Now that we’ve gotten the ugly business of The Dark Tower out of the way, there’s still one final elephant in the room: one movie whose production is so legendarily troubled that common sense dictates that the film can’t possibly be salvageable at this point. That movie is, of course, Warner Bros’ answer to Marvel’s smash hit The Avengers: the long-anticipated Justice League.
The DCEU — Warner Bros’ shared-universe mega-franchise that includes powerhouse names like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman — has never been what even the casual observer would call a success. They make money, sure enough, but they are at this point generally more reviled than those Transformers movies Michael Bay keeps churning out and even die-hard DC fans are having increasingly few positive things to say about them.
The franchise debut, Man of Steel, sharply divided movie-goers with its overly dark, coldly shot and ultimately vapid retelling of the Superman mythos. Sadsack Superman — wrapped in existential ennui and heavy-handed biblical imagery — was a bitter pill to have to swallow on the surface, but fans were positively incensed by his uncharacteristic killing of General Zod. Sure, Supes had to do something to save a helpless family from the Kryptonian general’s wrath, but graphically snapping his neck on-screen doesn’t exactly embody the ideal of hope that is literally emblemized on his chest.
But that was fine, because next up was Batman vs Superman, which DC assured us would really get things going for the franchise and absolutely not be a blatant competitor to Marvel’s forthcoming Civil War. Scout’s honor.
That was received even worse than Man of Steel, with just as jarring a tonal disconnect with Batman as the earlier film had with Superman. The action was damn near unwatchable, the characters tedious to watch and it had a major plot point revolving entire around a jar of Lex Luthor’s pee. No, seriously: it’s right there on screen with Oscar winner Holly Hunt.
But that was okay because Warner Bros. assured us that they’d finally learned their lesson. Their next movie, Suicide Squad, would fix everything that had plagued their franchise since day one. It even had fan favorite villain Harley Quinn in it, so you know they were listening to what the people wanted.
After rushing into production without a script, then hiring the team that made the film’s deceptively cut trailer to re-edit the film without its director’s input went over about as well as you would expect. The movie was an even bigger mess than Batman vs Superman.
It’s especially telling that the one movie that was a resounding success for them — both critically and commercially — was Wonder Woman: the one movie that they failed to promote and was clearly conceived of as a holding measure before they could rush Justice League into theaters.
And now even Justice League isn’t looking as hot as it once did. After two separate rounds of reshoots, Zack Snyder stepped down from the post-production process after a family tragedy rendered him unable to complete the project. Joss Whedon stepped in for the third and final set of reshoots, which those close to the film have described as a complete overhaul on par with shooting a majority of the film from the ground up.
We’re just finding out the extent to which the movie had to be reshot, as well as how apparently broken Snyder’s original cut of the film actually was. The website Bat-On-Film reported that:
“These reshoots — which are still taking place — are not standard pick-ups / additional photography. Why? Apparently, an early cut of the film was deemed ‘unwatchable.’ Thus, substantial changes to the film were ordered.”
The film is a mere four months out from being seen by the general public. At this point, a studio’s sole concern for a movie should be its marketing push leading into its dramatic debut. Thor: Ragnarok comes out only two week before Justice League and has already been wrapped, for months.
And these reshoots are still happening? Whedon took over production on Justice League at the end of May. Exactly when will he be able to edit the film together into a coherent narrative between the time he finishes and when it’s scheduled to be released?
Complicating these matters is the apparent scope of the reshoots. In addition to changing out the original cut’s excessively grim tone — a monumental prospect that seems to always bear out especially poorly for the film — they allegedly are costing Warner Bros more than $25 million to do. For comparison, that’s more than four times more expensive than what it took to “fix” The Dark Tower, and we all saw how that turned out. That’s one tenth of the net cost of making Batman vs Superman: it’s a positively blinding amount of money to spend on what should be minor tweaks ahead of a film’s release.
Doing some damage control for the situation, Batman actor Ben Affleck somehow made things even worse. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, he mentioned that:
“[It’s] an interesting product of two directors, both with kind of unique visions, both with really strong takes. I’ve never had that experience before making a movie.”
The film that has two different directors — each with strong, independent takes on the source material and how to present it on-screen — cannot mesh harmoniously enough to make a single, coherent and ultimately enjoyable film. Their styles of writing, directing and even interpreting are miles apart, as evidenced by their disparate filmographies.
I’m skeptical when it comes to Warner Bros recent films even at the best times, but this is completely untenable. At this point, I just don’t see how Justice League can even be watchable, never mind the one that finally turns DC’s cinematic fortunes around.