Warner Bros.' just-announced plans for a Justice League movie helmed by Zack Snyder should come as no surprise. As Marvel has proven with its cinematic universe, if you're going to try for a multi-film crossover project this ambitious, you need to greenlight things before you really know if its working. Snyder's Man of Steel was a financial success (if not a critical one) and fans are at least intrigued by his upcoming Batman vs. Superman project that will see Ben Affleck playing the Caped Crusader and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman alongside Henry Cavil's Superman.
It's equally fair to say that many are holding their heads in their hands at the prospect of Snyder having total control over D.C.'s comic book properties for the foreseeable future. While Man of Steel was pitched as being shepherded into being by Christopher Nolan (he produced the film and wrote its story), this is more directly in Snyder's court (though Nolan will executive produce Batman vs. Superman). Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman will certainly form the core of Snyder's Justice League, a super-team who are DC's analogue to Marvel's Avengers.
Those heroes are proven enough properties that audiences will likely accept the latest versions of them, even if Christian Bale was playing Bruce Wayne just two years ago. DC's immediate problem is that every other attempt at launching a hero has had very mixed results. Green Lantern made $116 million domestically on a $200 million budget in 2011. Every effort at making a Flash movie has so far failed, but a 2016 project has been greenlit and will surely tie in.
The argument for such an effort is simple—Marvel managed to get us interested in heroes like Captain America and Thor partly by tying them into a grander universe. So why can't DC get people to bite for its less well-known heroes? Green Lantern was perhaps the wrong hero to lead with, given that his power (energy ring that can create whatever its wearer thinks of) and backstory (intergalactic network of alien policemen) was tough to get across simply. The Flash, on the other hand, is maybe too simple (he can, you know, run fast).
Part of the problem is that all these heroes were created in the pre-World War 2 "Golden Age" of comics where their personality was less crucial. Each of Marvel's heroes has a very obvious character peg that's easy to sell, but DC's heroes are more about their power-set. Ryan Reynolds played Green Lantern Hal Jordan as a cocky pilot who learns the value of responsibly protecting the earth. It's a story we've heard too many times before.
So instead of taking Marvel's approach of launching a bunch of one-hero movies and tying them into The Avengers, DC will build off of Superman and Batman and, outside of The Flash, likely introduce all its heroes in these tentpole films. Aside from The Flash and Cyborg (a Justice League member who will reportedly appear in Batman vs. Superman played by Ray Fisher), who else should we expect to appear? Maybe there will be another crack at the Green Lantern. Possibly the Martian Manhunter, a telepathic green alien who tends to be a voice of reason for the gang. Maybe skilled archer Green Arrow, currently making a splash on The CW but quite similar to Marvel's Hawkeye. Another female character could be helpful, such as Green Arrow's partner and sometime romantic interest Black Canary, or Zatanna, who is, uh, best described as a magician.
And yes, of course, there will be many chuckling articles suggesting people to play Aquaman, and more than likely some of them will mention Entourage's Vinnie Chase who essayed the role to a fictional $116 million opening back in 2006. Aquaman is the mostly definitively mockable DC Comics hero since his powers are often reduced to "talking to fish," and he does indeed seem like the toughest sell for an audience, especially in a large ensemble movie that will have to do a lot of work setting up everyone's origins.
The most important thing to note here is that Justice League really is going to happen. There have been so many rumored attempts at this project over the years, but for better or worse, Zack Snyder will almost certainly be bringing this to the screen, barring an (unlikely) disastrous performance at the box office for Batman vs. Superman. So let's finish by remembering the last time this film got close to being made, and who was going to play the Justice League in George's Miller's project, which was officially scrapped because of the 2007-2008 writer's strike:
- D.J. Cotrona (he was "Flint" in G.I. Joe: Retaliation) as Superman
- Armie Hammer (the Winkelvii from The Social Network) as Batman
- Adam Brody (Seth Cohen!) as The Flash
- Megan Gale (she's a supermodel) as Wonder Woman
- Common as Green Lantern
- Santiago Cabrera (he was in the first season of Heroes?) as Aquaman
- Hugh Keays-Byrne (he was a villain in the first Mad Max) as the Martian Manhunter
- Teresa Palmer (she was in Take Me Home Tonight and The Sorcerer's Apprentice) as Talia Al Ghul (a role played by Marion Cotillard in The Dark Knight Rises)
- Jay Baruchel as villain Maxwell Lord
Yep, that almost happened. For real. It was approved with a $220 million budget. In 2007. Hollywood's a funny business.