Come what may, whether Justice League is a major disaster or a slight underperformer, we should note that in their own weird way DC Films was about as patient as the MCU in the road to the big superhero team-up movie. Yes, it certainly feels like WB was rushing to the end zone, and I would argue all parties would have perhaps benefited from a Man of Steel 2 and a stand-alone Batman movie before we got Batman v Superman. Ironically, that’s what Legendary is doing with the Godzilla/King Kong universe, but I digress.
If we count Man of Steel as the first movie in the DC Films universe, then Justice League is the fifth film in the franchise. Comparatively, The Avengers was the sixth film in the MCU that was started by Paramount/Viacom Inc.’s Iron Man. So, yes, Marvel tossed an extra film into the pile, but was the MCU any richer for having Universal’s The Incredible Hulk as its second release just a month after Iron Man? Phase One of the MCU and “phase one of DC Films is essentially Iron Man/Man of Steel, Iron Man 2/Batman v Superman, Thor/Suicide Squad, Captain America/Wonder Woman and of course The Avengers/Justice League.
It’s not an exact match, as Thor was an integral part of Walt Disney’s The Avengers while the Suicide Squad folks weren’t even referenced in Justice League. But it’s not too far off. Moreover, The Avengers opened in May of 2008 while The Avengers opened in May of 2012, exactly four years later. If we again count Man of Steel as the first installment, that’s 4.5 years between the Superman origin story and Justice League, meaning that there is more time between the “series premiere” and “season finale” in the DC Films universe than in the MCU.
If it doesn’t feel that way, it’s because Man of Steel was followed by a nearly three-year wait as Man of Steel 2 became Batman v Superman which was then moved from July 2015 to March 2016. So, we had Man of Steel in June of 2013, nothing for nearly three years, and then four movies in under two years. Had Batman v Superman opened in July of 2015, two years after Man of Steel and then Suicide Squad opened a year later and then Wonder Woman and Justice League opened according to plan, it would have been more spaced out as opposed to feast-or-famine.
Moreover, had Batman v Superman opened in July of 2015 and been received the (mixed-negative) same way, Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. and friends would have had a lot more time to tinker with Justice League in the aftermath. To the extent that (all due respect) Zack Snyder was only kept on as the Justice League director because production was set to begin weeks after Dawn of Justice opened, well, a release date 2.5 years before the JL release as opposed to 1.75 years beforehand may have made a difference.
In the end, the issue isn’t that Warner Bros. rushed these movies because I would argue (save for Suicide Squad) they did not. And it wasn’t even their cart-before-the-horse strategy because making Justice League an introductory chapter or the third part of a Superman trilogy isn’t an inherently bad idea. I would argue that with the whole “hindsight is 20/20” thing, that WB and DC overdosed on reactionary actions.
They panicked after Man of Steel merely did “pretty well” threw Batman into the sequel. They panicked after Dawn of Justice got miserable reviews and crashed after opening weekend and somewhat overhauled Justice League. And they panicked when audiences liked the humorous Suicide Squad trailers and recut the movie into its final messy form. Because they kept having to react to the previous movie, the films became rushed on an individual basis.
We’ll never know what would have happened if WB hadn’t gone ahead with Man of Steel 2, one that didn’t obsess over the first film’s collateral damage (or just retconned it, Civil War-style, so that a lot fewer folks died), or if David Ayer’s intended Suicide Squad made it to theaters, or if whatever Snyder had in mind for Justice League before Dawn of Justice came to fruition. But because WB kept retooling and reconfiguring, the films all felt rushed and thus the whole “road to Justice League” felt shorter than it actually was.
And the irony of all this is that Justice League is pretty fun, essentially a Saturday morning cartoon come to life. If it were truly the start of the DC Films franchise I imagine we folks would be a lot more positive. Another amusing irony: What started as a somber, realistic look at Superman with Man of Steel and then continued with a grim and cynical look at DC Comics in Batman v Superman has morphed into a Justice League movie that really does feel like a Super Friends movie. To quote the very best version of Aquaman, that’s… outrageous!
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