Let’s look at recent events. The "Justice League" animated series came and went a huge success. A "Justice League" movie came thisclose to filming and bit the dust. DC Comics gets wrapped in a big blanket called DC Entertainment, ostensibly with the purpose of capitalizing on its characters for other media. Considering these things makes me wonder . . .
Is a Justice League movie every really, truly going to be possible?
Here’s why I ask. In a fact endemic to a shared universe, any time fans see a particular character get adapted to a new form of media, fans then want to see that character interact with other characters that the character also interacts with in the comics. Until recent years, Marvel had the luxury of NOT having its biggest characters all be associated with the Avengers. Therefore, fans could watch/see Spider-Man and not necessarily expect there to be an eventual appearance alongside the Avengers.
However, it would seem that with DC, all roads for the biggest characters inevitably lead to the Justice League. There were a spate of solo animated series in the late ‘60s, but these eventually lead to three Justice League shorts and then, subsequently, the Super Friends. “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Superman: The Animated Series” existed as their own entities to a point, until the three “World’s Finest” episodes of 1997; that, coupled with the increasing frequency of League guest-stars on “Superman”, increased demand for the eventual "Justice League" series. The recent “The Batman” culminated with the League. And now, “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”, which has featured Aquaman, the Atom, Green Arrow, and more, will be adding Superman and Wonder Woman to the line-up in Season 2. I think we all know where that might be going (particularly since Batman had already mentioned the League by the second episode, “Terror on Dinosaur Island!”). The League even found its way to “Smallville”, albeit in a different form. Nevertheless, you had your young Superman, Green Arrow, a Flash stand-in, Aquaman, Leaguer-to-be Cyborg, and later, Black Canary, not to mention Martian Manhunter.
That leads us inevitably to this prospect: will all current and future DC films starring their biggest characters need to begin the march toward a unifying Justice League project? This is definitely the direction that the Marvel/Paramount films are taking. It’s been suggested in various quarters that there may be a similar approach for DC, with solo character films being built as a lead-in to a Justice League endgame.
One would suppose that it’s fine in terms of intent. However, you can already see some potential issues on the horizon. To whit:
Will casting be cost-prohibitive?
Ryan Reynolds has already been cast as Green Lantern for that solo film. We have Christian Bale as Batman; perhaps he could be talked into a League film, perhaps not. Brandon Routh may or may not continue as Superman. Taken together, that’s a big chunk of change, and you’re less than 50% through the Big Seven. Granted, you could cast unknowns to fill out the roles that would go to those without their own franchise (example: do you really see Martian Manhunter having a solo film before getting into a League movie?), but the impetus would probably be to cast known quantities if you’re throwing them into the hopper with other known quantities. Also, one reason that the Nolan-Batmans work so well is that they employ solid, experienced actors.
Obviously, that’s the opposite approach that George Miller had been taking with a League film. He was going to cast either unknowns or lesser-knowns as the big roles. However, that would have clearly broken with the idea of inter-franchise synergy that the Marvel mold is using. I think that the mental agility of most audiences is strong enough to understand that this movie is one thing while this movie is another thing, but it would have been very, very strange to have a Routh Superman, a newbie Miller-JLA Superman, and TV Superman-to-be Tom Welling all existing simultaneously. And that doesn’t cover Bale; I believe that a lot of viewers would have a hard time embracing another Batman with the popularity of that franchise. It definitely dilutes the focus, and I think that the new entity wants an easily pushable focus.
What’s the story?
Here, you have a new problem. If you’re going to build solo films and establish solo stars, then bring them together, you’re going to need an antagonist justifiably big enough for the making of the team. You’re also going to have to jettison the newbie angle for most to them, particularly if you’re bringing in the actors from the other movies that are already comfortable with their characters.
Therefore, who and what is big enough for the League to take on? Darkseid? If that’s the case...Where do you go from there?
Then who do you fight onscreen AFTER Darkseid? You could say a Legion of Doom equivalent for the first film, and Darkseid later, but that’s an awful lot of extra characters and salaries to cram in on top before you even get to the rest of the budget.
A "Justice League" film would have to have strong characterization and a sensible plot. It would have to move quickly, offer exposition on the run, and make good use of everyone so that no character was simply standing around. This can work. See the recent “Star Trek”.
From where I sit, a "Justice League" movie in the solo-first model seems like a pretty difficult enterprise. There’s also the hard question: what if it fails? If it underperforms, if it’s . . . just bad, then you’ve nuked the viability of the property onscreen, and would have to wait a few years to try it again. It would be worse that the “Batman and Robin” fallout; with that, it was only eight years between that crash and “Batman Begins”. If you had all of the other characters and franchises tied to a center that flopped, then you’d have a loooong wait before attempting it again. If you ever would.
That’s where I throw it to you, readers. Do you want to see a live-action "Justice League" film? Should it have the familiar actors? Would it trouble you to have concurrent franchises with different casts? If it keeps the known Batman, GL, and Superman, who should be Flash, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman? Tell us what you think.