Batman and Wonder Woman recruit an epic team of greats like Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash to save the planet from catastrophe.
A Herculean effort was needed to bring Justice League to the screen, with ups and downs along the way.
Still, Superman’s got jokes.
The biggest DC Comics superhero movie to date, which arrives in theaters Thursday night, navigated family tragedy, historically bad reviews and a change in filmmakers. One of the more lighthearted setbacks, though, was having to digitally erase Henry Cavill’s facial hair during League reshoots happening at the same time he was filming a key role in Mission: Impossible 6: The Man of Steel couldn’t be whisker-laden, but shaving wasn’t an option.
“The thing about these movies is that they always take a very long time to make, regardless of any issues that may happen with Gal’s mustache,” Cavill quips alongside co-star Gal Gadot, aka Wonder Woman.
“My facial hair problems! Thank you for exposing me!” she responds, laughing.
“CGI on her face in every single movie is expensive,” Cavill deadpans.
Saving the world is serious business for these two comic-book icons in Justice League. In the follow-up to 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Earth is in disarray after Superman sacrifices himself to defeat the monstrous Doomsday. (Don’t worry, folks: Without giving away too much, the Man of Steel does find a way to have a crucial role in the plot of Justice League.)
Inspired to action by the late good guy, Wonder Woman and Batman (Ben Affeck) discover an otherworldly force bent on turning the globe into an apocalyptic wasteland, and they set off to recruit newcomers: seafaring bad boy Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the ultra-fast Flash (Ezra Miller) and part-man, part-machine Cyborg (Ray Fisher).
“They all come from different walks of life, they all have different abilities and they’re all outcasts in their own way,” Cavill says. “And outcasts typically don’t work together when they’ve lived a solitary lifestyle.”
Having this team united, Avengers-style, is something moviegoers have been wanting to see forever. “This is the one movie people have really been asking me about as I just go through my life,” says Affleck.
Justice League director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, which debuted Cavill as Superman four years ago, started the path to the supergroup event movie. Even though Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were pummeled by reviewers, all were box-office hits. Gadot’s solo film Wonder Woman this past summer was a critical and financial breakthrough, and the “much-needed shot in the arm” for the DC slate, says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore.
And with Justice League looking at a debut upward of $100 million, “this is going to be one of the biggest movies of the season,” Dergarabedian adds. “If you’re a (superhero) fan, it’s a must-see kind of movie.”
The road getting here has been rocky. When BvS was released in March 2016, Snyder was in London in pre-production on Justice League, reading about online petitions to boot him off the film, angry sentiment about how the films were too dark and how he was ruining these beloved characters. “That was upsetting,” Snyder told USA TODAY a few months later, “and made me evaluate myself and where I was with the movies and what I wanted to say with them.”
Then this past May, Snyder announced that he and wife Deborah, a Justice League producer, would be stepping away from the film to deal with the suicide of Snyder’s 20-year-old daughter, Autumn, two months prior. Joss Whedon, the director of two of Marvel’s Avengers projects, had already been hired to write new scenes for Justice League reshoots when he was tapped to finish the post-production process.
Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Batman (Ben Affleck) and fellow superheroes battle the evil forces of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds) in ‘Justice League.’
“Joss was part of the family, so we were lucky that he was there to pick it up,” Deborah Snyder says, adding that the release is bittersweet. “It was such a difficult decision, but sometimes you have to put your family first. But also as a couple, we live and breathe these movies. Now that the movie is coming out, it’s a difficult time for Zack because he couldn’t really see his vision all the way through.”
Miller remembers Zack Snyder helping him grasp parts of the movie using storyboards in his office: “You can ask him what’s going on in a scene and he can show it to you, saying things like, ‘And there you go, boom. And then there goes Batman, shla-zow.’ ”
But with Whedon, Miller says, “he was really challenged and had to employ a lot of his craft and mastery in order to complete this vision left in his hands. That’s a lot to juggle, a lot of pressure, and I saw him rise to that occasion in a really amazing way.”
Adds Fisher: “We’re working with geniuses, with masters of their particular paths. I don’t think I could have asked for a better education.”
Wonder Woman and Batman are the teachers for a new crew of heroes, and their lives are changing in a post-Superman world, too.
A Dark Knight who tends to do things solo, Batman is “the glue that holds them all together,” Affleck says. And Wonder Woman, a more evolved and experienced heroine in the wake of her movie, “understands the pressure and the stakes” of the invading force, Gadot says. She and Batman “know they can only save the world together.”
For the two DC veterans, standing together in Dawn of Justice was cool, but seeing the entire Justice League in costume for the first time was “epic,” Affleck says. “I’ve done 40 or something movies and this really stood out as special and gigantic and bigger than all the people involved.”
“You’re standing next to Batman and Wonder Woman. You feel like a kid,” Momoa adds.
Gadot found it to be “just super-surreal and weird. I sort of started to laugh like crazy.”
“I wasn’t laughing,” Cavill chimes in. “I was dead.”
Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) visits Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) during his superhero recruitment drive in ‘Justice League.’
While he can’t say much about the Man of Steel’s role in Justice League, Cavill does remark that “it’s important to me that every aspect of Superman is represented in an honest and true way to the nature of why he was created in 1938.”
In comic-book lore, the Justice League didn’t come together until 22 years later to take down a giant interstellar starfish. When that villain comes up in conversation, it’s clear Miller’s already thinking sequel: “Shout out to Starro the Conquerer and let him know we’re still coming for him, should he ever choose to invade Earth once again. We’ll give him a sharp punch to the thorax.”
Deborah Snyder says Justice League 2 “would be amazing” but DC’s lineup is already plenty busy. The Snyders have been working with Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins on her sequel (slated for Nov. 1, 2019), and director James Wan just wrapped Aquaman (out Dec. 21, 2018), where “you’ll get to see why he’s so jaded,” Momoa teases. Also in the works: Shazam, starring Zachary Levi as Earth’s mightiest mortal; a Suicide Squad sequel directed by Gavin O’Connor (The Accountant); and a Batgirl project written and directed by Whedon.
The new Batman movie being developed by Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes) is “something I’m contemplating,” says Affleck, who originally was tapped to direct. “You don’t do it forever, so I want to find a graceful and cool way to segue out of it.”
While he ponders his own future as the Dark Knight, the actor does see a timeliness in Justice League’s arrival now. “We certainly are in need of heroes in 2017,” Affleck says. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world, from natural to man-made disasters, and it’s really scary. Part of the appeal of this genre is wish fulfillment: Wouldn’t it be nice if there was somebody who can save us from all this, save us from ourselves, save us from the consequences of our actions and save us from people who are evil?”
Adds Gadot: “People planned on making this movie 10 years ago, and even 20 years ago, and it just never happened. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and things take time. Only in retrospect can you understand why.”
The weather’s getting chilly, and that means it’s the perfect time to see what’s playing on the silver screen. While these flicks aren’t holiday-themed, they’re certainly worth watching this season.
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