The release of DC Comic’s superhero epic Justice League is just a few months away. Naturally, the studio has launched a full-blast promotion spree for the movie. But all through the lead actor’s press tours, comic-con appearances and the film trailer releases, a strange fact about the movie’s ad campaign has been noticed and remarked upon by the media and fans alike. Can you spot the one thing of considerable importance that’s wrong with this picture?
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Broadly speaking, there has been no mention from the maker’s side about Superman’s participation in the film. As far as the film’s producers are considered, this movie is the story of how Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman form the Justice League to take on Steppenwolf, while The Last Son of Krypton is staying buried in his coffin right where the end of Batman V Superman left him.
Except… except that he’s clearly not. Go to any website carrying the names of the cast of Justice League, and you’ll see mention of Henry Cavill as Superman. Various Justice League posters have Superman’s symbol featured prominently. Cavill himself has been making indirect references to his work on the film through his social media accounts.
So how smart is DC being in excluding The Man of Steel from the promotional campaign? Not smart at all. See, in comic book terms, The Justice League may be the most iconic team ever created, but Superman’s a huge part of the reason why the league is so iconic. In DC comics, there are The Teen Titans, The Outsiders and The Lantern Corps among other superhero teams, but none of them are headed by Superman, DC’s flagship character through most of its history. Superman and Batman are easily the two most well-known and popular members of the league, and the two heroes that most non-comic book readers think of when they conjure up an image of the league.
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That kind of automatic connect is something The Avengers movie did not have when it was released in 2012. None of the members of Marvel’s now-iconic team up were A-listers in the Marvelverse. The producers understood that, and worked to produce several stand-alone movies for each individual superhero before bringing them together as a team, so audiences would have time to connect with each hero and would actually want to see them in a film together.
This approach has now resulted in the Avengers becoming the more popular onscreen superhero team, evidenced by the fact that Avengers: Infinity War, despite being a year away from release, is still more hotly anticipated than Justice League, which is just a few months away.
Superman already has that elusive connect. Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman may have gotten mixed (and we’re being kind here) reviews, but the decades worth of movies, shows and games the character has featured in means Superman is still one of the most easily recognizable superheroes in the world.
Without Superman, the League is left with a Batman who’s only had one-half of a film to grow on the audience, Wonder Woman, who’s recent spectacular success in her first solo film outing means she’s now the most marketable member of the league, and Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg, none of whom are familiar to the non-comic book audience that makes up the vast majority of the theatre-going masses.
So this begs the question, why are the film’s makers deliberately ignoring their Kryptonian ace-in-the-hole? Some would say its to establish an air of mystery around the character. But how well does that logic hold up? We know Superman is coming back, because the last scene from BVS told us so. There will be literally no gasps of surprise in the theatre when Superman finally shows up in Justice League. Only a few muttered, “It’s about damn time.” from the more impatient fans.
And in case DC was still deluding itself into believing the return of superman is some sort of closely guarded secret, Henry Cavill’s moustache was the last nail in the coffin for that idea. Thanks to extensive reshoots, Cavill was forced to film additional scenes for Justice League while at work on the latest Mission impossible movie, for which he had been growing a moustache. One of the hottest topics on the Internet right now is how the ‘Henrystache’ is going to affect the filming of the superhero film.
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A Possible Solution
Okay, so all the evidence so far seems to suggest that Warner Bros, one of the oldest, most experienced film producers in Hollywood, have made a giant booboo by refusing to feature one of the two most recognizable DC heroes in their ad campaign efforts for a movie which features both of them. But what if there is a logical explanation, after all? What if there is a method to the madness, and Warner Bros is actually playing it smart?
Cast your mind back a year. Back to just before Warner Bro’s Suicide Squad was releasing (I know it’s painful to think about that film, but try.) Remember the ads that led up to that movie? Despite featuring a heavy hitter like Will Smith and, to a lesser extent, Margot Robbie, the ads focussed almost exclusively on Jared Leto’s Joker. Everyone still remembered Heath Ledger’s haunting performance as the psychotic clown in The Dark Knight, and fans were in a frenzy of doubt, hope and curiosity about what Leto would make of the iconic role.
Cast interviews for Suicide Squad had one common theme: how completely Leto had immersed himself into the character, how uncomfortable he made the rest of the cast, and how unsettlingly brilliant his performance was. Trailers for the movie made it seem as though he was the main character in the movie(an idea that the movie’s director retroactively agrees with), and there were even rumors that Suicide Squad was going to be the first act in a series of movies exploring the conflict between Leto’s Joker and Affleck’s Batman.
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When the actual Suicide Squad movie arrived, it turned out that the Joker was essentially making a glorified cameo in it. Take the Joker out of Suicide Squad, and the movie still works itself out fine. Fans were so keyed up for the Joker’s long-awaited appearance back on the silver screen, and so overstuffed with tales and rumors about the lengths that Leto has gone to in preparation for the character, that the negative backlash was correspondingly intense.
Suicide Squad was a deeply flawed film, but in Leto’s defense, his take on the Joker wasn’t downright terrible. He made some interesting choices for the role, and maybe if the film hadn’t been so bad, and the shadow cast by Ledger hadn’t been so long, he might have earned some appreciation for his take on the Clown Prince of Crime. But fan’s expectations from the ad campaign leading up to the role were too high, and that proved the Joker’s undoing.
Could it be that Warner Bros took that experience as a learning exercise? What if they had featured Superman prominently in all the ad campaigns, only for it be revealed that he had only a ten-minute appearance at the end of Justice League, when his return finally unites the other heroes into a true team?
This, then, could be the reason why Justice League ads don’t feature Superman beyond some sly hints. He’s just not in the movie that much. Obviously, there’s going to be a sequel to Justice League where the actual Big Bad, Lord Darkseid of Apokolips, is revealed. And that may be the movie which will truly mark Superman’s arrival as a member and (possibly) leader of the Justice League.
Or maybe Warner Bros is just being crazy after all. Quite frankly, given the past track record of the DCEU, it could really go either way.