- It opened to less than the first Iron Man- a far cry from the Avengers dollars the studio had been hoping for, and also a guarantee that it won't crack a billion
- Critics liked it marginally better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
- The behind-the-scenes drama only really affected how hardcore fans view the film, since mainstream audiences awarded the film a higher CinemaScore than they gave to BvS and they contributed to the film having one of the best second weekend drops at the box office. While Man of Steel, BvS, and Suicide Squad cooled between 64%-69% in their second frames, JL dropped a relatively mild 56% despite heavy competition from Disney-Pixar's Coco
Some, like my friends over at Batman-On-Film, are firm in their belief that Warner Bros. is going to "blow the whole thing up" and reboot everything. Others are optimistic that DC Entertainment is going to stay the course and give us films that truly live up to their potential.
I, myself, don't know what to think. As someone who's exhaustively versed in the history of DC and Warner Bros. (Seriously, CLICK HERE for an in-depth history lesson), I can't help but think of the past as I try to predict what the future will hold.
See, back in the mid-00s, Warner Bros. was set to launch a shared universe long before Marvel Studios entered the picture. They first conceived of a "Batman vs Superman" film back in 2002, and then pivoted away from that when Superman Returns misfired and Batman Begins triumphed. At the time, the studio went to Christopher Nolan, said "Do whatever you want with Batman," and the director went and put the character off on his own island where he couldn't interact with the rest of the DC Universe. This put WB in a bind, as they still craved a shared universe, yet no one could deny that Nolan turned Batman into the King of Superheroes during his Dark Knight Trilogy.
At the time, after Green Lantern flopped and Justice League Mortal got scrapped, Warner Bros. was forced to wait until Nolan was done with Batman in 2012 before they could take another crack at a shared universe with 2013's Man of Steel.
Now they're at a similar fork in the road. Justice League today is what Superman Returns was then- a pricey misfire. So are they going to go to their current crop of filmmakers, like Patty Jenkins, James Wan, and Matt Reeves, and give them the same offer they gave Nolan? My BOF buddies, Bill and Rick, seem to think so. But I just can't see Warner Bros. putting their shared universe on the shelf again.
Something that makes the outlook very different now than it was when SR stumbled out of the gate is that they've already got Aquaman in the can and Wonder Woman 2 is an absolute certainty. So the studio is already way too invested in this current continuity to simply let the directors reboot them and cut all ties to Snyder's old DCEU.
With all of this in mind, I reached out to my sources over at Warner Bros., and I've been bugging them for anything they can tell me about what the studio is thinking about the future of the DC Films Universe.
For starters, they say things are relatively quiet right now. On some level, they've known for a while that Justice League wasn't going to be the monumental smash hit they had once envisioned, so its dismal showing at the box office last week wasn't exactly a shocker. Using very fitting terminology, they say that "there is hope" about the film's legs, though, based on the aforementioned gentle second weekend drop. They also note that "the social media interaction has been good" for the film, which adds to their sense that the movie could put up some respectable numbers these next two weekends and inch towards at least breaking even. It also points to the fact that they're un-phased by the negative backlash from hardcore Snyder fans.
While they couldn't say, with certainty, what the future holds since the studio plans on being quiet about the DC slate for a bit, they did mention something that could be very, very telling:
(Beware Justice League *SPOILERS* Lie Ahead!)
They've taken note of the buzz around the Legion of Doom post-credit sequence, and it looks like they may use the popularity of that concept as the connective tissue for the next few DC films.
You may have noticed that there's been an awful lot of chatter about Joe Manganiello's Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke, in the last few days. The studio has allowed him to release a high-res image of himself as the character, and the once tight-lipped actor has had his lips loosened so that he can keep the hype going.
"Legion of Doom is happening. Not an LOD movie, but building towards the team. Watch Manganiello. He has pretty much been blatant."
So they want to build the team, but they're not planning a movie? I asked for further clarification, and here's what I was told:
(Beware! A Slight AQUAMAN Spoiler Lies Ahead!)
"They're working on something cool for SDCC [San Diego Comic Con] 18, related to LOD. They want to continue planting seeds and building momentum for the team. Things will be generally quiet on the DC front until Aquaman hype begins, but I can tell you that there will be another LOD tag at end of that."
And then, just like that, my little birds flew away, leaving me to piece together what this intel means. And I think I've figured out what the tentative plan is.
Bye Bye Darkseid, Hello Legion of Doom
To many, it seemed like Justice League would be stripped of any foreshadowing of the future, since the studio had seemingly lost all faith in the film and was about to dump it into theaters with head-scratchingly poor CG. But then they did something interesting. Mere days before releasing the theatrical cut, after several rounds of special screenings had taken place, they suddenly slapped a Legion of Doom tag scene onto it. It's something Snyder had shot last year, back when Justice League was still seen as a massive launchpad for future DC films, and it was suddenly attached onto the theatrical cut as the sole tease for the future.
What seems to be happening now is that DC Entertainment wants to build up the LOD concept- that there's a group of mega-villains operating in the shadows- and use them as the connective tissue for the next few DC movies. Almost as the inverse of what Marvel did when they peppered all of their Phase One films with teases for a team of heroes, DC wants to pepper their next wave of films with teases for a team of villains. But rather than build to an LOD movie, I think the team could end up the central focus of the next couple of far off team-up movies: Flashpoint, Justice League 2, or both.
How that would work is anyone's guess, as those scripts are still being worked on, and Justice League 2- in particular- is a very far off priority at the moment. But it seems like the current plan is for the next few films to contain tags that show the Legion of Doom adding to its ranks before delivering a big payoff down the line.
It'd be a smart move, in many ways. Darkseid would've added to the negative perception that many of DC's villains have been way too CG-heavy and over-the-top. A team of gritty, tangible villains (Lex Luthor, Deathstroke, The Joker, et al) combined with more super-powered- yet humanoid- baddies (Reverse-Flash, Black Adam, etc) could be the perfect foil for the Justice League in a future team-up. And, considering Marvel Studios is going to be plastering Thanos everywhere these next few years, Darkseid may have ended up looking like a knockoff- ironic, considering he came first in the books.
Something like this would also cushion the blow when another actor takes over as Batman once Affleck's departure is official. As I said in my scoop from two weeks ago, the plan is to surround the next actor with familiar faces like Jeremy Irons and J.K. Simmons. If the tag on The Batman ends up having Jared Leto's Joker joining the LOD, it'll further smooth out the transition from Affleck to the new actor, keeping this Batman firmly connected to the DC Films canon.
It should be fascinating to see how this all plays out. Unfortunately, we're going to have to be super patient. As my source said, the next glimpse of the LOD won't come until next year, and the company is still piecing together exactly what the future looks like. The endgame is unclear, but what is clear is that they want to use the Legion of Doom to get there.
So strap in and sit tight! And, of course, subscribe to my El Fanboy Podcast for analysis on this scoop (and everything else going on in Geek Moviedom) in the weeks, months, and years to come.