‘Justice League’ Press Invite: A True Course Correction or Desperate PR Move?
It’s no secret that the majority of critics and audiences disliked Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. While I didn’t hate the film, I was definitely lukewarm when it came to Supes and Bats. My feelings remain mixed and probably won’t change until I see BvS again, most likely the three-hour cut. I have a sneaking suspicion I might like it more after a second viewing*. Suffice it to say that while there was a lot to like (even love) about BvS (Affleck’s Batman, Gadot’s Wonder Woman, the opening sequence, the final battles), there was also justifiable scorn (Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor**, poor editing, clunky dialogue, the grim tone).
While most studios have an IDGAF attitude when it comes to negative criticism, BvS is a Batarang of a different color. In this case green, most specifically the lack of green. A film the studios expected to make over $1 billion worldwide, BvS currently stands at approximately $872 million. While this is nothing to throw a kryptonite spear at, it’s nowhere near what Warner Bros. expected. With a $250 million budget and factoring in marketing and advertising, many financial pundits stated BvS needed to make at least $1 billion to turn a profit. Personally, I think that’s absurd but I’m not privy to the ins and outs of Hollywood’s financial miasma.
What I’m trying to get at is that Warner Bros. has fully committed to a DCEU slate of movies. Two have already been released, one (Suicide Squad) will be released in just over a month, one has finished principal photography (Wonder Woman), and one is currently filming (Justice League). Warner Bros. has already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to mimic Marvel Studios’ success. Like it or not they are through the looking-glass and they’ve got to navigate their way through Wonderland. In fact Warner Bros. has invested so much that they’ve scaled back the number of non-superhero movies they’re releasing. This is a big gamble and they can’t afford to fail.
As such, in a virtually unheard of move, Warner Bros. recently invited a group of critics and other media to visit the production of Justice League currently filming in England. These included some of the harshest critics of the film as well. They gave them virtually unlimited access, allowing them to interview Ben Affleck, director Zack Snyder, and producers Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven. In addition, the media was able to see and release the scene (the transcript anyway) where Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen (AKA The Flash) meet for the first time. Previous actions have indicated the studio’s willingness to course correct, such as the reshoots for Suicide Squad (I don’t believe for a moment that it wasn’t done to add levity) and hiring Geoff Johns to co-head up the DCEU. (A brilliant move in my opinion.)
However, this media invite is some next level shit. I don’t remember ever hearing anything like this in the history of the industry. (If I’m wrong please someone in the comment section correct me.) Yes set visits are common, but this??? This is unprecedented.
There’s no denying this is the ultimate mea culpa. It’s an attempt to get the media on Warner Bros. side, so that they can show them that they’ve heard the complaints of the media and the fans, and are course correcting. I think that’s as plain as the hair on Guy Gardner’s ass. But is this a true course correction by Warner Bros. or a complete publicity stunt?
I guess that all depends on what you take away from the visit. In an interview with Ben Affleck he states that the difference between BvS and Justice League (now just a solo film) is, “There’s definitely room for more humor,” and BvS as a movie, ” was a really dark, heavy movie that was rooted in Dark Knight Returns, which was a heavy, dark book and this is not that.” He goes on to say that whereas BvS offered us a broken Batman that’s resorted to killing, Justice League‘s Batman will show a rejuvenated Batman whose faith in humanity has been restored. Furthermore, Batman’s detective skills will be much more on display, something that previous Batman films have lacked. All these things are the right things to say, but the proof is in the Penguin pudding.
As I previously stated, the producers allowed the media to view a scene where Bruce Wayne meets Barry Allen. Here’s a transcript:
BARRY ALLEN: “You must be looking for a person who looks exactly like me but is definitely not me. Somebody…I don’t know…hippie…long hair. A very attractive Jewish boy.”
Bruce shows him the camera footage which has Barry grabbing milk in the store.
BARRY ALLEN: “Well he drinks milk and I don’t drink milk.”
BRUCE WAYNE: “I know you have abilities; I just don’t know what they are.”
BARRY ALLEN: “My special skills include viola, web design, fluent in sign-language, gorilla sign-language…”
BRUCE WAYNE: “Silicon-based sand coarse fabric. Abrasion-resistant. Heat-resistant.
BARRY ALLEN: “Uh yeah I do competitive ice dancing.”
BRUCE WAYNE: “This is used on the space shuttle to prevent it from burning up upon re-entry.”
BARRY ALLEN: “I ummm do…very competitive ice dancing. Look man I don’t know who you are but whoever you’re looking for, it’s not me.”
Bruce then quickly throws a Batarang at Barry as the environment goes into slo-motion except for him who easily catches the Batarang and makes the revelation that Bruce is Batman.
BARRY ALLEN: “You’re the Batman?”
BRUCE WAYNE: “So you’re fast.”
BARRY ALLEN: “That feels like an over-simplification.”
BRUCE WAYNE: “I’m putting together a team of people with special abilities. You see I think enemies are coming…”
BARRY ALLEN: “STOP! Right there. I’m in.”
BRUCE WAYNE: “You are. Just like that?”
BARRY ALLEN: “Yeah. Umm…I need friends.”
BRUCE WAYNE: “Great.”
BARRY ALLEN: *looking at the Batarang* “Can I keep this?”
I don’t know about you Constant Reader but I thought that was freakin’ hilarious. Competitive ice dancing? Are you kidding me? Gold Jerry! Gold! It definitely lends credence to Affleck’s humor claims.
But what about Zack Snyder? If you believe the majority of critics, the Doomsday share of the blame falls on him. While there’s validity to those contentions, to say it’s 100% his fault is wildly inaccurate. There was plenty of blame to go around. At the end of the day though, he’s the captain of this invisible airplane, and whether or not Justice League succeeds or fails depends a lot on him. The problem is that while he offered up some exciting tidbits (bigger scale, Aquaman and Flash’s expanded roles, his admiration for Geoff Johns) he never really acknowledged some of the failures of BvS. Granted he’s defended the movie ad nauseam, but a director who won’t admit to his own failings loses my respect a little. There’s no question Zack Snyder is a great visual director. Whether or not he’ll be able to go beyond spectacle remains to be seen. (For the record I think he’s capable, and Watchmen is the proof.)
Deborah Snyder on the other hand did apologize about BvS‘s tone and promises Justice League will be much lighter. Furthermore, she claims that BvS is the darkest you’ll see in the DCEU going forward. I hope so. I don’t know how you could get much darker honestly. Deborah Snyder also teased some pretty awesome Batman tech like a new Batsuit and the Nightcrawler, which sounds like it will put the Tumbler from the Dark Knight trilogy to shame. Charles Roven also discussed costume and set design and from the looks of it, Justice League at the very least will succeed on that front.
So I guess to answer my main question, I’d say this is about 90% course correction, 10% publicity stunt. Either way, it was the right call for Warner Bros. The last thing they want is for 18 months of negative momentum via the Internet. Even perpetual DCEU haters like Devin Faraci over at Birth.Movies.Death came away hopefully optimistic, if not entirely convinced. I think Warner Bros. will take that. Some hope is better than none. We live in a technologically advanced word-of-mouth age where one negative tweet can cost you millions of dollars at the box office. You can’t fault Warner Bros for trying to control the narrative.
*I did in fact watch the first 10 minutes free of the Ultimate Cut. The positive was that it made me want to see the film again. The negative is that it showed no new footage.
**For the life of me I can’t understand the people who defend Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. His performance would have made for a great Riddler and an even better Jervis Tetch/Mad Hatter, but his Lex Luthor is straight dogshit.
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