LONDON With Batman and Superman no longer at odds and the lessons of Batman v Superman learned Justice League already looks like a juggernaut in the making.
The critical reception of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justicesparked rumors aplenty about thenext installment in the DC blockbuster franchise, most of which swirled arounddirector Zack Snyder’s role in the film franchise.But whenMashable was invited to visit the set of Justice League at Warner Bros.’ Leavesden Studios, London, last Friday, all was in good order.
The day started off with a talk from producers Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven in a boardroom packed with sketches, props and concept art. There was a tour of the costume workshop and some key set designs including Bruce Wayne’s gadget-packed hangar followed by the chance to see actors running through a scene in giant green room.
And finally, there was an interview with Snyder himself.
From key plot points to some important changes in tone, here are some of the things we learned along the way …
1. Steppenwolf is the main villain …
One of the most noticeable posters in the art-packed boardroom at Leavesden was a six-foot, shadowy silhouette with two horns sprouting from its faceless head. This, Deborah Snyder informed us, was Steppenwolf the lead antagonist of Justice League.
“We’re not completely closed,” said Snyder, in response to a question about whether the supervillain has been cast yet. “We’re close!”
2. … but Darkseid hasn’t been ruled out
Although the only bad guys visible during the set visit were Steppenwolf and a bunch of pesky parademons (of whom we caught a glimpse in theBatman v Superman“dream” sequence), producers didn’t rule out an appearance from Steppenwolf’s despotic nephew.
When someone asked if there were going to be any other named villains appearing in Justice League, Deborah Snyder remained tight-lipped. “I don’t want to give away everything,” she said. (Read: probably.)
Later, someone asked about that BvS dream sequence which featured traces of Darkseid, and whether it will be followed up in Justice League. “I think you’re going to have to wait to see about that,” said Snyder. (Read: definitely.)
3. Zack Snyder seems to be firmly in control …
Despite the rumors, both Snyder and Ben Affleck were keen to reassure everyone that the shoot and the way in which producers and filmmakers are working together is all running smoothly.
During the interview with Snyder, he was asked about the pressure of making Justice Leagueand whether this shoot has been more difficult than he’d have hoped.
“I don’t think so,” he replied. “I would just say that, for me … Batman v Superman…I think that there’s a slight misconception about the shoot, anyway, about how much pressure there was on us, and the pressure on the movie to perform in a certain way.”
Snyder described the films they’re making as “really personal movies,” and said the idea behind Batman v Superman wasn’t a studio decision.
“Chris (Nolan) and I sort of had that idea, and it just so happened that was a way toward Justice League,” he said.”I don’t think the birth of Batman v Superman was some sort of corporate conspiracy to sell tickets or do whatever.
“The studio’s been amazing with me, and they are a filmmaker driven studio. They don’t really do a ton of things by committee. It’s just been a great experience I’ve had with them.”
Affleck, meanwhile, spoke briefly about the creative input of producers Geoff Johns and Jon Berg but he made it clear that Snyder was in the driver’s seat.
“Geoff’s a big part of things,” Affleck said. “Geoff’s a brilliant guy, and there’s nobody that knows more, that I know, about comic books … he’s got a great taste, and he’s really super smart and super nice. Jon Berg, as well, has such a big role.
“But really this is Zack’s movie, and we’re here executing Zack’s vision.”
4. … and he’s changing the tone from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
One recurring theme throughout the set visit was the tone of Justice League, and how the film will be a very different beast to the previous two movies. There was talk of putting more fun in the film, and how the focus this time would be on team building and the interaction between heroes.
“Yeah, I think that, you know I am obsessed with tone in movies,” Snyder said, when asked if he was consciously changing the tone from Batman v Superman. “Tone has always been the main thing that I go after with a movie. And I really wanted the tone of the three movies to be different chapters and not be like the same note that you strike, like ‘Oh okay, there’s this again’.
“Because of what, you know, fans have said, and how the movie [Batman v Superman] was sort of received by some, we have really put the screws to what we thought the tone would be, and I feel just crushed it that little bit further.”
5. It’s not Justice League: Part One
This was made clear by both the producers and Snyder; there may be more than one Justice League film, but this first isn’t going to be one half of a two-parter. It will stand alone as a complete story.
“We were only ever planning, and we are only doing, Justice League just Justice League,” said Deborah Snyder. “One movie.”
Later, Zack Snyder drummed this message home. “Oh it is a complete movie,” he said. “I mean of course, there’s … ” he trailed off for a moment, at which point someone asked if it would end with a big cliffhanger, and everyone laughed. Snyder joined in.
“I mean, it’s got … hopefully there’s some reason to go ” he paused. “The movie doesn’t end and you’re like ‘OK, well, that’s the DC universe’!”
6. Motherboxes are at the story’s core
Three of them, to be exact: white, red, and green (one each for the Atlanteans, the Amazonians and mankind, respectively).
“These motherboxes are best used when they work in threes,” explained producer Charles Roven. “And back before there was a history … mankind, the Atlanteans before they were under water the Amazonians and, actually, the old gods, teamed together and decided that based on an event that happened these motherboxes were going to be placed in the care of, as I say, the Amazonians, mankind and the Atlanteans.
“So that allows us to get into some of those environments.”
7. Zeus will feature in the film
Okay, so he won’t be in it much, but the King of the Gods will still have his own little history section.
“In terms of Zeus … there’s a history lesson and actually that’s a small section of the film, that we go back and tell the story of the motherboxes so everyone knows the history,” said Deborah Snyder. “So he’s in a very small part.”
8. And there are hints of other possible cameos
Producers were pretty tight-lipped when it came to other DC characters who may or may not be popping up in Justice League, but when someone asked about the likes of Iris West, there were no outright denials.
“There might be some cameos of people,” said Deborah Snyder. “You know, we kind of like to do that, so we’ll see.”
9. Willem Dafoe will be playing Vulko
The Atlanteans weren’t a big part of the set visit they didn’t feature in either of the two scenes we saw (although these scenes were likely both from the film’s first act) and their role in the story wasn’t discussed. One thing we did learn, though, was that Willem Dafoe will be playing Vulko a key figure in the underwater world whose name will be recognizable to fans of DC Comics.
10. Superman may not return straight away
Traces of Superman were glaringly absent from the set visit. He wasn’t in the concept art, there was no sign of him in the costume workshop, and he didn’t feature in either of the scenes we saw. We know he’ll be in Justice League, but from the looks of things he might not appear until a little way into the film.
“Obviously Superman is part of the Justice League,” said Deborah Snyder. “And we know where we ended up with him. And there wouldn’t be a Justice League without Superman, but I think his way back to us … we don’t want to really spoil that. But he is here.”
11. Batman is increasing his firepower, and his tech
Batman’s enemies are going to be pretty fearsome in Justice League, and throughout the set visit there were clues that the Dark Knight will be ramping up his arsenal to counter the threat.
“The Bat-tech that we’re going to introduce in this film isn’t just big stuff,” explained Roven. “Batman will have more than one Batsuit that he’s continually modifying for the adventures that are going to be had in this film. As well as that, he continues to modify the Batmobile to make it more weaponised for battles that he thinks he might be facing.”
There were also two new vehicles mentioned: the Flying Fox, which will transport the whole Justice League crew around, and the Nightcrawler a boxy, four-legged machine that looks sort of like a chunky metal spider on legs.
12. There will be a huge fight scene in a tunnel
Halfway through the day, designer Patrick Tatopoulos took us on tour of a set that they’d already filmed in. It consisted of a hulking, ruined ventilation tower with smashed glass windows and broken brickwork. Halfway up the outside of the building was a bridge that had been broken in half, and on the far side of that was a giant transit tunnel.
“It’s a tunnel they were going to build between Metropolis and Gotham and it had been abandoned,” Deborah Snyder informed us. “So the project never really went forward … but there’s the abandoned remains of what started to be this tunnel, and there’s a great action set piece that takes place in it.”
From the looks of the concept art hanging in the boardroom which showed the likes of Batman and Wonder Woman facing off against a swarm of parademons this is where we’ll first see the Nightcrawer in action.
13. The Flash will be providing plenty of comic relief
Before our interview with Zack Snyder, we were shown an early scene from the film in which Bruce Wayne attempts to recruit The Flash.The scene, Snyder informed us, was one of the first they’ve put together it was a rough cut, and the special effects hadn’t been added yet but the chemistry between Ben Affleck and Ezra Miller carried it.
The Flash’s upbeat, jokey energy formed a great contrast with Wayne’s deadpan cynicism, and the exchange was genuinely amusing. Obviously we don’t know what kind of dynamic other characters will share on screen aside from Batman and Superman, who will always have Martha but if this scene is anything to go by then the film’s focus on team-building is off to a strong start.
14. The cast seem to get along well
The atmosphere on set at least for the scene we saw being filmed, which featured several of the heroes responding to Commissioner Gordon’s Bat-signal on a rooftop was one of back-slapping and joking around. While Ray Fisher was talking to our group in between takes, Ezra Miller snuck up behind him and made him jump; later, when Miller was told he’d be the one turning off the Bat-signal in the scene they were about to film, his gleeful voice came shooting through our earphones:“Oh that’s so cool, thank you Zack! In your face, Ray!”
At one point Gal Gadot burst out laughing as the actors got into position, causing Fisher to corpse as soon as the scene started. The scene had to be halted, Zack Snyder grinned and cracked a joke, and everyone laughed.
In between takes, actors would sit together in high chairs at the side of the room chatting amongst themselves, or watching their scenes back in the monitors that surrounded the raised stage. Everyone was approachable, and none of it felt forced.
15. But forming the Justice League won’t be a smooth process
From the sounds of it, forming the Justice League will be no piece of cake for Batman. Aquaman, in particular whom Ben Affleck described as “a very strong character played by a very strong actor with a very strong personality” could be a problem for Wayne.
“Its not like any of these characters immediately show up and go Yes sir, what should I do Mr. Wayne?” Affleck laughed. “Its about trying to get a lot of disparate people who are used to being very powerful and very independent to try to work together, and its about how hard that is.
“There are some characters that really hit it off with each other, some that really dont hit if off with each other and almost come to blows, and its about trying to contain that.
“Its not an easy ride trying to get this group to come together.”
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