Op Ed: Leadership at Warner Bros. Must Change

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By

Drew Kiess

The DC Film fan community feels like it is in mourning. Several loyalists are bemoaning the loss of a movie that could have been. Others, while liking the movie, are bemoaning a movie in a franchise they liked get hated on yet again. I am here to add another think-piece as to what I think is going on, and how to right the ship.

What follows is, in many ways, my interpretation of events. I personally believe this is how things have gone down and why a change needs to be made in Warner Bros. leadership if DC Films are to succeed.

Kevin Tsujihara took over as CEO of Warner Bros. early in the life of DC Films (formerly, and popularly, known as the DCEU), only months before the release of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, still the second-most critical success for DC Films. Man of Steel had a respectable run at the box office despite what was then perceived as a mixed reception (funny what time and perspective will give you).

Just weeks later at San Diego Comic-Con, Snyder announced that Batman would feature in the Man of Steel sequel. While my recollection of the timeline is a bit foggy, somewhere in this period of time Tsujihara began talking about the DC universe. He saw the dollar signs printed all over those $2.99 comic mags and wanted a piece of the pie the distinguished competition was scarfing down. The previous year, Marvel studios made bank with The Avengers and just a month before Man of Steel they made bank again with Iron Man 3. With Nolan’s cash-cow Batman trilogy over, it was time for DC to make a splash, in Tsujihara’s eyes.

As the movie that would eventually be known as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice developed from Man of Steel 2 into, well, Dawn of Justice, the movie was delayed to begin planning for DC’s own slate of interconnected superhero movies. For Snyder, what started as a quest to make a Superman movie, turned into something much bigger. And for those who did not share Snyder’s vision for the Man of Tomorrow, the delay was a sign of bad things to come.

Rumors and bad press dogged DC Films from that day on. Every reshoot was a sign of a trouble, every sneeze on the set was seen as an infection of the soul and potentially the downfall of Western Civilization as we know it. And then when the movie clocked in at three hours long, it was embarrassingly chopped down to size in what I can only assume was a decision made by someone who does not tell stories for a living, putting those who do in an uncomfortable position of having to trim muscle after the fat was all gone.

And then the movie was released and was critically panned, with a better version of the movie sitting quietly on a hard drive, already announced for a Blu Ray release. This failure was followed up by responding only to complaints about tone, forgetting that successful storytelling should take priority, by chopping up Suicide Squad into a manic music video, which was also critically panned.

Geoff Johns and Jon Berg’s newly acquired leadership helps lead the way to what would become DC Film’s biggest success in Wonder Woman. While rumors persisted, studio interference did not play a major role in the production of Wonder Woman, and, lo and behold, Patty Jenkins delivered a fantastic product that was loved by both fans and critics.

But the wrong lessons were learned. Over and over, the wrong lessons were learned by Tsujihara and his team. Batman v Superman was critically panned, but instead of learning to trust their directors to produce the most cohesive product, they repeat their mistake ten-fold with Suicide Squad. And then, news comes out that Tsujihara mandated that Justice League needed to clock in at two hours. Once again, he learned the wrong lessons from his failures, and apparently learned nothing from his success.

Before I continue, I want to reiterate that I actually really enjoyed Justice League. But I do have a sense of loss knowing how badly its released was botched. I do not blame any of the creative forces for whatever failings there are in Justice League. The reality is that Joss Whedon and Geoff Johns had a job, and that was to make the movie Kevin Tsujihara wanted. Tsujihara signed their checks and had something very specific that he wanted.

Leaks, negative press, and studio interference has been a common theme for Warners since Tsujihara took over. Even movies not related to DC Comics have had their share of problems. Remember The Hobbit, Edge of Tomorrow, Jupiter Ascending, Mad Max Fury Road, Pan, The Nice Guys, The Legend of Tarzan, Live by Night, King Arthur, and Blade Runner 2049, just to name a few? All of these movies suffered from production drama, budgetary limitations, studio interference, botched marketing, or under-performing box office results. All of these were under the leadership of Kevin Tsujihara. His mistakes are pervasive and repetitive.

Failure is not the act of making mistakes, but the act of not learning from them. I do not believe that every single Warner Bros. failure rests on Tsujihara’s shoulders, but he is the leader and must take the blame. DC Film’s is in a unique position for a rebirth over the next two years, with only three films on their schedule, two new franchises in Aquaman and Shazam! and Patty Jenkins’ sequel to Wonder Woman. With these franchises being new introductions, history has shown that the directors will be given a longer leash, but after the financial failing that Justice League appears to be headed for, Warners brass may be overzealous to make sure these movies are done “right”, which is never a good sign.

So, the only logical conclusion for the health of both the DC Films brand and for the brand of Warner Bros. as a whole would be for Kevin Tsujihara to be removed from his position as CEO.

The studio needs to return to its identity of filmmaker friendly and leave behind the competition greediness of the last four years of blockbuster productions. Jeff Robinov, who was replaced at Warners in the 2013 that saw Sue Kroll, Greg Silverman, and Toby Emmerich become the leadership group behind Tsujihara, should have, in my opinion, been elevated to CEO at that time. His leadership as President saw one of the most successful periods in studio history, and is rumored to be looking for an exit from his current role with Sony. If I had a vote, it would belong to him.

But, until then, I’m going to see Justice League again. What can I say? I liked it.

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Justice League Review

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by Drew Kiess

 

How to describe a movie like Justice League? Or, a better question, how to describe a movie like Justice League in a way that it has not already been described?

Let’s look over what we know: yes, we know that the post-production process on this movie was less than smooth for various reasons, chief among them a personal tragedy in the director’s family. Yes, we also know that the critical hill for this movie to climb was probably much too steep and the comparisons to the distinguished competition were unavoidable (how could anything measure up to what is already locked-in as a cultural phenomenon?). And yes, we also know that the tone of this film was shifted even further from the somberness of its predecessor due to critical feedback.

We know all that. What we don’t know is how things would have turned out otherwise. I can only review this movie for the movie I saw in the theaters and not the movie that I thought we were getting. Maybe someday we’ll get to see that movie (we’re just now getting to see the three hour version of 1978’s Superman The Movie, so there’s always hope), but this is the Justice League movie we got. And—honestly—I loved it.

To say a movie is imperfect seems like a critical cheat, but it is also important to say in this case. While I think most of the imperfections pointed out aren’t necessarily the same problems I have with the film (most of my complaints involve the ever-hated spoilers, so I will avoid talking too much about them), this is the first of the three Snyder DC Films entries that I’m comfortable with letting the critical onslaught hit without much argument. Perhaps that says more about me than the movie, but this is not quite the same kind of movie as Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. If you hated those movies, you might take that as a relief. As someone who loved them, it is a bit of a dunk in cold water.

What exists instead, though, is just as reverent a love letter to DC Comics fans. Never did I dream of seeing pieces from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World on a big screen. Seeing Commissioner Gordon (played well by J.K. Simmons) speaking with Batman and Wonder Woman and The Flash and Cyborg on a rooftop is a treat. And for anyone who has read the works of Kirby, Grant Morrison’s Rock of Ages, or Geoff John’s Justice League: Origins, there is plenty to keep you geeking out from the opening titles to the close of the credits. And yes, that end credits scene is as good as you’ve been told.

Of the major characters, most for me were given a fantastic show case as to what makes them amazing characters. There is one character that I felt may have been shortchanged, but that may be super spoilery (see what I did there?). Steppenwolf was fine. The great thing about using a character like Steppenwolf is that he does not come with a lot of baggage and is disposable without having his fan club become up-in-arms. Quick, name your favorite Steppenwolf comic book! He serves the purpose of providing a threat daunting enough to get the team together, but is not the kind of character who merits a long-winded motivation.

What the movie does well for me is not shying away from the comic book-ness of the whole thing. While the humor, thanks in part to screenwriter (and post-production supervisor) Joss Whedon, is cranked up in Justice League, it never feels aimed at the audience for enjoying these types of stories. It managed to have fun while still telling a cool story ripped almost perfectly from the pages of a comic book. And that may make it a movie that’s not for everyone. But if you’re someone who loves these characters, I highly recommend seeing Justice League with someone who loves these characters with you. There’ll be plenty for you to talk about.

Final score: Comic Code Approved

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Justice League Review

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By Chris Evans

 

The time has finally come for fans of DC comics and just comic films in general, Justice League is here! WB has been trying to get this thing off the ground for a while going back to JL:Mortal. So, how is it? Is it better than BvS? Is it as good as Wonder Woman? Does Superman finally smile? Let’s get into it without spoilers.

I liked it. A lot. It plays like an episode of Justice League Unlimited with Snyder visuals, impressive action pieces, and some Whedon jokes thrown in. It’s an interesting blend.

The characters are represented very well and each of them get their moments to shine, they are really what make the film work so I’m going to spend a little time talking about them. I think a lot of people are really going to dig Ezra Miller as the Flash and Jason Momoa as Aquaman particularly. They are both very welcomed additions and frankly the latter was a surprise. I’ve never ever been an Aquaman fan and always felt the character was borderline useless. My mind has changed. Ray Fisher is also pretty good as Cyborg, he brings emotional weight to his role despite being almost completely CGI. You’ve also got some other newcomers like J.K. Simmons as Gordon and Billy Crudup as Henry Allen, both do well enough in their short scenes. Then there’s the returning cast members who once again deliver. People worried about Affleck’s Batman being too much like Frank Miller’s shouldn’t worry, he’s more akin to the BTAS Bruce/Batman here. Gal continues to be WONDERful. I don’t want to say much about Cavill because of spoilers but it’s great to see him back and see Superman fully formed.

The story itself is paper thin which can be seen as a positive or a negative depending how you like your superhero flicks. In this case, I really didn’t mind. It’s very straight forward and to the point, not a bad thing in my opinion this time around. I believe the film’s tight running time also had something to do with it being so straight forward, they had no time to waste. The villain though? Eh. He’s okay I guess and starts off vicious enough but by the final battle it’s really clear that he’s hardly a real threat. That’s one of the films’ flaws, you don’t really get the sense that this is ever more than the team can actually handle especially with favorite boy scout around. It didn’t hurt the film too much for me but I definitely would’ve preferred a stronger villain.

Another flaw is the CGI and that’s really unfortunate for a movie of this scale. I’m not going to pick on the parademons because they’re essentially demonic bugs, I didn’t expect them to look amazing although I did like their look. This is a side note but I think they may have looked better in BvS than they do here. Back to the point though, Cyborg looks downright terrible in a lot of his scenes. There’s one particular bit toward the end where it’s so bad he looks like something out of a late 90s video game, it’s a shame when you compare him to other movies with fully CGI characters. Stepppenwolf doesn’t fare much better, I felt like his face was barely even emoting most of the time. There’s also plenty of other times where he just stands out and not in a good way. I really expected more polish but it is what it is I suppose.

The pacing and editing is an issue as well, it moves at such a pace that you can’t digest some moments because it’s quickly on the way to the next bit. There’s no breathing room. I’ve been describing JL as a ride and I believe that’s accurate for that reason. However, I feel like we are going to end up with another extended version once this film hits home and we won’t even notice these little speed bumps.

The bottom line is that Justice League isn’t going to win any awards but it’s a great time at the movies with some fantastic characters and some really awesome moments. Plus, the two end credit scenes are cinematic gold. Do. Not. Miss. Them.

Oh and….Superman smiles.

“Wonder Woman 2” Release Date Changes

 

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By Justin Shanlian

 

Warner Bros. Pictures has moved “Wonder Woman 2” up six weeks!

The Patty Jenkins directed sequel will make is theatrical premiere on November 1, 2019. This announcement comes as no big surprise as the studio positions the summers biggest blockbuster away from the sequel to “The Last Jedi.” 

December 13, 2019 was WW2 original release date, but when Colin Trevorrow was let go from Episode IX, and JJ Abrams was brought back in, Disney decided to push the release date for that film back to give the filmmakers more time.

 

 

 

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Early Justice League Reactions and Elfman’s Score

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It’s hard to believe that we are just a few days away from being in a theater and watching some of our favorite superheroes fighting side-by-side for the first time. Justice League premieres now in less than a week and it feels like Twitter is so full of 280-character opinions that it is about to burst at the seams.

With the social media embargo lifting on Friday, we now have some of the first verified opinions on Justice League. While there have been a few killjoys, it does sound like we are in for a good time when the film finally rolls. A quintessential part of getting hyped up for these DC Films has been listening to the musical score the week before. I am not entirely sure if there is another franchise, with the exception of Star Wars, where the musical score is so closely analyzed. (How many people remember the Twitter debates surrounding the score for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Yeah, I don’t either.)

The Justice League score, like much about this movie since the departure of Zack Snyder, has been under the microscope since it was announced that it would be Danny Elfman instead of the previously announced Junkie XL, who co-composed for Batman v Superman and impressed us all with his soundtrack for Mad Max: Fury Road. Danny Elfman, of course, has had his fair share of superhero work, from Tim Burton’s Batman, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. From a personal point of view, his score for Spider-Man 2 is among my favorite comic book movie scores of all time, and I was excited to hear what he had come up for Justice League.

Fan reaction to the score has been an interesting one to watch. I will say that I do not think it works as well as a standalone listen as much as what Hans Zimmer put together for Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. That does not mean that it is a bad score.

There are scores we listen to specifically because it reminds us of a movie we love. Elfman’s Batman score is actually a perfect example of this. Outside of the main theme and Decent Into Mystery, I would argue that there are not a lot of tracks that would standalone if not for the emotional connection to a movie that we love. Clint Mansell’s Noah score is an example for me of the opposite, great pieces of music that are used within a movie.

If I am to fully judge Elfman’s score, I will need to hear it in context. I will say, I am a fan of the call-backs to the classic Batman and Superman themes. If the response to complaints about Batman and Superman not behaving like themselves in previous films has been answered by, “well, they’re building up to being the heroes we all love”, then I personally like using the classic musical cues to indicate that they are behaving at their best and most heroic.

I do want to signal out Sigrid’s Everybody Knows cover, the opening track on the soundtrack. It is a standout and has always been lyrically a very somber song. My curiosity is certainly piqued as to how this relates to the story Snyder and Whedon are telling with Justice League.

I am no musical expert. But after listening to the Justice League soundtrack, I can say that I fully believe it can work. I cannot wait to hear those classic themes fill up a theater next week. Be sure to keep the conversation going and tell us what you think!

 

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Deathstroke Film from “The Raid” In The Works

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In what seems like a lifetime ago, Magic Mike star Joe Manganiello was announced as the villain in The Batman. It’s been unspoken for some time now that he would no longer appear in that feature, but Manganiello as Deathstroke the Terminator was just too good of casting to go completely to waste.

Now, friend of Shanlian on Batman Umburto Gonzalez from the Wrap is reporting that The Raid Director Gareth Evans is in negotiations to write and direct a Deathstroke film. The Raid and its sequel are renowned for their incredible action sequences, and so just what kind of movie Warner Bros. wants out of Deathstroke likely falls right in line with this style of film.

Evans reportedly was offered Justice League Dark, but impressed DC executives with his Deathstroke pitch.

What remains to be seen, of course, is just who or what Deathstroke will be up against. Will it be one of the many DC heroes populating the universe already or someone else entirely? Only time will tell, but that won’t stop anyone from speculating. This may be the perfect opportunity to bring back Will Smith’s Deadshot, but I will be excited to see whatever Evans has come up with.

Source: https://www.thewrap.com/gareth-evans-dc-comics-deathstroke/

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Update on “Justice League 2” and “The Batman”

 

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Justice League’s own Commissioner Gordon gave a brief update to the upcoming slate of DCEU films, particularly “Justice League 2” and the upcoming Matt Reeves directed “The Batman” in a recent interview with Total Film.

“Well, Commissioner Gordon wears a trench coat in every scene, so I don’t know that the ‘pumped up’ part is going to be all that evident, especially when you’re standing next to Batman! But this is the first Justice League movie – we hope – of a few. They’re working on scripts for The Batman and for the next Justice League movie. It introduces my incarnation of Commissioner Gordon. I don’t have a lot to do. I feel like I just dipped my toe in the water of who Commissioner Gordon will be.”

Great news for fans of the DC Extended Universe as the plans for a sequel to Justice League are signs of good things to come for this shared universe.

 

 

Source: Total Film

 

“Batman Vs Two Face” Review

 

 

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By
Drew Kiess

I fell in love with Adam West’s Batman later in my fandom than many. While West’s portrayal was responsible for an entire generation becoming Batman fans for the first time, what West did for me was teach me how versatile the Caped Crusader could be. In 2016, seeing Adam West (along with Burt Ward and Julie Newmar) return to his classic role was an absolute joy, and the film itself was ridiculously entertaining, even if it was flawed in some ways.

When Adam West passed away, it struck a chord with me. This man had been responsible for bringing a character that has meant so much to me and has brought me a countless amount of joy to the mainstream. Before his passing, he was able to provide us with one final crusade: “Batman Vs Two-Face.”

In “Batman Vs Two-Face,” Adam West’s Batman is joined by Burt Ward’s Robin, Julie Newmar’s Catwoman, and William Shatner as the villainous Two-Face. While most of what we now consider the heavy hitters in Batman’s rogues gallery found their way onto the screen during the 1960s TV series, one notable exception has always been Two-Face, who starred only in one unused script. Harvey Dent, Gotham’s District Attorney and best friend to billionaire Bruce Wayne, is scarred by pure evil in a laboratory accident gone terribly wrong. The explosion turns Dent into the criminal known as Two-Face, and despite what Bruce Wayne believes to be a successful recovery, Harvey Dent’s scars are deeper than just the surface. With a crime wave indicating the involvement of a duality obsessed fiend, only Two-Face could be behind it. But could Harvey Dent truly be evil? Can the Dynamic Duo stop this crime spree in Gotham? (Tune in next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!)

The DC Animated films have been hit and miss lately. This was definitely a hit. Not only was it incredibly funny, it also had a surprising weight that pulled me into the film’s story. The casting of another 60s TV star in William Shatner as Harvey Dent was a stroke of brilliance, and he delivers with a voice performance that rivals any in these films. (His performance was reminiscent of the better moments of Tommy Lee Jones’ version in “Batman Forever.” Surprisingly, this version was less cartoonish.) Shatner pulled off a menacing Two-Face, playing the tongue-in-cheek nature of this universe with ease, while providing a tragic weight to Harvey Dent that is unexpected in connection with the 60s TV show.

Adam West’s performance was everything you would expect it to be. This story gave him a terrific send-off, allowing him to play both the heroic and inspiring Batman in some of the film’s more heavy moments, to the more comedic tones that this version of the character requires. As always, this was what made Adam West and this character such a great marriage: he could play every tone with the same amount of sincerity and commitment. You are always sure about two things with Adam West’s Batman around. Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot that he’ll bring to justice, and that Batman is always there watching out for us when we need him most.

The cast of characters in “Batman Vs Two-Face” is deep. If a viewer can go in not knowing what villains cameo and have major roles outside of the titular character, they can find themselves enjoying the revolving door of references to episodes of the TV series. On top of the revolving door of villainy, be on the lookout for some hilarious shout-outs to various Batman pop-culture moments that add flavor to this bountiful Bat-feast.

If “Return of the Caped Crusaders” served as a sequel to “Batman-The Movie,” then “Batman Vs Two-Face” closes out Adam West’s Batman trilogy triumphantly, providing us with humor, action, and a big bucket of heart. Director Rick Morales’ obvious love for the TV show shines through with every scene. It is a miracle to take a world and a style and bring it back to us 50 years after it was popular and do it so well, and to provide us all with one last adventure with our Bright Knight.

I would recommend buying two copies (one for each face), and enjoying this conclusion to Adam West’s Batman trilogy. I watched this with a smile on my face from beginning to end and am looking forward to watching it again. And for those of you out there who have yet to discover Adam West for yourselves, please take it from me: when you learn to love the goofiness and the colors and the biffs, booms, and pows, you will also find the heart, love, and unwavering goodness that was Adam West and his Batman. I think we could all agree that the world needs a Bright Knight now more than ever.

 

3.5 Bats out of 4

 

 

 

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