Fans have known for a while that a "Justice League" movie was planned, and that the upcoming "Batman vs. Superman" sequel to 2013's Man of Steel would help set up the team-up film. What wasn't known was exactly how long they would have to wait or who would be behind the camera when it finally started filming. Thanks to a Wall Street Journal exclusive with Greg Silverman, president of worldwide production at Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX) Warner Bros. studio, those questions have been answered.
While at one point there was a "Flash" film planned for release between the Man of Steel sequel and a "Justice League" film, there was no mention of it from Silverman. Instead, "Justice League" seems like it will go into production directly after "Batman vs. Superman" and will be Warner's third release in its new DC Comics film universe. Not only that, but it will once again have director Zach Snyder calling the shots.
Given that Snyder directed Man of Steel and is fixing to start production on "Batman vs. Superman," he seems like somewhat of an obvious choice as director of the upcoming "Justice League" film. With that said, there's a difference between "obvious" choice and "best" choice. Is Warner making a mistake by bringing Snyder back for a third film?
The problem is that this essentially sets up "Justice League" as another Man of Steel sequel, giving it the same general look and feel as the movies that come before it. This makes it more dependent on the success of those films, and also significantly increases the chances of fan fatigue. The rest of the DC cinematic universe will spin off from it, as opposed to the separate films coming together for a "Justice League" film after the different characters have established their own styles and personalities.
Could Snyder bring diminishing returns?
Man of Steel did well at the box office, bringing in $668 million worldwide in its theatrical run. To say that it was divisive among fans would be an understatement, however. The controversy surrounding Superman taking the life of an opponent didn't hurt the film's performance (and in his defense, he's also killed a version of Zod in the comics ... though that was some old continuity), but it's still a frequent talking point among those who feel that Superman wasn't portrayed well.
This was followed up by the highly controversial casting of Ben Affleck as Batman and news that more Justice League members would be appearing in the film as well. While cameos can help set up the "Justice League" movie, they can also make a film seem crowded; just ask 21st Century Fox (NASDAQ: FOX) about the complaints it received about having too many characters packed into X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
If "Batman vs. Superman" fails to connect with moviegoers who were on the fence after Man of Steel and the film's casting reports, having Snyder locked in for "Justice League" could become a liability. If nothing else, it seems that Warner Bros. is getting ahead of itself in hopes of catching up to The Avengers.
Hoping to be Marvel-ous
It's no secret that Warner Bros. is hoping to enjoy the same success with its shared film universe that Disney's (NYSE: DIS) Marvel Studios has found with its comic films. The "Phase 1" Marvel films largely performed well, and The Avengers is the third top-grossing film of all time (without adjustments for inflation). It was then followed directly by the $1.2 billion take of Iron Man 3. Both of the films that have been released since (Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier) have brought in over $640 million, and the latter is still going strong at the box office.
While Warner Bros. found success with Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy, other attempts at bringing DC characters to the big screen haven't gone over so well. Both Jonah Hex and Green Lantern flopped, and even the previous attempt at adapting Superman (2006's Superman Returns) fell short of success with only a $391 million worldwide take on a $270 million budget (since marketing costs and other expenses mean the film likely lost money). Man of Steel is serving as the launching point for a new DC cinematic universe simply because it did well in theaters.
Too much, too soon
Provided that the "Batman vs. Superman" film performs well, the "Justice League" movie will likely benefit from having the same general style as the previous two films. With that said, poor reviews or weak box office performance could dampen Warner's enthusiasm for its new universe. Right now it's banking on being able to build a blockbuster franchise that all fits into Snyder's vision, but if the fans start to question that vision, it could result in another aborted attempt to launch a big-screen crossover franchise.
That's one of the big advantages that Marvel Studios has had. Separate films and franchises have different creative teams, allowing them to develop on their own without trying to make every film fit the mold of the last. If Warner Bros. really wants to capture the Marvel magic, it's going to need to step away from Snyder's vision at some point and let its DC universe grow.