Recently, Joss Whedon broke fandom twitter when he that tweeted he believed (former?) Superman actor Henry Cavill is the second best person to ever play the role and believed he could take the top spot with the right material and a director that fully understood the character.
Needless to say, the reaction amongst DC fans, especially those loyal to Zack Snyder, was not warm. After all, in the eyes of some, Whedon made a mockery of the character in the theatrical cut of Justice League. Well, today, I am going to go out on a limb by suggesting that maybe, just maybe, Joss Whedon wouldn’t be the worst choice to direct a new Superman movie.
In fact, I believe he should be on WB’s shortlist for the project.
Before I get into that, let’s dispel some common misconceptions about Whedon and his role on Justice League. I want us all take a moment and take a deep breath, some of the information I am going to share might enrage some of us in fandom, but I am doing my absolute best to be sober in my assessment of the information I am about to share.
But remember, this is an editorial, so it’s about my personal opinion and as a human that appreciates cinema and art, I am entitled to that. I do not reject Zack Snyder-first fans from DC fandom. DC is for everyone and I am thankful that Mr. Snyder was able to bring a lot of his fans into the fold, many of whom are very gracious and support DC films now, even if they don’t fit their preferred aesthetic.
I think I can speak for all DC fans who have read these comics and followed these films way before Snyder came on the scene that we appreciate you being a part of this. With all of that said, let’s debunk some mythology that has been built up around “JOSStice League.”
First, Joss Whedon is not the reason Justice League opened soft, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was. In franchises, reception to a previous film in a series often determines the box office opening weekend success or failure of the next film. Batman Begins, seen by many as an excellent film, opened soft because the previous film in the Batman series, Batman & Robin was seen as an awful mess that remains a punchline to this day. But it quietly set the stage, found life in the home market, and its sequel, The Dark Knight, received a great deal more fanfare when it arrived.
Likewise, it’s far more common that great previous films often buoy the opening of not-so-great sequels.
Justice League suffered being associated with Batman v Superman, which earned a B cinema score (which isn’t great) and earned “only” $872 million at the word wide box office, including $330 million domestically from a $166 million opening weekend (still a March record). Warner Brothers’ expectation was that this would gross far more, over $1 billion. Was that expectation unfounded? Not exactly, the previous two Batman movies earned over $1 billion at the box office each. It’s not unreasonable for them to believe a team up starring that character, as well as Superman and Wonder Woman to earn top box office. And the opening indicated that it had the opportunity to do that.
To give us some perspective, Aquamanearned $334 million from a $67 million opening weekend. The difference? Aquaman’s weekend drops were small dropping an incredible 23.7% in its second weekend while Batman v Superman’s second weekend dropped an astounding 69%. There is only one reason why this happens, and it’s not because of Rotten Tomatoes or blog sites, it’s word of mouth. And a B CinemaScore rarely equates to strong word of mouth. It’s a score that communicates “It was okay.“
All of this to say, blaming box office results on Joss Whedon is unfair, especially weekend drops for Justice League were not as bad as Batman v Superman and, all things considered, it actually legged out a decent final haul. The Batman-Superman movie has been described as the biggest niche indie film ever and I think that’s accurate. Like Batman Returns, The Ultimate Edition of the film is good for what it is, but the WB executive-botched theatrical version didn’t appeal to a mass audience the way these films need to.
Second, Justice League is not a bad movie. It’s not a great movie, it’s not even really a good movie, but it’s not bad. It is clearly a “Frankenstein” of some scenes directed by Zack Snyder and some directed by Whedon with jokes dropped in by Whedon through some of the Snyder scenes. There’s also no telling what a proper Zack Snyder Justice League would have looked like. Our own MFR maps that out right here. Whedon had to do his best to make Justice League as good as he possibly could. He had to hastily rewrite a film that had already undergone a hasty rewrite by someone else in real time on set, completely change the tone of the original script, cut out a ton of footage that was setting up stories and characters the studio had now soured on, and put together a coherent superhero popcorn movie that was under 2 hours- which had been conceived as a 150 minute plus epic! He did all of this in just a few months with immense pressure from the studio to meet its original release date, all while one of the lead actors for the film had a mustache he was contractually obligated to keep for another film.
All of that considered, what Joss put together wasn’t half bad.
This was a no one win situation for anyone who was involved with this film creatively. The only people to blame are greedy studio executives who pushed for the film to be radically reworked with no time to pull it off properly. So with all of that in mind, let me explain why I believe Joss Whedon would make a great Superman movie with Henry Cavill as Superman.
He believes in Henry Cavill and they’re on the same page…
As the tweet from Whedon illustrates, he believes in Henry Cavill as Superman and he would like to see him in a movie about Superman done right. Having a director who believes in their actor is very important. Look at the relationship between Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot. All credit to Zack Snyder, who crafted a film that made Joss Whedon call him the “second best Superman.” There are a lot of adaptations of Superman that have been beloved and celebrated so that is no small compliment. What Snyder tried to do was bring Superman into the real world in a similar way The Dark Knight did with Batman. While it’s largely successful, some of the creative choices from Snyder and Goyer keep it from being totally satisfactory. Even Christopher Nolan initially disagreed with the choice of Superman snapping Zod’s neck in Man of Steel.
Henry Cavill himself praised Justice League’s approach to Superman, saying he believed this film was the debut of the true Superman, a symbol of hope. And while Whedon holds the opinion many still hold, that Christopher Reeve is still the standard-bearer for Superman, this isn’t to say Whedon would remake Superman: The Movie or even bring some of the nostalgia of that series much like Superman Returns did.
The qualities of what make a good Superman transcend style. Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Lois & Clark, Superman: The Animated Series, and Smallville are all loved by varying degrees of Superman fans and are all very different types of adaptations. The consistent thing is the way Superman in portrayed. Superman doesn’t commit atrocities. He stands for truth, justice, and the American way (and no, I don’t think modern adaptations should drop that, because Superman represents the BEST of what America is.) Based on Cavill’s comments and Whedon’s admiration of Reeve, I think it’s pretty safe to say they’d collaborate on a timely, yet classic Superman.
Snappy Dialogue IS a part of Superman…
Have you all met Clark’s wife Lois Lane? She is the queen of snark and snappy one liners in almost every medium she’s been a part of since her inception. The Flash falling suggestively on Wonder Woman aside, Whedon is known for his ability to write empowering snappy dialogue for his female characters. In The Avengers and, to a lesser extent, its sequel Age of Ultron, he succeeded in understanding the core characters and giving them crowd pleasing one-liners while keeping the stakes of the story high. There are elements in Superman that play well to this across mediums: Clark and Lois’ relationship, Perry White and the staff of the Daily Planet, Lex Luthor and his incompetent cadre of henchmen. These are all elements that have transcended medium, era, and tone of Superman stories.
Here’s another one for you: I think the perfect collaborator for Whedon is none other than Geoff Johns, who has written some of the best Superman stories of all time. Johns’ Superman: Secret Origin perfectly captures what a modern Superman origin should look like. Between Whedon, who knows how to write great dialogue that captures the essence of his characters and Johns, who knows these DC heroes like the back of his hand, I think we they’d make a great Superman movie.
Joss Whedon Has Proven He Understands Superman
There is a line in Batman v Superman from Superman that is particularly grating to me. Clark tells Lois in order to save Martha, he has to kill Batman. He looks at Lois in the pouring rain and says “Nobody stays good in this world any more.” It sounds like a line more appropriate coming from Rorschach from Watchmen than it does coming from The Man of Steel. This is why despite mustache-gate, I was actually relieved by Superman in Justice League. While his scenes were few, this was a Superman that was far more recognizable to me than he had been in previous DCEU installments.
The film starts with Superman talking to a kid, who is clearly inspired by him. It instantly connects us with this version of Superman in a way previous installments didn’t and moves us toward feeling the weight of his loss to the world. Clearly, there are people who were inspired by Superman. When Superman returns (Ha!), he is initially unstable and not fully aware of where or who he is, but upon spending time with Lois, he remembers. When he saves the Justice League from Steppenwolf, it’s clear Superman is the greatest super hero. This is what’s so fundamentally important for film makers when adapting Superman; That he’ll risk his life to save anyone, even the Dark Knight who tried to destroy him.
Audiences have to believe Superman is the greatest superhero, and that he symbolizes the best we can aspire to be. Joss Whedon understands this fully.
There are definitely other directors I would choose before I chose Joss Whedon. JJ Abrams and Patty Jenkins being among the top. But if Joss where chosen and he brought back Henry Cavill, it would be exciting to me. They’re on the same page, wanting to tell an uplifting hopeful story, Whedon’s humor is perfectly tailored to Superman and his world, and he has an understanding of the character. If I had the ear of Warner Brothers, I’d encourage them to put Whedon on the shortlist.
How about you?