‘Justice League’ finds a villain as Warner keeps aping Marvel’s playbook

I have a serious question for the team that Warner Bros. is putting together on what will no doubt be one of their biggest films of 2015:  do you really want to spend the next two and a half year basically riding Marvel’s tail, imitating every move they make, or do you want to start building a stand-alone film universe in which you can do almost anything?

I ask because right now, Warner Bros. is setting itself up for a fall.  They are making choices that look from the outside to be made out of a kind of corporate fear instead of setting the stage for themselves in a way that will both excite fans and invite in new viewers.  They are dealing with several different factors that seem to be causing this potentially-costly poor decision making, and they need to carefully consider what they’re doing before they commit to things.

According to Latino Review this morning, Darkseid will be the threat that will unite Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and more, and if that’s true, then more than ever before, it looks like they really are trying to do exactly the same thing “The Avengers” did, but skipping all the carefully-laid groundwork that made it so exciting when “The Avengers” finally happened.  Darkseid is the ruler of Apokolips, and he has consistently proven himself to be one of the biggest threats in the DC Universe.

He’s almost a direct one-for-one correlation to Thanos in the Marvel Universe, too, and while “The Avengers” played it smart by using the entire first film as a mere tease of what is coming in the sequel, only revealing Thanos in the final moments as he finally turned to show his face, DC and Warner seem to want to jump right in and bring out Darkseid in the first film.

This is in addition to introducing all the characters in the film and establishing a world where they might all overlap and be called together.  Based on the way fandom convulsed last week when we revealed the plan to tie the Nolanverse, established so carefully over the course of the three Batman films, into the Justice League via Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing his character from “The Dark Knight Rises,” it seems like Warner’s efforts to play it safe might backfire on them in a major way.  No one’s laid eyes on “Man Of Steel” yet, or even the new trailer for the film that arrives in theaters in a few weeks, but Warner is gambling that the tone that film establishes is a tone they’ll be able to carry through to “Justice League.”  They screwed it up with “Green Lantern” last year, which was supposed to be their introduction to all of this, and so they’re already having to make one major course correction.  But it seems like they’re assuming that because Nolan’s films worked for Batman, that same exact tone is going to work for all their other characters as well, and that’s a dangerous gamble for them to make.

If they’re really planning to release “Justice League” in 2015, that means they’ll be in theaters the same time as “Godzilla,” “Star Wars Episode VII,” and, yes, “The Avengers 2.”  It’s going to be perhaps the most brutal box-office battle we’ve ever seen, and if “Justice League” ends up feeling like a giant bag of “been there done that,” they aren’t going stand a chance.

It’s a shame.  Warner has this amazing catalog of characters to play with, yet they have historically proven themselves to be almost completely incompetent when it comes to figuring out how to bring those characters to life in a way that connects with audiences and that works on film.  They actually quit making Superman films at one point, selling the rights off to Cannon Films, because they botched it so spectacularly with “Superman III.”  Talk about a sign that a company has no faith in their own abilities or the genre.  That was a different age, though, and they have so much more going for them at this point.  Superhero films work.  Audiences are willing to accept the biggest, most outrageous parts of these stories as long as they’re well-told.  But when you’re doing this sort of thing, there has to be something sincere about it.  The Marvel movies worked because there was a feeling, film to film, that they were having a blast, that they were giddy from seeing these characters walking and talking and fighting, and the casting seemed to be smart, unexpected, paying off consistently in terms of audience affection.

“The Avengers” wasn’t just a standard-issue blockbuster… it was the fulfillment of a five-year promise that Marvel made to audiences.  “Justice League” is something that the studio has been trying to make for a while now, but considering their batting average with their superhero properties, it seems imprudent to push all their chips into the table while imitating someone else’s successful moves.

I want to enjoy a “Justice League” film when it finally arrives.  I want to see these icons brought to life in a fun and smart way.  I want Warner Bros. to create this universe successfully because there is so much room for them to let filmmakers do some fun and smart things in the years ahead.

But you’ve already screwed up the return of Superman once.  You have proven just how bad Superman films can get.  You turned down a perfectly good Joss Whedon “Wonder Woman” script and a better-than-good Laeta Kalogridis draft, but you let David E. Kelly make a horrifyingly stupid TV version that bordered on sitcom.  You made a wildly expensive Green Lantern film that looked like it did everything right from the trailers, but that just laid there, totally inert, a mess of tone and ambition.  I want Warner Bros. to get this all right…

… but what reason do I have to believe they will?

“Justice League” is still aiming for a 2015 release. God help us all.