When the phone rang, I answered immediately. I knew Bebe Lerner, Zack Snyder”s personal publicist, was supposed to be calling me, but I wasn”t sure why. “Hi, Bebe,” I said. “Am I in trouble?”
It”s a fair question. After all, my relationship to Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice has been a difficult one, and my reportage this spring set off way more controversy than I would have guessed possible. At this point, anytime I start to write about any DC film, I have a moment of hesitation. “Is this worth the hassle it will inevitably become?” One of my least favorite things about all of this has been the way all communication with Zack and Deb Snyder ceased the moment my reporting set off a ripple of bad publicity. I”ve been talking to the Snyders about their work since they were in post-production on 300, and I genuinely like the two of them. In particular, I love the way they work together. I give Deb Snyder tons of credit for what she brings to that creative partnership. Zack Snyder is allowed to be Zack Snyder because of how hard Deb Snyder works to make that happen.
“You”re not in trouble,” Bebe told me. “It”s pretty much the opposite of that, actually.” By now, if you've been paying attention to the Internet this morning, you already know the punchline to this story. I was told that Warner Bros. wanted to invite me to the set of Justice League in London and that he specifically wanted me to come because Zack wanted to show me how different this is going to be. That set visit took place last Friday, and this morning, all of the reporters who went to the set published their stories about it, and there is a fair amount of new information included in those stories.
Why wasn”t I there? Timing, more than anything. Earlier this year, I bought tickets to see John Carpenter”s live tour, and my plan was to take Toshi to the concert with me as his birthday present. While I was told they would do everything possible to have me back in time for the show, it seemed like I”d be cutting it incredibly close if I did go, and if anything went wrong, I would miss it. There was a time when I might have still considered going to the set anyway. After all, the concert was meant to be a surprise, so he wouldn”t even know he”d missed out. But I”d know, and I couldn”t do that.
Besides, I”m more and more set against set visits in large groups. They really aren”t a chance to watch actual filmmaking happening. Instead, they are highly organized and staged, and they”re basically like theme park attractions. However, Deb Snyder throws a good set visit. When I was there for Sucker Punch and Watchmen, it was clear how much thought was put into how things were presented, and she went out of her way to make sure that reporters walked away from those sets feeling like they got a great look at the movies they were trying to make. I am sure they put together a strong overall visit for this group, and it looks like they went out of their way to invite people who were negative towards Batman v Superman, knowing how far it would go with the readers if these “haters” were converted.
What”s clear from the various pieces that went up today (I recommend Mike Ryan”s piece at Uproxx, Devin Faraci”s piece from Birth.Movies.Death, and Kyle Buchanan”s piece at Vulture) is that the Snyders were on message the entire time, and that message was “This is not the same as what we”ve already done.” One of the most remarkable things that each of those sites reported is how open they”re being about the idea that they are retooling things specifically based on the way the audience reacted to Batman v Superman. For example, it was made abundantly clear to the press who attended that jokes are a big part of the equation in Justice League.
They gave away enough of the story that it almost feels like they were overcompensating. “Look! Behold! We have no secrets!” I know how well the Snyders lay out the War Rooms on their movie, art departments where you can basically walk through a visual representation of every major sequence in the movie. Warner released an official synopsis…
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.
…and then here”s a more in-depth description of the story as pieced together by Devin:
There are three Mother Boxes on Earth. One Mother Box is for the Amazonians, and it's burgundy and beautifully ornate and highly detailed. One is for the Atlanteans, and it's white and really organic looking, with scales and tubes and stuff. And one is for humanity, and it's bronze and has big rivets on it and looks like something the Ancient Greeks would make.
We learn about these boxes in a scene called “the History Lesson.” That scene, according to the art we saw, will feature an ancient Atlantean king, Hippolyta of Therimysca, some old fashioned humans and the god of all gods, Zeus himself.
The Mother Boxes come from Apokolips. You saw one in BvS – it turned Cyborg into Cyborg in that whole '.wmv Origins of the Justice League' sequence. They're hyper powerful super computers with undefined but vast abilities, including the ability to open up Boom Tubes that can teleport you across the universe. They're the MacGuffin of this movie. Parademons and their boss, Steppenwolf (oh hey, that's a scoop confirmed) are hunting them down. The JL gotta stop them.
But first, you gotta get a JL. The first half of the movie is about Batman recruiting the team (I reported that like two years ago, by the way), and he does it using a couple of cool new vehicles whose concept art we saw. One is the Knight Crawler, an all-terrain vehicle that has four big spider legs instead of wheels. Batman uses it to climb around places, like inside an abandoned tunnel under Stryker's Island, halfway between Gotham and Metropolis. Concept art showed us that in that tunnel he uses a flamethrower on the Knight Crawler to toast some Parademons.
He also has a new jet, a big jet. Really big. It's called the Flying Fox and it's big enough to transport the whole JL and to carry a Batmobile for good measure.
That already works better as a story designed to bring all of these characters together. Everyone sounds like they have an active part to play in things. More than that, though, it sounds like they”re making some massive adjustments to the overall tone of the movie. I”ve taken a fair amount of heat from the fan community over one story in particular that I ran, and part of it is because of a breakdown in reading comprehension. There are angry fans who love to point out that I reported there was a 100% no-jokes policy on these films. Not true. But there was a creative mandate to keep the tone serious and “gritty,” and the few moments of levity in either Man of Steel or BvS are low-key, to say the least. The biggest course correction they”re making with Justice League has to do with turning up the character humor and moving away from the ultra-grim world of BvS.
It”s encouraging to see how much people seem to like Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher together as The Flash and Cyborg. It”s sort of jaw-dropping to see that they haven”t cast the main bad guy in the film yet, considering they”ve been shooting since April. I”m not sure how long this shoot is supposed to last, but I”d be freaking out a bit if I were a filmmaker this far into my schedule with one of the main characters still not pinned down. I am unfamiliar with Steppenwolf as a comic character, and I think it”s interesting that they”re using such a B-list villain for Justice League, which is now evidently not a two-part film at all. They were careful not to answer questions about how Superman makes his return from his “death,” and it sounds like they didn”t spend a ton of time on either the Amazons or Atlantis.
I thought Ben Affleck”s comments about his solo Batman film (which Roth Cornet also wrote about this morning) were interesting because he made it clear that the release date being held by the studio is not a date he”s locked into yet because he”s still working on the script. Affleck was hugely complimentary towards Geoff Johns, and it certainly sounds like Affleck”s heart is in the right place regarding his solo film and his role in the larger DC universe.
More than anything, I think Warner and DC got what they wanted out of the set visit this morning. The conversation is now focused on where they”re headed and not where they”ve already been. I”m looking forward to seeing if they bring some of the same material they showed to the press to Comic-Con this summer to show the public for the first time.
Whatever the case, it”s a long time till we”ll see the finished product. Justice League arrives in theaters November 17, 2017.