Now that Thor: Ragnarok has pummeled worldwide audiences with its blend of humor, bright colors, and Hulk, we (probably) need to shift our minds to the arrival of the next big superhero epic: Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ Justice League. The general consensus is that this film will be the next billion dollar blockbuster — few would contest this point. However, one of the big questions facing Justice League is whether or not the vision of its original director, Zack Snyder, remains intact or if hired-gun Joss Whedon altered the movie to fit his particular sensibilities.
In other words, is Justice League a creative confluence of two filmmaking pros or a clunky mess resulting from too many cooks in the kitchen? We’ll soon find out.
Fortunately, there are numerous examples examples of major Hollywood films that changed directors mid-stream (some of them are actually quite good). Kirk Douglas’ classic gladiator film, Spartacus, started out with veteran filmmaker Anthony Mann (Winchester 73, El Cid), but when the project went over budget he was dumped in favor of the much younger and cheaper Stanley Kubrick, and that turned out OK. The Wizard of Oz, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Superman II, WarGames, and even Gone with the Wind all changed directors during production with remarkable, polished results.
So there’s certainly some positive precedent for this sort of thing, which is probably helping a lot of WB and DC execs sleep through the night. Of course, there have also been some less positive directing changes over the years, but let’s not dwell on the negative, eh?
Justice League is a different proposition altogether; the huge, huge dollars involved are a key factor. According to the Wall Street Journal, Justice League has a whopping $300 million budget (some of that due to Whedon’s arrival), and when you factor in the marketing/distribution costs the overall price-tag for Justice League is probably between $500-600 million. By comparison, Thor: Ragnarok‘s production budget was $180 million, but it’s already more than doubled this figure in just two weeks of global release… it helps that it’s both a good movie and had little competition in theaters.
Consequently, Warner Bros. and DC must be holding their collective breaths, as Thor: Ragnarok will still be making significant bank when Justice League debuts next Friday. You can understand why studios must love making low-budget horror films — Stephen King’s IT cost $35 million, but earned over $675 million (and counting)!
Actor Ben Affleck, who plays Batman in Justice League, offered his assessment of the Snyder-Whedon experiment in a conversation with Fox 5 (via Batman-News):
Zack cast this movie, he made the two movies prior, [Justice League] is very heavily informed by the work that went into it ahead of time — including design and script and everything else. So it’s Zack’s movie… [After Snyder departed] we got lucky, we had [Joss Whedon] come in who kind of worked off Zack’s template, and also added his own flavor and his own stuff to it, and I think made the movie better. Although, I wouldn’t necessarily want to have two directors on every movie, I do think it was an interesting way of doing it.”
That’s a very political answer (what did you expect him to say?) While Affleck is careful to praise each director, it sounds like Whedon focused largely on executing Snyder’s template, rather than usurping it with his own style.
Ezra Miller, who plays The Flash, shared some additional insights about the challenges and successes of the Snyder-Whedon situation:
I definitely think it’s a realization of a cohesive vision that comes mainly from Zack, and comes from the cumulative process of the building of the DCEU… What’s funny is, I think that Zack was doing a much lighter, more comedic, almost more Whedon-y thing, and then Joss stepped on and was fulfilling Zack’s vision. This incredible instance of two artists in collaboration, honoring each other’s work.”
What makes this entire situation interesting is the individual (and differing) styles of Snyder and Whedon. Many see Snyder as a visualist with a strong sense of composition who can shoot action really, really well. Whedon, by contrast, is more adept at character dynamics and humor (the weakest parts of both Whedon-directed Avengers films was the action). So, it would seem that both directors complemented the other while also reinforcing their mutual strengths and weaknesses.
Listening to these interviews it’s apparent that the entire cast respects and admires Snyder, but they also fully embraced Whedon’s changes and additions too. It’s a remarkable conclusion to a troubled project that has a lot riding on its success/failure — including the entire slate of DC movies not named Batman or Wonder Woman.
Justice League hits theaters on November 17, 2017.