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Why 'Justice League' Shouldn't Be a Movie (Opinion)

Spurred by the insane success of Marvel's "Avengers," Warner Bros. and DC Comics are busy hatching their own superheroic team-up, "Justice League." But maybe it'd be better if they aimed Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman at a smaller screen.

Arrow Henry Cavill Split - H 2012
The CW; Getty Images

It’s pretty clear, to anyone paying attention to the post-Avengers nerd-movie business that Warner Bros. will make a Justice League movie, sooner rather than later. After all, they’ve got their own flock of heroes, thanks to DC Comics, and theirs are arguably of a higher caliber than Marvel’s: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are some of the most recognizable characters in the world -- way more than Hawkeye. And Warners has to be looking at the $1.45 billion worldwide gross of The Avengers and chomping at the bit to get a piece of that pie, so much so that they’ve already got a Justice League script in the hopper.

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Here’s why that’s a colossal mistake.

OK, maybe that’s harsh: It’s entirely possible that Warners could turn out a perfectly respectable Justice League movie. Of course, it won’t have Christian Bale’s Batman in it, given that he’s hanging up the cowl after The Dark Knight Rises, nor will it have Christopher Nolan, who’s resisting Warners' pleas to oversee Justice League with all his might. So we’ll need a new Batman. The Zack Snyder-directed Man of Steel, with Henry Cavill in the tights, probably will be the cornerstone upon which Warner will build the Justice League, but it’s still a pretty big question mark. And really, the less said about Green Lantern the better -- even though Ryan Reynolds probably will be drafted to return as the emerald space cop. But here’s the thing: The Avengers worked as well as it did because Marvel took the time to lay the foundation and do it right, giving each of its major heroes a movie to shine in, all while assembling the pieces that would give us The Avengers. It shouldn’t have worked, as risky a proposition as it was, but it did. One gets the feeling that Warners is rushing to Justice.

But what if Warner Bros. and DC didn’t make a Justice League movie at all? What if, instead, they shifted their gaze and aimed for a smaller screen instead of the big one? What if they began to build a shared TV universe instead of a cinematic one? It could work like this:

Start with Arrow, The CW’s street-level refashioning of Green Arrow, the spoiled rich kid who, after being marooned on a desert island, returns a hardened, bow-wielding vigilante. The pilot script was strong, the casting seems spot-on, and, even more, The CW is getting behind it in a big way.

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Give Arrow a year and then, instead of rebooting Batman for the movies, do a Batman TV show -- specifically, do Gotham Central, based on Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker’s police procedural revolving around the cops that work in the Dark Knight’s shadow. Build a shared television universe around these urban vigilantes, let viewers learn the rules of this world … and then introduce a goddess.

Take another stab at Wonder Woman, sweeping the memory of the aborted David E. Kelley version under the rug and refashioning it as the supernatural, superpowered fish-out-of-water story it should’ve been in the first place. Swing for the fences. Instead of running away from Wonder Woman’s mythological origins, embrace them: If Once Upon a Time can lean so heavily on greenscreen/CG shenanigans, so can this. Heck, maybe even call it The Diana Prince Diaries; the kids seem to like shows on the CW with the word “diaries” in the title.

With these three shows on the air at the same time, you can litter them with the other characters you’d need to introduce to fill out the Justice League -- Flash, the Martian Manhunter, a new Green Lantern, maybe even Aquaman (or not) -- and then build to a Justice League miniseries. And that’s when you bring in Cavill’s Superman. That’s your event: all of these characters, together, for 10 episodes of awesome.

It’s not as shiny as a big, honking movie, but it’s bolder. No one has really taken advantage of building a shared universe on TV since Paramount had a couple of Star Trek series on at the same time in the mid-'90s. (Syfy flirts with it, occasionally having characters from Warehouse 13 appear on Alphas, but never in a substantial way.)

The Avengers has beaten Justice League to the theatrical punch, but this is a space that no one owns. This is a thing that no one’s tried.

As the old saying goes, you win by hitting them where they ain’t.