Well, it’s here, and it’s been long enough that most people who wanted to have likely already watched Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the official title for The Film Previously Known As The Snyder Cut.
As such, it’s time to finally share my random thoughts after watching the…film?…just to put it out there for discussion. So, in no particular order:
About the Movie Itself
This is exactly what I would have expected from a movie fans demanded. It plays like a collection of scenes the members of a message board wrote, with no cohesive material making them into a whole.
It’s easy to see most of what’s new compared to the theatrical version, but at no point is there an answer as to “why” things are different.
The one improvement over the theatrical version is Cyborg’s story actually has some sort of point, but even that is sketchy. Still, it’s better than it was.
It once more needs to be noted, especially since we just watched Wonder Woman 1984, how different the Amazons are clothed in this movie compared to Patty Jenkins’ films. The latter look like warriors, the former like the worst stereotype of female video game characters.
While Henry Cavill’s face in the theatrical cut was certainly disturbing, at least it gave us a Superman that occasionally smiled, something completely missing from Snyder’s previous movies.
The Martian Manhunter bits make zero sense.
The Martian Manhunter ending makes less than zero sense.
The Martian Manhunter bits mean Henry Lennix’s previous appearances as General Swanwick make zero sense. Zero.
Mera: “Your mother would have been responsible for following Steppenwolf to the surface, Arthur, but also let’s sit here and have a leisurely conversation about the burden of parental legacy while you stick your hand in the water like a four year old at a shopping mall fountain.”
Can anyone explain to me what the point of all those random supporting character introductions was? I mean, great, that’s Iris West, but it doesn’t go any further. Same with Mera. And Lois Lane. Oh, hey, I think I’m figuring out a connection.
At one point someone is asking Dr. Stone about an item that has gone missing from a high-security lab with multiple government contracts dealing with items of alien origin. Stone says “Oh yeah, we just kind of lost track of that.” and the investigator shrugs and moves on like this wouldn’t bring the entire operation to an immediate halt.
Steppenwolf and Darkseid are idiots. The former came to Earth, lost the Mother Boxes to a bunch of Atlanteans and Amazons in the Battle of Helm’s Deep and retreated. Then he comes back looking for the Mother Boxes and fights a bunch of Atlanteans and Amazons. When he calls Darkseid he’s like “Hey, I think this is the same place we lost that big battle eons ago…”
On a related note, Darkseid’s inclusion in this cut was a major selling point in the campaign and something folks were super-anxious about. But he’s barely in it, and the one moment that seems as if it might turn into a confrontation with the heroes instead becomes a staring contest.
Does every scene actually require a six-minute establishing shot?
Sure, taking out the Russian family that needs to escape from the battleground is an improvement, it also means there’s no context to the fight, but that’s par for the course.
I’m actually a bit surprised some of the jokes remained, assuming they had been Whedon’s contributions.
How much more objectivist nihilism could you fit into a single movie? None. None more.
The chapter titles are insulting and ludicrous, mostly because they imply the existence of an actual story, which is inaccurate.
Oh, you fridged Lois in the Knightmare epilogue in order to make Superman even more of an angry worldwide terror who apparently is hunting down his former friends and teammates? How original.
Four hours, $70 million dollars and not only are there
Scenes in the trailer that didn’t make the final version, including one that seemed to be the main point of one spot in particular, but also
Snyder’s already out there complaining about the rules WB put in place regarding what could or couldn’t be included and what additional scenes he shot despite those rules knowing they would be cut. So now there’s even more gristle for conspiracy-minded individuals to chew on.
About the Movement That Birthed It
Of course it took less than a week for “fans” to demand that Snyder now be restored as the captain of the DCEU. Even Neville Chamberlain would have known this appeasement wouldn’t work.
See, the guy who tweeted at me twice today that they will not stop until they win the “war” to get more comic book movies from their favorite director may be why there’s some concern about portions of the fanbase.
If you’re wondering what this means for the future of film, it’s simple: Anything less than exactly what has dominated the fever dreams of angry trolls will not be tolerated. We’ve already seen that in various ways.
“Just let people enjoy things” only seems to be said regarding massive international IP releases and not about movies like Small Axe, Promising Young Woman or others.
It’s remarkable we got through the movie’s entire hype cycle without revisiting Ezra Miller’s filmed assault of a fan from 2020.
When Justice League arrived in 2017, the term “troubled production” was frequently used to describe it. The critical drubbing received by the preceding Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice created tension between Warner Bros. and director Zack Snyder, including rewrites by then DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns to the script from David Goyer and Chris Terrio. Confusion was created when different interviews with Snyder, Johns and others seemed to alternate between there being one two-hour movie, two two-hour movies, one four-hour movie in two parts and so on.
Then, as the movie moved into post-production, Snyder stepped away, reportedly to deal with the recent death of his daughter. The narrative at the time was that writer/director Joss Whedon was being brought in to handle a small number of reshoots and other pickups because he had already done even more work on the script.
And then of course there’s the issue of Henry Cavill’s mustache.
Kicking off at San Diego Comic-Con 2016, the marketing campaign for Justice League was more or less what audiences expected given both BvS and Snyder’s earlier Man of Steel. It was dark and moody, but after Whedon took over there seemed to be a bit more humor. Throughout, though, you couldn’t help but notice the distinct lack of Superman, an omission informed largely by the movie’s story – he dies at the end of BvS – and not wanting to spoil his return here.
When the finished product finally hit theaters the reaction was “mixed,” to say the least. Critics called it a mess and the $229 million it grossed domestically was a disappointment compared both to Wonder Woman earlier that year and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which at that point was nearing its eventual conclusion.
No…There Is Another…
Almost immediately, the most fervent adherents to Snyder’s nihilistic artistic view began to believe they’d been duped. Demands to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut were soon at full volume online, with those signing petitions and saying “Actually I have more of a comment than a question” at panels believing Warner Bros. had someone in its archives a version of the film free of Whedon’s influence. That version would more fully represent the intent of Snyder, who for years has been referred to in the marketing of his films as a “visionary director.”
WB continually denied such a version existed, pointing out that Snyder left an incomplete movie to Whedon’s stewardship. Snyder himself said much the same thing, that there was only a work print with unfinished effects and some scenes completely missing. There was no Snyder Cut.
That didn’t mean much to those whose very personal brands seemed to depend on the opposite being true. Over the course of the next three years the DCEU was hit or miss, with the same group of toxic fans howling in delight whenever something that wasn’t The Snyder Cut failed to live up to expectations. Not only that, but similar groups made concerted efforts to strangle movies like Captain Marvel and Star Wars: The Last Jedi in their cribs on the grounds that girls are icky and anything that doesn’t cater to the lowest common denominator of male mob mentality shouldn’t be allowed.
Denials from Warner Bros. were said to be the first and last word on the matter, right up until they weren’t.
Snyder’s tune began changing in early 2019 when he started posting pictures that seemed to confirm his cut of the film did exist in some manner. Members of the cast and others involved in the production made similar comments, with people like Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck, who play Wonder Woman and Batman respectively, getting in on the hashtagaction.
Finally, in late 2020, as part of WarnerMedia’s hype cycle for the then pending launch of HBO Max, it became official that the streaming service would be the release platform for the reworked movie.
Just as there was confusion in 2017 as to whether there would be one or two movies and how long they would be, reports have differed over the last several months as to what form this one would take. At one point it was said to be four one-hour installments. At another it was back to being two two-hour movies.
Despite Snyder’s rejection of any mention of “toxic fandom”, the director himself credits fans using every channel at their disposal, including sliding into the replies of Sesame Street’s Twitter account, with turning dreams into reality by consistently pressuring the studio into action.
It’s almost like a demagogic political figure saying he doesn’t want his supporters to be violent but then buying them all airline tickets to attend an event specifically intended to foment insurrection. And then at the end he tells them they’re very special and he loves them, but only after people have died and others have had their life put in danger.
But what do we expect from Hollywood’s leading objectivist? So many of the stories he’s been part of telling focus on heroes or other characters that can’t find anything in life worth living for until they act on the power they have. Possession of that power in and of itself gives them the right to use it in the manner of their choosing. So it’s no wonder Snyder would be on board with a group of individuals claiming whatever power they could in order to achieve whatever goals they wanted, especially if those goals happen to overlap with his own.
Let me pause here and make a few clarifications.
First, I’m painting with an overly broad brush here. Not all #ReleaseTheSnyderCut adherents are examples of the worst of toxic male fandom. There are some genuine movie fans who feel Snyder is a great filmmaker, so good for them. Like any other art form, people are allowed to like what they like. People might judge me based on my love of Rush or Kenny Rogers, but all art works differently for different people. That being said, this particular group in my experience over-indexes in terms of members likely to verbally assault a woman cosplaying as Power Girl at Comic-Con, labeling her a “fake fangirl” if she doesn’t know who pencilled a random 80’s comic issue she appears in.
Second, Snyder has harnessed this and adjacent groups for good, working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. That effort, clearly borne of the tragedy that befell his family years ago, is a good one, selling t-shirts and other swag to help worthy cause.
Crisis On Infinite Snyderverses
In the months leading up to and following WarnerMedia’s announcement that the movie would finally see the cold, desaturated light of day, the landscape has changed significantly, as has the narrative that framed the release of the theatrical cut of Justice League over three years ago.
Beginning in mid-2020, costar Ray Fisher, who plays Cyborg in the film, began making a series of accusations against Whedon and by extension Johns and others at Warner Bros., saying the pinch-director created a hostile work environment for him and others after Whedon took over on set. Fisher’s claims were enough for Warner Bros. to open an investigation, though then it turned into dueling statements over whether Fisher had or hadn’t cooperated with that investigation. Representatives for Whedon and Johns denied those accusations, but Fisher remained adamant and public. Ultimately Warner Bros.’ investigation recommended moderate remediative actions but was light on public details.
As time went on, Fisher received public displays of support from Momoa and other members of the cast and he discussed the talking points WB had given him and the rest regarding Whedon’s involvement, most of which matched up with how things were framed in 2017. All of that acted as prelude to actress Charisma Carpenter, who had worked with Whedon on “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” making similar comments, saying he had become hostile and offensive toward her and others. Those accusations, combined with Fisher’s made WB’s lack of overt action odd, especially since Whedon had over the last couple years, been removed from other Warner projects including a planned Batgirl movie and the HBO original series “The Nevers.” Someone, it seemed, knew something.
While Whedon’s reputation was being dismantled, Snyder’s was being enhanced/rehabilitated.
A major feature appeared in Vanity Fair that offered an official version of the events of the last few years. Quoted in the story are Snyder, his wife and producing partner Deborah and a handful of past and present Warner Bros. executives. According to them, the situation around Snyder’s exiting of the original film was much more complicated, including not only the death of his daughter but a new lack of support from studio heads in the wake of Batman v Superman’s critical drubbing. Whedon’s involvement then grew from script doctor to eventually reshooting as much as three-quarters of the film. Similar points were made in a later interview with Snyder.
With that polishing of Snyder’s image, he’s been positioned by himself and the studio at the forefront of the marketing campaign for this new version of the movie, now officially titled Zack Snyder’s Justice League to emphasize his importance.
The Marketing of Zack Snyder’s Justice League
All of that now brings us to the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max and the marketing of the movie, which Snyder has been at the bleeding edge of.
Darkseid and DC Fandome
That began in May of last year, when Snyder strongly hinted the movie was in the works during a Vero-hosted “watch party” for 2013’s Man of Steel, hints that were quickly confirmed when HBO Max released the first official announcement later that same month, leaving the official release date as a vague “2021” at the time.
That continued in June, when promotions for the virtual DC Fandome event began. With Snyder and many of the cast scheduled to appear there to answer fan questions and show off more of the upcoming movie, teasers began coming out. In one, Wonder Woman navigates a cave where she discovers ancient wall paintings showing Darkseid.
Cavill spoke briefly about the project in June, saying he was anxious to see the finished product but offering few details.
As a way to prime the pump for the new movie, HBO Max debuted Batman v Superman – Ultimate Edition in July, with this new version containing about a half hour of additional material.
In an interview in July, Snyder hinted that the reworked movie wouldn’t fit in nicely with how the DCEU has evolved – meaning he would not be obligated to acknowledge Shazam or Birds of Prey (both of which have higher Rotten Tomatoes scores than either of Snyder’s previous entries) but work instead as the culmination of the trilogy he began in Man of Steel and continued in Dawn of Justice.
Snyder appeared virtually during a fan convention, discussing his upcoming remade version and making it clear not a single frame of what Whedon had shot would be included. That interview also marked the first shot in the official change in the messaging around the theatrical version’s release, exposing some of the conflicts that emerged between Snyder and the studio and other details.
The full trailer, preceded by a short teaser, then debuted during Fandome in August. How well it and to what extent it delivered on expectations depends greatly on your feelings about the original, Snyder himself and other factors. Set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and sporting a Super 16 aspect ratio, the trailer features a mix of old and new footage. Added are more scenes featuring Barry Allen, including one where he saves Iris West, and Cyborg. The latter in particular is notable as this indicates more of his backstory would be fleshed out, something that’s been anticipated for a while. The scenes carried over from the theatrical edition feature revised color palettes, adhering closer to what was seen in the original trailers back in 2016. Most importantly, this gives fans their first look at Darkseid, who will be the main villain of the story instead of his henchman Steppenwolf.
Video from the DC Fandome panel was also released to the public.
Reshoots, Trailer Confusion and HBO Max’s Evolution
Much like there were different stories about what the theatrical cut would look like – two movies, one super-long movie etc – there was at this point the beginnings of some confusion about what the new version would be packaged as and what it would include. While Snyder said he wouldn’t use a single frame of Whedon’s footage it was unclear whether he was being permitted to shoot anything new himself. Budget estimates have ranged from $20 million – which would seem to just allow for post-production work on existing footage – to $70 million.
Finally, news came out WB had scheduled a short period of reshoots, though who was or wasn’t involved remained unclear. In October news broke that Leto would be reprising his Suicide Squad role of Joker in the film, something that would require new footage being shot.
In a very odd turn of events, that trailer had to be pulled from YouTube in early November, reportedly because Warner Bros. failed to clear the rights to “Hallelujah,” which is something you wouldn’t expect from a major motion picture studio. The trailer was re-released later that month but was once again pulled for unstated reasons, meaning that beat was almost completely lost from the campaign.
This is unquestionably a weird stage of the campaign, one with so many false starts, walkbacks and other problems you kind of can’t believe a major studio is involved. But this may be the result of allowing one person to lead the campaign, with the studio itself being a fast-follower more than a driving force.
It’s also a period where HBO Max started to carve out its own identity. Instead of being “the place where The Snyder Cut would eventually be available,” it gained some momentum thanks to series such as “Lovecraft Country,” “The Undoing,” “The Flight Attendant,” and other buzzed-about hits.
Not only that, but it was in mid-November that Warner Bros. announced Wonder Woman 1984 would debut on HBO Max on Christmas Day, the same day it was released to limited theaters due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. That was just the first step, though, with WB revealing a month later it would do the same for its entire 2021 movie slate.
All of a sudden it’s a very different ballgame. ZSJL now wouldn’t just be competing against catalog titles, a few exclusive series and a handful of original features but with titles like Godzilla Vs. Kong and other big-budget movies.
Finally, a Campaign
After so many twists and turns through the end of 2020, the campaign itself finally kicked into a higher, more substantive gear in January.
Snyder released a series of posters at the end of the month that finally announced the movie’s premiere date on HBO Max. Two of the three just showed the “JL” symbol in some form of disrepair due to battle damage, but one showed a film canister laying on the ground, as if this had finally been unearthed for the public to see.
Additional shared by Snyder on Twitter at the end of January hinted at the appearance of Martian Manhunter and Joker from Suicide Squad. A more complete look at Joker came out shortly after that.
Another trailer (21.5m views on YouTube), teased by Snyder ahead of its release, came out on Valentine’s Day. Though it largely contains footage we’ve seen before, it does have a few notable elements, including:
Actual footage of Joker, providing a live-action version of the “we live in a society” meme
Reinforcement that the movie will be shown in a 4:3 aspect ratio.
Unlike earlier trailers, this one still seems to be available online.
An interview with Lennix had him talking about finally taking on the role of Martian Manhunter, something that drastically changes how his character is seen in the previous movies and a development that’s completely unearned by those appearances.
Clips from the movie’s soundtrack were released by Water Tower Records shortly after that.
DC then announced a series of movie-themed variant covers for Justice League #59, scheduled to hit store shelves the day before the movie became available.
At the end of February IGN debuted a video showing the members of the Justice League as different sides to a Mother Box, with each character and his or her powers and attributes represented as a relief on the cube.
In a later interview Snyder called out Fisher’s Cyborg as the centerpiece of his version of the story, something that runs in marked contrast to the theatrical cut. He also teased what he had in mind for a potential sequel, though he’s also said on multiple occasions this movie ends his involvement with the DCEU.
The theatrical poster showing a black and white photo of the assembled heroes advancing toward the camera came out at the beginning of March.
One final trailer (6.7m views on YouTube) came out earlier this week. While it features a lot of footage seen in previous clips or trailers, there’s a lot more of Darkseid, showing how dangerous he is, or at least claims to be, and how the heroes are holding out hope their combined strength is enough to take him on.
A virtual watch party was scheduled for 3/18, with the movie’s red carpet premiere planned for 3/17. But before that, earlier this week, a screening that was planned that wound up erroring out for everyone involved, leaving them unable to watch the movie and feeling pretty sore about it. That came after a glitch that had this movie playing when HBO Max subscribers pulled up Tom & Jerry, something that caused no small amount of laughter and confusion.
Overall: For the Fans, Not The Literally Anyone Else
Well, let’s see what we have here.
Reviews of the revamp have been generally positive but mixed, citing improvements in some areas while problems either persist or have newly cropped up in others. Almost universally, it’s said to be much more Snyder-esque, right down to the Randian worldview and carry all the positives and negatives that implies.
The same can be said about the marketing itself. As stated earlier, Snyder is frequently referred to as “visionary” in the campaigns for his films, but that only really resonates in the small percentage of the audience that has fully bought into that vision. For the rest, it almost acts as a sort of warning that the film in question contains more nihilism is recommended over the course of an entire year.
What’s on display here is just that.
The theatrical cut of Justice League is an unquestionable mess, the cinematic equivalent of putting peas in your guacamole recipe. But there’s nothing in Snyder’s previous DCEU movies that would have indicated his original cut would have been any more coherent and there’s nothing in this campaign indicating this version will be so either.
Those feelings are compounded by the multiple instances over the course of the marketing where trailers disappeared for one reason or another and confusion reigned as to what the movie would ultimately look like and what it would include.
Also raising eyebrows is how power dynamics within Hollywood are on display here.
While Snyder has been brought back into the light with multiple profiles and interviews that have allowed him to tell his side and come out as the aggrieved party, Fisher in particular still seems to be sidelined. His complaints about how he was treated by Whedon, though vindicated in the court of public opinion, were still largely dismissed and denied by the studio and his involvement in future projects hasn’t been improved. Why might that be?
For the last three years, fans of the director have been clamoring for this movie, believing it to be the ultimate lost classic, pure bath salts in cinematic form. All art is compromise, though, and the idea that any version would ever be delivered free of influence from outside parties is naivete, and it’s likely the reaction to this when it’s finally available will represent that. If it’s not everything they’ve been dreaming of and speculating about, things will go poorly. More theories will emerge that this *still* isn’t the movie Snyder could have or wanted to make, and those grievances will be taken out the next time a studio casts a woman or person of color in the lead role of a franchise property.
This campaign, though, is meant solely for that group. There’s little to nothing here that might attract someone who isn’t already a charter member of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement. Even someone who was simply disappointed by the theatrical version and wants to see if this might be an improvement will find no appeal to them has been made.
At least this time we don’t have to sit through the studio pretending like Superman isn’t in the movie.
A completely arbitrary list, canon until an arbitrary change.
Over the course of this past Saturday’s DC Fandome, a virtual event focusing on the non-comics projects featuring the company’s stable of characters, a number of trailers debuted for some highly-anticipated movies.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the release of most of the films is still up in the air, including Wonder Woman 1984, but the scheduled October date is more sketchy by the day. Issues like that, though, won’t get in the way of passing hasty judgement on the spots that were shared and which served as one of the major attractions of Fandome. Those trailers are ranked in order, from incredible to that’s kind of awful.
Wonder Woman 1984
The campaign has been underway for a while now, based on the original plan for the movie to have been out earlier this summer. This trailer ups what has been seen previously with additional insights into Maxwell Lord’s megalomania, the mystery surrounding Steve Trevor’s return and Barbara’s motivations that lead her to become Cheetah. It’s fast-paced, funny, and has Wonder Woman using her lasso to ride lightning like Spider-Man swinging between buildings. This alone should win the movie all possible awards.
There’s an old adage among corporate technology buyers that “no one ever got fired for buying IBM.” DC’s version of that is “No one ever got fired for suggesting a Batman movie.” And this certainly looks like a Batman movie. There are various shades of things we’ve seen before, but thankfully this *doesn’t* appear to be a straightforward origin story, which is something we do not need. Too bad we didn’t get a good look at Andy Serkis’ Alfred, but Robert Pattinson does appear to be sufficiently gravitasy as a still-unseasoned Dark Knight.
The Suicide Squad
Not an actual trailer, but it doesn’t really matter because both the “First Look” and “Roll Call” videos make the movie seem like a lot of fun. That’s not surprising given director James Gunn also wrote the film and seems to be throwing the kitchen sink into the works, creating what looks like a big, goofy action film. There’s no reference to the first movie – in fact it seems to be running as far away from it as possible – which is fine considering that film was a mess.
We’ve turned a corner here, and are firmly into “Wait…what?” territory. This is a movie that seemed destined never to get made, despite the efforts of Dwayne Johnson to keep it alive over the last several years. Apparently it’s actually in the works, though, as this sizzle reel featuring concept art and voiceover from Johnson attempts to prove. I remain unconvinced, especially since the concept art is so overwrought and the narration so lackluster.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
And here we find ourselves at the bottom of the barrel. In lieu of rational thought, which this trailer actively works against, I offer simply a series of random thoughts.
Minus infinity points for the use of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which Snyder apparently fetishizes having used it previously in what is objectively the worst scene from 2008’s Watchmen.
The big Darkseid reveal finally shows everyone that he looks more or less exactly like both Steppenwolf and Doomsday.
Why is the trailer footage shown in 4:3? Is the movie being released in four one-hour installments on Instagram? Is that why everything is so orange, because of the filter?
Interesting to note which footage was also included in the theatrical release’s original trailers but didn’t make it into the recut movie. Also, which shots have starkly different color palettes.
Is Cyborg’s dad Dr. Manhattan?
“Not us united” is an interesting reminder of the “Unite the seven” idea that more or less kicked off the original’s theatrical campaign many years ago.
This is…not great. It’s the most Zack Snyder-y thing Zack Snyder ever Snydered, at least based on this and the other teases.
This latest development comes just a few months after a wave of comments and hints were made by various parties, including original Justice League director Zack Snyder, who kept posting vague images and teases to, of all things, his Vero social media account.
By way of brief recap: Snyder left/was pushed off Justice League at some point in production, either because of a personal tragedy in his family or because the studio felt the film was out of control and getting worse by the day. Joss Whedon came in to oversee additional shooting, including rewriting significant chunks of the story and abandoning entire storylines. The finished product was widely panned by critics, sitting at a paltry 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, and didn’t ignite the box office, bringing in $229 million domestically and $658 million worldwide. It was overshadowed in both respects by the Wonder Woman movie released earlier in the year.
Ever since then there’s been a crusade from some quarters for Warner Bros. to release a cut of the film they believed sat in the studio’s vaults that was completed by Snyder and represented his true vision. Whedon’s interference, they maintained, watered down the movie by adding too many jokes, not being gritty enough and so on. Until last week, WB insisted no such cut existed and that there were no plans to revisit the movie in any way.
Now, though, the studio has changed its tune, reportedly giving Snyder a $20 million budget to undertake a whole new post-production process, including visual effects and editing.
While there has already been much commentary about the announcement, allow me to share a handful of thoughts about what this could and does mean for the world of entertainment and more. And, because I’m just that kind of sociopath, those thoughts will be framed in quotes from Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
I stoked Ren’s conflicted soul: While he waited a while before doing so, in the last year or so Snyder has been the chief rabble-rouser online, keeping audience speculation of his discarded masterpiece alive. He’s taken on the role of a master online troll, dropping hints here and there to whet people’s appetites and, seemingly, maintain the pressure on WB to agree to a release of some sort.
In that way he’s not dissimilar to those behind QAnon and similar conspiracy theories. They take the reality of a situation and manipulate certain things to convince people of alternate facts. Just as with the Washington, D.C. pizza parlor that reportedly acts as a front for a Hillary Clinton-run pedophile ring, some people *wanted* to believe The Snyder Cut was real and would leap at any bait put in front of them supporting that belief. He’s not William Wallace or Carl Bernstein here, he’s a 4chan troll with the power to command tens of millions of dollars and access to some of pop culture’s most prized assets.
This is not going to go the way you think: Justice League, as it was released, is not a great movie. The story makes little sense, the characters act in massively inconsistent ways from scene to scene, there’s no internal logic to it etc. Those who were adherents to Snyder’s style of filmmaking saw this as evidence of meddling by Whedon and the studio, but it’s not as if those descriptors couldn’t be applied to any of the director’s previous films.
Which means, in short, that there’s a pretty decent chance Zack Snyder’s Justice League is going to also suck, just in slightly different ways.
One can only wonder what the reaction will be among those who believe The Snyder Cut is the second coming when their dream becomes reality and it turns out reality is really bad. What will be the excuse then? Thankfully, Snyder himself has already given them the foundation for continued claims of interference by complaining WB will not allow him to reconvene the cast to shoot additional footage. His vision, therefore, will never be truly brought to life.
If Warner Bros. is hoping The Snyder Cut will act as some massive draw to their newly launched streaming service, more so than the Harry Potter films, Studio Ghibli’s catalog and “Friends” reruns, they are putting $20 million worth of eggs in a very questionable basket, one that may wind up hitting them square in the face.
The greatest teacher, failure is: One of the many astounding things about this newfound willingness to revisit Justice League is that it clearly marks a low point in the DC Comics cinematic universe. Consider that not only did Wonder Woman, released just a few months earlier in 2017, get much better reviews and three times the box office revenue, but so did Aquaman. Shazam and Birds of Prey didn’t perform as well in theaters but have much better critical receptions and reputations since release. And Joker, which also did very well, was supposed to usher in a new focus on non-continuity, filmmaker-led original stories.
Justice League, then, had become kind of a turning point, one where the key to success wasn’t “make everything bigger, darker and more EXTREME” but where the stories were better, the characters more central and the visuals less desaturated. Instead, it’s now the Rosetta Stone, something so important it becomes central to understanding everything around it.
Hi, I’m holding for General Hux…OK, I’ll hold. Whedon being given control of the Justice League reshoots and post-production seemed in some ways to be tied to reports he was heading up a Batgirl film at Warner Bros. The writer/director had previously worked on a failed Wonder Woman adaptation and ultimately left the Batgirl project when he reportedly couldn’t crack the story to his satisfaction. Despite that, it can be assumed that Whedon and the studio could have found some way to work together in the future.
Hard to imagine Whedon picking up their calls now, though. WB is sending the message that yes, they actually do find his version of Justice League to be subpar and now that they’re able to deliver a superior product they will push his work to the side. All because, for reasons I have been unable to fathom for over a decade, someone at the studio believes Snyder is a magical genius, not someone who’s often incapable of bringing his “vision” to life.
Supreme Leader Snoke now deploys his merciless legions to seize military control of the galaxy: This is just the beginning.
In every prime time procedural and action drama you hear the hero or leader make it clear they refuse to negotiate with terrorists. Neville Chamberlain’s reputation has not fared well in light of his appeasement of the Nazi regime’s aggressive expansion plans.
Despite these warnings, what’s happened here seems tantamount to paying the ransom and hoping the kidnappers make good on releasing your spouse from where they’re being held. But that’s just hope, and there are no guarantees it will happen.
So too there’s no guarantee that demonstrating who’s actually in control of the situation won’t spiral into countless similar instances. There’s already evidence of this as “#ReleaseTheAyerCut” began trending shortly after the Snyder announcement as fans are now seeking the “pure” cut of 2016’s Suicide Squad, famously edited by a trailer production company among a handful of other parties.
(Note: Nevermind that *that* situation came about after studio execs wanted to punch up the movie after Batman v Superman – another Synder-directed film – performed poorly.)
It makes you wonder where else fans will turn their attention, believing a diamond to be hidden in rough of studio notes and seized control. Many films over the course of Hollywood history have been ripped from their directors, much to their chagrin and the disappointment of fans. Such instances can be found at least as far back as Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons and as recently as Chris Miller and Phil Lord being kicked off Solo: A Star Wars Story halfway through filming.
This extremely vocal minority has seen what tactics work now and will go again, much like state-sanctioned Russian manipulation of the 2016 presidential election, or the #Gamergate movement that wanted to eliminate a pernicious female influence from the video game media industry. There have been smaller successes before and now they’ve snagged a win. The demands will only become more substantial over time.
Augmented reality is, to steal a line from Beck, where it’s at.
While some of us who are old enough have been awaiting the full, immersive virtual reality experience promised to us in Lawnmower Man in 1992 (minus the homicidal inclinations), AR has shown to be more promising as a consumer product. At least for the moment, the way augmented reality has been positioned as a portable creative outlet has helped it build significant interest in the consumer tech and marketing fields. According to Digi-Capital, AR adoption will far outstrip VR for the foreseeable future.
One big reason AR is so popular is, for lack of a more technical term, that it’s so much easier to carry around with you. VR is still hobbled by cumbersome goggles and other accouterments, even its most (currently) advanced incarnations. As anyone who played Pokemon Go last year or who has done roughly anything on Snapchat knows, AR is right there in your pocket, adding a bit of animation to the world around you.
There’s plenty of speculation as to what the future of advertising and marketing might look like in an AR-enhanced world. The movie marketing field isn’t waiting for tomorrow, though, and is in the middle of full embrace of the technology to help sell some of Hollywood’s biggest films. That includes some major releases coming out this summer, but the water has been tested by others already. Let’s look at some recent and upcoming AR executions from the studios.
Next time you’re stopping into your local 7-Eleven for coffee and reminding yourself that hot dog would be a bad idea, pull up the store’s app and get a guided tour from an AR version of the Merc With A Mouth himself. He’ll scribble over the selfie you take while pulling a special Slurpee into a movie-branded cup. Scannable codes around the store will unlock exclusive content as well. You can get a look at some of what awaits you in the commercial to promote the tie-in.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
An AR version of Dejarik (aka “holochess”, the game it’s always a good idea to let the Wookie win, even if he didn’t initially get it) has been added to the popular Jedi Challenges mobile game from Lenovo. The original version of the game required special AR goggles but an update aided by ARkit means you can play it on iPhones or iPads without additional equipment, just in time for the movie.
The IMAX original documentary was recently promoted with an AR component including an animated, anthropomorphic panda that kids, the target audience for the film, could ask questions of and get answers from. That’s very much in line with the goals of the filmmakers, who sought to educate young audiences about the conversation efforts being undertaken around the animals.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
The Pokemon Go concept is being brought to the world of dinosaurs with Jurassic World Alive, part of the marketing for this summer’s sequel. Players roam their neighborhoods and other locations looking for dinosaurs, including some of the new creatures featured in the movie. When they collect DNA samples from the creatures they can grow their own in incubators, including the ability to create original genetically-modified dinosaurs of their own. Because that always works out so well.
The slightly-on-the-nose branded “AR Unleashed” app allowed users to add the genetically-enhanced monsters featured in the movie to the world around them. People were encouraged to get creative with the situations they put the creatures in and enter their work into a contest, the winner of which joined Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on part of the movie’s publicity tour.
While we wait to see what the next cinematic incarnation of the franchise will be (I’m personally hoping for a sequel to the 2016 film), mobile users will be able to play Ghostbusters World an AR game, coming out later this year, that incorporates ghosts and story elements from all the movies, cartoons, comics and other media. The game was announced by Google at Mobile World Congress alongside the launch of its ARCore 1.0 developer platform.
Ready Player One/A Wrinkle in Time
Both movies were part of initial tests by Facebook of its AR Target Tracker and involved posters placed at bus stops and other outdoor locations equipped with that technology. For A Wrinkle In Time, scanning the posters added reality-bending effects like those seen in the movie. For Ready Player One, doing so opened a portal to the OASIS, the VR world the story largely takes place in.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
As an illustration of how much popular apps are driving the adoption of AR, Snapcodes added to the packaging of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle allowed users to unlock movie-themed World Lenses that brought a couple different experiences to life for Snapchat users.
Another promotion involving Facebook, this time the effort used the social network’s Camera Effects Platform. Choosing one of the characters from the movie, you could add their mask to your selfie and trigger various additional effects with different facial movements.
These are just a few of the AR executions that have happened in support of various movies in the last year or so. It’s not just studios that are getting in on the trend, either. Way back in 2013 theater chain AMC added AR stickers to select movie posters in theaters that, when scanned with the app, opened up trailers and other related content. Earlier this year in-theater advertising network National CineMedia introduced the Noovie ARcade app to let moviegoers play AR games while not talking to the person sitting next to them.
Moviebill introduced an AR-enhanced playbill handed out exclusively at Regal Cinemas locations to those with tickets for Avengers: Infinity War that, when scanned with the Regal app, the displayed exclusive videos and other content, all of which was ad-supported. Future editions will support Deadpool 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and other big releases.
Are there more AR-assisted campaigns coming down the road? You’d have to assume the answer will be “yes.” Looking ahead a few months at movies like Ant-Man and the Wasp, Skyscraper, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies and others there are definitely some possibilities for augmented reality to come into play.
More than that, though, if the technology continues to get more and more user friendly thanks to efforts by Snap, Google, Apple and other companies there will be more and more studios and other marketing professionals looking to catch the wave. User adoption numbers are few and far between for any one execution, but success usually breeds continued usage, so if each new promotion speaks to some extent to the success of the last one.
Beer also caught a couple secret messages from Deadpool in the metadata of the site for Trolli, the gummy company that had a 7-Eleven-exclusive cross promotion with the movie.
Social media monitoring and management company Sprinklr analyzed online buzz for Deadpool 2 and compared it to both the first Deadpool and this year’s Avengers: Infinity War. Here’s how things stacked up:
Avengers – Infinity War (3/25/18-4/25/18): 1.3m mentions of #AvengersInfinityWar or #Avengers
Deadpool 2 (4/10/18- 5/10/18): 534,600 mentions of #Deadpool, #Deadpool 2 or #DP2
Deadpool (1/10/16- 2/10/16): 395,000 mentions of #Deadpool
Walmart offered a bunch of Blu-rays of movies like Logan, Office Space and others with slipcovers featuring Deadpool recreating the posters of the movie.
The jabs at Avengers continued in this video, where Deadpool recounts the first 10 years of his own cinematic universe, a decade that wasn’t quite as jam-packed as that other one.
Additional interviews have come out with the movie’s director and screenwriters, all of whom talk about how they approached the character and story. There was also a feature on Stefan Kapicic, who plays Colossus in this film as well as in the original, about his performance, how you never see his actual face and more.
Henry Cavill says what everyone else was thinking last year, that it was a ridiculous conceit to hide Superman in the movie’s marketing since not only was he on the publicity tour but *of course* the character was going to come back. Plus, he was on like 22% of the marketing materials anyway, especially the cross-promotional stuff.
Avengers: Infinity War
More on the partnership with Little Free Library here.
There’s a new – and very cool – video for “Pray For Me” from Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd featuring footage from the movie as well as some slick animation.
Speed Racer is the movie everyone champions on Twitter, heralding it as a genius film under-appreciated in its time. The 10th anniversary of release is bringing with it a whole new wave of stories like this along those lines.
Warner Bros. worked with GIF platform Tenor (a Giphy competitor) on a sponsored Justice League GIF keyboard app takeover, offering exclusive GIFs from the film. That effort was promoted with a social media campaign as well.
That Superman’s part in the story was now public knowledge also meant the release of a new poster and banner that included him in the team lineup. These used the same artwork as was previously released, just with Superman now filling in a conspicuous gap.
Slightly spoilerish, but here’s a list of scenes from the trailers that didn’t make it into the finished film. Also kind of tipping the hat is a picture shared by Joe Manganiello of him in full Deathstroke gear.
Cavill was finally allowed to speak for himself and talk about Superman’s role in the story, including how the character changed due to the events of Batman v Superman.
Gillette continues to run social media ads for its movie-branded products, with a link to purchase those items at Walmart.
More details on the IMAX virtual reality experience that was offered in select cities here.
Much like Suicide Squad last year, reports are starting to emerge that studio micromanaging heavily influenced the final structure and tone of the film, something that’s been much-discussed by fanboys who believe there’s some magical, unadulterated “Snyder Cut” of the movie sitting in an archive somewhere.
The Florida Project
Another profile of director Sean Baker that presents him as a Hollywood outsider who’s eager to maintain that status and keep making his indie features.
Insights from writer/director Lee Unkrich and others here on how he and the rest of the Pixar team worked hard to make sure the movie was respectful of the culture being portrayed as possible. The same topic is covered here as well.
Actress Natalia Cordova-Buckley shared her thoughts on voicing the late real life artist Frida Kahlo and the experiences that led her to embrace such a challenge.
Writer/director Greta Gerwig has continued making media appearances like this one to talk about the film and the satisfaction she felt by finally directing.
Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Director Dan Gilroy and star Denzel Washington talked here about how the former wrote the part specifically for the latter and how Washington boarded the project, helping to shape the character as filming went on.
Another interview here with writer/director Maggie Betts on the inspiration for the story and how she tackled such sensitive material.
Beauty and the Beast
The movie is returning to theaters in what appears to be not only an attempt to reach holiday audiences but also remind awards season voters of the costume design and more.
Call Me By Your Name
Buzzfeed posted a hit-piece on star Armie Hammer, pegging him as an entitled white guy who gets multiple shots at stardom because of his position while others are quickly discarded after multiple misfires. Hammer reacted to the piece in what is a pretty appropriate manner.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director Martin McDonagh spoke here about how he found star Francis McDormand and worked with her to get the story’s tone right.
A new short TV spot hits some of the same beats as were seen in the main campaign but with the addition of plenty of positive critics quotes.
There have also been some new character posters released that show the three leads surrounded by positive quotes praising the movie.
Blade Runner 2049
Director Denis Villeneuve offers some time-enhanced thoughts on making the movie and developing the characters in this interview.
Director Eliza Hittman talks about the view of masculinity and other topics taken in the film here.
The Disaster Artist
A couple new TV spots have been released by A24, one that shows the enthusiasm of Wiseau in making the movie and one that shows he refuses to accept the negativity of others.
When Even Aquaman Shouting “My man!” Can’t Save a Movie
Justice League should have been a slam-dunk. Just days before it was released projections had it earning somewhere around $110 million in its opening weekend. That would have been decent, more than Wonder Woman but less than both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Not great, but clearing the $100 million mark domestically is always important from an optics point of view, particularly when the production budget was reportedly somewhere around $300 million. As it stands now it is, instead, the worst-performing entry in the DC Cinematic Universe, or whatever we’re calling it.
So what happened? How do you fail to capitalize on the promise of assembling some of the best-known superheroes in popular culture into a single film? We know this works because The Avengers did it just five years ago. Turns out there are a variety of factors that lead to Justice League underperforming, and that’s without even counting
Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?
Batman v Superman was supposed to begin the march toward a full-fledged team film by bringing Superman (Henry Cavill), who we already met in 2013’s Man of Steel, into contact with Batman (Ben Affleck), making his debut in the role. And both of them were going to meet Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), also in her first outing. Hence the “Dawn of Justice” subtitle. But if you saw BvS you know that Superman’s status is, like any given Chicago Bears quarterback, unavailable.
The hero was kept out of almost the entire marketing campaign save for, notably one trailer just weeks before release where he seems to be appearing only as a figment of Lois Lane’s (Amy Adams) imagination. But you can’t do Justice League without Superman and everyone knew it. He still showed up on consumer product packaging and in a couple early promotional images. So everyone knew he would show up, no matter what the campaign was trying to tell us. Not only does it seem like a misstep to keep your heaviest hitter benched, but until the final trailer his absence wasn’t even noted by the other characters or offered as a motivation.
Crisis On Infinite Earths
Marvel Studios has taken pains to make sure everyone knows its various TV and streaming shows do take place in the same world of The Avengers, even if references are only oblique and we’re reminded that no, Luke Cage will not be appearing in Infinity War because…reasons. Still, it’s a cohesive universe that became more so in the last year as Sony agreed to allow Spider-Man to appear in Captain America: Civil War, a cameo that paid off with this past summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, which co-starred Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.
Contrast that to the fragmented approach of DC Entertainment (Disclosure: For four years I worked with DC in my role at a PR agency), where the plethora of TV shows are not only disconnected from the movies but largely from each other. So Ezra Miller plays The Flash in Justice League but Grant Gustin has been playing him on TV for three years now. Until last year, “Supergirl” was almost wholly separate from other DC shows until it moved from CBS to The CW, home of “Arrow” and others. “Gotham” is still doing its own thing. And DC/Warner Bros. recently announced it would create a new label for movies based on DC characters that weren’t connected to the Justice League world of characters. Not only does having multiple actors play the same character in different media cause confusion, the difference in tone from to the other is a bit jarring.
A League of One
The success, both critical and popular, of Wonder Woman just a few months ago should have opened the door for Justice League even further. Everyone loved Gadot’s enthusiastic portrayal that showed how love and the desire to protect is just as, if not more, powerful than motivations rooted in revenge and pain.
It turns out that *is* what people wanted and they weren’t so interested in gritty, CGI-rendered battle sequences against hordes of winged invaders with vague motives. In fact if you look back at Wonder Woman reactions, the final battle against Horned Bad Dude V7.3 is often called out as the weakest part of the film. It was never going to be possible to pivot Justice League entirely to account for what the audience loved about Wonder Woman, but there also wasn’t much of a change in the marketing for the team film to put her in more of a prominent role.
New World Order
Back in the day, the period between mid-October and Christmas was largely one for “serious” films vying for awards nominations. All the blockbusters were finishing up their last runs to make way for character-driven dramas and biopics until a few family-friendly films were released in time for Christmas vacation to start. Now, though, the blockbuster season runs all year, or at least March through December.
That means Justice League was facing some pretty stiff box-office competition. Thor: Ragnarok is still going strong and came in third over the weekend, even though it’s dropped by 53% and 61% respectively in the weeks since it came out. The family drama Wonder came in second with a strong $27 million, showing that well-reviewed counter-programming against big-budget superhero action can still work when done well. The problem is, there was really no way for DC/WB to avoid Disney entirely. If it had pushed Justice League any further it would have opened against Disney/Pixar’s Coco this week or started to get too close to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
[Retailers: Creator and Artwork In Solicitations May Change]
Early on in the Justice League production – and publicity – process, director Zack Snyder and others talked about how it was going to be shot as one massive production but split into two films, one released now and the other six months or so into 2018. That was eventually discarded.
Also early on, a poster showing Jason Momoa as Aquaman was released with the copy “Unite the Seven.” It was widely believed that was a reference to seven heroes coming together. The Justice League campaign only showed five heroes, not including Superman, and this was retconned to refer to the “seven seas” but that’s not how it was initially received.
Snyder, because of a family tragedy, had to bow out of post-production and reshoots and so Warner Bros. brought on Joss Whedon to both write new sequences and film additional footage.
Affleck’s future as Batman changes weekly. At one point he was both writing and directing a solo film that was supposed to come out before Justice League but was pushed to later. Now he’s doing neither and may not even play the character again.
In short, there’s been a lot of uncertainty around the movie that has been very public and which can’t help but have shaded the public’s pre-release opinion of it. Not even the withholding of the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score until the day before release (a hugely controversial tactic) could change that.
So where does DC/WB go from here? Here’s what’s already in the works:
Wonder Woman 2 (for which Gadot hasn’t yet even signed, though director Patty Jenkins has) doesn’t come out for another two years.
Momoa will reprise his role as Aquaman in a solo film scheduled for next year, though it may be reshot to just be him shouting “MY MAN!” to various characters (not really, but it should be).
The Batman, initially Affleck’s project, is now helmed by Matt Reeves and was essentially restarted by him.
Zachary Levi will play the title role in SHAZAM! next year as well, marking that character’s debut.
Whedon was hired months ago to write and direct a Batgirl movie.
There are rumors of a Superman: Red Son feature adaptation.
Director Todd Phillips could helm a Joker solo movie that does not star Jared Leto, who played the character in Suicide Squad, part of that “Elseworlds” cinematic strategy.
Miller is slated to play The Flash again in a solo movie tentatively titled Flashpoint and based on that 2011 story that reset the DC comics universe.
Ray Fisher is also scheduled to play Cyborg again in a 2020 solo film.
What we’re seeing are the issues that come up when a studio sets so many films so far in advance before seeing if that’s what the audience is actually interested in. We’re also seeing that play out at Universal, where a planned “Dark Universe” series of films was planned to follow The Mummy but that movie’s poor showing may have scuttled that series before it really began.
Not all of the projects above will come to fruition and some will change drastically before hitting theaters. As I mentioned, part of the problem with Justice League is that people reacted much differently to Wonder Woman’s tone than they did Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad. To date, Zack Snyder has played a large role in defining the tone and approach of the movies, but I’d be surprised if that didn’t change after Aquaman as it becomes clear that vision doesn’t translate to guaranteed box-office success and often leads to a critical drubbing.
Another interview with director Richard Linklater about his career, the pivot to a story that’s outside of what he usually tells and more.
The movie is returning to theaters in select markets around the time it hits home video and there’s a new trailer for that release that hits some very different emotional and narrative beats than were seen in the original campaign.
More conversations with writer/director Greta Gerwig about the path she took to making this movie as well as with the costume and production designers about creating the look of the movie.
Costar Beanie Feldstein, who plays the title character’s friend in the film, is getting more and more attention now that it’s in theaters, including this profile and interview. And Tracy Letts, who plays the out-of-work father, talks here about how quickly he was attracted to the script and to working with Gerwig.
Director Taika Waititi talks here about how he got the rights to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” and thank goodness he did considering how well it plays in the trailer.
Jeff Goldblum explains how he got involved in such a grandiose film and how he worked with Waititi to create a colorful and memorable character.
I don’t think I included this late-breaking trailer in my recap but it’s lots of fun, in no small part because of some cool Valkyrie sequences.
Daddy’s Home 2
Will Ferrell made appearances on late night TV, though as usual those were centered more around his antics than the movie itself.
A great piece here on the fact that Mel Gibson has apparently been totally forgiven by Hollywood (and likely audiences) without really doing anything.
Melissa Leo talks more here about how she took on the role of the Reverend Mother with additional comments from writer/director Maggie Betts on the actress and the character she plays.
Murder on the Orient Express
Not that surprisingly, the costume design for the highly-stylized film has finally received some press attention along with the production design.
Kenneth Branagh talks here about how he updated the story a bit to make it a bit more relevant and accessible for the audience.
Lionsgate worked with Jigsaw, part of the Alphabet network of companies, to create a Chrome extension that finds offensive or inflammatory comments and replaces them with messages of kindness. I’m not quite sure I get how that doesn’t cross over into “creepy censorship,” but whatever.
Julia Roberts spoke here about walking the line of sentimentality in the story.
That Facebook Messenger bot I was unsure of a few days ago was what I expected it to be, a platform for people to message the page and receive an inspirational message in return. You can see a video promoting the chatbot, created by imperson, here.
Finally, here’s the kind of profile of Gal Gadot that I was hoping to see earlier in the campaign.
Jeremy Irons did a bit of late-night TV to talk about playing Alfred in such a massive production.
Jordan Peele has not only responded in his own way to the movie’s categorization as a comedy by the HFPA but also crashed a college course that was discussing the film.
Justice League hits theaters this weekend, the seeming crowning moment of the DC Cinematic Universe, or whatever we’re calling it. It comes four years after Man of Steel launched the new continuity, though that debut wasn’t without its critics. Shockingly, it was a full three years before the story continued in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which made it clear that someone didn’t know what to do with Superman on his own and needed to get Batman into the story as soon as possible. The mediocre reception continued in Suicide Squad but then things turned around when Wonder Woman finally got a solo film, showing offering audiences a bright attitude and an alternative to the brooding male stereotype could turn things around on a number of fronts.
Now there’s a whole team of heroes that have been assembled by Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) to fight a growing menace to our planet. With Superman (Henry Cavill) out of the picture (sure), they recruit the Atlantean Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the speedster The Flash (Ezra Miller) and the high school student/machine Cyborg (Ray Fisher). These cast of disparate characters will need to learn to work together if they’re going to stop the forces of Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) from laying waste to the earth.
The first teaser tells us to “Unite” as it shows the logo with a bright beam of light bursting out of the middle of it. There’s not much that’s being conveyed here, it’s just about building or reinforcing awareness.
After that there was a series of character posters that featured each of the five heroes standing on a rocky outcropping and posing for the camera. The same JL logo appears in the background of each and it all culminated in a single poster that brought all five of them together and includes the “Unite” call to action as well. Still missing is Superman, which is notable.
All five of the heroes came together on a poster that shows them all in profile, facing some unseen, off-camera threat. “Unite the league” is the copy that’s laid over the image in big, bold type.
A poster was given away to attendees at San Diego Comic-Con and released online that assembled the team (still sans Superman) around the copy “You can’t save the world alone.” That copy featured the icons and symbols of each character, including Superman. It’s lit and arranged to give the impression, at least among comics fans, that it’s the artwork of Alex Ross with his hyper-realistic style. Upon closer impression, though, it seems just to be photographs of the cast. Either way, it’s a striking image.
Another series of character posters put each hero in profile against a solid background, their unique symbol interlaced with the team logo at the bottom.
More featured the character in action. All the symbols for each hero appeared in a row at the top, with the relevant one highlighted. Notably, Superman’s symbol *is* shown here but he didn’t get a poster of his own. Some of these better than others and a couple are just ridiculous. Each featured the copy “All in,” presumably conveying their commitment to the team and its cause.
Another series had each character’s face half-covered by the mask they wear.
I’m not sure what the art department was thinking with the next poster, which brings all five heroes together in action poses centered around the title treatment. The photos used show no sense of motion or energy. This looks more like the kind of awkward imagery that would be used for licensed product signage than a one-sheet for a tentpole release from a major studio.
A couple posters were created specifically to be given away to customers buying tickets through Fandango, select IMAX screenings and so on.
The first look at the movie came at San Diego Comic-Con 2016, when WB released a pseudo-trailer that centered around Bruce Wayne’s quest to assemble a team to fight the coming evil. The biggest part of that is recruiting Arthur Curry/Aquaman, for which purpose he travels to a small fishing village where he frequently pops up. Curry’s not hugely on board, but the same can’t be said for Barry Allen, who accepts Wayne’s invitation almost before he actually makes it. Wayne is working with Diana to build the team and we see some of the interplay between the two of them. Also coming along is Vic Stone, who we see both before and after his transformation into Cyborg.
It’s actually a pretty great trailer and seems to address one of the big complaints about Batman v Superman, which is that it was so super-serious. This one, in contrast, is full of humor and little jokes and funny moments. It doesn’t seem WB and Snyder are going full-on Joss Whedon’s Avengers here but it does play much more light-hearted than what has come before, showing the team dynamic may be a little more spirited than in BvS.
The first “official” trailer starts off with Wayne wandering through the frozen tundra on his trip to recruit Aquaman. After that we meet Cyborg and Flash as they’re pulled into the team alongside Batman and Wonder Woman. Aside from the team building shots, there are quite a few scenes of them fighting parademons in various ways, either hand-to-hand or, if you’re Batman, in the Batmobile or other machines. Along the way we get glimpses at Barry Allen’s imprisoned father, Mera swimming through the sea and, at the end, Commissioner Gordon giving Batman some encouragement.
This one is alright but it looks sooooo dark. There’s no light in the trailer, either from an actual lighting or from a tonality point of view. Sure, there are a couple jokes or funny lines here and there but overall this looks just as humorless and slightly depressing as Batman v Superman, where the tone was one of the major points of pushback from critics and audiences alike. But when you have Zack Snyder at the helm, you’re going to get a Zack Snyder movie.
A year after the first footage WB once again released a new “sneak peek” trailer at Comic-Con that opens with a scene of Wonder Woman handling a terrorist incident easily. That’s not surprising given this is the first big asset following her solo movie’s massive success. Diana and Bruce discuss the need for heroes to rise once again before we see Steppenwolf arrive on Themysciria. He narrates that there are no protectors on Earth, specifically no Kryptonians and “No Lanterns,” a nice nod to the existence of that intergalactic police force. The heroes do join forces, though, to take on the bad guy and his army and we’re shown lots of cool shots of Cyborg taking over the Batmobile, Aquaman knocking a parademon out of the sky and lots of things exploding. It all ends with Alfred meeting someone he’d been told to expect while all we see is the red shoulder of the visitor, a heavy hint that it’s Superman finally showing up.
I like this trailer a lot as it shows more of the team dynamic than earlier spots have. It’s still all very attitude-heavy, with lots of glowering and brooding, but let’s also note that it’s Wonder Woman who’s providing a lot of the inspirational uplift for the other heroes. And, again, the Amazons get quite a bit of screen time to take advantage of their popularity with audiences. Basically, the character types each hero will play to are shown clearly here, as well as how they integrate together.
The final “Heroes” trailer lives up to its name by including a slowed down version of David Bowie’s song of the same name. It opens with a scene of Lois greeting Clark in the cornfield, but we see that’s likely just a dream. Superman is dead, we hear via a news broadcast, and the world is having problems. Bruce talks about the threats that are coming, which Diana identifies as an invasion. They enlist the help of the other heroes, with Bruce convincing them they’re stronger together. That all is followed by lots of fighting between the Justice League and parademons who are looking to unleash hell on Earth.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website opens with the final trailer and once that’s over or you close it you’re greeted with a version of the painting-like key art of the team. In the upper left are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles. You can also see it’s “wrapped” in the branding and navigation of DC Comics, bestowing the traffic to the home of the IP and encouraging any casual visitors interested in the movie to check out more of the comics and characters offered. Along the bottom are prompts to get tickets or watch the recent red carpet premiere event.
Moving to the top of the page, the content menu there starts with “Video” which surprisingly just has the same trailer that opened the site. After that, “Unite the League” gives you a couple options to either create your own superhero symbol or create a 360-degree image that you could add your friends to. The results of the first option could be downloaded either as a JPG or an MP4 video but not as a GIF, which seems like an oversight.
“First Look” just has the team image that has been used sporadically throughout the campaign, including on licensed products, and which notably includes Superman among the heroes. That’s followed by a link to “Join the League” to access exclusive material and get early updates on new merchandise.
You can find out more about the “VR Game” that lets you play as Batman as he tests his own abilities as well as those of his new teammates but you’ll need the required equipment to play. After links to get tickets and find release dates, “Partners” finishes off the site with links to the companies helping to promote the film.
A virtual reality experience came in four flavors. The first, accessible via mobile devices, allowed just small snippets of gameplay for each of the main characters. An HTV Vive version at New York Comic-Con provided for enhanced gameplay. Next, a couple IMAX locations in the country had an exclusive version that let you test your superhero abilities and learn to use your powers. Finally, a fully-featured version was available for commercial VR platforms that took players inside the actual superhero experience.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV commercials started running after the release of the final trailer, about a month prior to the movie hitting theaters. Most all took slightly different approaches to selling the same concept, which is that the team has to come together to be more than a team to defend the world. A better look at Mera was offered in another spot that was also used as a promoted post on Twitter.
Promotional partners for the movie included:
AT&T, which created a portal for all its Justice League-themed material, including character profiles featuring cast interviews and explanations of his or her powers and role on the team. Clips and excerpts from those videos were also used in paid ads on Twitter leading the audience back to that portal.
Mercedes, which launched a campaign involving TV, outdoor, online and print advertising to promote the movie as well as its new AMG Vision Gran Turismo, which is featured in the movie. The TV spots positioned the car as the perfect mode of transportation, even for heroes who can fly, run and more. There was also a co-branded digital comic that was created and promoted across social channels by the car company.
Hot Topic, which created a line of clothing and apparel based on the characters and heroes of the movie.
Google, which added “bots” based on the five heroes in the movie to Android Pay, allowing users to unlock and collect them.
Gillette, which sponsored the above-mentioned VR game and created movie-branded packaging (conspicuously omitting Wonder Woman) that was supported by a TV campaign. It also ran something called the “League of Influencers” involving social media celebrities, but there was no information that could be found about that campaign.
Dave & Buster’s, which offered a special Justice League Platter along with an exclusive Injustice arcade game, supporting those efforts with a TV advertising campaign and presumably in-store signage.
Kendrick Motorsports, which, in conjunction with Great Clips, had Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving movie-themed cars at the Texas Motor Speedway. This is just the latest partnership between WB/DC and Hendrick.
Orville Redenbacher’s, which offered a variety of actives and promotions, including an AR selfie tool and more.
Warner Bros. worked with IMAX on a virtual reality experience that would be available at theaters around the country. An augmented reality game was launched wherein Walmart shoppers could take pictures of themselves alongside characters from the movie when they found in-store displays and also play a game involving the Flying Fox, the team’s transport.
Both WB and DC ran social media ads on Twitter and Facebook that either included the trailers as they were released or encouraged people to visit the movie’s official website and “Join the League” for access to exclusive content and merchandise. Licensed product partner Mattel created a nifty version of the trailer involving stop-motion animation featuring action figures.
DC Comics took two additional moves to promote the movie, declaring November 18th to be “Justice League Day,” coordinating local events and giveaways and putting movie-themed variant covers on its November comics releases.
Media and Publicity
Outside of casting and other production news, the first big news cycle came as the result of a set visit by various members of the press. That brought lots of cast and crew interviews as well as details about who some actors were playing, who the villain of the story was going to be and the first official logo. It also brought with it plenty of confusion as there seemed to be conflicting stories as to whether there was going to be just one or, as originally announced, two Justice League movies.
Later on there was a new photo featuring Flash, Batman and Wonder Woman released along with some brief comments from Miller who talked about Flash’s role in the group dynamic. Another new photo came in an interview with Snyder about the story and characters. A small feature on Momoa called out his role as Aquaman as being part of the actor’s big breakout push.
Unfortunately some bad news came up back in May, when Snyder announced he was stepping away from the movie due to a family tragedy a couple months prior. WB kept things on track for the release date, though, by bringing in Joss Whedon to handle the rest of the additional filming that was planned as well as post-production. Helping make that a seamless transition was the fact that, as the story reveals, Snyder had already reached out to Whedon to help write additional scenes deemed to be missing from the initial production, so he was already in the Justice League mindset. Eventually that situation led to this movie being the latest to have its reshoot budget and schedule picked apart by the press for signs of trouble and other issues, including how much time and money was being spent digitally removing Cavill’s facial hair. No, I’m not kidding.
Costume displays, as well as consumer products, were shown at the annual Licensing Expo show. Another new still, this one featuring Flash, Batman and Wonder Woman, appeared in EW’s San Diego Comic-Con preview issue. Comic-Con also provided a venue for the studio to show off costumes from the movie as well as a full-size Batmobile.
The future of the movie was thrown into doubt with a story that appeared just the day before Warner Bros.’ big Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con. That story reported Affleck’s future as Batman was up in the air for various reasons relating to both the age of the actor, the physical demands of the role and more. It’s something Affleck had to spend no small amount of time rebutting, or at least addressing, saying he was happy to play Batman for as long as WB would let him.
In addition to their presence as part of Warner Bros. Hall H presentation, where the official trailer was shown, the cast showed up to sign autographs at the DC Comics booth on the show floor. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though, as the movie’s big San Diego stage was preceded by a story that cast Affleck’s future as Batman in doubt for various reasons. It’s something he wound up addressing and which took up some of the space that would ideally have been used on more positive angles.
EW’s fall movie preview issue showed off the first look at Batman’s big team transport The Flying Fox, which was also the subject of a later LA Times feature. It also had Affleck talking about how the film reflected the work of both directors and that the movie would show DC’s universe was really hitting its stride and more, as well as promising a more traditionally heroic version of The Dark Knight, not the rage-fueled character of BvS.
Later on an Empire Magazine cover story contained more first looks and other stories. More new photos and comments from the actors like this one focusing on Momoa continued to trickle out. There was also the fact that the movie introduced so many characters the general audience may not be completely familiar with.
In the last week or so before release, Affleck made the media rounds to talk about what both Snyder and Whedon brought to the project, his early near-brush with the world of Batman and more. Gadot also did her share, though in light of the conversations currently dominating Hollywood many of those appearances turned to her thoughts on sexual harassment. The rest of the cast put in the miles and time as well.
The theme of sexism, in general, came back up in a big way when Melissa Silverstein, among others, noticed the drastic difference in the warrior garb donned by the Amazons in this movie compared to what they wore in Wonder Woman. The addition of more bare mid-riffs and other exposed skin was quickly called out as being indicative of how women view women and how men view women.
More late-breaking controversy when, despite the fact that reviews had been posted already, it was announced the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score would not be revealed until the day before it hit theaters. While that news was couched as being an incentive for people to tune into the first episode of the site’s new Facebook Live show, it raised the spectre of corporate control over information. That wasn’t a huge leap given how studios have stepped up their fight against Rotten Tomatoes, saying it’s poisoning fans against certain movies. Oh, and it’s owned by Warner Bros. So…yeah.
I’m hard-pressed to think of a campaign in recent memory that’s had so many unexpected twists and turns to it. To name a few:
Snyder’s replacement by Whedon for the final phases of production. While it’s understandable, it’s also very odd and unusual.
The continuing will he/won’t he conversations about Affleck’s future as Batman, a situation that’s changed with each new publicity cycle.
The impact Wonder Woman’s success had, which likely resulted in her becoming a much bigger part of a campaign that started well before that movie was released.
All that has made is kind of hard for the campaign, particularly the publicity element, to remain focused and on track. While Fisher, Miller and Momoa have kept up the theme of just having a good time and living the dream playing superheroes for a living, Affleck’s attempts at that same tone have come off as stilted and been undermined by the ever-changing narrative about his future. And let’s be honest, there hasn’t been a whole lot of Gadot here, which is surprising. So it’s been hard, at least from an outside observer’s point of view, for the publicity to get its footing for any length of time.
In the marketing components things have been a bit more consistent, but whether or not that’s a good thing is going to be in the eye of the beholder. All the trailers, while they sell different plot points, have been very similar in terms of tone and style, presenting a dark and violent action movie. Yes, there are certainly more laughs on display than in the marketing of BvS, but that’s not a high bar to clear. It seems as if no matter how much the studio may have wanted to change perceptions in the wake of Wonder Woman it was limited by the material available to work with.
In short it looks like another Zack Snyder movie, for good or ill. Lots of heavily-stylized characters and a story that’s only hinted at from time to time lest it take the focus off the special effects and action sequences.
It also can’t go without saying that the inconsistent approach to Superman’s presence in the story is somewhat laughable and almost amateurish. 95% of the official marketing materials keep him off-camera, but then he’s just standing there like it’s no big deal in the other 5%, as well as in all the imagery for the licensed products on store shelves. Adding to the disconnect is that the character’s absence is only mentioned once or twice in the campaign, so it’s not as if him being gone is clearly what’s motivated Batman and the others to rise up and join together. If you’re going to hide a character from the marketing, do so for a reason.
I can’t say I don’t like the campaign. I’m still a comics nerd, after all. But there are some real issues that weren’t addressed at all or, if they were, only made the message to the audience that much more muddled and somewhat confusing.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
Henry Cavill says what everyone else was thinking last year, that it was a ridiculous conceit to hide Superman in the movie’s marketing since not only was he on the publicity tour but *of course* the character was going to come back. Plus, he was on like 22% of the marketing materials anyway, especially the cross-promotional stuff.