‘Jus­tice’ is test of he­roes

Los Angeles Times - - COMPANY TOWN - By Ryan Faugh­n­der ryan.faugh­n­der @la­times.com

Warner Bros. has shown what it can do with heavy hit­ters of su­per­hero lore: Bat­man, Su­per­man and Won­der Woman. With the re­lease of its lat­est DC Comics movie, “Jus­tice League,” the stu­dio will find out how much au­di­ences want to see the lesser-known char­ac­ters.

The mega-bud­get film — which show­cases Aqua­man, Cy­borg and the Flash along­side their more-fa­mous col­leagues — is ex­pected to dom­i­nate the box of­fice this week­end. It also marks a ma­jor test of Warner Bros.’ plans to turn the ven­er­a­ble DC comic book fran­chise into an in­ter­con­nected uni­verse of movies to com­pete with Walt Dis­ney Co.’s Marvel Stu­dios. Time Warner Inc.-owned Warner Bros. is hop­ing the film will get fans ex­cited about up­com­ing projects based on the more ob­scure char­ac­ters.

“The big­gest take­away from the movie will prob­a­bly be how peo­ple re­act to Aqua­man and the Flash,” said Shawn Rob­bins, chief an­a­lyst at BoxOf­fice.com. “If they can spin off suc­cess­ful films from those char­ac­ters, that might be the most im­por­tant thing for the stu­dio.”

All signs point to a strong de­but for “Jus­tice League.” Open­ing Thurs­day night, the film is ex­pected to gross about $110 mil­lion in the United States and Canada through Sun­day, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple who have re­viewed pre-re­lease au­di­ence sur­veys. Pre­sales are out­pac­ing those for “Won­der Woman,” which opened with $103 mil­lion in June, ac­cord­ing to ticket mer­chant Fan­dango.

Still, a $110-mil­lion launch for “Jus­tice League” would be con­sid­er­ably lower than the de­but of “Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice” in March 2016. That ear­lier film, which starred Ben Af­fleck as Bat­man, Henry Cav­ill as Su­per­man and Gal Gadot as Won­der Woman, ended up with a mas­sive global haul of $873 mil­lion, but was met with sting­ing re­views and neg­a­tive sen­ti­ment from some fans of the comic book char­ac­ters.

Warner Bros. de­clined to give a bud­get for “Jus­tice League,” but peo­ple close to the project es­ti­mated it cost about $300 mil­lion to make, plus mar­ket­ing spend­ing.

One ma­jor fac­tor is the re­sponse from crit­ics. Re­views were em­bar­goed un­til 11:50 p.m. Tues­day, less than two days be­fore the film hits the­aters. Pos­i­tive re­views helped pro­pel “Won­der Woman” to more than $820 mil­lion in global ticket sales. Other re­cent DC movies, “Bat­man v Su­per­man” and “Sui­cide Squad,” were both com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful but would have done bet­ter if they had re­ceived more fa­vor­able no­tices, an­a­lysts said.

“Jus­tice League” is the DC uni­verse’s clos­est equiv­a­lent of Marvel’s “Avengers” se­ries, which has grossed nearly $3 bil­lion from two movies. “Jus­tice League” should ben­e­fit from the re­turn of Gadot’s Won­der Woman, whom many crit­ics cred­ited with in­tro­duc­ing some much-needed hope and lev­ity to the DC uni­verse. Bat­man and Su­per­man, mean­while, re­main among the best-known su­per­hero char­ac­ters to ever grace movie screens.

The film’s jour­ney to the­aters was not an easy one. Di­rec­tor Zack Sny­der stepped back from the project af­ter the death of his daugh­ter in March. Joss Whe­don, who wrote and di­rected the “Avengers” movies for Marvel and is known for his light touch with su­per­hero fare, took over for weeks of reshoots.

“[Warner Bros. has] been build­ing to this for a few years now, so it’s ob­vi­ously very im­por­tant to them,” Rob­bins said.

Af­ter “Jus­tice League,” the next live-ac­tion DC film for Warner Bros. is “Aqua­man,” star­ring Jason Mo­moa. It is due in De­cem­ber 2018.

Two smaller wide-re­lease movies will try to at­tract movie­go­ers un­in­ter­ested in the su­per­hero mashup. The new an­i­mated Na­tiv­ity movie “The Star,” the lat­est faith-based ef­fort from Sony Pic­tures’ Af­firm la­bel, is ex­pected to open with $7 mil­lion. The car­toon, about a young don­key’s role in the first Christ­mas, cost about $20 mil­lion to make.

Mean­while, Lion­s­gate’s “Won­der,” about a fifth­grade boy try­ing to cope with a fa­cial de­for­mity, is ex­pected to open with $9 mil­lion in ticket sales, ac­cord­ing to an­a­lysts.

Warner Bros.

“JUS­TICE LEAGUE,” open­ing Thurs­day night, will give Warner Bros. an idea of the ap­peal of some lesser­known DC Comics he­roes, in­clud­ing Aqua­man and the Flash. Above is a scene with Jeremy Irons.

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