Movies

5 Years Later, We Still Have a Burning Question About Whedon's Justice League

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Warner Bros. was supposed to be creating a new franchise with 2017's Justice League, taking the most popular superheroes and teaming them up to save the world for the first time in live action. What could go wrong?

After a myriad of production issues, poor critical ratings, and ultimately not enough money made back, the studio's idea of an expanded universe seemingly halted. They've since turned to standalone films, some of which have done critically and financially well. With the rebranding of DC Studios and the hiring of James Gunn and Peter Safran to lead their new direction, it seems that the connected universe may eventually become a reality.

Ultimately, five years after the over-promised and under-delivered Justice League, we still have one question:

Who exactly was the intended audience? Who was Justice League for?

The DC Extended Universe began with Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, a year after 2012's Avengers first introduced the idea of a live-action superhero team-up. Justice League tried to expedite that process, uniting the characters in three movies compared to Marvel's six. That timing wasn't a coincidence.

Also, not a coincidence was several DC plot points regurgitated from the MCU.

The Avengers fought Loki for a cube-shaped alien box of power – Justice League had three of them. Avengers ended with the promise of Thanos, an alien warlord for whom comic fans have been yearning – Justice League did the same with Darkseid. DC even brought in Joss Whedon, who created the first two Avengers films, to work on Justice League after a personal tragedy of Zack Snyder brought him off the set.

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But while the MCU has been fun, bright, funny, and (most importantly) as fantastical as the comics, DC has been dark and brooding, overly serious, and tries to be too cool. One could argue that they're trying to branch beyond the generic superhero genre, but fans of superhero movies have shown that they don't need overly deep and serious films to stay engaged. It just needs to be fun.

Justice League had a few bright spots.

It had a haunting introduction where the audience sees the world react to Superman's death as "Everybody Knows" by Sigrid plays.

Batman's advice to the overwhelmed Barry Allen (Flash) – "Save one" – was downright inspiring. But when the only two good moments are the very start and a throwaway line during the climactic fight, how high is a movie's ceiling?

Ultimately, it seemed DC didn't have a clear direction during filming. Before the movie even started production, they rushed the process of getting to the Justice League rather than developing their characters and giving them a proper introduction. Mid-production, they let Whedon completely change the tone from Snyder's original vision, resulting in a broken, convoluted film.

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But what really sank Justice League and the last five years' potential of the DCU was that they lacked a target audience. They had a direct competitor in Marvel and mimicked several elements that had proven successful over the previous few years, but they didn't know who the movie was for. It was a movie that made no one happy – not fans of the original comics, not casual superhero fans, not cinephiles. They used their dark, overly serious tone to try and reach a separate audience from Marvel (and the CW DC series, for that matter) without realizing that that's exactly the audience they needed.

With Gunn and Safran at the helm, DC hopes to right the ship five years after disaster.

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