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The missing ingredient: Why DC's live-action films are no patch on its animated versions

We're not going to see Justice League part two for a very long time and this is definitely a good thing for Warner Brothers.
UPDATED JAN 15, 2020
Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Ezra Miller, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher and Ben Affleck (Getty Images)
Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Ezra Miller, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher and Ben Affleck (Getty Images)

DC has been getting a rather bad rap off late because of the lackluster performance that the highly-anticipated Justice League film had at the box office in 2017. After the resounding success of Wonder Woman, the studio had high hopes that this particular film would have made some waves with the audience and critics alike. They had every right to think so as well. All their lead characters were coming together in a film for the first time and they were hoping that the film would have the kind of reception that the Avengers films have been getting for Marvel. They also spent a lot of money trying to make it. Justice League had a production budget of $300 million and was one of the most expensive movies that DC had ever made. 

Unfortunately, though, the film tanked pretty badly at the box office and it was able to make only $750 million as the break-even point. The film also lost the studio an estimated $60 million and whichever way you look at it, those numbers are not good. Director Zack Snyder had to leave halfway through the production of the film due to personal reasons and that's when Joss Whedon took over. The difference in directing style was very evident for an audience member with Snyder's bits of the film maintaining that dark look and feel and Whedon's bits of the film were more comic book-like in color and had more humor in it.

The film ultimately left audiences feeling very confused and failed to pack the punch it had promised to. On the flip-side, the animated film Justice League: War had a storyline that would rival most live-action films and was received very well by audiences that watched it. 

In the animated film, the Earth is being invaded by the alien Darkseid and the infamous superhero team was formed to counter his attack. The film shows Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Cyborg, and Shazam coming together as a team and fighting off the alien invader. When you look at the story by itself, it does feel a little rushed in places but nothing that some good humor can't take care of.

Unlike the live-action 2017 film which didn't show Cyborg's origin story at all, Justice League: War gives an inside look into how this superhero was born and the key role he played in fending off Darkseid.

The live-action film showed Steppenwolf, the uncle of Darkseid and a member of Darkseid's Elite, coming to Earth after a millennium because the three Mother Boxes that were left here got activated. He was banished by the alien ruler in the past for failing to capture Earth so he decides to take the Mother Boxes to him now and show him that he is still capable of being a part of the Elite. The character is pretty strong, in his own right, and was able to defeat most of the Justice League before Superman shows up and saves the day.

In Justice League: War, the story goes directly to the time that Darkseid invades Earth to find the Mother Boxes along with his minions, the Parademons. Without beating around the bush, the animated film was able to assemble a vast array of superheroes in one film and defeat Darkseid with him threatening to come back for revenge, as is the norm with supervillains.

Here's where the animated film has a one-up on the live-action one. The voice actors for War included the likes of Alan Tudyk for Superman, Jason O'Mara as Batman, Michelle Monaghan as Wonder Woman, Shemar Moore as Cyborg, and Sean Astin as Shazam. The film had tons of action and generous amounts of comedy. It also spent very little time in establishing the situation and then got right down to it. 

With the live-action film, it took forever to establish all the characters because the biggest mistake that DC made was releasing this film before they released any of the stand-alone origin films. Marvel got the formula down pat by releasing Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger etc. long before it was time for an Avengers film. People who hadn't even read any of the comics were instantly able to recognize the characters and this helped Marvel focus less on the origin stories and more on the imminent danger the Earth had to be avenged from.

This is the biggest reason that the 2017 Justice League film didn't do so well, aside from the mixed approaches to directing, and they would have benefited from trying to find a story that was very much like the 2015 animated Justice League: War. 

In any case, we're not going to see Justice League part two for a very long time and this is definitely a good thing for Warner Brothers.