One of this year’s most scrupulous films, aside from possibly Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (the first female-led comic book film in more than a decade), is the sequel to the much maligned Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice directed again by Zack Snyder. While casting, story, tone, editing, and promotion all garner examination for the final product, they miss the single most monumental challenge the film faces: so far, it seems like a repeat of The Avengers.
Consider 2012’s The Avengers: a team of heroes is assembled (led by a billionaire character with sardonic wit), a mystical cube is the mcguffin, aliens invade from outer space, and the team must survive to produce sequels for a shared universe.
While we don’t know what entirely Zack Snyder and Chris Terrio have in store for us, we know Batman will be a central figure. We also know that Steppenwolf (a follower of Darkseid, similar to Loki acting on Thanos’ behalf in The Avengers) will be the antagonist. What is a safe assumption, is that the story of the film will take much inspiration from the Justice League: Origin by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. That storyline launched the New 52 continuity of DC Comics in 2011, which until recently influenced all of their media adaptations to imitate. Origin details how the JL formed in the new Universe, and how they fought off the invasion of Earth by Darkseid.
Ignoring the fact that Justice League is taken cues from a story and continuity that are no longer in vogue or looked at favorably even, it shares a chaffing amount in common with main competitor’s Marvel Studios hit blockbuster. Its bad enough when you have to catch up to your business rival, its even worse to copy them and deliver a lesser product.
Which to be fair, we can only speculate on Justice League‘s actual quality until its released. The fact remains, we’ve seen all of this before. Not just in The Avengers either, Warner Brother’s animated branch already adapted Origin into the middling Justice League: War.
While not 100% faithful (it swapped out Aquaman for Shazam), it didn’t need to be because it wasn’t that great. Most of the DCAU films related to the New 52 are boring and lifeless compared to previous, continuity-lite entries. The Origin storyline is a bare-bones reintroduction of the League in a new Universe, which was constructed without a clear understanding of where each character was starting from (how Grant Morrison’s Superman could resemble the one in Origin is confusing enough). If anything, it could serve as a skeleton blueprint for a script needing deeper character interactions, humanization, and a more compelling threat to defeat.
Almost every origin story for the Justice League involves an alien invasion scenario, even the three part beginning for the Justice League cartoon. It’s not hard to see why, its a threat big enough to challenge seven of Earth’s greatest heroes. Yet, it was covered pretty well in The Avengers with Loki and the Chitauri that I don’t see Steppenwolf and parademons have the same punch.
One thing I think could be better utilized is the magic cube in Justice League, the motherboxes. Advanced supercomputers from alien worlds, motherboxes can be a deus ex machina or compelling plot devices depending on the writer.
In Origin, Apokolips uses the motherboxes to set-up boom-tubes (portals in space) to Earth for an invasion. There is potential for the film to craft an interesting conflict between Earth and the New Gods in a centuries long struggle for survival.
Of course, there’s also plenty of things that could bog down the film unnecessarily like the inclusion of Atlantis and the Amazons of Themyscira. Dawn of Justice had many elements like this, scenes that didn’t really add to the plot and only made it feel crowded and underdeveloped, think scientists speaking philosophically about the existence of Superman or clips of the other League members being recorded with little to no further involvement. DCEU films need to be much more coherent going forward, which will hopefully be the case for Wonder Woman.
Nonetheless, DC also needs to present something new to the superhero genre since they’re not the only game in town: Marvel has achieved dominance with their live-action universe, Fox continues to churn out the occasional X-hit, and its only a matter of time before other studios try to cash in on comic book rights they’ve acquired.
Perhaps in the end, its not about whether Justice League can surpass The Avengers but instead can sit across from them on equal footing as live-action heroes for fans to cheer on.
Editors Note: An earlier version of this article described Justice League as a “summer movie” it opens in November and the phrasing has been changed to reflect that.