Can Zack Snyder Recover With “Justice League”?

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Last week, a number of reporters from comic-centric and pop culture news outlets were invited to the London set of Warner Bros.’ to get an update on ’s next chapter in the DC Extended Universe with which he’s been entrusted. This comes several months after Snyder’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice received scathing critical reviews and suffered from an alarming week-to-week box office drop, which sent the studio into a panic and set off a series of course-correction maneuvers, the latest of which appears to be this media tour.

So what new details emerged about the two-part Justice League movie? Well, first of all, Justice League will now just be one movie, as confirmed by Deborah Snyder to /Film. That’s a pretty significant shake-up, especially since the studio had actually slated June 14, 2019 – a smack-in-the-middle-of-summer release date – for Part II.

Next, the studio confirmed that Steppenwolf will be the primary villain in the movie – though the casting has yet to be finalized. One bit of casting news that has been confirmed is that of Game of Thrones actor Kristofer Hivju will play an ancient Atlantean king.

Plot details have been revealed as well, with a main storyline involving the Three Mother Boxes. The synopsis reads as follows: “Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.  Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to find and recruit a team of metahumans to stand against this newly awakened threat.  But despite the formation of this unprecedented league of heroes—Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash—it may already be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.”

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But the most significant thing that reporters learned about Justice League? Clearly it’s the fact that Snyder and the studio are trying to change the tone of the DCEU. What’s been reported numerous times already is that a scene screened for the press between Affleck’s Bruce Wayne and Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen had jokes in it. And considering the fact of the most devastating criticisms leveled at Batman V. Superman was that it was dreary and humorless, reinforced by rain-drenched scowls and a thunderous score, the simple existence of a joke could prove to be crucial in rephrasing the conversation surrounding Snyder and his oversight of these movies. After all, it can’t be overstated that one of the strongest assets of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films is its sense of humor, which began with the wry smirk of Robert Downey Jr. in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man and has flowed into every subsequent MCU movie.

The gut-wrenching reaction to Batman V. Superman from the majority of critics sent Warner Bros. into a frenzy of DC course correction; their billion dollar baby was – and still very much is – at risk of being a bust before it really even got out of the gate. In addition to a flurry of executive shuffles, the announcement that Ben Affleck would helm his own Batman film, and the emphasis to put extra TLC into Warner’s DC Films branch, it was reported that David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was going back for reshoots in an effort to punch up the funny (Ayer’s denied the reports). But that hasn’t exactly calmed the fears of fans, however, who worry that the decisively dark tone established by the early press releases – summed up nicely by those disturbing images of Jared Leto as the Joker – is being artificially injected with humor that may not necessarily gel with the rest of the film.

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Justice League, on the other hand, is still at an early enough stage that such tonal tweaks can be more naturally incorporated into the story – and clearly Warner Bros., Deborah and , Affleck, and the rest of the gang want the world to know it. But let’s face it: Snyder and Ayer aren’t exactly known for their comedic chops.

Not to mention the fact that this sort of reactionary filmmaking could present an entirely new problem for WB: a franchise that is driven not by the vision of a director in which a studio has confidence, but one that is cobbled together from focus group surveys and feeds. All of that said, Warner Bros. wants to put a positive spin on its most valuable franchise ahead of Comic-Con in July, and give the fans a reason to have hope.

Justice League is currently slated for release on November 17, 2017.

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