Armchair Screenwriting: That ‘Justice League’ Movie

Posted: October 26, 2012 in Action Movies, comic books, Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , , ,

So apparently now that Warner Bros. doesn’t need to worry about how much of Superman it actually owns, they’re gonna go ahead and just make a Justice League movie next year, to be released against Avengers in summer 2015 – though that’s a hell of a turnaround time, considering they don’t have a cast or director in place.

It’s also comically, stubbornly refusing the Avengers individual-films-then-an-all-star-jamboree model of franchising. Instead Warner Bros. is banking on the idea that it can introduce a bunch of characters in Justice League, then spin them off into their own franchises.

And look, this does sound incredibly hubristic, but if you’d have asked me five years ago if Avengers would have been successful…well, I’d have still been too thrown by the notion that people went to see a Thor movie to even field the question posed to me. So it’s not impossible, just…a daunting task, I suppose is the most diplomatic way to put it.

But unless they think they’re going to revive the Green Lantern franchise, this is not likely to pay off as expansively as Warner Bros. probably hopes.

I mean, look at it this way, the line-up is most likely going to be: 
Superman (because the franchise is already in progress)
Batman (this is how they’ll kick off the next Batman series)
Wonder Woman (their next biggest merchandising brand and yet they can’t seem to figure out any other way to get a franchise going that isn’t fucking terrible)
Green Lantern (let’s assume Ryan Reynolds is probably still tied into a contract)
TWO OTHER CHARACTERS TO BE CHOSEN LATER (any more and this is going to be more unwieldy than it already is)

So while WB assumes they can use this to kick off a bunch of new franchises, mostly it’ll accomplish three things: 1) keep one existing franchise going (Superman); 2) Restart one it had already planned to do (Batman); and 3) Dust off a franchise little-loved the first time around (mostly because Green Lantern was pretty lousy).

Which means the best-case scenario is, the Superman franchise doesn’t tank, Batman 3.0 gets kicked off a year earlier than it would’ve been anyway, people inexplicably want to see more Green Lantern all of a sudden, AND three newly introduced characters prove popular enough to warrant their own films (with the assumed possibility of Justice League 2 in July 2020).

This seems an unreasonably high benchmark for success.*

But OK, if that’s what we have to hit, that’s what we’ll hit. And hey, we can probably look to Avengers for a few shortcuts while we’re at it, such as…

Using an already existing bad-guy as the heavy.I don’t believe Lex Luthor has

Come on. Come onnnnnnn

been cast in Man of Steel, but he’s easy enough to introduce with minimum fuss here, since everyone already recognizes him. And using the businessman-scientist model means there’s a good reason for Everyone’s Favorite New Bruce Wayne** to come to town and investigate, and there you go: You’ve got Superman and Batman teamed up against Lex Luthor in the first ten minutes of your movie, easy-peasy.

Luthor’s plan should allow for a lot of fighting of cannon-fodder (a la Thanos’s minions in Avengers). Preferably giant robot and crazy Kirby-style tank cannon-fodder. So here’s what I propose – Luthor is manufacturing and selling super-science weapons to an eastern European dictator named Vandal Savage, who’s secretly planning to take over the world (on account of that’s what Vandal Savage does for a hobby every few hundred years).

Wonder Woman needs to be the HULK of this movie. Breakout motherfucking character. Gets at least three scenes of asskicking glory that stick with the audience. Really, more than anything else, this needs to be the Wonder Woman stealth pilot.

Green Lantern as comic relief/eye candy. You’ve already hired Ryan Reynolds, so just let him do what he’s good at – be snarky and have ludicrous abdominal muscles. No need to overthink this.

The New Guys. I’ve given this a lot of thought – though admittedly it’s pretty easy once you start going down the Wikipedia list of leaguers and realizing just how many characters you can easily dismiss (looking at you, Red Tornado, you awful, awful robot).

Then there’s redundant characters – assuming it’s Batman who brings the team together, Martian Manhunter isn’t really needed, and Green Arrow’s busy anyway (to say nothing of Superman-equivalent skill sets like Power Girl or Captain Marvel).

And I think we can safety cross off low-b/high-c-listers like Hawkman, The Atom, Black Canary (we’ll save her for a super-cool Birds of Prey movie that would totally happen with no problem at all) and Zatanna.

That brings the short list down to Flash, Aquaman, and…Steel.


I am keeping this to a six-member team because it’s already a LOT of character work to cram into one movie, even if you can more or less coast on Superman, Batman and GL. The remainder must make sense within the context of either the science-fiction-weapons, or the Immortal Dictator angle.

Wonder Woman can be retrofitted into the latter, by adapting her Perez-era origin (Diana goes to Man’s World to stop Ares) and replacing Ares with Vandal Savage (an avatar of war/Ares). It’s not perfect, but it’s the only way I can see Wonder Woman making sense at all.

You could argue that this would be an ideal way to bring Aquaman in as well – perhaps there were rumblings in Atlantis that Savage has returned, etc. But this ultimately robs Wonder Woman of her uniqueness in the story, and she’ll have to stand out if she’s to headline her own films. Sorry Aquaman, next movie for sure.

So that leaves the sci-fi weapons, which means bringing in STAR Labs. Barry Allen can be introduced first as a Metropolis PD scientist approached by Batman for more info on the weapons, leading to a consult with STAR Labs. Introducing John Henry Irons as the STAR contact gives us another hero who works organically in the story, has a skill set not really replicated by the others (tech hero), and adds some much needed diversity to the team.

(Obviously, the writer will have to do some extra work so nobody in the audience thinks, “Wait…was that the dude from the Shaquile O’Neill movie?” at least until after they’ve left the theater. Then they’ll go home and Google it and laugh and laugh.)

Now, John Henry putting on some experimental armor to join in the battle late in the film is an easy enough way to get his origin out of the way (maybe he can even be inspired enough by Superman to toss an S-plate on his armor somewhere), but how to introduce The Flash? It may make the most sense for him to have his speed-giving lab accident in STAR while trying to tinker with Luthor’s super-weapons. This would even give the roster what it has so far lacked: The Rookie.

Barry Allen can be both the point of view character and the rookie hero, trying to master his powers while helping the World’s Greatest Heroes fend off an invasion from an immortal conqueror.

In the final conflict, we can deliver a few things:

– A great showcase for all the characters’ highly individualized powers (Steel’s weapons, GL’s constructs, Batman’s martial arts, Flash’s speed, Superman’s flight and strength and Wonder Woman’s WARRIOR FURY)

– A final three-way battle: Batman and Superman vs. Lex in a power suit (powered by Kryptonite, the only way it’s a fair fight), and

– A knock-down drag-out between Vandal and Wonder Woman.

At the end, we’ve got the stage set for two new franchises – Flash (who will head back to his home town of Central City for his own exciting adventures) and Wonder Woman (deciding to stay in a strange new world and offer Amazonian wisdom). And hey, maybe some of Luthor’s tech was reverse-engineered from alien tech, sending GL off on a new mission audiences want to see. Batman and Superman head back to their franchises to do whatever they want.

And keeping them all in contact: STAR Labs, headed by John Henry Irons. (And yes, I realize this kind of makes him the Nick Fury and SHIELD of the group, but it’s either this or trot out Amanda Waller again…which, shit I dunno, maybe we can fit her in for a post-credits stinger or something. I’ve done a lot of work here already!)

OK – and I’m just going to throw this out there, even though I know this will probably be a pretty dense movie already, but – maybe John Stewart is around as well. Maybe he’s a guard at STAR Labs or something when the invasion starts, showing off incredible valor (“I did three tours in Afghanistan, this is nothing” or some dialogue that is much better). One might even say showing No Fear.

So when Hal Jordan gets KILLED (gasp! I am a shocked audience member!) in the final battle, he can reassure his teammates that it’s okay, the ring will pick out someone worthy to carry on. And then in the first post-credits scene, the ring finds him. “JOHN STEWART … YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN …”

If that doesn’t revive a franchise I don’t know what will.

Bickering. Ohhh GOD THE BICKERING. I know it’s probably very tempting for whoever’s writing a draft right now to look at the new Geoff Johns seriesand think, “Heroes have to put their personal issues aside to fend off an alien invasion – hell, that’s the movie right

Or this. Don’t do this either.


I know it’s EASY. But it’s also THE AVENGERS. And the Justice League is a different beast. For one thing, the Avengers were more or less coerced into working together despite obvious personality conflicts by a distrustful man running a shadowy organization.

This league, by contrast, would build itself. First Batman and Superman; then STAR Labs; then GL joins up; then Wonder Woman, until they’re a united force. Some minor clashes are fine – and hey, I’m not such a killjoy that I’d turn down a brief Batman-Superman scuffle in the beginning – but if Justice League wants to differentiate itself tonally from Avengers, it can’t spend much of its time on in-fighting (and honestly, it doesn’t have the luxury Avengers had, where each character already showed up with a well-developed personality to bounce off the rest of the cast and Hawkeye).

So there you go, Warner Brothers. All you need to do is follow my outline, hire a decent director (haven’t seen Doug Liman doing much lately…look, just don’t grab Brett Ratner, okay?), be very careful with casting the remaining actors (by which I mean…don’t grab Common. I’ve been watching Hell on Wheels and it turns out Common’s not very good), and don’t get weird on the costume designs (no matching nehru collars, please).

You do these things for me, and I will figure out how you can work Aquaman and Martian Manhunter into a sequel.

*Just checking, do you guys remember how X-Men Origins: Wolverine was designed to kick off Deadpool and Gambit movies too? Man…the universe is just not interested in Taylor Kitsch as a movie star.

**Look, it would crack me right up if Joseph Gordon Levitt showed up as Bruce Wayne without comment, but I suppose that might be confusing to the casual movie-goer. “Wait, so the cop from Dark Knight Rises just stole Batman’s identity?” So I guess hire a new guy.


OK FINE, here is who I would cast:
Superman – Henry Cavill
Green Lantern – Ryan Reynolds
Batman – Benedict Cumberbatch (Ehh? EHHH?)
Wonder Woman – Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Steel – Chiwetel Ejiofor
Flash – John Krasinski
John Stewart – Idris Elba
Lex Luthor – Billy Zane (hey, he looks good bald, smirks well, and WILL NOT TURN DOWN WORK)
Vandal Savage – …Eric Bana? I dunno, lot of ways you could go with that one. NIC CAGE? No, probably not. Well…?
Perry White – Hugh Laurie (not that there is any reason for Perry White to be in this movie, it’s just he was supposed to be in Superman Returns before House took off, and I’d like to see him yell at Clark Kent for a scene)
Commissioner Gordon – Bryan Cranston (again, there’s no reason for Gordon to be part of this movie but dang, he did a really good job on the Batman Year One animated film and it’s MY MOVIE SO SHUSH)

  1. > maybe some of Luthor’s tech was reverse-engineered from alien tech

    I like this angle. Luthor’s new weapons could be powered by the energy of fear, and he’s been getting tips from a certain red-skinned off-world benefactor who is observing Luthor’s prototypes with an eye toward building his own fear-powered army.

    That puts the new JL in the position of doing more than simply defending the victims of Savage’s onslaught, but winning their hearts and minds by example, because the only way to fight the weapons is to master fear.

  2. Jeff Holland says:

    Hey, that’s not bad – particularly since Green Lantern’s really the only one I couldn’t quiiiite fit into the narrative in an organic way. I swear at one point I thought, “I dunno, maybe he’s just flying by and sees action going on below?”

  3. braak says:

    Here is what I think:

    1) I think you don’t actually need six people in the League, I think you could probably do it with just five. I have a suspicion, and I’d like to do a survey one day, but I have a suspicion that five is about the limit of the number of heroes that you can effectively juggle in a movie, even a pretty long one in which most of the characters are already introduced. We will call this the Hawkeye Effect.

    2) I think it’s also an interesting idea if — maybe borrowing a little from the cartoon — Wonder Woman actually has been to the world of man before; back in 1940, when she fought Vandal Savage to help beat Hitler. So, now she can come back and get into a scuffle with Batman and Superman who believe this is a Luthor problem, and she can rightly assert that this is actually a Vandal Savage problem.

    3) I’d kill Green Lantern at the end of the second act; low point in the action, everyone is beaten back, &c.; then the ring finds Jon Stewart, they rally and win the fight, so and so.


    1) It’s going to be Cyborg, because Geoff Johns loves Cyborg, and Warners is going to want to use the lineup that “reinvigorated” the property, assuming that Warners the movie studio even realizes that the Justice League is a comic book. At least that would give you a good reason to get STAR Labs involved.

    2) Movie studios always commit too much to their first installment in a franchise. Avengers was actually pretty restrained just having a world-threatening alien invasion, and look, now what are they going to do with the next one? Another, EVEN BIGGER alien invasion.

    So, there’s no way going to be something as small as Luthor and Vandal Savage, it is going to be space aliens.

  4. Jesse says:

    I’m with braak on just 5 heroes, but I would leave GL out of it until the end when Ryan Reynolds flies in and says, “Hey guys, what did I miss?” And then they all laugh together like the end of a G.I. Joe cartoon.

  5. John Jackson says:

    Nah. Start with him racing back to Superman cause he’s giving a dying warning about aliens and shit, but Batman thinks he’s an idiot and Superman is too busy trying to hide the fact that he is an alien from everyone else. Then GL dies. End of film is new Lantern. And Wonder Woman kicks ass. With a hammer?

  6. […] don’t even know how that could be – I mean, we TOLD them how to make a perfectly good Justice League movie. It’s like they didn’t even […]

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