Justice League didn’t set the box office on fire, and as a result, the prognosis for a potential Justice League 2 isn’t good. Not only did what should have been the crown jewel in the DCEU fail to crack $100 million in its opening weekend, its final numbers were a modest (by superhero movie standards) $657 million worldwide take. But as David Crow detailed here, just because Justice League is off to a rocky start, it is far from the end of the DCEU.
It’s going to be a difficult road, though. We’re likely to lose Ben Affleck as Batman sooner than later, and with nothing else on the DCEU calendar for him at the moment, we may have seen the last of Henry Cavill’s Superman, too (although we’re holding out hope he does at least one more, and by most accounts he certainly wants to do it). Then there’s the studio itself to consider, which isn’t in the business of losing money, no matter how beloved the IP may be. The DCEU’s continued existence is assured thanks to Aquaman, Wonder Woman 1984, Shazam, Birds of Prey, and others. But at the moment, a traditional Justice League 2 seems unlikely, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t get more Justice League adventures on the big screen.
Keep in mind, this isn’t a wishlist of stories I want to see the most or directions I want the DCEU to go. Instead, it’s what I consider to be a realistic path to keeping the Justice League franchise on screen based on what’s already been done, what’s currently in development, and what might ease the studio’s fears.
Justice League 2
Just to be thorough, I am obligated to at least discuss the most likely scenario for a traditional sequel first, but then there are other possibilities to team up the DCEU heroes that might be a little less risky.
So with that in mind, expect an expansion of what we saw in that Justice League post-credits scene: the League needs to take on the DCEU version of the Secret Society of Super Villains. A team of supervillains offers a key point of difference between the DCEU and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Frankly, DC has a better stable of villains all around, and Marvel has been almost completely unable to produce memorable movie baddies so far (Thanos, Vulture, and Loki are notable exceptions). Rather than setting the League against another cosmic menace full of earth shaking destruction and mediocre CGI, a team vs team dynamic, full of globe trotting side missions for each of the heroes, would not only feel remarkably like vintage Justice League comics, but would eliminate any grumbling about trying to keep up with the competition.
What, you were expecting Darkseid? Maybe this was the plan when Justice League was still being conceived as a two-part movie, but that long ago fell by the wayside, and at the moment, Justice League 2 doesn’t even have a spot on the DCEU superhero movie release date calendar. Sorry, folks, there is little chance that even if Justice League 2 gets made that they go with yet another alien invasion angle after using that in both Man of Steel and Justice League, not to mention that Marvel cornered that market with Avengers: Infinity War and the upcoming Avengers: Endgame.
From a more practical standpoint, we’ve seen how flat a Fourth World villain can fall without any kind of actual context for him, and they can’t waste that Darkseid bullet. This is the most powerful villain in the entire DC Universe (and along with the Joker, the best they have), so they can’t blow it. It’s gonna take time to get there. Anyway, Darkseid will be busy in Ava DuVernay’s New Gods movie instead.
Of course, at the moment, with such a poor box office showing, it’s unlikely we’re going to see the words “Justice League” again atop a marquee any time in the near future. But that doesn’t mean the end of the DCEU, or even that a reboot of the shared universe is at hand. Warner Bros. will just need to think outside the traditional team/event movie. Think more Spider-Man: Homecoming or Thor: Ragnarok than Avengers: Infinity War in terms of utilizing its major players for team-ups.
Speaking of unlikely, The Flash movie might not even be based on the Flashpoint story anymore, and doesn’t even have a release date yet. But with DC Films co-chair Geoff Johns still expressing enthusiasm over the project (which makes sense, as he wrote the source material) it may be tough to pronounce this one completely dead. In any event, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the idea of using this to reboot elements of the DCEU, although it could help explain a recasting or two down the road.
For those who don’t know, Flashpoint is the story of how Barry Allen, frustrated by the fact that his father is in prison for the murder of his mother (which he didn’t commit), goes back in time to prevent it from happening. When he returns to the present, he finds reality has changed in unexpected ways. Chief among these is that the world is on the brink because of a war between Themyscira and Atlantis (there’s your Wonder Woman and Aquaman connection), Superman has been raised in captivity by the government and is kind of a mess (these movies finally stopped abusing Superman, so why start again now), and Bruce Wayne was killed by a mugger as a child, so Thomas Wayne is Batman (there’s your Batman without having to use the surely departing Ben Affleck).
Basically, Flashpoint is a Justice League movie in all but name. Hell, the best adaptation of Flashpoint to date was the Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox animated movie, just in case you had any doubt on which end of the spectrum this falls on. It’s absolutely a Flash story, but one with plenty of room for the Justice League to play a significant role.
There are some problems with this scenario, starting with the lack of a release date (the earliest we could see it is 2020). The Flashpoint reality is kinda dystopian and our heroes don’t act the way we expect them to, so we’d be right back to the kind of DCEU tonal issues that Justice League worked so hard to correct. This might work as a way to burn off some contractual obligations, but it might be a hard sell to audiences, and that might make the studio especially cautious.
On the other hand…
Throne of Atlantis
Aquaman arrives in December. If Aquaman is a Wonder Woman style success story (and let’s face it, Wonder Woman is by far the biggest success story the DCEU has produced so far), sequels will follow.
In Aquaman, we’re going to meet Arthur’s half brother, Orm, played by Patrick Wilson. Nothing says underwater palace intrigue like an evil half brother. But with the assumption that Aquaman is going to spend its running time fleshing out Atlantean mythos, and focusing on Arthur coming to terms with the heritage he appeared to struggle with in Justice League, there’s still a bigger story to tell in the sequel.
Throne of Atlantis is an excellent story, and one of the definitive modern Aquaman tales. In it, forces conspire to force a war between Atlantis and the surface world. Orm is leading the forces of Atlantis against us, so Arthur enlists the help of the Justice League to fight them off.
Just as Flashpoint is a Flash story that happens to feature other DC superheroes, Throne of Atlantis is absolutely an Aquaman story, but one that can also function as a stealth Justice League sequel. It would make sense for heavy hitters like Wonder Woman, Superman, Flash, or Cyborg, to help with the war effort, and if Batman can’t be there (because for real, Ben Affleck is almost certainly not coming back) his absence could be explained by, I dunno, an urgent need to repair the bilge pumps in the Batcave or something. In this scenario Throne of Atlantis is basically Aquaman 2, but one that can remind fans that the DCEU is still healthy by utilizing other heroes, but without the pressure (and at the moment, let’s face it, negativity) that comes with the Justice League name.
In any case, the core Justice League characters are iconic enough that watching any previous DCEU films shouldn’t be a barrier to entry if JL members start showing up elsewhere. Having a shared universe doesn’t mean these movies have to as heavily serialized as the MCU, and the superhero genre is infinitely more well established than it was a decade ago. The Justice League and the DCEU can endure…at least for now.
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