Justice League Concept Art

The Story

Justice League producer Deborah Snyder explains that the core of this story is about Batman trying to get the Justice League together in the face of a mysterious threat.

The story takes place a few months after we left off with BvS. As you know with the death of Superman, his death really impacted Batman in a profound way. And he really starts to regain his faith in humanity. He also feels like there is something coming, something imminently coming. Maybe even here already. So he feels, with the help of Diana Prince, that he needs to find the rest of the metahumans. So basically this story is about finding the group and bringing them all together. And it’s a lot of fun because we get to go on that journey and we get to see the different personalities of all the members of the Justice League. And that’s really kind of generally what it’s about.

While Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were thematically exploring the idea of the weight of being a hero, Deborah says Justice League will focus more on “the purpose of being a hero.”

I think that Superman’s death really did have such a strong effect on Batman. And I think he really regains faith in humanity and everything that’s good. Because here’s this alien that just gave his life really for us. And I think this really changes who Batman is. And he also feels a responsibility to honor him because he didn’t really feel like he did it when they were living. So I think you are seeing the elevation of these heroes in this one. … It’s about teamwork and creating this family and everything. So I think that it’s definitely more positive and it’s about building people up, you know. That’s what this movie’s arc is I think.

It would be easy to compare this to The Avengers, but most of these superhero team-up origin stories kind of follow the same basic structure. But just as Batman v Superman almost seemed like an alternate universe version of Captain America: Civil War, it looks like Justice League may also share similarities with Marvel Studios’ upcoming Avengers: Infinity War films. We expect those films to be the Avengers trying to prevent Thanos from obtaining the last of the Infinity Stones, which combined in the Infinity Guantlet could mean bad things for our world and universe. Justice League has its own set of MacGuffins in the form of “Mother Boxes”.

a deleted scene from Batman v Superman

A deleted scene from Batman v Superman

The Mother Boxes

Justice League producer Charles Roven explains how the Mother Boxes fit into Justice League:

Those of you who did see Batman Vs. Superman, there was some, a bit of a tease or an Easter egg about these guys. Which are Mother Boxes in that movie. And what we can tell you is that this is a sort of three dimensional version of the Mother Boxes. These Mother Boxes are best when they work in threes.

In the war room we were presented with the prop Mother Boxes to look at. The human one is Bronze Age-looking, while the Amazonian Mother Box is red, ornate, with circular symbols and ancient writing. And the Atlantean Mother Box is grey and organic-looking in nature. The plan seems to be to open the movie with a big epic “history lesson” which will give us all this backstory. Roven continues:

The Amazonians and the Old Gods came together and decided that based on an event that happened, these Mother Boxes were going to be placed in the care of the Amazonians, the Mankind and the Atlanteans. And so that allows us to get into some of those environments and in our story of course Atlantis is underwater.

So this film will be less grounded than the previous DCEU installments, giving us a look into the further reaches of the DCEU universe. We saw concept art of Zeus for this history lesson segment of the film, and Deborah Snyder is quick to warn us that its just “a small section of the film.”

He’s in a very small part. Obviously the Apokoliptian technology, the Mother Boxes, gives it a whole sci-fi, you know, flair. But I think it’s still our world that they’re living in.

Charles Roven steps in:

They interact in a real way. Just like they did in Man of Steel. You know, we did say that there’s other entities out there. Not just us here on Earth. And so we’re just following that track.

The film itself will revisit some of these locations, like the long lost city of Atlantis now underwater, as well as the Amazon and the world of man. Production designer Patrick Tatopoulos convinced Zack Snyder to have him design the Mother Boxes before he began designing the worlds they were from because he thought it would help to start small, and have that inform the larger worlds.

Of course, these boxes were not invented for the film. They have a history in the comic books, having been created by legend Jack Kirby. One of the things I loved about Man of Steel was the opening sequence in Krypton, which felt more like a science-fiction film than a comic book movie. It seems like Snyder is returning to some larger-than-life sci-fi in Justice League with the Mother Boxes. When I ask Snyder about this, he says the following:

You know, Kirby’s crazy in a great way, and there’s a lot of influence, you know, sort of New God-y, kinda the New Gods stuff, and we were digging on that — and that’s the Mother Boxes and that sort of Apokoliptian world and all that stuff. I mean, you can’t really do that stuff without some — I don’t know if I can call it “weird.” [Laughs.] Larger than life! But the kinda scope-y, sci-fi, kinda cool, what I think is fun stuff. I think inherently when you start to talk about a bad guy that would justify the Justice League, not to make a thing, to “Double Justice,” but I think you have to have a good threat that’s fun and kinda crazy. And the Mother Boxes are always fun DC weird tech, you know?

parademons in Batman v superman

Who Are the Villains?

And who will Batman and the Justice League be fighting in this story? Charles Roven explains:

Obviously with the Mother Boxes and then the hints from the other movie, you know we are dealing with Apokoliptian technology and villains and we have kind of some more visions… These are our Parademons.

You probably remember the Parademons as those winged creatures that appeared in the nightmare sequences in Batman v Superman, that most viewers couldn’t make heads or tails of. Lex Luthor’s menacing monologue hinted at the arrival of Darkseid, and many fans had assumed that this was to set up the galactic villain for this next chapter. When asked if this film will follow-up on the Darkseid tease of BvS, Deborah Snyder deflects, saying, “I think you’re gonna have to wait and see about that.”

Last month it was rumored that the villain of Justice League would not be Darkseid , but instead Steppenwolf. And this has now been confirmed. Deborah Snyder walks over to a large image on the wall in the war room and points to it. On the wall is a piece of concept art that wasn’t too revealing, a silhouette of Steppenwolf.

And this is a work in progress. We are cheeky I know, but we are still working on and you got a glimpse of a version of, but obviously Steppenwolf.

Who will be playing Steppenwolf in the film? Snyder reveals that they are close to signing an actor but because the deal isn’t done they could not announce a name just yet.

We’re not completely closed. So I’m sorry, I can’t share that. We’re close.

The plan is for the character to be complete performance capture, so they don’t need to nail down an actor this early in the shooting schedule.

As for whether Jesse Eisenberg will return in this movie as Lex Luthor, Zack Snyder says, “I think that that’s a little bit of a spoiler,” hinting that we might see the now-bald villain appear at some point in this story.

I think that Jesse’s amazing and hilarious and fun. I mean, he’s in prison, so who knows? Prisons in the comic book world are pretty porous places, you know? [Laughs.]

One of the sets we visited was that of an abandoned ventilation tower on Striker Island. We briefly saw this island in Batman v Superman when Doomsday crashed on it –the building was affected but it’s mostly steel and brick and so it survived. This location will be used in the film for a huge action sequence which production designer Patrick Tatopoulos described as “a playground for visual effects.” Batman and the Justice League will use this tower to get access to the tunnel that was constructed to connect Gotham City and Metropolis. This brick building is filled with rusted pipes and broken old glass windows, and features steel catwalks and a spiral staircase — plenty of locations for a big battle between Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Cyborg and the parademons. One brick wall has a big hole in it, probably created by one of our heroes.

We also got a tour of a 70-foot-wide concrete tunnel set. This is an abandoned expressway that was built in the 1930s and abandoned before it was ever fully constructed. The concrete walls and steel structure show signs of water damage, and there are abandoned train tracks which were used to bring the materials in to construct this transit way. A sign attached to the concrete sports the Gotham W.P.A. logo with the years 1925-1929, and paint on the wall alerts us that we’re 5 miles from Gotham’s shores.

Back on the soundstage, they are still filming a scene on the roof top of Gotham City Police Department. It’s surrounded by green screen. Lights flash from above to simulate lightning, and a wind machine blows the sheet that normally covers the bat signal. Fake steam comes out of small chimney pipes as fake helicopter noise is piped in the background. A structure on the rooftop has Grim Reaper-like gargoyles that look down, in something that looks like a panel in a Batman comic book.

Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher are clowning around in between takes, it looks like they’re having so much fun. For a couple takes Gal Gadot bursts into laughter, unable to keep her composure. You can’t judge a movie based on how much fun the actors are having, but sometimes that fun translates into their interactions together on screen.

As the scene continues, Batman comes to the conclusion that the parademons must have a nest somewhere, but Commissioner Gordon has coordinated all the data onto a map and the lines “don’t converge anywhere.” Cyborg responds, “On land… the lines converge at Striker’s Island, between the two cities.” Batman remembers that vents exist that lead to the abandoned tunnel which connects the two cities. Someone suggests, “Let’s take the car.”

“Kind of small,” says Batman. “I’ve got something bigger.”

J.K. Simmons, looking almost like a perfect live-action translation of Commissioner Gordon, peers out into the green screen which will one day be replaced with a digital Gotham City. He asks a question and gets no response. When he turns around he finds out that Batman is gone, as usual. And Wonder Woman and Cyborg are also gone — leaving only the Flash.

“Oh wow, did they just do that?” jokes Ezra Miller as the Flash “That’s pretty rude.”

To me Justice League doesn’t feel like an evolution but a new start. Zack Snyder tried to do something different with an angry, darker, more brooding version of this superhero universe and it didn’t work for most people. The tone of Justice League feels more in line with the movies we’ve been getting from the Disney-owned Marvel Studios. Depending on your view, maybe thats a good thing, maybe it isn’t. For me it looks like it should be an improvement.

I left London a lot more hopeful for not only Justice League but the future of the DC Cinematic Universe. My only worry is that much of this film was planned before the release of Batman v Superman. A lot of the concept art we saw in the war room was dated before the fallout of that movie. The big concepts were already decided long before BvS hit theaters. This might explain why Batman’s guns are bigger and more intense, which doesn’t seem to match the current tone of the story.

Continue Reading Justice League Set Visit Coverage: Ben Affleck Talks The Future of Batman >>

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