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As expected, the tepid box office and fan response to Justice League has led to a shake-up at DC Films, the little film unit that was expected to be the MCU of Warner Bros. Now it seems it lasted only a year. Jon Berg, one half of duo that ran DC Films will leave to spend more time with his indie film shingle, partnering with Lego Movie’s Roy Lee on projects for the studio.

And what of the other half, Geoff Johns?

Warners is expected to name a new person to run point on DC’s films. Geoff Johns, who has partnered with Berg on much of the creative direction of the movies, is expected to continue serving as DC Entertainment’s chief creative officer. Johns, who reports to DC president Diane Nelson, works in areas such as television (and has written various episodes for DC inspired shows), publishing, and consumer products, in addition to his contributions to the films. Going forward, his contributions to the films may evolve, and could be more advisory in nature.

These people also say that Emmerich is weighing the idea of further integrating DC’s film operations into the studio’s main movie arm. That would entail putting the divisions under the same roof rather than having DC remain in a separate building on the lot, sources say. Marvel, which is owned by Disney, does operate its comic book film division autonomously, but other studios, such as Fox and Sony, produce their superhero films under the studio’s banner.

Emmerich would be Warner Bros. Picture Group President Toby Emmerich.

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Johns’ fate is a little more ambiguous than you might expect, and I’m sure he’ll still have a voice, but both he and Berg got their PGA (Producer’s Guild of America” certification on Justice League, and that’s a hard bullet to dodge. Up until now he’d been mostly left out of the obituaries for Justice League, though, aside from a now wistful story about how they were planning to make a Flashpoint movie.

The irony here is bitter. Justice League is a perfectly pleasant, albeit uneven, superhero movie with a few great laughs, a strong cast and some undeniably impressive action scenes. And yet it lags the unwatchable Suicide Squad and the titanically dreadful Batman v Superman in both box office and, even more troublingly, audience interest. I went to see Justice League this morning and I was the only person in the theater until one one fellow wandered in just before the film began. Chatter about the movie has mostly been about what a disappointment and a behind the scenes mess it is, not the fact that it’s actually watchable. Like people have been witing for this movie for 20 years and when it came out…no one cared.

Hollywood coffee run chatter about Justice League has been dire since it was obvious it was going to be a flop. Richard Rushfield’s Ankler newsletter has been detailing a lot of behind the scenes finger pointing with one edition called “The Flop That Ate Hollywood?” that led to the “systemic failure” quote above. Quoting a public preview (please subscribe to The Ankler!!!)

With all the forces converging against the studios right now, Justice League might just be our Little Roundtop, standing at the hinge to the fate of everything.

For starters, it’s time for a lot of people to say goodbye to the Universe dream: the notion that Marvel had blazed a trail wherein if you just make your IP big enough, that it starts to sell itself, spurring on ancillary money-printing till the end of time. I think we can say that magical idea now seems to be in collapse across the industry, apart from Marvel and we’ll-see-about Star Wars.

Other problems: opening the movie two weeks after the crowd pleasing Thor: Ragnarok. I mean, who knew that Valkyrie and The Grandmaster would be far more popular than The Flash and Aquaman with the American moviegoing public?

I mean think about that. If you work at Warner Bros you probably already are, as you toss and turn at 4 in the morning and wonder what it’s like to live in Fresno.

Also, Justice League was caught up in the turmoil around Ben Affleck, the turmoil around the Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon combo, the turmoil around Brett Ratner, and the turmoil around AT&T’s possibly scuttled deal to purchase WB.

Yeah, no distractions.

Bottom line, as I’ve been writing here for 14 years: the WB needs to get someone in a position of power who actually understands superheroes and superhero movies. Geoff Johns clearly understands the former, but his movie track record, fair or not, doesn’t look great on paper. He tried his best, that’s for certain.

The problem for WB is that only three or four people in the whole universe are suited to do this.

My advice: people liked that Wonder Woman movie. See what Patty Jenkins has to say about all of this.

26 COMMENTS

  1. S, please educate us about the film industry. I have a family member who was involved in putting together the sizzle reel for Avenger’s Infinity War at this past summers Comic Con but he never spills to me about what he sees….in his golden pre harassing women days Harry Knowles would have hated him because he does not leak, so to that end I am always interested in hearing more from someone who can reveal what is behind the curtain, are you that person? Or are you just annoyed that the article is a negative one about D.C. Universe films?

    If the latter, oh well…you are entitled to your opinion and allowed to be frustrated, but if the former please dish if you can do so without getting in trouble with your bosses.

  2. Most of the Universe save Wonder Woman was born dead. This moment essentially set the tone for the entire universe, and they’ve since had to backtrack their way out of it, to mixed results.

    From Comics Alliance after man of steel came out

    The original script to Man of Steel didn’t include Superman killing General Zod to save an innocent family from incineration. In that draft, Zod was sent back into the Phantom Zone and that was that. It was Snyder who pushed for Supes to kill the movie’s big villain, because the hero’s “aversion to killing [was] unexplained.”

    Snyder’s got a point. How are you going to know whether you like killing or not unless you try it? Anyway, Goyer was immediately on-board with the idea, but Nolan initially balked, even checking with DC Comics to see if the publisher would even sign off on its superhero icon ending a life, even the life of a mass murderer. DC didn’t mind.

    It mostly comes down to Zach Snyder having a different idea on what Superman is about. How could anyone who loves Ayn Rands, believes in objectivism as a creative force even subscribe to the idea of Superman?

    Y’know that Alien raised on a Kansas farm who helps everybody no matter the cost. That guy who fights evil corporations that make weapons…

    Justice League WAS pleasant. There were little to no moments where I was absolutely horrified by what my heroes were doing.

  3. “…who knew that Valkyrie and The Grandmaster would be far more popular than The Flash and Aquaman with the American moviegoing public?”

    As the films show, it’s ultimately the quality of the films that matter, not just the characters. Marvel proved that by starting to run the table with lesser known “second tier” characters (at least to the general public) — Iron Man and Captain America. Give Marvel Studios the credit for having the confidence that the basic concepts of their characters could appeal to a mainstream audience and successfully unlocking them for these films. I mean, Captain America was a WWII era film (which likely gave WB the confidence to introduce Wonder Woman in WWI) and Marvel fully embraced the optimistic “boy scout” quality of the character, whereas WB felt they had to run away from that for Superman and make him dark and brooding, contrary to decades of his comics. Marvel simply had the conviction of the appeal of their characters, whereas WB/DC has chased the audience and tinkered with theirs.

    I thought the latest Justice League was a step in the right direction (as many reviewers noted, there was finally a bit of good humor/positive vibes from Superman — hell, even Batman smiled!), but WB has really poisoned the well, making it tough now to sell any new approach they want to take. The unfortunate thing is that I’m fine with most of the actors, but it’s the follow-through by the creatives that’s undermined them. Thor: Ragnarok used the same actors, but were able to spin off into a new direction/tone; hopefully, WB/DC can do the same with their characters.

  4. “It mostly comes down to Zach Snyder having a different idea on what Superman is about.”

    Except for the time that Superman also killed the Phantom Zone criminals in “Superman II,” and then killed them again in John Byrne’s final issue of “Superman” in the late 1980s. So, except for the facts not being on your side, you’re completely correct in your assessment.

    You don’t like Zack Snyder’s interpretation of these characters. Fine. Different strokes for different folks (I personally think that BvS is the Godfather Part II of super-hero movies, and I’m confident that history will bear that out). But to suggest that he was going rogue with them in some way completely ignores the actual history of these characters (particularly as they appeared in the 1980s, a very fertile (and still well loved) period for DC).

    Just because your preferred version of these characters isn’t being represented doesn’t mean that the interpretation that is being represented is illegitimate.

  5. Daniel,

    Man, this is so way off base it’s maddening.

    Snyder didn’t get Superman because he thought Superman needed prodding to help, needed to kill someone to decide he didn’t like killing, and was an asshole who only saved others when it suited him.

    The only time he showed a spark of understanding the character was when he had young Clark Kent save the bus load of kids with no concern to his secret being uncovered. And then he promptly shit on it by having Pa Kent — part of Superman’s moral bedrock — tell him that he probably should have let them die.

    Superman has evolved, over the years, to become someone who has always Tried To Find A Better Way. When the options are “kill the villain or let him get away,” Superman always comes up with the Third Option.

    This is the ENDURING version of the character, and why the argument you’re making doesn’t pass muster. In fact, it’s my least favourite argument. Superman the Murderer not being someone’s “preferred version.”

    Here’s the thing:

    Superman has appeared as a leaping strongman who beat up corrupt government officials.

    He’s been the son of Darkseid, the Waynes, and an Amish family.

    He’s been a government stooge.

    He’s had an ant head, lion head, and been a ballooned up version of himself.

    He walked across America. Until he stopped.

    He murdered the Joker and became a despot.

    He also used to spank Lois Lane. Probably more times than he killed people, but that’s besides the point.

    These are version of the character that are possibly other people’s preferred versions. Not a majority, though, because these character traits did not endure. Just as Superman The Murderer is not an enduring trait — the public generally, rather overwhelmingly, does not want a Superman that kills.

    Snyder’s interpretation was faulty, misguided, and a woeful presentation of a character that should have been bright and hopeful. The murder was just the shit-icing on the garbage cake.

  6. It’s weird. DC’s schism at the box office still maintains the source material on the publishing side as the keeper of the secret success of these characters. Seriously, read Priest and Pete Wood’s JLA this week. Good times.

    I would flip that for Marvel. You need go no further to get that “lovin’ feeling” than by watching those Marvel movies. The comics are utterably skippable.

    By the by the Superman Who Murders the Phantom Zone Criminals story has happened so infrequently in the entirety of the character’s existence, using those examples to prop up Goyer/Snyder’s Superman smear is like putting “He Loved Eating Liver” on my tombstone based on the 2 times I’ve tried liver…blech.

  7. “WB needs to get someone in a position of power who actually understands superheroes and superhero movies”

    How about Allan Heinberg?

  8. “My advice: people liked that Wonder Woman movie. See what Patty Jenkins has to say about all of this.”

    THIS!!! Perfect advice, Ace!

  9. This is one of those times where believing the myth is disastrous.

    Iron Man came out in 2008. The first Thor and Captain America movies came out in 2011, after Iron Man II in 2010. You know what that means? It means that despite the post-credits scene in Iron Man, there were no real plans for a Marvel Cinematic Universe. There were no scripts, no release dates, nobody under contract, nothing but some crazy ideas that few people took seriously. If Iron Man had flopped or just been a disappointment like the second Hulk movie, the MCU never exists.

    The point is that the MCU isn’t the result of some masterful plan. Trying to artificially duplicate its organic construction will never work. Just focus on making ONE great movie and then see where things can go.

    Mike

  10. “(I personally think that BvS is the Godfather Part II of super-hero movies, and I’m confident that history will bear that out).”

    That will never happen. Godfather Part II was recognized as a great film immediately. No one had to defend it. No one had to make excuses for it. It was good and everyone knew it. If you’re going to keep beating this dead horse, at least use a halfway intelligent analogy like Blade Runner or something.

    Mike

  11. I’m done with connected universes. This movie was fine, but still +&#@ on by fans and reviewers. These movie studios think we only care about mega franchises. I want the days of random superhero movies back. Disney thinks they’re the only studio in the world now, so expect nothing but safe, playing movies to be made. For some reason, movies fans have to either love or hate films now, so I’m just going to check out of the hype now. No more Star Wars stories, no more Avengers, no more Justice League, no more X-Men, no Dark Universe, no Fantastic Four, and no Spider-Man spinoffs.

  12. My sympathies for the Daniel’s of the world. What does it take to compare Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice to the Godfather II. Possibly BvS:DoJ is even better, since Godfather II lacked both an e-mail reading scene previewing later franchises and a space monster called Doomsday? Or just the way it hops into kickass techno at the end.

    This is how Trump was elected folks.

  13. I agree with Daniel, that BvS is a great film and the Godfather II of superhero movies. That’s if you watch the Ultimate Edition.

    Seriously, I think BvS is the only movie that contends with the idea of a super-man and what that might mean for humanity in a complex way, with multple agencies swhirling around trying to grapple and react to the notion (and even Clark’s). Maybe Dr Manhattan is the only forerunner?

    If you haven’t watched the BvS Ultimate Edition, please do so. It has story elements that gives Batman more pathos and he is pitiable in a Tragedian fashion. Luthor is shown to masterfully manipulative in even having Clark doubt himself, and the one person who discovers Luthor’s behind everything is Lois Lane. Lois can’t reach Clark though because of Luthor’s manipulations.

    The theatrical version of BvS strips Lois’ whole investigative reporting thread, and her effective agency as anything other than a damsel in distress. That is a big shame, and its omission subtracts from the movie substantially. As does the removal of early scenes with Bruce. These storytelling elements act to even aesthetically balance the much maligned Third Act. Luthor is far more responsible, and a real tragedy is present. For me, it’s comparable to the Joker in Nolan’s Dark Knight.

    Godfather II? I agree that BvS UE is that good.

    On the subject of Man of Steel and killing Zod, I thought it was infitting with the very present Christian overtones in that movie. It is aesthetically more interesting that Clark as the Jesus/savior figure in which he is presented throughout that movie, straddles and even commits an original sin. What does he sacrifice, and for whom? Very Christian. Again, very aesthetically balancing for that particular movie.

    I can see and might even agree with the view that is in JL that a more confidently and recognisable of Superman emerges and is more finished in development. Still glad these movies even if they upend it all.

  14. Shouldn’t Johns be out of a job on the comics side of things, too, along with other DC execs who enabled and protected Eddie Berganza?

    Or is that one of those questions this site doesn’t want anyone to bring up, ever?

  15. “Except for the time that Superman also killed the Phantom Zone criminals in “Superman II,” and then killed them again in John Byrne’s final issue of “Superman” in the late 1980s. So, except for the facts not being on your side, you’re completely correct in your assessment”

    Funny how history repeats itself and that you bring up this specific point. I was a teenager when that happened and I remember the uproar that issue caused. It didn’t sit well with anyone. It never rang true with the character at the time, even the rebooted version. The next writers sent Superman into space for a while after that because they didn’t know how to process what had just happened, it totally tainted the Matrix Supergirl because she was tied to that whole fiasco, and fandom had the SAME level of controversy that we’re seeing play out in the movies.

    If I could dig up my copies of CBG we would see the same language (in defense and opposition) used then as we’re using now to describe the character’s actions.

    I personally didn’t think killing the villains made the character better then, and I definitely didn’t think so in the the MoS movie, either. Talk about not learning from your mistakes!

  16. “Or is that one of those questions this site doesn’t want anyone to bring up, ever?”

    It’s one of those questions that some people want to bring up however irrelevant it is to the subject under discussion.

  17. “I went to see Justice League this morning and I was the only person in the theater until one one fellow wandered in just before the film began.”

    —this is the kind of boots-on-the-ground verisimilitude that so informs the Beat’s analyses!!

  18. “It’s one of those questions that some people want to bring up however irrelevant it is to the subject under discussion.”

    Yes, let’s not discuss Geoff Johns’ employment in a story about Geoff Johns’ employment!

  19. If, as the essay says, it’s true that Marvel’s Valkyrie and Grandmaster characters are even temporarily popular, it has nothing to do with how good they are, as characters. I for one think they’re godawful. I like how the script skirts the fact that Imitation Valkyrie has evidently been capturing people to die in Grandmaster’s games for some good little time, But hey, she can’t be implicated in slavery and murder, because she represents GIRL POWER!

    No, they’re popular because Marvel knows how to sell even a crappy script with loads and loads of humor. People remember enjoying the laughs in RAGNAROK and so everything is ennobled thereby. This is the mainstreaming advantage of the MCU that the DCEU didn’t quite get, Joss Whedon’s belated employment notwithstanding.

    Frankly, I think Geoff Johns is probably part of that problem, but that’s me.

  20. There’s also Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, James Tucker and everyone who created the DCAU, Brave and The Bold — they understand how to tell great stories with these characters.

    And while the current Flash and other live action tv shows are not really my thing, they feature fun, Silver Age feeling versions of the characters. I mean Gorilla Grodd!

  21. ” … there were no real plans for a Marvel Cinematic Universe. There were no scripts, no release dates, nobody under contract, nothing but some crazy ideas that few people took seriously. ”

    Mark Ruffalo has said there was no script for AVENGERS when he was offered the part of Bruce Banner. These movies are frantic cut-and-paste affairs. I’m sure Marvel had an outline for its cinematic universe. But the details are made up on the fly. Ditto for the DC and now Star Wars movies.

  22. DC has a number of problems that are interconnected. For one, they are spending too much money. So much in fact that it is very difficult for any DC movie to make a profit. Part of why they are spending so much is numerous and extensive re-shoots. This goes to story problems that require re-shoots. Marvel routinely makes technically competent, effects heavy, movies for < $150 million.

    All DC movies, sans wonder woman, have had significant editing issues. Just bad editing.

    Also, these are comic book movies. Ever read one? Typically they are very colorful. For some reason, all DC movies, sans wonder woman, have been dark and dingy affairs. No color, no light. Even daylight scenes are washed out.

    Marvel has, oddly enough, fortunate that they started with "lessor" heroes. Guardians of the Galaxy was wonderful because it was something new and unexpected. perhaps move away for big armored villain with a bright beam of light in the sky finale? Man of steel, Justice league, suicide squad, wonder woman – all had almost identical finales. Dr. Strange? negotiations with the villain. Ant man? miniature fight on a child's toy train followed by a descent to the quantum realm. winter soldier? Brutal hand to hand combat on a crashing battleship. GoG? a space big battle, A DANCE OFF!, and then the bad guy gets vaporized.

    DC needs to mix up the endings, try something new. WW succeeded because – better editing, lower budget, more color, and tried something new (a female lead).

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