JUS­TICE FOR ALL

Empire (Australasia) - - On Screen -

FANS HAVE BEEN WAIT­ING FOR A JUSTICELEAGUE MOVIE FOR DECADES. AF­TER A PAR­TIC­U­LARLY ROCKY ROAD IT’S FI­NALLY HERE, BUT AS THE LEAGUE THEM­SELVES EX­PLAIN, IT MAY NOT BE WHAT YOU EX­PECT

A wise man — we think it was Aaron Eck­hart in The Dark Knight — once said, “The night is dark­est just be­fore the dawn.” And, be­ing Aaron Eck­hart, he was right. But if that’s right, then the in­verse also holds true. Af­ter the dawn comes noth­ing but light. Bright, bright light. Dark­ness be­gone, you’ve had your shot.

Which is some­thing for Em­pire to bear in mind as we travel to Leaves­den Stu­dios on a bright Au­gust day last year to visit the set of Zack Sny­der’s Jus­tice League, the fifth film in the bur­geon­ing DCEU (that’s DC Ex­tended Uni­verse for those of you who slept through Acronyms in school), Warner Bros.’ all-star an­swer to Marvel Stu­dios and their Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse. On pa­per, it’s com­fort­ably the big­gest DC adap­ta­tion to date, the film that will re­ally tie the room to­gether and unite the com­pany’s heav­i­est and most heroic hit­ters.

It’s also, though, the se­quel to Sny­der’s pre­vi­ous en­tries in the DCEU, 2013’s Man Of Steel and 2016’s Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn Of Jus­tice. Both movies that, for all their col­lec­tive mer­its (stun­ning vi­su­als, great Hans Zim­mer sound­tracks, Rus­sell Crowe on a gi­ant space dragon), were fairly in­tense and even dour ex­pe­ri­ences, the kind of films that wouldn’t have recog­nised a gag had it been de­liv­ered by the Joker him­self. Fun was a four-let­ter word.

To be frank, we ex­pected more of the same from Jus­tice League. And to­day’s set­ting would seem to re­in­force that no­tion. We’re in the Bat­cave — or part of the Bat­cave — and ev­ery­thing’s suit­ably bleak and rocky. The spe­cially mod­i­fied Bat­suit that was Bat­bat­tered by Su­per­man to­wards the end of Dawn Of Jus­tice is on dis­play, a per­ma­nent re­minder to Bruce Wayne of the dan­gers of hubris. And here’s Jeremy Irons as Bat­man’s faith­ful but­ler, Al­fred, in a spe­cially un­mod­i­fied Bar­bour jacket, wait­ing to greet his em­ployer and some new spe­cial friends.

For the Jus­tice League are here. All of them — Bat­man (Ben Af­fleck), Won­der Woman (Gal

Gadot), Aqua­man (Ja­son Mo­moa), the

Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cy­borg (Ray Fisher). Well, al­most all of them. No sign of Su­per­man, but we’ll get to him later. They’ve re­turned from an out­ing bat­tling evil and they’ve had a set­back. The mood should be som­bre. Yet that’s far from the case. “Oh yeah, oh gosh,” ex­claims Miller’s crimson-clad Flash as the League de­scends into the Bat­cave on a Batlift. “YES!” Clearly giddy to be in the lair of the Caped Cru­sader, the Flash waves mer­rily at Al­fred, who wasn’t quite ex­pect­ing this many metahu­mans to be clog­ging up his gaff. And, over the course of sev­eral takes, that mer­ri­ment ex­pands un­til Aqua­man is call­ing Al­fred a “badass” and Irons dead­pan­ning a se­ries of re­sponses to his boss. “If you’d warned me, I would have baked a cake”, “I’ll break open the party hats and the piñata”, and our favourite, “I’ll make some tea. Don’t know where I’ll find the cups.”

The em­pha­sis here is on the comedic.

The ac­tu­ally comedic, not the ac­ci­den­tal. And there’s a sense of ebul­lience all round. Af­ter one take, Gadot walks past singing You Are My Sun­shine. Miller, a ball of en­ergy, bounces around in a dress­ing robe. “My best friend got this for me!” he yells. “His name’s Ja­son Mo­moa and he got me this robe!” Even the man fa­mously dubbed Sad Af­fleck by the in­ter­net ain’t so sad any­more.

“You get to see Bat­man smile,” prom­ises Af­fleck. “For the first time!”

Flash­ing the old Bat­g­nash­ers? Now there’s a thing. So, what is hap­pen­ing ex­actly? Who are these peo­ple and what have they done to the Jus­tice League?

Zack wanted to make a movie that was more fun, that was a lit­tle bit lighter, that wasn’t so en­cum­bered with heavy melo­drama,” ex­plains Af­fleck to Em­pire in Septem­ber 2017, just a cou­ple of months be­fore

Jus­tice League is fi­nally in­tro­duced to the world. In the year that’s passed since we were on set, much has changed — Won­der Woman wowed crit­ics, bossed the box of­fice with an $816 mil­lion take, and proved that the DCEU can do light, funny and in­spi­ra­tional. And on a much more se­ri­ous and som­bre note, Sny­der has stepped away from the film fol­low­ing a fam­ily tragedy, with Joss Whe­don drafted in as his cus­to­dian. But one thing that doesn’t seem to have changed de­spite this heart-rend­ing de­vel­op­ment is the fo­cus on un­lock­ing that friend­lier, warmer tone. “Jus­tice League is not a dark or heavy movie,” says Gal Gadot. “It doesn’t have the weight that Bat­man v Su­per­man had.”

It would be easy and cyn­i­cal to write off this ap­par­ent sea change as some­thing of a course cor­rec­tion, a re­sponse to the back­lash­ers who were un­happy with Bat­man v Su­per­man’s stern face and jars of piss. It would also be wrong. “I can un­der­stand peo­ple say­ing [ Bat­man v Su­per­man] was too dark, or this was out­side the tone of what I’m used to see­ing with a Bat­man story, and I think that’s a fair crit­i­cism,” con­cedes Af­fleck. “But this was all scripted and set up be­fore that movie came out. The ap­proach was changed any­way for the sec­ond one. It was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion.”

Ap­par­ently Sny­der has been play­ing the kind of long game that would im­press Lex Luthor. “The first time I ever sat in Zack’s of­fice, he told me peo­ple were mad at him for mak­ing things too dark,” re­calls Miller, who first met to dis­cuss play­ing Barry Allen, aka the Flash, some­time in 2014. “He said some­thing that I thought was re­ally true and un­de­ni­able, that the world of DC is the world of Bat­man and ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing Su­per­man, has to come into the dark­ness of the world where Gotham ex­ists. From there, Zack al­ways in­tended for the Jus­tice League to rise out of the dark­ness, and maybe even bring Bat­man with them. Maybe an inch.”

It’s not the first time Warner Bros. had tried to make the finest League this side of Roys­ton Vasey rise out of the dark­ness. And no won­der. When it comes to su­per­hero team-up comics, Jus­tice

League Of Amer­ica (the ‘Of Amer­ica’ part has some­what fallen by the way­side) is up there with Avengers and X-men in pop­u­lar­ity and, hav­ing made its de­but in 1960 with is­sue #28 of The Brave And The Bold, pre­dates both by around three years. As such, a movie ver­sion is long over­due.

Ge­orge Miller tried to make a Jus­tice League movie around 10 years ago. En­ti­tled Jus­tice League: Mor­tal, it was in­tended to shoot in 2008, and be in cin­e­mas in 2009. In fact, Miller had not only cast his movie (see side­bar), but got as far as build­ing sets be­fore the plug was pulled just weeks be­fore cam­eras rolled, largely due to the writ­ers’ strike of ’07-’08. Hav­ing an­other Bat­man run around at the same time as Chris­tian Bale might have con­fused the heck out of au­di­ences, but

it’s easy to file Miller’s Mor­tal in the folder marked ‘Re­grets’.

That it­er­a­tion of Jus­tice League would have beaten Avengers into cin­e­mas by a good three years. As it was, by the time Man Of Steel, the ten­ta­tive toe-in-the-wa­ter of a cin­e­matic uni­verse, was re­leased, Marvel Stu­dios didn’t need Thor to steal DC’S thun­der. They were al­ready seven films down, owned by Dis­ney, and had as­sem­bled the Avengers. And by the time Jus­tice League comes out in Novem­ber, Marvel will be on its 17th film, with its third Avengers movie, In­fin­ity War, due next April. WB and DC are still play­ing catch-up. The wondrous re­cep­tion af­forded Won­der

Woman has cre­ated a swell of good­will, and a hope that Jus­tice League might con­tinue that up­ward tra­jec­tory. “It maybe takes a bit of pres­sure off of this movie in terms of need­ing to de­fine the DC Uni­verse,” ad­mits Af­fleck of his cast­mate’s suc­cess. “It doesn’t feel like the whole world is rid­ing on our shoul­ders so much.”

The com­par­isons to the Avengers movies are pos­si­bly re­duc­tive, but un­avoid­able. There’s the ob­vi­ous — both are su­per­hero team-up films based on pop­u­lar comic books. Then the less ob­vi­ous — whether by sheer bad luck or, per­haps, be­cause this kind of movie can only re­ally sus­tain so many sto­ries, the plots of Jus­tice League and Avengers: In­fin­ity War are es­sen­tially the same. Here, Step­pen­wolf — emis­sary of Dark­seid, an all-pow­er­ful alien who may ul­ti­mately be re­vealed as the movie’s true vil­lain — de­cides it would be a sim­ply cap­i­tal time to pop down to Earth in pur­suit of three Mother Boxes. Those are tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced cubes from the planet Apokolips (Dark­seid’s home) that were given to three fac­tions (the At­lanteans of Aqua­man, Won­der Woman’s The­mysci­rans, plain old hu­mans) in an­cient times for safe­keep­ing. “They can be de­struc­tive,” says Mo­moa, choos­ing his syl­la­bles care­fully. “And when the three boxes get to­gether, it’s bad news.” Recog­nis­ing this, bil­lion­aire ge­nius play­boy phi­lan­thropist Bruce Wayne teams up with some su­per­folk to stop Step­pen­wolf from Macguffin­ing the world to smithereens. Change Step­pen­wolf to Thanos, Mother Boxes to In­fin­ity Stones, Wayne to Stark, and the two aren’t a mil­lion miles away.

And, last but by no means least, there’s

Joss Whe­don.

Whe­don is the man who cracked the en­sem­ble su­per­hero film code not once, but twice, with 2012’s Avengers

As­sem­ble and its se­quel, 2015’s Avengers: Age Of Ul­tron. Both times to bil­lion­dol­lar ef­fect. One of the best di­a­logue guys in the busi­ness, he’s a dab hand at giv­ing char­ac­ters room to breathe in a set­ting that could eas­ily get over­stuffed, whilst writ­ing them zingers aplenty. So when Sny­der an­nounced in May that he and his pro­ducer wife, Deb­o­rah, were leav­ing Jus­tice League, Whe­don was their choice to step in to com­plete the film — pol­ish­ing the screen­play, for which he has been given an of­fi­cial writ­ing credit, and over­see­ing ad­di­tional pho­tog­ra­phy and post-pro­duc­tion. It made sense. Track record aside, he was al­ready en­sconced at the DCEU, where he was de­vel­op­ing a Bat­girl movie. The gen­eral as­sump­tion was that he had been tasked with Aven­geris­ing the movie, with giv­ing Bruce Wayne plenty of Batzingers. But you know what they say about as­sump­tions. “I didn’t sense that we were mov­ing to­wards some­thing that felt like The Avengers,” says Af­fleck. “Joss is more than just an Avengers di­rec­tor. He’s a good sto­ry­teller, full stop. In mid-stream Joss got on and part of what in­ter­ested him was the puz­zle as­pect of it, fit­ting in pieces that weren’t there yet. He put the rest of the pieces in and gave it his own im­pri­matur.”

Gadot is keen to stress that “this is Zack Sny­der’s movie. Joss only did a few weeks of reshoots. He was Zack’s guy and knew ex­actly what he wanted to get.” That feel­ing, that this re­mains Sny­der’s vi­sion with maybe just a touch of Whe­don, is sup­ported by the rest of the cast. “Joss came in and walked a very fine line be­tween Zack’s sen­si­bil­ity, tone and di­rec­tion, and his own tone and di­rec­tion,” says Af­fleck. “We found a re­ally fun and in­spir­ing syn­the­sis of their two forms of sto­ry­telling. I was so glad ev­ery­one showed up to work for Zack.”

It’s clear that Sny­der means the world to his cast, and that the tragedy that be­fell him and his fam­ily has also cut them deeply. The con­nec­tion is gen­uine and mean­ing­ful. “I fuck­ing love Zack, man,” says Mo­moa. “I’d do any­thing for him.” Adds Gadot: “He has a beau­ti­ful vi­sion.” Miller is au­di­bly moved by both Sny­der’s per­sonal sit­u­a­tion and by the pres­ence of mind the

di­rec­tor showed in recog­nis­ing he would be un­able to fin­ish the movie to the best of his abil­ity. “It’s a heroic act at its root,” he says.

“He called each and ev­ery one of us and took the time to ex­plain some­thing that de­fies, in many ways, ex­pla­na­tion. He told us ex­actly how it was go­ing to go down, which was true to course. He fas­ci­nates and amazes and stag­gers me. Zack Sny­der, ul­ti­mate fuck­ing leg­end. For­ever.”

What­ever form Jus­tice League fi­nally takes, it will de­liver in terms of spec­ta­cle. That’s a given in a Zack Sny­der film. “The movie’s big­ger in scale than any movie I’ve been in­volved with in my ca­reer,” says Af­fleck, a man who knows scale, hav­ing been in­volved in the likes of Ar­maged­don, Pearl Har­bor and Clerks II. “It feels mas­sive in terms of the vis­ual el­e­ments. That’s some­thing that Zack is re­ally good at. That will be ad­mired.”

But there are other el­e­ments that will help set it apart in a mar­ket­place that’s com­ing dan­ger­ously close to crowded. “DC’S go­ing to be chang­ing the name to Di­ver­sity Comics pretty soon,” laughs Fisher. He’s right — this Jus­tice League line-up is re­fresh­ingly rep­re­sen­ta­tive, with only Af­fleck’s Bat­man be­ing the stan­dard- is­sue ul­tra-ripped white guy. Of all the char­ac­ters on the team, Cy­borg may be the big­gest un­known quan­tity. He’s a pop­u­lar char­ac­ter in the comic books and on var­i­ous ver­sions of the Teen Ti­tans an­i­mated se­ries, but for Joe Public he’s this movie’s equiv­a­lent of Hawk­eye in an Avengers movie — the guy you’re most likely to for­get in a pub quiz. But Fisher, an en­dear­ingly earnest ac­tor who has seen Bat­man v Su­per­man so many times he can quote it chap­ter and verse, is de­ter­mined that will change, and sees Cy­borg as a role model. “You’re deal­ing with the only mem­ber of the Jus­tice League who is AfricanAmer­i­can. You’re deal­ing with the only mem­ber of the Jus­tice League who is in some ways what some would con­sider dis­abled,” he says. “You don’t want to end up telling a story that isn’t re­spect­ful of those fac­tors. But he’s go­ing to be cool as hell.”

Then there’s Mo­moa’s Aqua­man, a dras­tic de­par­ture from the comic book char­ac­ter. “He’s white with blond hair,” says Mo­moa, who was born in Hawaii of mixed her­itage. “But Zack had a vi­sion. The fact that Aqua­man is a brown­skinned su­per­hero, I’m pretty stoked about

that. I love be­ing able to set the tone.”

There’s been a feel­ing that the heavy lift­ing in Jus­tice League would be han­dled, some­times lit­er­ally, by Bat­man and Won­der Woman, with ru­mours sug­gest­ing that the ad­di­tional pho­tog­ra­phy ses­sions would in­crease the size of Diana’s role, fol­low­ing the im­mense suc­cess of her own film. But ru­mours are just as­sump­tions in a dif­fer­ent coat, and we all know what as­sump­tions make out of you and you-know-what. “I did one week,” says Gadot of the reshoots. “Diana serves as the glue of the team. She finds mo­ments to sup­port ev­ery one of the team and make them feel stronger or be­lieve in them­selves. But this is not a Won­der Woman movie.”

In­stead, the movie will of­fer the chance to get fully ac­quainted with Cy­borg, Flash and Aqua­man, who made blink-and-you’llmiss-them cameos in Dawn Of Jus­tice (Miller also showed up briefly in Sui­cide Squad), as they’re re­cruited to the team by Bruce and Diana. Cy­borg is se­ri­ous and re­served, Miller’s Barry Allen is a re­ally fast-talk­ing kid who can barely sup­press his glee at get­ting to hang out with his he­roes. Mo­moa’s Aqua­man is gnarled and griz­zly, the kind of guy who’d deck you for spilling his pint. If their on-screen chem­istry is as po­tent as it is when the cam­eras aren’t rolling (at one point dur­ing our visit to the set, Miller started ad­vis­ing his co-stars to squeeze their but­tocks be­fore a shot as “that’ll be re­ally sexy”), it’ll go a long way to­wards fill­ing the hole left in the Jus­tice League by the ab­sence of a cer­tain su­per man. et there might be one last sur­prise up Sny­der and Whe­don’s col­lec­tive sleeve. A Kryp­to­nian ele­phant in the room. The one-word an­swer to the ques­tion of who would win in a fight be­tween the Avengers and the Jus­tice League. There is, quite sim­ply, no Jus­tice League with­out the Man Of Steel.

Ex­cept for one small com­pli­ca­tion: he’s dead. Killed hero­ically at the end of Dawn Of Jus­tice, giv­ing his life so that the ram­pag­ing Dooms­day could die, sav­ing the world in the process. He was even given a lav­ish fu­neral, which took place at the same time as that of cru­sad­ing re­porter Clark Kent, who also died in the con­flict. Strange.

So, Su­per­man’s snuffed it. And his death is the cat­a­lyst for the events of Jus­tice League. “It’s out of his mem­ory that Bruce is try­ing to put this team to­gether,” says Fisher. “The world is suf­fer­ing

from the loss of Su­per­man. And the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice he made brings these peo­ple out.”

But when the su­per­shit is hit­ting the su­per­fan, not even the Jus­tice League will be able to han­dle it. They need the Last Son Of Kryp­ton. And they’ll get him. Bat­man v Su­per­man ends with a shot of soil be­gin­ning to rise from Su­per­man’s cof­fin, and it seems you just can’t keep a good Christ anal­ogy down. Su­per­man will fly again in Jus­tice League. In which ca­pac­ity re­mains to be seen — early ru­mours had it that he would re­turn some­what changed by his ordeal be­yond the grave, and would end up fight­ing the League. But that’s too rem­i­nis­cent of Dawn Of Jus­tice. It’s much more likely that Su­per­man is the cavalry, fly­ing in to save the day. As usual with this sort of thing, no­body’s al­lowed to con­firm any­thing. “Henry? Rest in piece,” straight-bats Mo­moa. “He’s work­ing with Tom Cruise now. He’s do­ing al­right.”

One thing can­not be de­nied: Henry Cav­ill’s pres­ence on the film’s set. And when Cav­ill came back for the ad­di­tional pho­tog­ra­phy, he was sport­ing a mous­tache that he’d grown for Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble 6 and which, leg­end has it, he was for­bid­den from shav­ing, forc­ing the CG guys to do their thing. “It was a full-on porn-star mous­tache,” says Af­fleck. “He looked like a porn star from the ’70s, just with a bet­ter body. It’s a dif­fer­ent twist [on Su­per­man].”

The Man Of Steel with a porn ’tache? Sounds like that new­fan­gled fun this re­vamped, re­laxed Jus­tice League seems okay be­ing in league with. Maybe we’ve fig­ured out what makes Bat­man smile af­ter all.

JUS­TICE LEAGUE IS IN CIN­E­MAS FROM 16 NOVEM­BER

Clock­wise from

left: Charged up: The Flash (Ezra Miller) is ready to make a speedy exit; Won­der Woman (Gal Gadot) gives the cam­era her best shot; Why so not so se­ri­ous? Is Ben Af­fleck al­low­ing a faint smile to ap­pear on Bat­man’s face?

Clock­wise from here: Cy­borg (Ray Fisher) has got his eye on you; Won­der Woman and Bat­man for­mu­late a cun­ning plan in the Bat­cave; Aqua­man (Ja­son Mo­moa) makes his point to a foe.

Clock­wise from

here: Tri­dent and tested: Aqua­man shows off his weapon; Won­der Woman leads an at­tack along with Cy­borg and Aqua­man; The Flash has a rare mo­ment of be­ing sta­tion­ary.

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