Joss Whedon’s Justice League Revisited: Did It Kill The DCEU?

Joss Whedon’s version of Justice League proved to be a disaster for all involved but but did it eventually kill the DCEU?

There’s controversy and then there’s comic book movie controversy. While usually its concerning something more lighthearted like the internet losing their minds over some kind casting decision, we sometimes get the darker stuff. Like “shifting an entire studio’s heirarchy” level of craziness. From reported verbal abuse to alleged threatening of careers to a miserable Ben Affleck, there’s a lot of bad that came from Warner’s 2017 film. So today on DC Revisited, we’re diving into the moustache removing and tone lightening of Joss Whedon’s Justice League.

If you think other films in the DC lineup have had controversy then you haven’t seen anything yet because the stuff that goes on here is absolutely nuts. But I should state outright: we’ll deal with the Snyder Cut and all of that surrounded that in a future video. For now, we’ll just focus on the original filming period, as well as the Joss Whedon reshoots and subsequent film. Because boy oh boy there’s a lot to talk about there. But we first have to go over the first inklings of a potential Justice League film.

In 2007, Michele and Kieran Mulroney were hired by Warner to write a script for Justice League . Despite Brandon Routh recently starring as Superman and Christian Bale in the midst of his very popular run as Batman, neither were intended to be used in the film. This would be an entirely new cast, set in a different timeline. George Miller took on the directing job and it seemed like we were finally going to be getting a Justice League film. With people like Armie Hammer being cast as Batman, Adam Brody as Flash, and Megan Gale as Wonder Woman. But when the writer’s strike happened, oh hey, we know a thing or two about those even in 2023, pre-production came to a grinding halt. And they were just never able to get the momentum going again. The project quickly fell apart after the release of The Dark Knight proved that a reboot wasn’t needed and focusing on individual superhero tales would be the better route for the time being. How Justice League: Mortal would have turned out is anyone’s guess but if you want more information on this, check out our video that goes into all of those juicy details.

It wasn’t until Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel was released that Warner started seriously thinking again about a big screen journey for the Justice League. Will Beall was hired to pen a script but was let go after his initial draft and replaced by Man of Steel and Dark Knight scribe David S. Goyer. Goyer signed a deal to work on both Justice League as well as a Man of Steel sequel, which would eventually turn into Batman v Superman. Zack Snyder then signed on to direct the film, with his wife Deborah serving as his producing partner. Warner announced the movie would be split into two parts, simply called Justice League: Part One and Part Two

Impressed with his revisions on Batman v Superman, Chris Terrio was brought aboard to amp up Goyer’s script. Snyder said the film was inspired by Jack Kirby’s New Gods comics. While the story would alter with rewrites, Justice League concerned Steppenwolf attempting to take three Mother Boxes that were hidden on Earth, and the Justice League having to come together and stop them. Only one problem: The Justice League still needs to be formed. And with only two of the characters receiving their own solo outings, it would also serve as the origin of several of these characters. 

One of the strange thing about Justice League is that, unlike most of the movies that we’ve talked about on this show, most of the actors were cast before this teamup movie, so we’ve touched on the majority of them. So for a brief rundown there is Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash. Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman. And finally there’s Ray Fisher as Victor Stone/Cyborg. Amy Adams would also return as Lois Lane and Diane Lane as Martha Kent. Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth and Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta rounded out the returning cast.

We’d finally see the role of Commissioner Gordon filled with the casting of JK Simmons as Affleck’s close confidant. He took the role very seriously and got absolutely yolked for the role, despite not really appearing in any action beats. Since the film served to introduce some characters before they’d even gotten their own solo outing, Amber Heard was cast as Mera, as a means to set up the Aqua Man film that would follow. On a similar note, Billy Crudup appears as Henry Allen, Barry Allen’s father. This was also hoping to set up a Flash film, although Crudup would have scheduling conflicts by the time that one came along.

Any good Comic Book Film relies on the villain to serve as a great foil to our heroes. So Steppenwolf was chosen as the main enemy of the film, with Ciaran Hinds (Keer-un) stepping into the role. While we’re mostly just hearing his voice, Hinds would still perform all of the motion capture for the CG character. There are some other people cast but we’ll save those for when we talk about Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
 

Filming on Justice League took place at Warner Bros Studios in Leavesden in April of 2016 (JoBlo actually participated in the set visit!). And this is where things take a turn. The general reaction to Batman v Superman wasn’t kind, earning measly 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so Warner was worried about leaving their DC Universe in Snyder’s hands. Unhappy with dailies, Warner held a writers summit that included Joss Whedon, Seth Grahame-Smith, Andrea Berloff, and Allan Heinberg. This resulted in several rewrites during filming, that prompted Snyder to get increasingly frustrated. Even still, they were able to complete principal photography.

During the post production process, Zack Snyder and his wife Deborah Snyder, who also served as a producer, stepped down from completing the film. The suicide of their daughter Autumn proved to be too much to handle and they felt they needed to step away from the project so they could properly grieve as a family. 

Joss Whedon had recently been hired to write and direct a Batgirl film. And given the fact that he helmed the first two Avengers films, it seemed like a no-brainer to have him shephard the film to completion. But it wouldn’t just be directing that Whedon would be doing, as he also did re-writes, enough to be credited. When all was said and done, Whedon was said to have contributed nearly 80 pages to the final film.

If you think Justice League looks a bit different, that’s because Snyder’s longtime cinematographer Larry Fong was unable to join the film due to scheduling conflicts with Kong: Skull Island. Fabian Wagner took over the role and gives it a decidedly different vibe from either Man of Steel or Batman v Superman. Then when you add in the Whedon-ness of it all, then you’ve got a much brighter, more saturated film.

Extensive Reshoots took place in mid-2017 which would add nearly $25 Million to the film’s already large $275 Million budget. They were said to have been very tough, with Ben Affleck saying “That was the worst experience I’ve ever seen in a business which is full of some shitty experiences. It broke my heart.” In fact, Affleck points at this as his rock bottom moment with drinking, something that would eventually lead to his divorce from wife Jennifer Garner. To say that Affleck’s life was forever changed by Justice League would be a bit of an understatement.

Then there’s the moustache of it all. Unfortunately the massive reshoots happened at the exact same time that Cavill was supposed to be filming Mission Impossible: Fallout. This kind of thing happens a lot with big budget films but there was one giant issue: Cavill was contractually obligated to keep his soup catcher. Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie was even very nice, initially giving Cavill permission to shave the stache with the caveat that they pay the production $3 Million, which was the cost to shut down production. They would later just digitally fill in the moustache later. But Paramount Execs refused and so the moustache had to be kept. This meant using beaucoup bucks to digitally remove Cavill’s moustache. Turns out taking away someone’s natural upper lip gives them a bit of an uncanny valley feel. And it’s featured much more than you’d think. But why they made the baffling decision to showcase it in the very first scene of the film, may be the biggest head scratcher of them all.

justice league superman moustache

While Joss Whedon had yet to be outed for his toxic behavior by his ex-wife and other colleagues, his behavior on Justice League proved to be problematic. Gal Gadot even alleged that Whedon threatened her career and said if she reciprocated he would make her career miserable. While Whedon denied any wrongdoings, Ray Fisher also accused the director of “gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable.” behavior. So…where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Despite all of the post-production turmoil, Warner Bros CEO Kevin Tsujihara insisted that the film make its release date. If you’re wondering why, when the film was so important to the future of the DC Cinematic Universe, they would rush it? A little thing called the AT&T merger. The execs at Warner Bros were set to get a big bonus if they were able to get the film out before the merger, so they did so at great personal gain. 

In continuing with the mandate of lightening of the film, Danny Elfman was brought aboard to compose the music and even recreates his classic Batman score. There was also a considerable amount of licensed music with the White Stripe’s Icky Thump, Gary Clark Jr. and Junkie XL covering the Beatles, and Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows getting prominent placement in the opening credits. 

Joss Whedon’s Justice League released in the United States on November 17th, 2017 and had a worldwide opening of $229 Million. The movie would end its run at $657.9 Million. Despite this being a massive number, it would still be considered a flop, losing the studio nearly $60 Million when all marketing costs were tallied. Despite bringing in Whedon to lighten up the tone and bring in those Avengers numbers, it felt half-baked. Receiving a 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the Critical Consensus was that Justice League leaps over a number of DC movies, but its single bound isn’t enough to shed the murky aesthetic, thin characters, and chaotic action that continue to dog the franchise.”

The negative reviews were mostly blamed on the reshoots and trying to cobble together a film after the fact. Calls for the original cut of the film to be released grew more and more as Snyder cultivated more and more of a fandom. #ReleasetheSnyderCut became a very real thing but there’s so much information there, that we’ll save that for when we get to it chronologically. Because its hard to think of a world where a studio would give a director even more money to finish their original vision. 

Getting away from upper lip of Henry Cavill, we’re finally diving under the sea and looking at how they managed this guy from the comics look like THIS. But….that’s a story for next time. Join us! Saaaame Movie time, saaaaame Movie Channel.

About the Author

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Tyler Nichols is a horror fanatic who resides in Michigan and is always on the hunt for the next great film. When not scouring the internet for movie news, he is usually off watching something dark, writing nonsensical musings, or playing in some fantastical video game world. While horror takes up most of his time, he still makes time for films of all types, with a certain affinity for the strange and unusual. He’s also an expert on all things Comic Book Cinema. In addition to reviews and interviews here on JoBlo.com, Tyler also helps with JoBlo Horror Originals where he’s constantly trying to convince viewers to give lesser-known horror films a chance.