- Before I get into my thoughts on my visit, I should acknowledge that a set visit gives us a very limited and almost completely orchestrated look at the production. Everything we saw on set and everything that was said by the filmmakers is completely by design, to paint a particular picture.
- With that bit of warning out of the way, I won’t bury my lede here: Even though Justice League may look much like the other Zack Snyder DCEU films, it feels like a much different film from Man of Steel or Batman v Superman. There are moments of humor, humanity, personality and color.
- Director Zack Snyder admits that he was not expecting the critical reaction to Batman v Superman:
- “You know, when Batman v Superman first came out, I was like, “Wow, okay, woof.” It did catch me off-guard. I kind of felt like — and I have had to, in my mind, make an adjustment, and maybe it is my hardcore take on characters as far as I love ’em, and I love the material. I do, I take it really deep. So I think the nice thing about working on Justice League is that it is an opportunity to really blow the doors off of the scale and the bad guys and team-building and all the stuff that I think I could justify as a big, modern comic book movie, if that makes any sense.”
- And producer Deborah Snyder is very clear about it — Justice League is “a totally different movie than Batman v Superman.” From what I saw while visiting the set, this film seems to have more humor, more personalities, and a sense that the filmmakers have learned something from their mistakes.
- Barry still looking at the Batarang, “Can I keep this?” After screening us the Bruce Wayne/Barry Allen meeting scene, Zack Snyder explains that he chose that scene for us because “it shows a little bit about what Ezra brings to the movie.”
- “You know, Batman’s Batman. I think Bruce Wayne has this kind of Batman humor that’s not the same as — you could say he’s the straight guy, you know? It’s what he’s good at. When I saw the scene — we just cut it together the other day — I was like, “Oh God, this is fun.” This is an interesting way of understanding how the movies have gone in a progression.”
- I’m not entirely sure how well that scene plays out reading it on this website (and I’m sure you’d rather be watching it than reading it) but watching it on a screen in the war room, it had me smiling and laughing out loud. This doesn’t seem like a scene that would have fit in Man of Steel or Batman v Superman. To be honest, it feels like something I would expect from a Marvel Studios film.
- If there is any criticism I can throw at the scene, it is that it almost feels too similar to the Tony Stark / Spider-Man scene in Captain America: Civil War. And I’m not accusing Snyder of copying that film, as this scene was probably written well before anyone saw the interaction between Peter Parker and Tony Stark on the big screen. It’s just an odd coincidence, kind of like how Captain America: Civil War almost feels like an alternate earth version of Batman v Superman, covering many of the same themes, many of the same beats.
- I honestly had more fun watching this one scene than I did the entirety of Batman v Superman, and again, that’s coming from someone who didn’t hate that film.
- Deborah says that while a lot of the recent superhero films have been bright and fun, “Man of Steel and BvS were sort of celebrations of those darker comics like Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman.” And for Zack, he explains that the darkness was necessary.
- “I think Superman was on his way toward something… I wanted to get to a Superman that had a reason to be Superman, like a reason to feel the way he felt about humanity, that we all understand from the comic books as far as he’s pretty, as far as a moral compass goes, he’s pretty much the thing. But I feel like he had to go through something to be that.”
- “Not to give anything away or say anything that would be too telling of where we’re headed with the movie, but death is darker than, say, resurrection or team-building. It’s just a darker concept, like when you’re dealing with Dark Knight or Death of Superman, those kinds of ideas. As opposed to, “Oh, let’s build a team and fight the bad guy!” It’s a different energy.”
- But it seems weird that the filmmakers acknowledge this and still try to paint a picture that the fun and humor of Justice League was always planned, that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were always leading towards happier times. Deborah Snyder affirms that this was all a planned evolution, even if it might not feel like one.
- “Every story that we’re telling is a completely different story, and I think what’s really great is that where we were going is kind of what the audience is wanting. We just had to take the characters from somewhere to bring them up to where they are and that was kind of our journey. … I think that MoS and Batman v Superman were kind of origin stories. You kind of saw them really at points in their life that they were challenged. It was a darker movie. But this is a movie about coming together. It’s a movie about building them up. So this is really an arc that we started. We have to go somewhere. You have to start from somewhere to really get to that point. But I think we’re gonna see all the heroes in a way that people know them from the comic books.”
- Snyder admits that he’s consciously changing the tone for this film.
- “Yeah, I mean, I think I’m obsessed with tone in the movies. Tone has always been the main thing that I go after with a movie, and I really wanted the tone of the three movies to be different chapters and not be the same note that you strike like, “Okay, there’s this again.” I really wanted that, and I do believe that since Batman v Superman came out and we’ve wrapped our heads around what Justice League would be, I do think that the tone has, because of what fans have said and how the movie was received by some, is that we have kind of put the screws to what we thought the tone would be and I feel crushed it that little bit further.”
- “There are parts of the movie of course where they’re facing enemies and they have to get their stuff together. Look at the Batmobile, for God’s sake. You know, they’re going to be drawn into conflict. But I think the Magnificent Seven aspect of the movie, the team-building part of the movie, which — and you guys know I’m a fan of Magnificent Seven and team-making movies. So it’s fun for me to finally get to this point now in the progression of these three movies where we are building a team and making the Justice League, if you will.”
- As far as the rumors, Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder were both on set and working. It seemed like business as usual. Even Zack Snyder denies that there was/is any corporate pressure on this film, or Batman v Superman.
- “Yeah, I don’t think so. I would just say that, for me, Batman v Superman, I think there is a slight misconception about the shooting, anyway, about how much pressure there was on us and the pressure on the movie to perform in a certain way. From my point of view, and maybe just because I don’t know how to do it any other way, we make really personal movies. For me, anyway, I love the characters. I love comic books — maybe to a fault sometimes. Like, I dork out on these hardcore aspects of the comic books, because I’m a grownup and I love that part of it. I had a great time making the movie. …But I think the studio’s been amazing with me, and they are a filmmaker-driven studio. They don’t really do a ton of things by committee. It’s just been a great experience I’ve had with them as a studio. But I do think that, for me, it’s been amazingly rewarding to work with these characters, because I just love stuff. I love the material, and for me it is personal, a really personal movie.”
- Back on the soundstage, they are still filming a scene on the roof top of Gotham City Police Department. As the scene continues, Batman comes to the conclusion that the parademons must have a nest somewhere, but Commissioner Gordon has coordinated all the data onto a map and the lines “don’t converge anywhere.” Cyborg responds, “On land… the lines converge at Striker’s Island, between the two cities.” Batman remembers that vents exist that lead to the abandoned tunnel which connects the two cities. Someone suggests, “Let’s take the car.” “Kind of small,” says Batman. “I’ve got something bigger.”
- To me Justice League doesn’t feel like an evolution but a new start. Zack Snyder tried to do something different with an angry, darker, more brooding version of this superhero universe and it didn’t work for most people. The tone of Justice League feels more in line with the movies we’ve been getting from the Disney-owned Marvel Studios. Depending on your view, maybe thats a good thing, maybe it isn’t. For me it looks like it should be an improvement.
- They were right, I was invited to the set because I was a hater. But the mission wasn’t to humiliate me or to take me down a notch. It was to convert me. It was to show me that things were going to be different with Justice League. Hell, if I had to sum this entire set visit up in one quote it would come from producer Debbie Snyder, talking about the lessons she and Zack learned from critical and audience reactions to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice:
- “We learned that people don’t like seeing their heroes deconstructed.”
- In Which I Visit The Costume Shop And Am Both Impressed And Reminded This Is Still A Zack Snyder Movie. Aquaman looked like Zack Snyder’s Aquaman, you know? Really desaturated, very badass. So my fire still wasn’t lit.
- The next stop was Cyborg’s costume, which does not exist. Cyborg is all CGI, so Ray Fisher is wearing pajamas on set all day. When he goes into full battle mode his whole face gets covered. Also he can grow two extra arms for fist fighting. It’s kind of silly, but I’ll be honest – I want kind of silly. I perked up at that.
- Then we went to lunch. And we were like, is this it? Is it just a regular set visit? Shouldn’t they be selling us on the idea that this is a new direction for the DC movieverse? Well, I don’t want to leave you in suspense: they did that after lunch.
- All of this is great, but get this: as Cyborg walks up to the group Wonder Woman looks at him and gently smiles. A smile! In a Zack Snyder superhero movie! I was over the moon. This is what I want from a movie like this – people who are at least happy to see one another. We worked out a theory as to the whole smile thing – the team had tried to recruit Cyborg earlier but he wasn’t interested. Now, with his dad abducted (that has to be who he’s talking about), Cyborg is all in and Wonder Woman is happy he has joined.
- The team talks among themselves for a moment, which in and of itself is a miracle in a Zack Snyder superhero movie. They’re all in costume and they’re talking to each other. For reference, here’s Zack in an Empire Magazine interview explaining why he doesn’t like characters in costume conversing:
- “I kinda came to the conclusion also that they couldn’t really talk in their suits, um, with any credibility… more than 4 or 5 lines and you start to notice, like wait, these are two guys … one guys dressed up like a bat and the other has a big red ‘S’ on his chest, and they’re being super serious about how mad they are at each other…”
- But it gets better – the members of the League aren’t just talking in their suits, they’re having a super serious conversation about demons! And about where the Parademon nest is! They look at a map of the abductions and realize they are all clustered around one place – Stryker’s Island. Hey, isn’t there an abandoned tunnel set that we just toured a minute ago? I think so!
- Watching this scene be shot – I saw about five takes, two different set-ups (one was a close-up on Wonder Woman as she smiles at Cyborg) – I couldn’t help but geek out. Yes, I hated BvS, but here was Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Gordon in perfect costume (and also Cyborg in his jammies) standing next to the Batsignal talking about Parademons. This is the sort of shit a comic book nerd lives for. But more than that, as a hater this scene really went a long way to convincing me that Snyder and company truly understand how they fucked up BvS. They’re not just paying lip service. They really get it.
- That scene couldn’t have happened in Man of Steel. It couldn’t have happened in BvS for sure. It was funny, and Affleck and Miller had good chemistry. But more than that it was written from a place where these characters were being treated affectionately. It wasn’t a deconstruction or a teardown or a real world version of these characters. It was full of love, and it was full of humanity. He talked about the scene we had just watched. “When I saw the scene — we just cut it together the other day — I was like, ‘Oh God, this is fun.’ “ And he was right. Not in the Jimmy Olsen getting shot in the head way, either. It was really fun.
- I flew out to London for one reason: I wanted to be convinced that Justice League wasn’t going to be a write off. I wanted to be convinced that even though the movie was in pre-production before BvS came out that the people behind the scenes were leaning hard on the steering wheel and trying like crazy to course correct.
- I do not believe this was always the plan. That was sort of the narrative on set, that this was always going to be the triumphant return to the light for the DC movieverse. I think that the plan was closer to Injustice: Gods Among Us, as hinted at by the Knightmare in BvS – a story where an evil Superman has to be stopped by the assembled League. After this set visit I do not believe that future is in the cards for the DC movieverse anymore (or if it is it’s like three more JLmovies down the road). You know how Barry traveled back in time to warn Batman about the future? BvS did that to us, and I think the future is changing for the better.
- So I’m cautiously optimistic. The task ahead of Snyder and crew is a huge one, and the stakes are very high for Warner Bros and DC Films. But even if they started making these adjustments very late, the fact that they’re making them at all is good. Yes, I’m a hater of BvS. I hate hate hate that movie. But I’m not, despite the popular Reddit opinion, a hater of DC. It’s my love of DC and Superman that made me hate BvS so much. These are great, iconic characters with rich (if occasionally confusing) histories, and what makes them special isn’t that they’re dark or angry or brutal. It’s that they’re towering figures, at once like us and better than us, doing the right thing because they can’t imagine being any other way. I didn’t see that reflected in BvS. At all. But after spending a day on the set of Justice League, this hater thinks that this time they could be getting it right. I may be skeptical about some of the things I was told on this set visit, but there’s one thing Debbie Snyder said that I am taking very seriously:
- “I think the darkest where we’ll be is where we’ve been.”
June 22nd, 2016: Zack talks about relationship with Geoff Johns. (Steve Weintraub from Collider writes about set visit)
- “Geoff and I have had a great working relationship, even on Batman v Superman, and on Wonder Woman we worked together really closely, and we have a project coming up that we want to do together… I can’t talk about that. His knowledge of comics is just crazy. He’s like an encyclopedia of comic books. Like I’ll be like, ‘Hey, is there a weird Lantern from –?’ and he’ll be like, ‘You know…!’ He’s just amazing about keeping everything in canon that I’ve not even heard of —he goes, ‘Yeah, it’s back!’ Like we’ll look through some archive. You know, there’s DC-pedia, but he’s even crazier than that.”
- The filmmaker went on to tout Warner Bros.’ penchant for filmmaker-driven films:
- “But I don’t think the sort of birth of Batman v Superman was like some corporate conspiracy to sell tickets or do whatever. I think it just became this great vehicle that had a lot of focus put on it because of where it ended up in the timeline, you know? I think the studio’s been amazing with me, and they are a filmmaker-driven studio. They don’t really do a ton of things by committee. It’s just been a great experience I’ve had with them as a studio… So I think the nice thing about working on Justice League is that it is an opportunity to really blow the doors off of the scale and the bad guys and team-building and all the stuff that I think I could justify as a big, modern comic book movie, if that makes any sense.”
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