It’s been a month since Justice League (2017) mostly failed, under-performing financially while at the same time disappointing critics and becoming the second DC film in as many years to do so. Now, the almighty (so mighty!) powers at Warner Bros. have decided that someone must pay, and the doomed souls that they have, reportedly, chosen to fall on their respective mother boxes are Jon Berg and Geoff Johns, the same Jon Berg and Geoff Johns who were just charged with fixing DC’s movies after Batman V. Superman (2016), only 18 months ago.
And about six months ago, Berg and Johns proved that they could do this. The duo’s first film, Wonder Woman (2017), exceeded expectations both at the box office and on the Tomatometer. My point, at its most basic, is what gives here? Removing Johns and Berg after Justice League reeks of being hasty, reactionary and irrational. What’s worse is that it’s also unsurprising, as it largely stems from the exact same logic that has hamstrung Warner Bros. attempts to launch an interconnected superhero movie universe to rival Marvel’s Disney-fied money-printing juggernaut.
Removing Johns and Berg, to borrow a cliche, is missing the forest through the trees. It’s avoiding the unpleasantness of actually examining when this failure began and why it could not be avoided, even as everyone involved clearly saw it coming. Getting rid of Johns and Berg is less like learning from a mistake and pushing yourself to grow and get better, and more like releasing your seething rage after your brother beats you at video games while to save your ego you’ve decided he cheated or something because no way was that your fault. I mean, afterward you still have a hole in the rec room wall that you’ll have to fix later plus also a possibly-broken hand, and Warner Bros. will still have a struggling film universe with no clear means of redemption, maybe even a less clear means because you canned the team that oversaw Wonder Woman.
I mean, just look at this in super basic terms for a second: Johns and Berg were given increased influence after Batman V. Superman with no time to alter Suicide Squad, so they’ve been running the show for two films, both of which were in development when they took over. Wonder Woman had a director, Patty Jenkins, with a strong vision, and it had almost ambivalent expectations from the geekdom zeitgeist. Justice League, however, had a director who predated Johns and Berg, was ripe with failure from Batman V. Superman, and was facing expectations unparalleled by any other DC film. Plus, Thor’s trailer was amazing, making it look like a lesser Marvel character was about to throw a big colorful money-making party that outdid DC’s entire A-Team and rubbed Warner Bros’ face in all that it’s own universe was lacking (Narrator: it did).
Yikes, for sure. But sometimes you just have to admit defeat, take one on the chin, or however the saying goes, and don’t fire the same two freaking guys who oversaw the making of one of the best superhero movies of all time EARLIER THIS SAME YEAR. C’MON!
One more cliche (and, I know, this piece is hitting them heavy but maybe that says something about just how obviously bad some of these decisions have been? Maybe? No? Whatever): they’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater here. I, admittedly, don’t know much about Berg, but he seems to get along with Johns well enough, which, in my comic-addled mind, is a very good thing because Johns is one of those writers who just gets superheroes.
He’s even got a track record of fixing broken DC heroes, a long one. DC’s film universe is essentially in the exact same place that its comic line was in 2015, in that it has the most enthralling and iconic characters, but it’s lost its way. The film universe needs the rebirth the comics had, you know, the one led by Johns that won massive critical praise and redeemed DC on the sales charts, ultimately leaving Marvel reeling by comparison, having in the recent months lost its (arguably) defining voice, Brian Michael Bendis, to DC, and also fired its editor.
Nobody does rebirth like Johns, and removing or diminishing his role seems so incredibly obviously wrong, just like pitting Batman and Superman against each other before they’d both been established in the cinematic universe, just like making a Suicide Squad movie with characters never seen before, just like pushing forward plans for Justice League while almost literally everyone involved with the production was still reeling from a super high profile failure.
Warner Bros. just needs to step back, take a deep breath, and realize that despite losing to your smug little brother at Madden, you played a tough second half, you made some good in-game moves, and if you practice some this week and trust yourself, you’ll get’em next time, especially if you don’t make Geoff Johns a passive adviser.