with Batman was originally conceived as a comedic scene. That’s how Joss wrote it, and that’s how we shot it. I thought it came out great, but the studio felt it would be a mistake to open the film with a completely comedic scene, so it was re-edited a little bit. I was disappointed, but when I got home to New York I found a bottle of my favorite Champagne and a note from Joss that said ‘To Battles Lost. Gratefully, Joss.’ I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that he took the time to write to me. Joss Whedon is a class act. I had the letter framed.”
Now, the scene in question here is literally the opening scene of the film, so these comments from McCallany elicit mixed feelings. Firstly, it’s a great Batman scene, and includes the kind of movements from The Dark Knight that we saw in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice – so that aspect blends well with the rest of the project. McCallany does solid work in the scene, and the fact that it catches us off-guard with the introduction of a Parademon serves two narrative purposes: It informs us that Batman is dealing with an ongoing situation, and it places us right in the thick of the creeping Parademon invasion. Both of these things tell us that we are about to watch a very different kind of film.
But, it also doesn’t make a great deal of sense to see the World’s Greatest Detective, and legendary vigilante, let a villain walk free – which is exactly what he does with Holt McCallany. As the scene plays out, it becomes clear that Batman seeks to use McCallany’s robber as bait to lure the Parademon, which is attracted to fear. But, once he’s destroyed the creature, Batman departs, leaving the robber to rob another day. That doesn’t fit with the characterization of the Dark Knight established in the previous movie.
The other important point to note is that Warner Bros. clearly worked to rein in Whedon’s comedic sensibilities to ensure his additions blended with the overall piece. While it’s been reported that Zack Snyder had already struck a much lighter tone in Justice League than he did in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice – to truly cap his DC trilogy – Whedon evidently wished to take that much further, and was prevented from doing so. This is heartening to hear, as it suggests that the studio was not seeking to completely alter Snyder’s vision – as some have claimed – but was instead prioritizing the tone he had already struck.
Regardless of the changes that the studio made to the scene, Holt McCallany reflects on the experience as a positive one in his conversation with Men’s Fitness, and is pleased to be included in the first live-action adaptation of DC Comics’ flagship superhero team.
“It was a great experience, and a fun scene to shoot. Ben [Affleck] was very easygoing, we got it in just a few takes. My favorite fight scenes are usually ones that are choreographed with some style to them, and ones that are choreographed around a particular actor’s individual strengths. The old adage in the fight game is ‘styles make fights.’ I like to design my own fight choreography in conjunction with my director and stunt coordinator whenever possible, and here it was a great way to be a part of the film—even though I got beat by Batman.”
Justice League is now playing in theaters worldwide.