Why Is It A Big Deal That ‘Justice League’ Is So Short?

Matthew Loffhagen
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(Photo: Warner Bros)

It’s weird to think just how long we’ve all been sitting around, waiting for the Justice League movie.

First announced before Batman v Superman was even in theaters, the movie got an initial trailer last summer, while filming was only part-way completed. Things looked promising, and after an overly dour BvS, comic book fans were willing to try trusting Justice League if it managed to live up to this humorous, stylist initial teaser.

Then, things got more and more complicated. The movie was scheduled for lengthy reshoots, which stretched on and on. Feedback from Wonder Woman seemed to be shaping the course of new scenes that were being added, as Zack Snyder and new assistant Joss Whedon tried desperately to change the movie’s tone, focus, and story on the fly.

Tragedy struck, and Zack, along with his wife Debbie and a large chunk of his production team, left the project following a family bereavement. Now, the film had transitioned from a Snyder movie to a Whedon film, despite the two directors not really sharing much in the way of artistic vision.

Perhaps this whole debacle has been best summed up by Henry Cavill’s moustache – scheduling conflicts with his role as the villain in the upcoming Mission Impossible movie meant that Superman’s facial hair has needed to be digitally removed from footage that was shot at the end of the film’s lengthy reshoot period, highlighting the fact that this behemoth of a movie has been in production on and off for well over a year.

With so much footage shot, we all naturally assumed that this would be another of DC’s overly lengthy movies – much like Batman v Superman, it looked like Justice League would be three hours long, with an inevitable Extended Cut released six months down the line.

After all, if you’ve got over a year’s worth of footage shot, why not make use of it?

It’s a surprise, then, that Justice League is actually going to be a fairly brisk affair – at least in theaters. The movie will clock in at two hours and one minute long, fifteen minutes shorter than Suicide Squad’s theatrical cut, and a full hour shorter than Batman v Superman.

There’s plenty of speculation about why this film would work out so short.

DC movies are known for suffering in the editing booth. Both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad have a lot of footage left out of the final movie that make the films seem disjointed. There are plot threads that don’t lead anywhere, and obvious scenes that are stitched together from disparate shooting sessions which never seem fully connected.

Perhaps, then, Justice League has seen these extraneous plot points removed. Maybe, in order to keep things running smoothly, much of the earlier footage from previous shooting periods has been scrapped, in favor of letting Joss Whedon rewrite large chunks of the story.

The action beats could all remain – composing big, epic fight scenes are what Zack Snyder does best – but all other story points could be boiled down to their cores, without any fluff, in order to make for a snappy, punchy wild ride.

Here’s hoping that works as a strategy. There are a lot of moving parts in this film, and many characters, such as Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash, that we haven’t spent a lot of time with on-screen yet. The movie needs to establish them, and give them strong, meaningful character arcs, all in the quickest time possible.

The best case scenario here is that Justice League dashes along with a tight, barebones story that doesn’t try too hard to be complex. That would certainly be better than a movie which sets up a bunch of plot points that are summarily forgotten about.

There is, though, another potential reason why DC might want Justice League to be a short film, and it has nothing to do with the complicated shooting period that this movie has endured.

When a movie studio has a dud on their hands, they’ll often make sure that a film’s theatrical cut will be nice and short, so that they can get more viewings of the movie shown in theaters every day.

It’s a numbers game – the more showings, the more tickets will be sold, even if fewer people are actually interested in seeing it. A short film is better for walk-ins or people who are just going to the movies with casual enthusiasm, choosing what to see when they arrive.

This isn’t to say that Justice League is necessarily a dud, but DC has learned from previous experience that most of their films experience a large drop-off in box office sales after the first week in theaters (the exception to this being Wonder Woman, a film which enjoyed a lot of solid word-of-mouth).

Perhaps, aware that their movie will do its best trade on the opening weekend when all the die-hard fans show up in droves, Warner Bros is looking to maximize the number of ticket sales they can get during this initial window.

This would increase Justice League’s opening weekend takings, potentially helping it to break some new records for the studio’s initial successes, before an eventual decline in interest causes a subsequent drop-off in sales.

Justice League
Source: Warner Bros

By this point, DC can’t mess with the quality of Justice League any more than they already have. Whether it’s a good or bad movie is now impossible to change (although we’ll no-doubt get an extended cut at a later date either way).

What the studio can do, though, is increase the availability of the film for anyone who’s casually interested in seeing it on opening weekend.

DC doesn’t know if the movie will end up being a huge hit like Wonder Woman, or another embarrassment like Batman v Superman. Either way, though, a short, snappy movie will mean more money for the company during the opening weekend, and nobody involved is really going to complain about that.