With the release of Man of Steel, Warner Brothers finally has a decent-sized hit (that doesn’t involve Batman) to set up its cinematic DC Comics Universe. Almost immediately, the Monday after box office receipts were tallied, the Wall Street Journal published a story that a Man of Steel 2 is being planned for 2014, with Justice League to follow in 2015. That timetable is highly unlikely, but push each movie ahead one year further and they might be on to something.
We know few things for certain at this point, but in doing press for Man of Steel, it has been all but confirmed that Man of Steel/Dark Knight writer David S. Goyer is on tap to write the next Superman installment, as well as Justice League. Zack Snyder is also all but confirmed to return for the next installment too, although his directing Justice League is up in the air. The smart thing to do is to simply do Man of Steel 2 and Justice League back-to-back like the sequels to The Matrix and the first two Pirates of the Caribbean sequels and release them a year apart. And then, of course, hope they turn out better than those movies did.
While very little is concrete, David Goyer has said that he believes that, apart from another Superman installment coming first, it looks like Warner Brothers is taking the opposite approach from what Marvel Studios did with Avengers, instead hoping to spin-off the solo characters into their own post-Justice League films. Of course, fans might have to live with the fact that we might also never get those spin-off films for the likes of Flash and Wonder Woman. Fans need to remember that Warner Brothers isn’t Marvel Studios; they don’t need to exploit all their characters in solo films in order to justify their existence the way Marvel does. The straight-to-DVD animation unit at Warners essentially releases three animated films a year, and for the most part, it is a steady stream of Batman, Superman, and Justice League films. They have pretty much abandoned solo films for their other characters. It wouldn’t be shocking at all if Warners Brothers takes the same approach to these properties in live-action; it’s easier to maintain three big tentpole franchises than four or five, after all.
Regardless, we know another Superman film is coming, with the Justice League soon to follow. Here is what I feel we need to see in a Man of Steel follow-up, as well as what needs to be in a Justice League film that plays off of what occurs in a Superman sequel. So David Goyer, Zack Snyder, Warner Brothers, and all involved, start taking notes, because this is how you play your cards right going forward.
Man of Steel 2
Both Director Zack Snyder and writer David Goyer have both gone on record as saying that they feel that Superman needs at least one more movie of his own before a team-up movie like Justice League comes about, and after having seen Man of Steel, I wholeheartedly agree. We have only just been reintroduced to Superman, and we haven’t seen how this world has reacted long term to having an alien savior in their midst. We still haven’t seen important Superman tropes like Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent, Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, etc. Superman and his world need to be more established for the current generation before we rush head-long into Justice League. So here’s what needs to happen in a Man of Steel follow-up.
If Man of Steel more or less followed the Batman Begins structure, then Man of Steel 2 (Man of Tomorrow?) would likely follow the structure of The Dark Knight, which gave the audience Batman’s top two villains in one film. In Man of Steel 2, the logical thing would be to introduce us to Superman’s two best and most well-known villains, Lex Luthor and Brainiac. We already know that Luthor’s company Lexcorp exists in the Man of Steel universe, based on the hints dropped in Man of Steel, so that means that the version of Luthor we see will be the version that has been in the comics since 1986, the brilliant industrialist, and arguably the world’s smartest man. We know David Goyer has no problems looking to older films for inspiration (many people cite The Dark Knight as a superhero remake of Michael Mann’s Heat). With that in mind, then he should look to the classic movie Amadeus as inspiration for the character of Lex Luthor.
In Amadeus, Antonio Salieri is a man who has it all-fame as a composer, wealth, popularity, and a chair in the King’s court. However, he is insanely jealous of Mozart, a far less popular and poorer composer who had little clout in his own day, beyond being seen as a novelty act. But Salieri burned with jealousy, because Mozart was innately brilliant and special, a man truly ahead of his time, something he knew he could never be. Luthor has the same relationship with Superman in his modern incarnation; no matter how rich or powerful Luthor is, even if he makes it to the most powerful office in the world as President, he can never be Superman. As long as Superman exists, he is less than perfect. This burning jealous, mixed with a tinge of respect I should add, should be the crux of the Luthor/Superman relationship.
But while Luthor should be introduced in Man of Steel 2, Superman needs a physical challenge as well. It is time to finally introduce his #2 villain Brainiac to the big screen for the first time. There have been tons of cool versions of Brainiac over the years (as well as some very lame ones) but maybe the coolest is the version recently created by Geoff Johns in his 2009 story arc simply titled Brainiac (this was recently adapted into the animated movie Superman: Unbound) This version of Brainiac is perfect for the big screen, kind of a combination of the Borg from Star Trek and the T-800 robots from the Terminator series. As many have pointed out in the past, Luthor represents the worst in humanity, while Brainiac represents the very worst of aliens, the two sides of Superman’s identity in their worst light. Superman: Unbound, with a few tweaks here and there and a lot of story expansion, is a perfect template for a Man of Steel sequel.
Also, a Man of Steel sequel could be used to reintroduce audiences to the concept of the Green Lantern Corps. Or forget reintroduce, considering the reception to Green Lantern; for most people, it would be their first exposure to the concept, period. The Green Lantern movie from 2011 was a pretty big disappointment, for both fans and Warner Brothers alike. But Green Lantern is one of DC’s main properties, and there is no way they are going to let that one movie be the final word on the character, especially since he will need to be an essential part of the Justice League’s flick.
A Man of Steel sequel could theoretically introduce the Green Lantern Corps in a small way, kind of like how S.H.I.E.L.D. is handled in the Marvel cinematic universe, only instead for the cinematic DCU. They don’t have to take up a lot of screen time, certainly less than S.H.I.E.L.D. did in Iron Man 2. But they could show up in a post-credits tag for example, perhaps wanting to take custody of whatever remains of Brainiac. But establishing the Green Lantern Corps as the “space cops” of the DC Cinematic Universe, once Justice League rolls around, you’ve already given the audience an intro to the Green Lantern Corps that isn’t the Ryan Reynolds movie. For that matter, the Flash could also be briefly mentioned as one of the other super-powered heroes who have shown up in the wake of Superman’s debut.
While a Justice League film is still several years away, it is highly doubtful that Warner Brothers is going to take the slow and careful approach that Marvel Studios took with their build up to Avengers, which wasn’t only five movies, but five years. Warners won’t want to waste the momentum that Man of Steel has given them, and aren’t going to wait much beyond one more Superman movie before jumping straight into the Justice League’s story. There is evidence that Warner Brothers really wants to push the Justice League brand forward, as they recently signed a deal with Target stores to carry a line of over fifty Justice League branded items in a new consumer line, as well as rumors that Warner Animation has asked Bruce Timm to develop an all-new Justice League series once more, both seemingly attempts to get the Justice League “brand” out there in the public consciousness before a movie arrives. As it is, of the five main Leaguers – who are Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash, by the way, in case there was any question – only two are really candidates for a pre-JL movie, anyway.
Batman, thanks to so many successful versions of the character on the big screen, needs no introduction prior to a Justice League movie. Regardless of how different he might be from the Christian Bale (or Michael Keaton) version, the essentials of Batman always remain the same, and they won’t likely be different this time. Warner Brothers will certainly use Justice League as a way of introducing audiences to a new Bruce Wayne, but he won’t need another movie of his own beforehand. And Green Lantern had one just two years ago. While that version failed, it is highly unlikely that there will be a Green Lantern reboot until after a Justice League movie has been released, hoping the Justice League incarnation of the character can do for him what Avengers did for the Hulk. The JL movie will, in effect, be the Green Lantern reboot. And I’ve already laid out how Man of Steel 2 can be used to introduce the Green Lantern Corps. When Hal Jordan or John Stewart (or both!) show up in Justice League, they can be explained away as the first human agents in this intergalactic police force.
That leaves the Flash and Wonder Woman. The Flash is a character whose origins and motivations are easily explained by a bit of exposition (“I’m a forensic scientist who got hit by lightning. Now I run real fast!“) or even a brief flashback. Wonder Woman is different — of all the Leaguers, she would be best served by her own stand-alone origin film, and not just because she is one of the most iconic superheroes in the world, but because her origins are magic-based and not science fiction based like the other members of the team. But assuming a Wonder Woman film doesn’t happen, which is sadly very likely, then the JL movie will have to effectively serve as a Wonder Woman origin story as well. So how do you make a Justice League movie an origin story for Wonder Woman too? The key to introducing Wonder Woman into the story properly is by using DC’s #1 baddie Darkseid as the villain.
Darkseid,Your #1 Choice For Villain
In Man of Steel, Superman (with some help from the US Military) dispatches some six other Kryptonians, all as strong as he is. Assuming that the villain is Brainiac in a Man of Steel sequel, and that’s a safe assumption, that means he will have dispatched two powerful alien menaces in a row. So what will it take for Superman to need help from at least four other heroes, if not more? Well, how about a God? Darkseid is of course, technically an alien, but he is also more than that. He is the God of Evil, a personification of the darkest aspects of the human condition. And he is one of the very few villains that would justify Superman needing the help of his “super friends” in a live action film to bring him down.
So how does the use of Darkseid provide an origin/entry point for Wonder Woman? In the comics, Darkseid and his minions are part of what their creator (comic book legend Jack Kirby) referred to as “The New Gods.” Wonder Woman, in the comic book lore, gets her powers from the Greek pantheon of Olympus, essentially, the “Old Gods.” Your scenario for the Justice League then is this: In a Lord of the Rings style prologue, we see how thousands of years ago, Darkseid and his armies attempted to conquer our world, only to be driven back to their home world of Apokolips by the last of the Gods of Olympus and their champions, the Amazons. Most of the Olympian Gods fall in battle, eventually fading into myth, and what is left of their Amazons go into hiding, vowing not to interfere in humanity again unless Darkseid and his armies return.
The Amazons, having spent the past three thousand or more years in hiding, send their emissary to our world, to not only warn of the return of Darkseid, but to lead forces in defeating him. This gives Wonder Woman an origin story that resembles the one from the original comics, substituting Nazis with Darkseid’s armies, and ties it into the greater Justice League origin story. In lieu of her own movie, having Diana be the one who gathers the troops together and leads them into the fight could, theoretically, make up for the lack of her own movie.
I should add, If Warners decides to use Aquaman in Justice League as well, and that’s a big if, this flashback prologue could be used to establish his world and backstory as well. The armies of Atlantis could be the armies of Poseidon, whose homeland is sunk beneath the waves by Darkseid’s forces. This way, if Aquaman pops up later in the second act of the movie, the audience isn’t thinking, “wait, you’re telling me there’s an Atlantis too??” An opening like this not only establishes that there is magic in this world, but when Wonder Woman and Aquaman enter the narrative, you’re not asking too much of the audience to buy into mythical lost kingdoms, because it’s established in the opening ten minutes or so of the movie. It also establishes a tone that is different than the Avengers or the Marvel films — this is capital E Epic, a tale of ancient gods and monsters clashing with modern day icons, something totally in director Zack Snyder’s wheelhouse.
The plot mechanics, the character interactions, all of those things are on the shoulders of David Goyer of course, and Zack Snyder, and whoever ends up directing Justice League. But the basic plot structures for both Man of Steel 2 and Justice League are right there, in the pages of the comics that inspired these movies in the first place. It’s simply up to the powers that be to not shy away from the grand comic-booky nature of it, and give movie going audiences the world over a movie than encapsulates everything great and grand about the DC Universe.