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Justice Beleaguered of America 

I’ve mentioned several times before about how cool a summer the summer of 2015 will be, as it ushers in a blockbuster movie season the likes we’ve never seen before. Frankly - I’m in danger of becoming borderline obsessed with the notions of another Avengers movie, another Star Wars movie, a Fantastic Four reboot..... And the Justice League.

(For those of you who don’t (And let’s face it, if you don’t know who the Justice League of America are - why are you here?) - quick intro. They’re DC Comics’ super hero ensemble who predate the Avengers by a couple of years.)

In short, I have grave doubts that we’ll see a Justice League movie in 2015 and if we DO see a Justice League movie in 2015 - it’ll be a rushed venture and a disaster waiting to happen.

Why so negative over a film that I’m eager to see?

Years ago, DC who are owned by Warner Brothers, ruled the super hero movie roost. First with Superman and Superman 2 in 1979 & 1980. Then, they blew it

Well, consider this - super hero movies aren’t a new phenomenon. I saw Batman in the local and long gone, but still missed Palladium cinema on a Wednesday afternoon matinee back in 1966. Great as it was back then, it also nailed the coffin shut on any seriousness in super hero films until Superman took to the skies in 1979 and set the box office alight. The 1980 sequel which was largely filmed back to back did even better business and became a high watermark for comic book adaptations.

Then what happened?

Warners turned the last son of Krypton to into a straight man for their then current comedy star Richard Pryor, and for the fourth, sold the film rights to the character to Cannon to make a very quick and cheap movie whose lofty ambitions were beaten to death by a meagre budget. (For example, the Metropolis scenes for the first two were shot on location in New York. Calgary, Canada was Metropolis in the third...and Milton Keynes in the UK stood in for the fourth.

Batman followed a similar nose dive. After a concerted campaign to distance Tim Burton’s grim, dark, gothic tale from the explosively colourful pun laden comedy of the pop art sixties with Batman and its sequel Batman Returns, they handed the reins over to Joel Schumacher who made two campy garish neon comedies that would’ve even made Adam West blush.

You would have imagined that after the strong box office receipts of the first Superman films the nose dive of the third and the loss of the fourth would’ve shown Warners exactly where they went wrong. But they followed exactly the same business model for Batman. With exactly the same results.

After a period of trying to play catch-up with some lamentably half hearted attempts like the Matt Salinger Captain America and the Dolph Lungren Punisher, Marvel took a step back and ultimately took a chance. They introduced their comic book movies very cautiously, testing the waters at each step. To this day, a lot of people don’t realise that the Wesley Snipes Blade vampire movies are based on a Marvel character. X-Men followed and became a franchise, so did Spider-Man, Daredevil is still under rated and under appreciated in my opinion, as are the Fantastic Four films. Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America all struck pure vibranium at the box office and all are true to the source material.

While all this was going on at Camp Marvel, DC and Warners retaliated with Superman Returns - a half hearted sequel to Superman 2, implying that even THEY wished Superman 3 & 4 didn’t exist, and their own personal best in Christopher Nolan’s self contained Batman trilogy.

Now, those of us who like to keep up with some of this stuff in its original format had read Marvel Comics’ Ultimates, which re-imagined the long running Avengers title, and we had loved the fact that in this new version, SHIELD leader Nick Fury wasn’t the Caucasian highly decorated war vet turned super spy we had known since the sixties, but was a dead ringer for Samuel L.Jackson. Those of us who like to annoy multiplex staff by reading the credits at the end of the movie were rewarded when after enjoying the triumphant screen realisation of Iron Man, we were rewarded with the Easter egg of a very short sequence where Nick Fury played by Jackson in a fan dream come true, wanted to talk to Tony Stark about the Avengers Initiative.

This trailer of teasers at the end of the Marvel movies became as much of a staple for fans as looking out for Stan Lee’s cameo. Tony Stark popped in to recruit Bruce Banner, Thor’s hammer was discovered, Captain America’s shield was seen in Tony Stark’s workshop - we were being led up inexorably to a film event over a journey that took us step by step over several years to complete. And even at the conclusion, we’re already told that’s just Phase 1 as they’re calling it. Phase 2 kicks off this summer.

It was always inevitable that DC follow suit. Question is..... How?

It can be argued that DC have historically had the more recognisable characters to a mainstream audience. Everybody knows who Superman is. I literally don’t know of anybody who wouldn’t recognise Batman, and Wonder Woman is still fondly remembered from the 35 year old TV series with Lynda Carter - but what about the rest?

Let’s look at the Green Lantern. I loved that film in 2011. I’ve been familiar with the character since the sixties and those long summers when the summer tourist trade brought in stocks of American comics to the shops in my seaside town home. That film showed me everything I wanted to see. A reluctant hero with an alien ring he was bequeathed by his predecessor which made him a space cop. I saw the ring energy make these fanciful constructs mentally summoned by the hero to help him save the day. I left the screening happy.

But the film didn’t really find an audience. Why? I think it’s because the Green Lantern lacked an effective public awareness campaign. Nobody outside a core geek audience knew who, or what the character was. The name "Green Lantern" gave nothing away, so audiences really didn’t care. (I think that’s why Disney’s John Carter bombed so miserably last year. Had they advertised it as John Carter of Mars based on the series of books written by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Bourroughs I’m certain the audience would’ve been there. Even the trailer gave the impression of a Conan type fantasy. Biggest misleading advert in movies since the trailer for Kick Ass made it look like a teen comedy.)

So, the plan that was announced a few weeks was that Justice League would hit our movie screens in the summer of 2015, with the line-up being Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Flash. On the one hand, who wouldn’t want to see that? On the other hand...from a creative standpoint, this doesn’t work. Let’s look at the cast of characters

Superman - he’ll be big this summer as Man of Steel hits. Is Henry Cavell up to the role? We’ll have to wait and see. Is this film going to play into a continuity that will include the Justice League? We’ll have to wait and see. Much of whether Justice League happens depends on how Man of Steel performs at the box office. (Personally I would’ve cast Smallville’s Tom Welling in the role - his origin has been told over ten seasons and he has audience familiarity. Why reinvent the wheel?)

Batman - hot property since Nolan’s trilogy, but last summer’s conclusion had a satisfying ending that left even the core bat audience happy. Bruce Wayne fakes his own death saving Gotham and retires from crime fighting to live quietly with Selina (Catwoman) Kyle. That story’s been told. Are they seriously considering undoing it? Isn’t it way too soon to reinvent the character yet again to fit him in with the League?

Wonder Woman - audiences know who she is, but doesn’t she need a film of her own to introduce her, (and I’m still steaming we never got to see Charisma Carpenter in the role) and her rich legacy to the new continuity?

Green Lantern - Ryan Reynolds was ideal casting, but how to reintroduce the character in a way that will make audiences care when they’ve already dismissed him once?

The Flash - Incredibly missing from our screens since the short lived TV series of 1990. The super fast super hero is way, waaaay below the radar of mainstream audiences, yet is simple to realise on screen. The TV series was awesome, yet has never been released on DVD in the UK. (Mine is the Australian release).

What makes this worse is that the intention is to release the ensemble movie BEFORE these characters have been introduced individually to audiences. Effectively, they’re doing the reverse of the Marvel strategy. With the exception of Superman, group movie first - THEN individual films for the characters. Is that even going to work?

I understand that Warners threw out the proposed script last week, which puts the whole project even further back. Trust me eighteen months from scriptless scratch to completed movie isn’t likely going to end well. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying that something this epic that’s already, in my opinion, starting out on the wrong foot has all the odds against it. Especially if you’re rushing to catch up with the unstoppable juggernaut that is Marvel at present. We’ve already seen evidence of the blatant disrespect Warners show their DC properties in the relentless search for a quick buck.

Am I right? Am I crazy? What do YOU think? As ever, please feel free to weigh in with your comments and observations.

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