By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist October 23, 2012 at 12:21PM
The great success story of 2012, in the blockbuster world, has been "The Avengers," the superhero team-up movie that was the culmination of Marvel's multi-year plan since they started producing their own movies. As you might expect, the film's success means that Marvel's arch-rivals Warner Bros./DC Comics are pressing ahead with a movie of "Justice League," their own superhero team-up property. DC are owned outright by Time Warner, and as such, they have the advantage of having all of the characters -- Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman et al. -- under the same roof. But outside of the success of Christopher Nolan's standalone Batman movies (they won't be crossing over into any future efforts), Warner Bros. hasn't had much success with their own comic book movies.
"Superman" reboot "Superman Returns" was a damp squib six years ago, and 2011's "Green Lantern" was an outright flop, which set the franchise back, while an attempt at a fresh-faced "Justice League" movie directed by George Miller a few years ago was cancelled only weeks before shooting was meant to begin. But with Nolan's trilogy complete, a new Superman on the way (2013's "Man of Steel") and "The Avengers" proving a huge success, the studio is moving swiftly ahead with their plans. With a writer, "Gangster Squad" scribe Will Beall, hired last year, the studio was reportedly courting Ben Affleck to direct (he seems to have expressed little-to-no-interest in the idea, but it gives an idea of the kind of person that they're after). Only last week, Warners won a legal bout with the heirs of "Superman" creator Joe Shuster, which overcame one of the last major hurdles to the film. And the studio has pencilled in the movie for a 2015 release, putting it on a collision course with "The Avengers 2," which is already slated to come out that May.
Which begs a number of questions, even when you put aside the question of who'll actually direct the thing (do they go A-list, to a Guillermo del Toro or a Brad Bird, or do they gamble with an unlikely Marvel-esque pick like Joss Whedon or James Gunn?): Who are Warners going to cast as the heroes that make up the "Justice League"? Marvel's approach had its own risks, in terms of rolling the dice and hoping that Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth et al. would be able to draw audiences to relatively unknown characters, but Warners have a whole different headache on their hands (arguably as difficult a casting job as a tentpole movie has ever faced) as they essentially have to launch a half-dozen or so franchises simultaneously, with all of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the line-up likely to have their own solo pictures in development. And one wonders if they need to hire a Whedon and/or Kevin Feige-type person first, just to oversee the crucial development and storylines for what the studio is hoping will be the start of a huge multi-threaded franchise.
Overtures to Affleck as director suggest that Warners aren't necessarily going to be lowballing potential participants financially in the same way that Marvel did (though who knows), but at the same time, casting five or six A-listers would be prohibitively expensive for a film that needs to have as much of its budget up on screen as possible. So you're obviously not going to see Tom Cruise as the Flash, or Johnny Depp as Batman (especially as top-tier stars would be more reluctant to sign restrictive multi-year contracts), and you're probably not going to get Michael Fassbender or Chris Pine in there either. We can see them pushing out for a big name for one role, maybe (Batman, perhaps, or even a villain), but it's not going to be the cast of "Ocean's Eleven" either.
Ideally, what Warners is probably after are recognizable names and faces ready to make the leap up to the A-list and carry a movie on their own. Batman and Superman are draws on their own (hence the essentially unknown Henry Cavill), but they have to compete with "The Avengers" in the same year, which probably means not stacking the film entirely with a "Muppet Babies"-style cast like the George Miller one had (with hardly a single actor over the age of 25, including Jay Baruchel of all people as the villain). They're likely going to aim for more of the Chris Evans type (fairly well-known at the time and not overly expensive) than say, Chris Hemsworth (totally unknown at the time). Although it's worth noting that Hemsworth has perhaps had the biggest career boost, bar Downey Jr., of all the Marvel leads.
But then again, who would those people be? A list of actors poised on the B/C list who have a good chance of moving up across the next year or so include people like Joel Kinnaman (the new "RoboCop"), Charlie Hunnam ("Pacific Rim"), Joel Edgerton ("Zero Dark Thirty"), Jai Courtney ("A Good Day To Die Hard"), Alden Ehrenreich ("Beautiful Creatures"), Jake Abel ("The Host,"), Armie Hammer ("The Lone Ranger"), Justin Timberlake, Ben Barnes ("The Seventh Son") and Sam Claflin ("The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"), but how viable are any of them as "Justice League" characters -- we can see names like Edgerton, Courtney, Hammer and maybe Timberlake (who was on the "Green Lantern" shortlist, alongside Bradley Cooper, who's probably too big these days), but not necessarily the others. And could they be too in demand by the time the film casts up (likely next summer)?
The alternative is to gamble more and go with names drawn from TV or relative unknowns (as the Miller version did), and thus bringing costs down. Ultimately, the history of the modern blockbuster has demonstrated that stars are less important than the property (see "Avatar," "Star Trek," et al.), although that has the risk of making the film look like a DTV knock-off of "The Avengers" if the films are in theaters at the same time. It's also risky because Warners' plans would mean that actors would have to not only fit into an ensemble, but then carry a movie on their own, and it's tricky to do both. So who would we cast? Well, head on over to page two, and you can find our picks -- assuming a relatively stripped-down line-up that includes Superman, The Flash, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern (but probably not more out-there and obscure characters like Aquaman and Martian Manhunter). It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out, and you can let us know your own picks in the comments section below.