Is Justice League a Soft Reboot for the DCEU?

Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck all seem to be talking about how different Justice League will be. Is it a soft reboot for the DCEU?

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel set the template for the DC Extended Universe, establishing a shared universe with destruction and death at its core. Henry Cavill’s Superman wasn’t one for cracking smiles and he was viewed with suspicion by the militaries and citizens of the world. Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice took this idea and ran with it, with Snyder introducing Ben Affleck’s Batman as the personification of anti-Superman sentiments. Batman saw the destruction of Man Of Steel firsthand, and decided that killing the Kryptonian was the best course of action. It was another grim film, with jars of piss, exploding politicians and brutal battles in the rain.

Then came Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman, which both showed – in their own ways – that the template and tonal tendencies of Snyder’s first two DECU films are far from sacrosanct. David Ayer’s villainous team-up movie threw in pop songs and banter. And then Patty Jenkins’ empowering solo movie forged its own path entirely, offering luscious visuals, smiling characters, and a genuine sense of warmth. Nobody’s neck was snapped in Wonder Woman, and a grand total of zero cities were demolished. Critics, audiences, and box office bean counters utterly loved it.

Next up is Justice League, which Snyder developed and directed, before handing the reins over to Joss Whedon during post-production, due to a personal tragedy. And although the trailers clearly showcase Snyder’s unique style of action direction, the cast’s press quotes seem to suggest that something of a recalibrating is going on.

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Following on from the flack of Batman V Superman and the success of Wonder Woman, it looks a lot like Justice League is delivering a soft reboot for the DCEU’s big three: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman all seem to be changing, if these quotes are anything to go by…

Let’s start with Superman, the character that kicked off this shared universe. In keeping with the deadly style of the DCEU, he was impaled and killed by Doomsday at the end of Batman V Superman. But that divisive movie ended with grains of dirt rising mysteriously above his coffin, making a return for Kal-El seem inevitable.

Since then, Henry Cavill has been on set of Justice League rather a lot (famously having to keep his Mission: Impossible moustache during Joss Whedon’s reshoots). And he was spotted – in Clark Kent mode – in one of the film’s trailers, appearing in what looks like a dream sequence for Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. Surely, Cavill has shot an awful lot more than the trailers are currently letting on.

Ahead of this return, in a new interview with The Rake, Cavill has confessed an interesting opinion: he said that the early days of the DCEU had made “the right mistakes.”

“There was a style they were going for, an attempt to be different and look at things from a slightly different perspective, which hasn’t necessarily worked,” he added, seemingly referring to the grim and gritty tone of those first two movies.

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Although both of those films made money, neither of them made Avengers-level billion-plus money. And although both movies have their staunch supporters, neither of them earned universal acclaim. Those movies didn’t fail, but they didn’t exactly soar either.

“Yes, it has made money but it has not been a critical success,” Cavill candidly continued, talking about his journey so far with the DCEU. “[It] hasn’t given everyone that sensation which superheroes should give the viewer […] I feel like now the right mistakes have been made and they haven’t been pandered [to], and we can start telling the stories in the way they need to be told.”

He added: “It is even better to come back from a mistake or stylistic error into the correct vein because it will make it seem that much stronger. Wonder Woman was the first step in the right direction.” That’s a very telling comment. After all, Wonder Woman owed more of a debt to Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies than the two Henry Cavill ones.

Reading between the lines a little, it seems plausible that, when Cavill’s Kal-El inevitably comes back during Justice League, he’ll develop into a sunnier Superman, closer to the tone of Wonder Woman. Maybe that’s the “correct vein” that Cavill refers to.

The trailers for Justice League seem to suggest that Batman and the world at large have really missed the big blue Boy Scout since his death. So, perhaps, when he comes back, he won’t be feared or hated anymore. Without that target on his back, perhaps Superman can lighten up a bit. A recalibration like that could make the prospect of further Henry Cavill Superman movies sound a lot more appealing.

It’s clear from the Justice League trailers that Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne has cheered up a bit, as well. He’s playing well with others again, bantering with his fellow superheroes, and letting a fish dude ride on his Batmobile. This doesn’t feel like the same Batman that wanted to murder Superman in his last big screen appearance. It doesn’t feel like the Batman that threw a grenade into a crowded room, or ran over a guy’s head, either.

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Story-wise, the death of Superman seems to be the catalyst for this change. Gotham’s Dark Knight came out of Batman V Superman with a newfound respect for The Last Son Of Krypton. And now, to honor his fallen friend’s death, Bruce is assembling a team of heroes to protect the planet in Superman’s stead.

Like Cavill, Affleck has also been quite public in sharing his opinions about Batman V Superman. Speaking to Empire magazine, Affleck said “I can understand people saying [Batman v Superman] was too dark, or this was outside the tone of what I’m used to seeing with a Batman story, and I think that’s a fair criticism.”

But Affleck also explained, in that same Empire interview, that the altered Bruce of Justice League was always part of the plan: “This was all scripted and set up before [Batman V Superman] came out. The approach was changed anyway for the second one. It was natural progression.” 

In a short promotional video, Affleck summarized by saying, “In the new movie Justice League, we see the evolution of a new Batman. He’s moved on from lone vigilante to recruiter and leader.” Again, this is sounding a lot like a soft reboot for the character, or at least a hefty change in his personality.

Wonder Woman needs the least tinkering. Her solo movie is still fresh in the memory: a rip-roaring success centered on a likeably innocent protagonist, with some top-notch action moments to boot. However, there are still elements of Batman V Superman – where Gal Gadot’s Diana was first introduced – that don’t sit well. The idea that Wonder Woman hid from mankind for years, and deliberately stayed out of the superhero game, seemed slightly odd.

Gadot agrees with this sentiment. Speaking at a press event in China, she explained that, during the making of Batman V Superman, “None of us knew exactly the back story of Wonder Woman.” But, for whatever reason, this idea that Diana avoiding helping mankind for so many years was written into the script. “Once they decided to shoot the solo movie for Wonder Woman and we started to dig in to understand the core of this character, we realized that, actually, there is no way that Wonder Woman would ever give up on mankind.”

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“The reason why she left the island was because she wanted to make [mankind’s] lives better and safer — they are her calling,” Gadot added, referring to the central plot of Wonder Woman, which saw Diana leaving her home comforts to help Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor win World War One for Britain and its allies. “Sometimes in a creative process, you establish something that is not necessarily the right decision, but then you can always correct it and change it. So Wonder Woman will always be there, as far as she’s concerned, for mankind.”

It’s refreshing, in the age of NDAs and studio secret-keeping, to hear all of these actors coming out and suggesting that Batman V Superman didn’t do their characters justice. In Wonder Woman’s case, her solo movie managed to do a lot of course-correction, ending as it did on a modern day Diana who is wearing her super suit and leaping out into Paris in search of adventure.

Justice League will be able to pick up with this version of the character; a more willing-to-defend-humanity iteration of Diana, who can help the newly friendly Bruce Wayne put his team together.

Justice League should be an interesting viewing experience, then. Snyder’s epic fight direction remains, but the grey color palette is gone (the trailers look very red, don’t they?) and the big three all sound like they’re changing. Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Gal Gadot have all openly criticized Batman V Superman and it sounds like they all want to try something different this time.

Looking at the quotes above, Justice League’s versions of Batman and Wonder Woman both seem to be lighter and friendlier than the characters we saw in Batman V Superman. It would make sense for the reborn Superman to step into line with that, which could be an engaging character arc from the film to explore. After all, there’s every chance that Kal-El won’t be all that cheerful immediately after emerging from the grave.

Comic book lore tells us that coming back from the dead comes with dark consequences, and it’ll be interesting to see how Justice League deals with that. Will Superman return in a miserable and haunted way, with his super friends having to draw him back to the light? We’ll just have to wait and see, but that’s certainly one way it could play out.

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Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Ezra Miller’s The Flash, judging by the trailers, will bring their own comedic styles to the fore, contributing to the lighter sensibilities of this apparent tonal reboot for the DCEU. Not much has been seen of Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, but it seems safe to assume that he won’t be a moody sort either.

Joss Whedon’s late-in-the-day boarding of the project may have helped DC pull off this tonal shift, given that he helmed a quip-heavy brace of Avengers movies previously. But it sounds like lightening up was always a part of the plan this film. Referring to his first meeting with Zack Snyder about the Justice League movie, Ezra Miller said this to Empire:

“The first time I ever sat in Zack’s office, he told me people were mad at him for making things too dark. Zack always intended for the Justice League to rise out of the darkness, and maybe even bring Batman with them. Maybe an inch.”

Will Snyder, Whedon and their impressive cast manage to sell this shift in tone? Will this soft reboot make the DCEU versions of Batman and Superman more widely loved? Will the film make Avengers-level money, giving Warner Bros the confidence to invest heavily in the future of the DCEU? Only time will tell, of course, but listening to fan feedback and changing course as a result is no bad place to start…

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