When one Boom Tube Closes, Another One Opens…
But They All Lead to the Same Place… Apocalypse
Black Superman is indeed planned for the future slate of films at WB. On February 26, 2021 Deadline reported that author Ta-Nehisi Coates had begun writing a Superman reboot feature for Warner Bros and DC, with J.J. Abrams producing under his Bad Robot label. The production was initially announced as a Superman reboot, before more details would eventually be released revealing the intention for a black Superman in a later follow-up by the Hollywood Reporter.
Predictably, online response to this announcement has been varied and extreme. Black Kryptonian characters and other black versions of Superman have been explored in DC Comics before, but when you involve “general audiences” it’s clear the readiness to accept such a treatment also… varies. This has left the fledgling production dealing with unfair heat and pressure right out of the gate, often from some of the uglier and more racist sources on the internet. In response, industry figures have spoken out in favor of the decision, including Zack Snyder himself, in a way:
“My feeling is that I love JJ [Abrams], I love what he’s done in the past. I’m interested to see what happens, it’s a bold and cool and probably long overdue move. But I love Henry as Superman, of course I do. He’s my Superman.
I’m not really involved in any of the decision-making at Warner Brothers in any way, so I guess for me it’s just wait and see what they do with this and how it manifests itself. But on the surface, it seems interesting.”Zack Snyder, via Naomi Gordon, Radio Times – Zack Snyder responds to Superman reboot with Black lead actor: ‘It’s long overdue’ – May 10, 2021
For those who are committed to Ray Fisher’s cause, however, it’s very easy to feel this is a cynical, strategic move. Proponents of diversity and equal treatment now find themselves loathe to oppose a production with a black writer and director aiming to expand the representation in the DC Universe and through the character of Superman specifically, and side with people with whom they fundamentally disagree on the objections.
But they are also loathe to support the franchise enterprise and the executives who have directed it throughout so much whitewashing and subsequent “circle the wagons” handling of the claims of past unresolved racial bias, and their present consequences, coming from a young black actor.
The production, and the idea, deserve a better starting point… and set of beneficiaries.
One consolation for these concerns may be the upcoming rumored deparure of Emmerich in 2022 at the conclusion of his contract, as reported by (again) the Hollywood Reporter, with Netflix as his rumored destination. The article points to Emmerich as a rumored key decision-maker in the initiative to release 2021 films Day One on HBO Max and points to the difficulty with feature directors that has caused, and the necessity to negotiate additional payouts to the stars affected to compensate them for the points and percentages lost against box office ticket sales. This is a consideration Marvel Studios has themselves just blundered into, when on July 29, 2021 Scarlett Johanssen filed suit against Disney for lost points against box office revenue when the company released Black Widow in theatres alongside a Day One release for a premium charge on Disney+. No percentage of said premium charge was offered the actress after the change in release plans. Emmerich’s move with HBO Max are, on the other hand, not associated with any premium charges and have left rumored unspecified payouts to be negotiated with affected productions stars’ to ameliorate this loss of box office revenue. The lingering question that only Warner Brothers Discovery can answer: was it worth it?
For now, under Emmerich’s direction, Warner Brothers has in fact announced an upcoming deluge of productions involving DC characters, set for release both to theatres and to HBO Max. A number of these are slated to be produced by Bad Robot and J.J. Abrams.
Typical, isn’t it? Abrams is fresh off the movie that raised the doubt that he was past his prime, just like Joss Whedon was after Age of Ultron, poached from a different mega-dollar franchise he had just worked on for Disney. One would wonder if it’s likely that, given all the criticism that had been leveled at the Star Wars “sequel” trilogy and its apparent lack of a long-term storyline plan for the set of movies, if a long-term serial storyline in an integrated world will finally be planned out for DC FIlms.
Ann Sarnoff highlights an awareness of the increasingly awkward disparity between DC FIlms output and the TV work over at the Arrow-Verse.
“Creators want to have franchises that are larger than life, but oftentimes you start working with a company and that company has discrete divisions, so you become a film creator, you become a television creator and never the twain shall meet. My role is to pull people together towards a vision that can make the whole more than the sum of the parts. One of the key aspects of that is having a long-range plan. These movies and TV series can take two-plus years to make, so if you’re not planning out and bringing other people into the plan that further accentuates the silos.”Ann Sarnoff, interview with Brett Lang of Variety – WarnerMedia’s Ann Sarnoff on ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ and DC’s Future – Mar. 22, 2021
She’s not wrong to look at the integration of creative output across TV, streaming, and theatrical releases, given all the success Marvel Studios has built with the recent streaming releass of WandaVisison, The Falcon and the Winter Solider, and Loki building excitement and feeding the anticipation of more upcming Marvel Cinematic Universe films. But if cross-media story-telling was the key to the MCU’s success then Agents of Shield and Agent Carter wouldn’t be largely forgotten chapters in the overall Marvel Studios story.
Streaming media has changed the movie business permanently in lots of ways. One of those includes the ready availability of past movies and chapters in these cinematic universes. This encourages and is bolstered by a consistent universe and even a running serial storyline. No matter which chapter or production lures an audience, they are connected to a larger overall world readily available to be explored at the push of a button. Engagement and involvement in the universe is rewarded, because familiarity with the material never leads you down a dead end.
WB’s “canon” Justice League, chapter three of a stillborn storyline, has already built dead ends out of threads from the movie before it. Surely, having seen how that has resulted and recognized the value of a long-range plan, they don’t plan to repeat the same mistake?
“One of the reasons, I’m excited about our strategy going forward is it is multidimensional. We’re not just serving the same fanbase with the same creative vision, we’re trying to expand it. Not every fan has to love every piece of what we’re doing, but we’re putting out more tentacles to be able to reach people with different stories on different platforms, so there isn’t fatigue. It’s not just the same cadence. We’re going to mix things up.”Ann Sarnoff, interview with Brett Lang of Variety – WarnerMedia’s Ann Sarnoff on ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ and DC’s Future – Mar. 22, 2021
What’s being promised here is a vast amount of multi-dimensional content reaching with feelers to explore what might work with audiences, with an over-arching long-term plan that (somehow?) keeps things consistent from wildly different sources, but no running connected universe or serial storyline to pull everything—including an audience with shifted expectations from this media—together. We’re promised Easter eggs. We’re teased “unexpected” references and crossovers. We’re forced to accept new beginnings in a number of new directions from a number of creators… but not, apparently, anything from the universe established already by Zack Snyder and his crew, who have since moved on to a production deal developing multiple properties in an ongoing connected universe for Netflix, starting with the streaming release of Army of the Dead on May 14, 2021:
“It was cool to do the Snyder Cut of Justice League and that was fun and everything. But Warner Bros. still tortured me the whole time for whatever reason, they can’t help it. I don’t know why I’m such a fucking pain in their ass because I’m not trying to be, honestly… If you analyze what’s happened with Warner Bros., it’s not a normal situation. It’s a once-in-a-generation bizarro situation! I just had an amazing experience with Netflix and it was awesome and we had a great partnership and an incredibly great experience. So the only thing I would say is that it’s an unusual situation.”Zack Snyder interview on completion of ZSJL with Mike Ryan of uproxx.com – Zack Snyder On Getting Back To Basics With ‘Army Of The Dead’ After What He Calls ‘Torture’ – May 14, 2021
As it turns out, the feeling is mutual… with Warner Brothers apparently very committed to end Snyder’s contribution to the DC cinematic universe with what they have promoted as “the concluson of his trilogy.” Snyder has since underscored the studio’s determination to end the association, although it may never be clear whether Emmerich, Hamada, or Sarnoff (or a combination of some or all) are primarily responsible for pushing for the separation.
“Warner Bros. has been aggressively anti-Snyder, if you will. Clearly, they’re not interested in my take. But I would also say that they certainly weren’t interested in—I would have said originally—in my take on Justice League. They certainly made decisions about that. I love the characters and I love the worlds and I think it’s an amazing place to make a movie and it’s glorious IP, so there’s that.”Zack Snyder via Joseph Baxter, Den of Geek – Will an “Aggressively Anti-Snyder” Warner Stop the SnyderVerse? – May 11, 2021
It’s over for the SnyderVerse. Fans who are still asking for it are subject to the typical movie-goers distorted perception of time: by the time audiences finally got to see Zack Snyder’s Justice League, executives had made their decision regarding the long-term future of the SnyderVerse and the studio’s future association with Zack Snyder: both parties have long since moved on.
Man of Steel, the ostensible first chapter the the DC Cinematic Extended Universe, was released eight years ago. Henry Cavill donned the cape to play the part of Superman in the filiming of the production ten years ago. The glacial pace at which DC Film productions were released after years of argument and indiecision and over-engineering have sealed these characters stories in the form they have been told. Actors age out of these parts. Directors move on. There is a window of time when a troupe of actors is brought together with a production crew and interest is generated in developing a project, and once that window is closed it’s not easy to reopen.
For the actors and crew of Zack Snyder’ Justice League, I speculate the experience of seeing the film released may be more like the relief of finally sealing a drafty and stuck window that would never fully close, than the breezy feel of a window of opprtunity reopened. Speculation is rampant about the upcoming Flash movie, subject to a tumultuous multi-year development hell so far and long-rumored to be based on the character’s Flashpoint arc in the comics. As such, the film seems poised to introduce the concept of the multi-verse to DC film properties and allow the franchise an in-universe way to rewrite the on-screen canon of what has been depicted so far. Both Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck are known to appear in the film, each reprising their respective performance as the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Meanwhile with Marvel Studios in their release of Loki in June of 2021, their concept of the multi-verse has already been introduced, in an in-universe fashion using plot threads established in previous MCU films woven cleverly into the plot of the streaming mini-series and folded nicely into anticipation for being addressed in upcoming releases.
In short, Marvel Studios has beaten DC to the launch of the “multi-verse” concept in their cinematic universe, without having to reference any previous reboots of their own fiction, because they don’t have any rebooted former attempts to adapt their content seriously on the record. However, just in case that reboot-deboot nostalgia has some additional audience appeal, the MCU has covered its bases there via their partnership with Sony Pictures. The upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home involves Alfred Molina and Jamie Foxx both reprising their past roles from Sony’s original Spider-Man franchise in rumored multiversial shenanigans, with past Spider-Man actors like Tobey Macguire and Andrew Garfield rumored to appear as well.
Once again, it seems that Warner Brothers, the venerable studio that first made you believe a man could fly by bringing the world of Superman to the big screen and first proved a dark and gothic comic book adaptation could win over audiences with Tim Burton’s Batman, would remain an also-ran… forever late to the party and playing catch-up.
Nonetheless, with an expansive slate of productions announced, it’s certain that WB is betting that there will be enough product and enough storylines to ruminate over for the hashtags campaigns around the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League to fade into the background of internet history. The relevancy of the concerns of these movements will be snowed under by the processing of new adaptation stories for DC fans (and the new arguments and controversies associated, no doubt) and the continuing presentation of blockbuster opportunities for filmmakers. No one has a reason to support persisting with them, when the presence of opportunity leads everyone to want to return to “business as usual.”
No one but Ray Fisher, that is. He never got much of a chance at “business as usual.”
“There’s not a day that’s gone by over the last three years, I haven’t thought about this movie, that I have not sat up at night thinking, What if there was a world wherein this thing actually does get released? I probably should have let it go. But there was so much that we left behind in this version of the film.”Ray Fisher, via Anthony Breznican, Vanity Fair – Justice League: The Shocking, Exhilarating, Heartbreaking True Story of #TheSnyderCut – Feb. 22, 2021
So… What About the Actual Movie?
Or, in the Spirit of Serial Story-Lines… “To Be Continued”
When I started this epic I stated that I hadn’t written a word about the work of Zack Snyder since 2017. I feel like I still haven’t. The original plan for this article was to do something very much like I had done for my Batman V Superman article: a bit of a survey of the production of the movie and the context around it, before diving into a review of the quality and content of the film itself. But the “meta” story of Justice League, the epic tale of all the turmoil and turbulence behind the production of that film, grew deeper and darker the more and more I looked into it. The story is so full of reversals and unexpected twists, with shadowy characters operating behind the scenes and epic acts of betrayal; it seems to me the most likely Oscar-winning script that could possibly come out of this mess is the one that tells the actual behind-the-scenes story of the “DCEU.”
As for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I do have more critical thoughts on the film, and on its place in the DC universe and its function adapting those original characters. These thoughts inform my opinion as to whether or not it’s a good idea to #RestoretheSnyderVerse… but they can wait.
After all, it doesn’t even feel right to eveluate this movie on a critical basis. For now, for this article… it’s above that.
The release of this movie is a gift, not from Toby Emmerich and Walter Hamada… more likely from WarnerMax executives who have since departed, who accomplished it in both concert with and in spite of the powers that be at WB and DC Films. It reverses the injustice committed years ago that denied Ray Fisher his powerful blockbuster acting debut for reasons that remain suspect. It reverse the injustice committed against the Snyders the robbed them of their vision after years of work, yet sullied them with criticism and scorn just as they were facing the worst tragedy of their lives.
The movie closes with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” performed by Allison Crowe, a friend who also sang it at Autumn’s funeral. It was Autumn’s favorite song. Now it’s an elegy to her. Justice League, however anyone else feels about it, is made of the things—and people—Snyder loves, too.Anthony Breznican, Vanity Fair – Justice League: The Shocking, Exhilarating, Heartbreaking True Story of #TheSnyderCut – Feb. 22, 2021
Born from necessity formed by a tragic pandemic that has claimed countless innocent lives, the improbable release of #TheSnyderCut at last sets right some wrongs. Not all the wrongs. Not as neatly or as cleanly as the comic stories show the righting of wrongs. But here in the real world of greys and uncertainties, we find our victories in incremental amounts.
At the end of this brutal story I hope for nothing but success for almost everyone involved. I wish a long and fruitful and significant career for Ray Fisher, who may not get it but certainly deserves it. I hope Zack Snyder is able to build his interconnected universe over at Netflix in the way he wasn’t allowed to at WB. I hope everyone involved with the cast and production crew of The Suicide Squad find nothing but success when I see the movie… about a week from now, for free, with my existing subscription to HBO Max…
…that I enrolled in so that I could finally see Zack Snyder’s Justice League.