Over the weekend, rumors and misunderstandings popped up about the future of Justice League as a movies series in its own right. And as with any game of whispers, it’s difficult to parse the truth or even to pick up on the original intent. In the case of Justice League, a production mired in bad press, the rumors continue to strengthen a narrative that Warner Bros. Pictures lost confidence in director Zack Snyder’s vision for the DC Entertainment film universe. According to Batman On Film‘s Bill Ramey, an early cut of the film was deemed “unwatchable” by unnamed studio executives and sources. This screening apparently took place long before Snyder’s personal tragedy and precipitated the appearance of Joss Whedon in Warner/DC offices.
Since we’re playing a game of whispers here, I’ve often wondered if the initial Batgirl announcement was a cover for Whedon’s participation in Justice League at that moment. A part of me still wonders if the film will ever actually happen.
But to continue Ramey’s narrative, Whedon began rewriting portions of the film before Snyder and producer Deborah Snyder left the project to deal with the understandable grief they were experiencing. Then, when it became clear the Snyders could not continue, Whedon stepped in to continue his rewrite of the film as director. As Ramey puts it, “the resulting changes being made to the film are significant.” How significant? The tone is reportedly getting an overhaul. With Snyder’s darker take on the characters out of favor — and to be honest, it still feels ghoulish to discuss these things under the circumstances — Whedon’s mission is to inject a “lightness” to the proceedings. I suppose that means quips and a greater sense of rapport between the characters; Whedon’s key strengths as a storyteller. Those more attuned to Snyder’s DC Universe may see it as the intrusion of Marvel-style humor in what was a serious look at a world where gods grow up in Kansas and the super-rich fight street crime.
Another apparent change is the ending. According to Slashfilm‘s /Film Daily podcast (via ScreenRant), a reference to the coming of Darkseid, setting up the originally planed part two of Justice League, will be removed. Slashfilm’s Peter Scrietta later clarified on Twitter that while the decision to make Justice League a standalone feature occurred before production began last year, Darkseid’s removal makes it clear that Justice League stands alone. Though he compared it to a similar change made to the upcoming Avengers films, it adds to the Justice League‘s narrative of uncertainty.
Of course, in light of the narrative’s suggestion that Snyder’s DC future was shaky well before his family’s tragedy — and yeah, I keep tiptoeing around the details because the Snyders deserve some respect in what is and will be a very long period of mourning — the decision to drop the original concept for Justice League 2 makes sense. The studio vision of their DC cinema universe was at odds with Snyder’s approach. Also, now that teasing the next villain is a cliche in superhero films, letting Justice League antagonist Steppenwolf stand on his own has a certain creative appeal to it.
At the same time, you have to wonder if Snyder was already reconsidering his DC involvement as Justice League first went into production. Whatever your opinion of his two other DC films might be, they feel like grueling shoots just from the finished products. To spend so many years working in that mindset has to weigh upon a person.
Or, if you follow studio gossip, the reticence to follow through on the original Justice League plan could be another symptom of Warner Bros’ overall lack of direction at the executive level. Much of the schadenfreude in rumors concerning the DC Extended Universe are aimed as much at a corporate failing as they are the talents of Snyder.
Which just adds to the overall sense that this is ghoulish. Though Justice League‘s pre-release narrative has been dominated by stories like these, they had the usual tales-told-out-of-school vibe to them. Now, they feel like rib kicks.
Nevertheless, Justice League must be released and the stories surrounding its difficult production will continue to come out. People will still be betting on its success (or failure) and the strange way the DCEU divided fans will continue to create a wedge. To me, a boy who grew up as Johnny DC, it’s sad that the release of a Justice League film is not cause for unequivocal excitement. Instead, it feels as though Darkseid has already won.