Justice League: Epilogue

Justice League movie logo

Well, the Justice League’s soap opera has come to an end and it’s not looking pretty from a financial standpoint.

After three weekends in the U.S. the Warner Bros. superhero movie has an estimated box office of $197.3 million.

For the average film, that’s great. But when the budget is an estimated $250 million to $300 million, not so much.

By contrast, Warners’ 2016 Batman v Superman generated $166 million on its opening weekend.

Justice League’s opening weekend  was $93.8 million. Again, great for most movies. But it failed to match the opening weekend of other films based on DC Comics characters such as Man of Steel, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman.

Justice League is the big DC team of heroes, comprised of its leading characters. Compare it to Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012, which had an opening weekend of $207.4 million. Its sequel, Avengers Age of Ultron, had a U.S. opening weekend of $191.3 million.

The two Avengers movies had ultimate global box of more than $1 billion ($1.5 billion for the first, $1.4 billion for the second).

Justice League may end up at less than half of that. Forbes.com estimates it will generate less than the $668 million global box office of 2013’s Man of Steel.

The lesson? Nothing’s a sure thing. Justice League didn’t lack for effort. It was the effort of two directors, Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon. (Whedon isn’t credited but does share in the screenplay credit).

The latter directed those two billion-dollar Avengers films. So he ended up re-shooting much of the movie. But, at least at the box office, Whedon’s sensibilities and style didn’t transfer to Justice League.

Justice League’s soap opera

Justice League movie logo

Justice League, still almost three months from reaching audiences, has generated behind-the-scenes drama the past few months that may be tough for the film itself to match.

Examples:

–Director Zack Snyder took himself off post-production duties because of a family tragedy, the suicide of his 20-year-old daughter in March.

–Even before that, it became known that Warner Bros. brought in Joss Whedon to revise the story. Whedon previously directed the first two Avengers movies for rival Marvel Studios.

–Whedon took over directing of extensive reshoots, estimated by Variety at $25 million, beyond the normal level that occur after principal photography has ended.

–One of the movies stars, Henry Cavill as Superman, can’t shave the mustache he grew for the unfinished Mission: Impossible 6. So his reshoots will involve digitally erasing said mustache. Naturally, this led to people coming out of images of Cavill’s Superman with a mustache.

–In the midst of this, Whedon’s ex-wife, Kai Cole, wrote a guest column for TheWrap on Aug. 20 about the writer-director’s marital infidelities. “I want to let women know that he is not who he pretends to be,” she wrote. While this doesn’t affect the film, it’s not the kind of publicity a studio likes about an expensive project.

The thing is, Warner Bros. and its DC Comics unit are on a roll after Wonder Woman generated both good reviews and a global box office of more than $800 million.

Of course, if the movie is a hit most of this will end up as a footnote. In 1975, for example, everybody forgot production woes and cost overruns of Jaws.

Joss Whedon takes over post-production for Justice League

Justice League movie logo

Joss Whedon, who directed two Avengers movies for Marvel Studios, is overseeing Justice League during post-production, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

That’s because director Zack Snyder and his wife, producer Deborah Snyder are taking time off to “deal with the sudden death of his daughter.”

The Snyders, according to THR, are focusing on “the healing of their family.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Stepping in to shepherd the movie through post and the shooting of some additional scenes will be Joss Whedon, the Avengers filmmaker and creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With Whedon’s help, the movie is still on track for its Nov. 17 release date.

Snyder’s daughter, Autumn Snyder, died by suicide in March at age 20. Her death has been kept private, with only a small inner circle aware of what happened, even as the movie was put on a two-week break for the Snyders to deal with the immediate effects of the tragedy.

Justice League is a follow-up to last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Justice League is the main super hero group of DC Comics. The league made its debut in 1959 (and was a successor to the 1940s Justice Society of America).

“The demands of this job are pretty intense,” Snyder told THR. “It is all consuming. And in the last two months I’ve come to the realization …I’ve decided to take a step back from the movie to be with my family, be with my kids, who really need me.”

According to the entertainment news website, “Snyder, after screening a rough cut of Justice League for fellow filmmakers and friends, wanted to add additional scenes, so he brought Whedon on board to write them.

“But as he prepared to shoot the scenes in England, Snyder realized it was not the time to leave home.”

How Warner Bros. plans to lighten up its superhero films

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

Could Supeman (at present deceased) lighten up in future movie appearances?

Studios and production companies rarely admit to misfires (see the James Bond film series for examples). But Warner Bros. and its DC Entertainment unit appear to be doing just that.

The Wall Street Journal, in a STORY POSTED THURSDAY, quoted Jeff Johns, a comic book writer who will have a lot of say over future DC Comics-based superhero movies.

“Mistakenly in the past I think the studio has said, ‘Oh, DC films are gritty and dark and that’s what makes them different.’ That couldn’t be more wrong,” said Mr. Johns, who has written comic books featuring most of the company’s top superheroes. “It’s a hopeful and optimistic view of life. Even Batman has a glimmer of that in him. If he didn’t think he’d make tomorrow better, he’d stop.”

All of this is happening after a very mixed year for Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment.

The good news: Two of the studios movies, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, had big box office in 2016. Bad news: Both movies fell off quickly after their opening weekends.

What’s more, Warner Bros. still trails rival Marvel Studios, part of Walt Disney Co. Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War generated worldwide box office of $1.15 billion, better than either Warner Bros./DC Entertainment entry.

Other studios would kill for the box office of the two DC-based movies. But those movies were also very expensive. Batman v Superman, going into 2016, seemed a lock to be a billion-dollar movie but fell well short — despite featuring the two Big Dogs of the DC Comics universe.

According to The Journal, Warner Bros. is making some mid-course corrections. This except references the studio’s Wonder Woman solo movie and November 2017 release of Justice League:

“Justice League” will also directly address Batman’s extreme actions in the last movie (Batman v Superman), such as torturing criminals and nearly killing the man of steel, rather than accept them as par for the course. And it’s expected to have fewer of Mr. (director Zack) Snyder’s controversial flourishes, like the dream sequences in “Batman v Superman,” in favor of focusing more tightly on the plot, people close to the picture said.

Needless to say, it remains to be seen how this turns out. However, it’s clear that Marvel v DC: Battle for Supremacy, fought for decades in comic books, has moved to films.

BvS: Dark and somber, but what’d you expect?

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

One vague spoiler awaits. There will be a warning.

Well, nobody should have been surprised.

Throughout the production of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the makers talked about how their story was real. Very real. And very serious. If you ever wanted to know what the real world would be like with superheroes, this movie would let you know.

Director Zack Snyder, a disciple of Christopher Nolan and his somber style of film making, even did some trashing talking of Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man, an escapist superhero film that was a decent hit in the summer of 2015.

After two changes in its release date, Batman v Superman is out. This time, movie critics were doing the trash talking, causing Snyder’s film to have a “fresh” rating of only 30 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes website. You have to have a lot of pans to get a score that low.

A recurring criticism is the movie is dour and dark. The San Francisco Examiner’s reviewer says “everything is shrouded in a kind of black sludge.”

Again, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Snyder directed 2013’s Man of Steel (with Nolan co-producing and co-plotting) where the costume of Superman (Henry Cavill) has such dark shades of blue, red and yellow it looks as if the uniform actually is dirty.

Vague spoiler follows.

To give Man of Steel more intellectual heft, there is some religious imagery. (Filmmakers often look to the Bible and Shakespeare to add gravitas to their efforts.)

Snyder continues that in Batman v Superman to the point it seems like opening on Easter weekend was planned all along, even though it wasn’t.

The thing is, the movie isn’t as bad as some of the reviews suggest. Not the biggest endorsement, admittedly but it’s the best we can do.

Ben Affleck is good as Batman, even if this version shows signs of finally going off his rocker for good. Ditto for Jeremy Irons as Alfred. The blog’s favorite moment is when Alfred reminds his employer that it was Bruce Wayne, acting almost like a spy, who got a key piece of information rather than Batman punching out a lot of guys.

Cavill is fine in what’s an almost thankless role because this seems more like a Batman film with Superman as a supporting player rather than co-leading character.

The filmmakers did experiment with Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), making him much younger than previous incarnations. Think an evil Mark Zuckerberg (played by Eisenberg in The Social Network). The results are uneven but it was an attempt on a different take. I thought the Gal Gadot version of Wonder Woman was a plus, but again it’s definitely a supporting character. Overall, at 151 minutes, it’s too long but better superhero movies have the same fault.

Warner Bros. has a lot riding on the movie as it tries to get competitive with Marvel in superhero films. Despite the reviews, Batman v Superman generated $27.7 million in Thursday night showings in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Deadline: Hollywood website.

Batman v Superman needs a $1 billion global box office to be seen as a success, so Warner executives had to be pleased with the results despite the baby seal treatment by the critics.

UPDATE: It turns out Snyder did, well, pee on one key part of the Superman mythos. The Spy Commander missed it, but New York magazine’s Vulture website caught it. If you want to see what, or who, it was click on the link.

Critics get out the knives for Batman v Superman

Batman v Superman poster

Batman v Superman poster

As Jack Benny used to say, “Well!”

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros. answer to Marvel Studios’ extended superhero franchise opens Friday. It’s not going over well with critics — at all. The movie has a 37 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website (as of 6 p.m. Wedneday, New York time) that collects reviews.

But it’s not just the low rating. Critics who’ve attended advance showings apparently have been inspired to rip the film with Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman.

So, here’s a non-spoiler sampling of the pans along with some praise.

A.O. SCOTT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: ” Intellectual pretension, long an occupational hazard in the superhero business, has been elevated to a creative principle. …(Director Zack) Snyder, for his part, deploys signifiers of importance without having anything much to say.”

SOREN ANDERSEN, THE SEATTLE TIMES: “The powers that be at Warner gave director Zack Snyder (“Man of Steel,” “300”) a budget of $250 million, according to published reports, and what he has given in return is a movie that treats the audience as an enemy, a victim.”

LAWRENCE TOPPMAN, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER: “The score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL reaches the decibel level of a departing 767, the fireballs quadruple in size and frequency…And the story, like the testicles of a weightlifter on steroids, dwindles away to nothing.”

DUSTIN PUTMAN: THEFILMFILE.COM: “By understanding the massively damaging events in “Man of Steel” should be tackled head-on rather than swept under the rug, director Zack Snyder has made a suggestive, blemished, but ultimately superior follow-up, a work worth deconstructing and pondering.”
COLIN COLVERT, MINNEAPOIS STAR TRIBUNE: “They should have called it “Batmeh v Supermeh. Running 153 minutes, with a swollen budget of $250 million, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is pure overpriced, overproduced, overlong pulp. It is an interesting idea of a film created by people who have no earthly idea how to do it.”
NICHOLAS BARBER, BBC: “Snyder and his team have taken their Batman from the pages of Frank Miller’s game-changing graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, and as a result they get just about everything right, from Wayne’s banter with his prickly butler, Alfred (Jeremy Irons), to the sleek-yet-sturdy Batmobile.”

In defense of the traditional Superman

The Adventures of Superman main title

The Adventures of Superman main title

It’s not cool to be Superman in the 21st century.

Batman — in particular the more grim and gritty versions of recent decades — is more popular. Zack Snyder, director of the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which has a darker take on the iconic character, says, “There’s no winning anymore for Superman.” 

Others say Superman is too square, not appropriate for a darker time.

What follows is a defense of the traditional interpretation of Superman.

Superman is an orphan — not only of his parents but an entire planet. While he grew up on Earth, he is not *of* the Earth. His Clark Kent identity gives him a respite, a pause, from the responsibilities of being Superman. But he can’t withdraw to his Clark persona indefinitely. He know he has to fufill those responsibilities.

That’s just the way it is. He can no more abandon one or the other.

One of the best comic book examples of this dynamic is mostly forgotten now. In the 1970s, Cary Bates and Elliot Maggin wrote a four-part Superman comic book story illustrated by Curt Swan where Superman is forced to confront which persona he truly is.

When he tries to be Clark alone, he’s not complete. But when he tries to be Superman full-time, he gets no chance to take a break, no chance to catch a breath.

It’s not that Superman is a Boy Scout. Rather, he simply has more abilities and powers — more of an opportunity to act on what needs to be done. He’s still human, despite his birth on Krypton, and has the same needs, wants and desires as anyone else.

That’s a big burden. But when done well, it’s still compelling.

When it comes to adapting that for other media, you’ll find enthusiasts for all sorts of interpretations of the traditional Superman, including the (low-budget) 1950s Adventures of Superman television show with George Reeves and the 1978-1987 (initially big budget) Christopher Reeve movies.

With 2013’s Man of Steel and now Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. and director Snyder have opted for a darker direction. That’s in vogue and perhaps to be expected. Still, people shouldn’t disregard the traditional interpretation.