By now, the message is clear: Warner Bros. and director Zack Snyder want people to know the intent of 2017’s “Justice League” film is to do a comparatively brighter and more fun movie than this spring’s oft-grim “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” This was the underlying theme of a press visit to the London set of “Justice League” last week, attended by multiple outlets including CBR News.
As part of the set visit, reporters observed the filming of a scene set on the rooftop of the Gotham City Police Department, with Batman (Ben Affleck, also an executive producer on the film), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) talking to Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons), before being joined by Cyborg (Ray Fisher). The group discusses a number of scientists who have gone missing — including the head of S.T.A.R. Labs, according to Cyborg — due to “the bad guy’s flying monkeys,” as Batman puts it (a reference to “Justice League” villain Steppenwolf and the Parademons from Apokolips).
During a break in filming of that scene, Affleck — still in the Batsuit, with the cowl off but corresponding raccoon-eye makeup still intact — talked with the assembled press, and much of the discussion turned to the purportedly lighter touch of “Justice League,” which appears to have the most profound impact on Batman himself. In “Batman v Superman,” he branded criminals, wanted to kill Superman due to what he perceived as culpability in the death of innocents in “Man of Steel,” and was depicted employing what certainly looked like lethal force on multiple occasions. In “Justice League,” he’s proactively putting the team together, and, as he puts it, “wanting to redeem himself and wanting mankind to be redeemed and he’s wanting to make the world better.”
The following is the transcript from Affleck’s conversation with multiple reporters.
This sounds like a different Batman: “Bad guy’s flying monkeys.” He’s got a little bit of an attitude.
Ben Affleck: Yeah, he’s a little bit more sardonic, humor, a little more irony. He’s a little more [of a] man on a mission this time. He was so full of anger because of what happened at the Black Zero Event — that sort of rage that possessed him. And now he’s on a mission to get this group together, to constitute this League. But, more of that sort of Bruce Wayne, wry, ironic gallows humor comes out. He’s not like a “haha” jokey, but that sort of stuff comes out a little bit. A bit of his darker humor is present.
Does he have a hard time playing with others?
Yeah, that’s sort of the interesting thing about this Batman is that on the one hand, he’s sort of the ultimate loner, but on the other hand, he’s tasked with putting together a group. So is the guy who basically broods in a cave all day really the best person to put together a team of superheroes? And he doesn’t have huge success initially. He rubs some people the wrong way, or they rub him the wrong way. He’s got to figure out how to play well with others. He barely knows how to play well with Alfred.
Does he see the Flash as sort of a Robin-esque character?
That’s interesting. There’s an element of that to it. There’s a quality to really what Ezra [Miller] does that is young and fun and full of life, and excited about what they’re doing that’s so in contrast to who Batman is. There’s a little bit of that natural yin and yang to playing scenes with him. There’s not the ward aspect to it, but there’s a little bit of the mentor — which you’d probably ask Ezra and he’d be like, “Fuck that! He’s not my mentor!” But I think there is a little bit. And it’s fun to play, definitely.
And what does Batman do around a guy who’s really excited and positive all the time? [Laughs] You know what I mean? That’s not his natural state of being, so that’s really fun. And it’s been really, really cool. Everybody has brought a certain kind of energy to their character that’s really distinct in this thing. All of a sudden, it’s a totally different kind of movie, in ways, from the last one, because it’s really an ensemble movie. This is a movie about a bunch of different people and qualities and characters how they work together; what that melting pot is like.
One of the things that is really well done about “BvS” is your fight scenes. How are you ramping up from that to this, in terms of what Batman can do?
We have the same guys who choreographed and came up with those. I like to say it was my idea, but I just do what they tell me. Lot of the same from visual effects, from practical effects. A lot of these guys doing really creative cool stuff and they just come up with really great ideas. It’s the same way I would appreciate it were I directing; find a great stunt coordinator and great effects guys, and stunt guys. It’s kind of like getting a great composer. It’s almost a separate thing that layers into the movie. And if it works, it feels like it’s flawlessly integrated. How could “Star Wars” exist without that music?
This time around, you’re an executive producer. How does that change you and your role?
Why I’m an executive producer is that I’m directing one of the movies. So there’s sort of this cross pollination of story and characters and I don’t want to give any of that stuff away, but it basically means that there are some things that might happen in my “Batman” that are affected –I mean, here we are in the police station in Gotham City. There’s a potential that something like this might exist in that story. So it’s a creative way that DC came up with, of being a filmmaker-driven company and entity and also making sure that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing, so that there’s collaboration and supervision. So that somebody doesn’t go sailing off, causing problems for your movie with their movie. In a way, it’s also a kind of a courtesy — you know what they’re doing, one hand knows what the other is doing, and I get to weigh in on stuff that impacts the Batman stuff.
How big is the role of Geoff Johns in this?
Uh, big! Geoff is a big part of things. He’s not here right now, he’s having a baby, but Geoff’s a brilliant guy and there’s nobody that knows more, that I know, about comic books. He’s got great taste and he’s really super-smart and he’s super-nice, and Jon Berg, as well, has a big role. Really this is Zack [Snyder]’s movie and we’re here executing Zack’s vision.
Is Batman doing the detective work as his part in this movie, or is he working with a team of detectives?
The world’s greatest detective aspect of Batman is more present in this story than it was in the last one, and will probably be expanded upon further in a Batman movie that I would do. I think all the great Batman stories are, at their heart, detective stories. That’s why they feel like noir movies in a way. Somehow feels like it could be “The Maltese Falcon.” But at their heart good Batman stories are, like I said, detective stories. And with detective stories, there’s a “what’s happening?” element, but there’s also a, “how do I find these people and bring them together?” How are we going to work together successfully?”
“The Dark Knight Returns” was a big influence on “BvS,” but that’s sort of an end of the Batman story. How do you bring Batman back from the edge, where he was maybe more violent, more harsh than ever before, and bring him back?
You bring up a very good point, “Batman v Superman” was very heavily influenced by “The Dark Knight Returns,” and this has other influences that I don’t want to name because then it will give away story elements and stuff like that. But working with [Chris] Terrio and Geoff Johns and obviously Zack, we’ve culled, what any smart person would do, steal the best stuff you can from all the great material that’s out there. But one of the things, obviously, is you can’t go past the end. This is now not a guy at the end of his rope but kind of a guy at the beginning. Starting over, reborn and believing. Finding hope. The thing that he’s hopeful for, he’s holding onto desperately. And he really believes in this idea of forming this group. I can definitely say that. That starts him off and that’s his core mission here. Obviously that’s something different because that’s a guy who’s not nihilistic, he hasn’t given up. He deeply believes that this is something that needs to happen and he’s in the awkward position of being out there with a cup in his hand like, “Believe in this, this is a good idea.”
“BvS” is very dark and gritty and we’re seeing this scene it looks like we’re already bringing some humor to it. What would you say are the biggest changes by comparison to those two movies?
There’s definitely room for more humor. DC movies I think, by their nature are a little more gothic — or mythic rather, excuse me — than some comic book movies are. But that movie was very dark and heavy because it was really rooted in “Dark Knight Returns” which is a heavy, dark book. And this is not that. This is a step in evolution in that to bring together all of these characters who have had their origins. It’s about multilateralism, and it’s about hope and about working together and the kind of conflicts of trying to work together with others. It’s a world where superheroes exist, so there’s comedy in that necessarily; trying to work with other people and people trying to accomplish goals together is the root of all great comedy in my view. So there’s definitely, hopefully some fun in it. But it’s not unrecognizably these characters or these stories. It’s not turning it upside down.
We know there’s Steppenwolf, we’ve heard Mother Boxes, we’ve seen concept art for Parademons, is there an element for Batman now, like “I’m getting too old for this shit, like this universe is not just one Kryptonian or one monster.”
It’s not so “I’m getting too old for this shit,” it’s more like, “I need help with this shit.” [Laughs] We’re getting way out of his league. It’s definitely stepping up to the level you know, in the comic books when you have a lot of things from other planets, other supervillains that are way more powerful than your average human being who’s got a Batarang and a grappling hook is equipped to deal with. So we’re able to explore the powers of these other heroes and what they can do. Which is pretty exceptional, too. If you want to be able to use the powers of Flash and Wonder Woman and Cyborg, you have to have bad guys who are up to snuff and give them what they can to really get their cars out on the track and open up the accelerator a little bit.
Well, Batman is sort of the leader of the group, is there any kind of challenge from the other members to his leadership? Aquaman’s a king, I can’t imagine him taking orders from another character would go over very well.
Aquaman’s a very strong character, played by a very strong actor with a very strong personality, so I don’t think he’s the sort of guy who at any point in his life takes orders from people. Jason Momoa, he’s got a very strong, stubborn, independent, powerful energy. So it’s not like any of these characters show up and immediately go like, “yes sir, what should I do, Mr. Wayne?” It’s about trying to get a lot of disparate people who are used to being very powerful and independent to try to work together. And it’s about how hard it is for them to all get along. And there are some characters who really hit it off with each other, some that don’t hit it off with each other, almost come to blows, and it’s about trying to contain that. So it’s not an easy ride trying to get this group to come together.
Is there any conflict in this one regarding Batman’s tactics? Because one of the conflicts of the last movie was that Batman was, I wouldn’t want to say sadistic, but he was very violent and he killed if he had to.
Yeah, in the last movie, Batman definitely went to a very dark place that was rooted in trauma that occurred to people that he loved and worked with and what he saw. This movie is not about that issue for him so much anymore, he’s no longer sort of extreme in that way. From the experiences of the last movie, he’s learned and now he’s sort of — I’m trying to say it without giving away any spoilers — but he’s wanting to redeem himself and wanting mankind to be redeemed and he’s wanting to make the world better. Having learned lessons that were important in the last movie.
A lot of people are looking forward to your perspective in a solo Batman movie, do you have a timeframe as to when you might want to see it in theaters?
I think they have a date for it. Although, I don’t know if I would necessarily be able to make that date because I don’t have a script that’s ready yet. So my timetable is I’m not going to make a movie until there’s a script that I think is good because I’ve been on the end of the things when you make movies when you have a script that’s not good yet and it doesn’t pan out. [Laughs]
Where you are in the scripting process? Do you have a draft that you’re really happy with or a story that you’re really happy with but you just need to flesh it out further?
I have a script, we’re still working on it, and I’m not happy enough with it yet to actually go out there and make a Batman movie, for which I have the highest of standards, I would say. That’s something that would have to pass a very high bar for me. It’s not just like, “Yeah, that might be fun, let’s go try this out.”
“Justice League” is scheduled for release on Nov. 17, 2017.
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