Zack Snyder is fighting his demons… literally.
What you just read is my attempt at a somewhat hacky attention-grabbing first sentence, set aside as a first paragraph for emphasis, alluding to the fact that A) people didn’t really love Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and here he is, now, trying to make a better movie with Justice League, and B) the villain in the new Justice League movie will be Steppenwolf leading a horde of Parademons.
I remember smiling on the Justice League set (which a group of writers visited this past Friday, just outside of London), thinking, Ha, that’s a clever line, then immediately realizing it was dumb. But that was before, when I was going to write more of a “here was my experience on the set” type thing — before remembering that anyone reading this doesn’t care if I had a good time or not.
You are reading this because you either really liked Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and want to know what happens next… or, more likely (and this category includes this reporter) you like these characters, but you didn’t like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and you want to know if there’s anyway to right the ship. Oh, and trust me, if there was one encompassing theme on the Justice League set (which, for the record, is the title of the movie now and is one full movie, eschewing the previous Part 1 and Part 2 titles) it was, “We know people were disappointed and we want to do better.”
Anyway, there was so much information thrown at us on that day, I think the best way to relay it to you is just to present an information dump of everything I found even remotely interesting, separated by nice, big block-lettered categories so you can find what you’re looking for with at least some ease. First, here’s the new Justice League logo:
I’ll just mention up front that the only new casting news is we now know that Willem Dafoe is playing Vulko, described as an elder statesman in Aquaman’s home of Atlantis. It’s unclear how Vulko will be similar or different from the incarnations we’ve seen of him in the comics.
Okay, here we go:
We Learned The Basic Plot Of Justice League
Deborah Snyder, who is a producer on the film and is married to the film’s director, gave us some basic plot beats. Justice League is set a few months after the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Bruce Wayne is a changed man after the “death” of Superman and has a new sense of humanity. (Which probably means he’s done branding the Bat symbol into the flesh of human beings; Deborah Snyder confirmed Justice League will be more appropriate for younger children than BvS.)
The first half of the movie will be about Batman putting the team together, trying to find these metahumans he learned about in BvS. Batman needs their help because Superman is still dead (for now) and Batman has pieced together that Steppenwolf (who has not been cast yet, but we were told that it’s close) and an army of Parademons will soon be invading Earth. (Steppenwolf is official, but we didn’t see any hint of what he might look like. Maybe they don’t know for sure yet either, but he’s for sure the villain.)
We see a glimpse of a Mother Box in Bvs during Cyborg’s brief scene. In Justice League, there are three Mother Boxes — one possessed by humans, one possessed by Atlanteans, one possessed by Amazonians — and this seems to be what Steppenwolf is after. (I got to pick up one of these boxes. My life didn’t really change much one way or another after.) And there are hints that this all sets up the appearance of Darkseid, which will probably surprise no one.
Warner Bros. also released an official synopsis of Justice League, which is cut and pasted for you here:
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.
We Watched A Finished Scene And We Saw The Flash’s Costume
Somewhat surprisingly, for a movie that comes out in November of 2017, there was a completed scene ready for us to watch, which I will do my best to describe. It’s a striking contrast to the first nonsense clip we saw for Batman v Superman, with Batman asking Superman if he bled. Now, I don’t know if what I’m about to describe will be the first scene you see, but I suspect it will be. And if it is, it is drastically more lighthearted. It’s “Marvel-esque,” you could say.
The scene opens with Ezra Miller as Barry Allen entering his dingy, yet decked out with high-tech electronics, apartment. Barry turns on the light and Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne is sitting in a chair. Bruce has a printout of that scene of Barry at the grocery store we see in BvS and wants an explanation. Barry insists it’s not him, but instead it’s “a nice looking Jewish boy who looks a lot like him.” (In the comics, Barry Allen is not Jewish. I later emailed Zack Snyder’s publicist to clarify this and was told that the line about “a nice Jewish boy” was an ad lib by Ezra Miller and Zack Snyder hasn’t “vetted it” one way or another, but added he thinks it’s “interesting.”)
Bruce then notices a Flash costume being built on a mannequin. Now, let’s talk about The Flash’s costume: It’s pretty weird. As a lifelong fan of The Flash, it took me some time to wrap my head around it. It’s not anything like what we see in that “dream sequence,” or whatever that was in BvS, but it also looks nothing like what we’ve seen before — but it’s still very much The Flash. It kind of looks like a sleek Iron Man suit, with individual crimson red metallic parts (148 of them, to be accurate) form-fitting to the body. From the side, the top of the cowl kind of looks like a bicycle helmet. We got an up-close look at the suit during the tour and it’s pretty nuts. It has these weird wires wrapping around the whole suit, which we were later told were electrical coils to trap the electricity The Flash produces when he runs at high speeds. So, there’s that.
Back to the scene: Bruce asks Barry about the costume. Barry tells Bruce he’s a competitive ice dancer. Bruce then points out that the material used to make the suit is the same material NASA uses to prevent burn up during reentry. Barry quips, “Very competitive ice dancing.”
Bruce, having enough of this nonsense, hurls a batarang at Barry. Then the action hits slow motion, other than Barry. (It’s similar to the effect we see with Quicksilver in the last two X-Men movies.) Barry easily moves out of the way of the batarang, then grabs it out of the air, then asks Bruce, “You’re the Batman?”
The big laugh happens when Bruce starts his pitch for Barry to join his new team. He barely gets through telling Barry that he has reason to believe there will soon be an alien invasion before Barry says, “Stop right there, I’m in.” Bruce looks surprised it was that easy and Barry says, “I need friends,” before asking Bruce if he could keep the batarang.
We Watched A Scene Being Filmed
So, being on the set of a movie, this is a lot less surprising. From what we were told, it was day 31 of shooting, which is still pretty early in the schedule. The scene we watched involved Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Commissioner Gordon (the newly buff J.K. Simmons, on his first day of shooting; he was wearing a trench coat, so we couldn’t see his new muscles).
Gordon has just lit the Bat-Signal, and when the scene we watched picks up, Batman, The Flash, and Wonder Woman have all arrived. There is talk of flying demons and how eight prominent scientists have been kidnapped in Metropolis and how they needed to get there soon. There’s also talk of an abandoned underground tunnel that connects Gotham to Metropolis (we visited that set, more on that later). At this point, Cyborg shows up to proclaim it’s now nine scientists and that he’s there to join the team. (Wonder Woman seems especially pleased by this, suggesting that she had tried earlier to get him to join and he had declined.)
At this point, The Flash (who is obviously going to be the comic relief of this movie, something BvS didn’t have) mentions that with Cyborg here, they wouldn’t all fit in the car. Batman says, “I have something bigger,” and Batman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg all turn around and walk off into the night. Commissioner Gordon, who is still talking, turns around and is surprised they are all gone. The Flash is still there, who points out, “Wow, they just left like that, didn’t they? That’s rude.”
Ben Affleck Answered Our Questions While Wearing The Batman Costume
Even the fiercest cynic kind of melts into a state of induced glee when Batman walks off set and starts taking questions. We were told the cast would not be talking, but then here comes Affleck as Batman (sans cowl) walking toward us. He seemed pretty happy as he described the eye black on his face as his Iggy Pop look. (I countered that he looked more like Alice Cooper and Affleck agreed, because he really did look a lot like Alice Cooper at this moment.) Here are the highlights:
On Batman’s role in Justice League and if Bruce Wayne is the best person to put together the team:
“He’s on a mission to get this group together … Is a guy who basically broods in a cave all day really the best person to put together a team of superheroes? He doesn’t have huge success initially, he may have rubbed some others the wrong way.”
On Batman’s relationship with The Flash:
“What does Batman do around a guy who is really excited and positive all the time?”
On Geoff Johns’ (Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics) role in the film:
“Geoff is a big part of things … Geoff is a brilliant guy and there’s no one I know who knows more about comic books. He’s got a great pace and he’s super nice.”
On what source material Justice League might be using:
“This has other influences that I don’t want to name, because then it will give away story elements and stuff like that. Because you’ll go, ‘In that story, here’s what happens.’ Working with Chris Terrio and Geoff Johns and obviously Zack, we’ve done what any smart person would do and steal the best stuff you can from all the great material that’s out there.”
On Batman’s reaction to being attacked by space aliens:
“It isn’t, ‘I’m too old for this shit.’ It’s, ‘I need help!’”
On Batman’s new attitude:
“He’s no longer extreme in that [cynical] way … He wants to make the world better.”
On the timetable for his solo Batman movie:
“I think they have a date for it, but honestly I don’t know if I’d be able to make that date because I don’t have a script that’s ready yet. My timetable is I’m not going to make a movie until there’s a script I think is good. I’ve been on the end of things when you make movies with a script that’s not good and it doesn’t pan out … I have a script, we’re still working on it. And I’m not happy enough with it yet to actually go out there and make a Batman movie – which has to have the highest standard. It would have to pass a very high bar for me.”
Zack Snyder Answered Our Questions
At the end of the day, Zack Snyder met with us to answer some questions. (It’s here I will mention that there was an open bar that went along with this discussion. I drank three proseccos. It had been a long day.) Here are those highlights:
On the possibility of Lex Luthor showing up in Justice League:
“That’s a little bit of a spoiler … he’s in prison, so who knows? In the comic book world, prisons are pretty porous.”
On Superman’s return:
“There’s a process, clearly, that would have to go on … If he does appear, that would be a big part of the story.”
On the role of a single enemy with Steppenwolf:
“Now, we have a single enemy with a single objective and it’s about uniting a team.”
On the movie that used to be called Justice League: Part Two. Snyder was asked if he still plans to direct the Justice League sequel, which he completely dodged (to be fair, understandably), but added:
“We still have a release date … [Justice League] doesn’t end and you’re like, ‘Well, that’s the DC Universe.’”
On the critical reaction to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice:
“For me, it is a really personal movie. When Batman v Superman came out, it was like, ‘Wow, oof.’ It did catch me off guard … I really wanted the tone of the three movies to be different chapters, and not the same note you strike again … because of what fans have said and how the movie was received by some, we have really put the screws to what we thought the tone would be and I feel pressed it a little bit further.”
On the role of Geoff Johns:
“Geoff and I have had a great working relationship … his knowledge of comics is crazy. He’s an encyclopedia of comics. I’ll be like, ‘Hey, is there a weird Lantern from whatever?” And he’ll be like, “You know…” He’s really amazing keeping everything in canon that I’d be, ‘I’ve never heard of that.’”
And why he released a “deleted scene” of Lex Luthor interacting with a Parademon right after the release of Batman v Superman.
“You know, that scene, I kind of felt that would be a cool after-credits sequence. Then I was like, ‘I don’t know, can I do that? Because Marvel does that. Is that a thing?’ So we were like, maybe there’s another way to do it by just having it online.”
But What About Superman?
Henry Cavill was not on the set the day we were there (which, again, was just this past Friday). The talking points on Superman were basically this: Yes, of course he’s coming back. No, we aren’t going to tell you how. When we were given a tour of the costume shop (all the costumes are made on site), Superman’s costume was suspiciously missing — which probably means there will be some sort of redesign they don’t want us to know about yet.
Aquaman Wears Jeans
There was a room full of concept art and I became particularly fixated on one that depicts Jason Momoa as Aquaman wearing only a pair of casual-looking jeans. No shirt, no socks, just a pair of jeans. I just pictured him opening the front door to Atlantis, “Oh, I’m so sorry I didn’t have time to put on a shirt, I only had time to slip into this pair of Wranglers. Anyway, let’s go fight Steppenwolf.”
I talked about this photo at such length, that by the end of the day I heard someone say, “Everyone keeps talking about Aquaman’s jeans,” but it really was just me, over and over. I’m sure it was annoying, but I couldn’t help it. I am officially fascinated with Aquaman’s jeans. (There were a whole host of Atlanteans pictured. We were told there will be a flashback scene featuring them and their relationship with the Mother Box.)
We also saw the concept art for a vehicle called the Flying Fox, which is an airplane the whole Justice League flies around in — it’s basically their Quinjet. The most fascinating thing about this is there was a drawing of a gunner’s station and Jeremy Irons’ Alfred was at the helm. Yes, this is a very different Alfred.
Batman had another vehicle called the Night Crawler. It’s what Batman uses to move through that abandoned tunnel between Metropolis and Gotham. The backstory is this tunnel was abandoned in 1929, but it was going to be some sort of railway shuttle between the two cities. Obviously some sort of battle happens down here because we toured the fairly elaborate set and even got to enter the cockpit of the Night Crawler. (It’s only a cockpit. The rest of this machine, which kind of looks like a miniature AT-AT, will be CGI.) In the concept art, we see the Night Crawler in this tunnel shooting Parademons. So, there will probably be an underground Parademon fight.
We also toured Batman’s hangar, which is hidden near Gotham’s seaport. This is where the Flying Fox hangs out and, when we were there, the Batmobile was parked there, too. I just assumed this was the Batcave, but we were told it’s a hangar. So, it’s a hangar. Anywhay, here’s a picture of the new Batmobile parked inside the hangar.
So, Is It Going To Be Good?
How would I know? I’ve literally seen two scenes of Justice League and it would be unfair to even try to guess. I can say that what we saw seemed a lot more “fun” than what we saw in BvS and, again, everyone involved is well aware of the reaction to BvS and working hard to make something that’s good. Everyone I encountered seemed in good enough spirits, but with an undertone of, “Yes, we know we can’t fuck this one up.”
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.