Friday, August 16, 2013

Fan-Casting DC's JUSTICE LEAGUE: Part 2

Click here to review Part 1.

NEW:  My original opening for the movie was a robbery in progress.  No slow buildup, no drawn-out origin of the heroes, no first twenty minutes on Planet Krypton--just smash right into the action, in medias res.  Part of my reasoning is that superhero movies, especially first movies--so-called origin stories--have become more and more homogenized, their structure more and more formulaic.  Man of Steel spent twenty minutes on Krypton, another hour with the titular character trying to figure out who he is, and I'd argue that by the time the credits roll, he still isn't Superman yet.  The whole movie felt like a prologue.

Another problem is that Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly completely spoiled me on superhero origins with All Star Superman.  They didn't need an hour, or whatever amount of pages that would translate to in a comic, to tell Superman's origin.  They do it in one page.

More specifically, they do it in four panels.

Everything you need to know about Superman in four images and eight words.  This is my favorite page in all of comics.

When, after completing the story of The World's Finest, I decided to come back and rightly introduce the two heroes in a prologue, I looked to the above page from All Star Superman for inspiration.

Prologue: Child of Light, Child of Darkness

We open the movie with a serious of dual, juxtaposing images played against a sweeping musical score.  The first thing we see is a medium shot of planet Earth against the darkness of space.  Space is a recurring image throughout the whole trilogy, so it's an appropriate first image.

From overhead, a small rocket ship blasts into view, rushing toward the nighttime surface.  We follow its descent over North America, the Great Plains, Kansas.  At last, we see the ship crash land in a corn field.

Cut to Wayne Manor, early morning.  In the master bedroom, Martha Wayne is laid up in bed, going into labor.  Doctor Thomas Wayne is delivering his son.  There's a midwife or nurse assisting.  Martha screams, pushing.  Thomas speaks encouraging words to his wife.  Of course, none of these words or screams are heard.  Just the music.  Martha screams again with one last, agonizing push that brings Bruce Wayne unto the world.

Thomas and Martha Wayne (Stephen Moyer and Kate Winslet)

Okay, while technically the first characters seen, these two were the last to be casted because I never planned on using them in the movies.  Of course, I couldn't run from their ghosts anymore than Batman could.  The Waynes are little more than cameos for this opening sequence (and another later on), but I wanted a pair of recognizable faces to play the ill-fated couple.  The parts demand actors who can play stately, even nobility, gravity, and a sense of otherworldliness.  Stephen Moyer and Kate Winslet possess all those traits, and I think they could suitably pass for the parents of the actor who will be playing grown up Bruce Wayne.

Cut to the cornfield.  Again, the music plays over these shots.  Jonathan and Martha Kent, both in the mid-to-late 20s at this time, jump out of their pickup truck.  Jonathan has a flashlight in hand.  They run into the fields where the ship came down.  They step into a small crater and find the alien craft, utterly awestruck at the site.  But that doesn't compare to their shock when the ship's "cockpit" opens.  Inside, cradled in a red blanket, is an infant child which looks human.

Cut to Wayne Manor bedroom.  Thomas Wayne holds his newborn son.  He brings him to Martha, who holds baby Bruce in her arms.  Thomas lies down in bed beside his wife and son.  The whole family together in love.

A long moment of black on the screen as time passes.

In Wayne Manor, five year old Bruce Wayne plays with his parents and the family butler, Alfred.  Everyone is laughing and smiling in slow motion with the score.  Bruce is playing with toy guns.  He and Alfred chase each other and mock-shoot each other.  Alfred pretends to get shot and fall down dead.  Bruce runs to the butler's side, laughing.  Alfred comes to life, tickling the boy, as Thomas and Martha look watch in delight.

Cut to the Kent Farm.  Five year old Clark Kent runs through the corn fields from a grain silo toward the house.  We follow him running for a beat, long enough to see he's gaining speed.  We close up on his feet, old, dirty tennis shoes.  Then something happens.  It's subtle at first, but we realize that Clark's feet aren't touching the ground anymore.  He's running a few inches over the soil, then a few inches more, then a foot.  Finally, he's running clear over the corn, practically flying…

A long moment of black on the screen as time passes.

Outside Jonathan Kent's barn, eight year old Clark lifts the tractor up with one hand to fetch a baseball that rolled under it.  He smiles back at his father.  Jonathan Kent drops his baseball glove and stares at the boy.  From the house, Martha stares out the kitchen window.

Cut to outside the Monarch Theater in Gotham City, night.  Eight year old Bruce Wayne comes out of the theater with Thomas and Martha.  Bruce runs, jumps, frolics as he pantomimes the action of the movie they just saw.  Thomas and Martha smirk and lead their son into the alley behind the theater.

Cut to inside the Kent's barn.  Jonathan pulls the tarp off of the rocket ship they found, the ship that brought Clark to Earth.  Martha stands behind the boy, her hands on his shoulders.  He steps forward, reaches, and touches the ship.  The score comes to an end with the first sound effects of the movie.  When Clark touches the ship, we hear to loud cracks--gunshots.

Cut to the alley in Gotham.  Bruce Wayne crouches beside the dead bodies of his mother and father beneath a single street lamp.

A long moment of black on the screen as time passes.  When we come back, the musical score has faded and we're in the real time of the movie.

On the Kent farm, Jonathan drives a tractor with a rototiller or some other heavy equipment through his fields.  And moving right by his side, adult Clark Kent (Jon Hamm) flies a few feet off the ground pulling an identical piece of equipment.  The effect is that they're tilling or ploughing the field while covering twice as much area.

Jonathan and Martha Kent (Robert Forster and Candice Bergen)

I can't remember ever seeing Robert Forster or Candice Bergen playing salt-of-the-earth, Midwestern farmers, but I also can't think of many actors of their age and calibre who I wouldn't want to hear impart folksy wisdom to buck up a superhero when he's feeling down.  The Kents most likely wouldn't appear until the second and third movies, but here they are.

Clark eats dinner with his parents.  Martha chides her son for not visiting more often.

Clark: "You think a lot of people fly halfway across the country for dinner every Wednesday?"
Martha: "You don't have to live in that big city."
Clark: "I work in that big city."
Martha (scoffing): "It's a five minute commute for you."

After dinner, he kisses his Ma and says goodnight.  He walks out onto the front porch where his Pa stands, watching the sunset.  Jonathan Kent asks Clark if he needs any money.  Clark shakes his head.

The two walk out onto the front yard.  As they walk, they talk about the state of the farm.  Clark wants his Pa to hire some help but Jonathan admits they can't afford it right now.  Clark says he can come home more often to help in the fields.  Pa Kent dismisses that idea.  "You got a whole world to take care of," he says.  "Don't you worry about your Ma and me."  They hug.

Ma Kent comes out onto the porch.  Clark waves to the two of them and then lifts off the ground, rockets into the sky, and flies away.

Cut To: Wayne Manor, present day, dusk.  Any light and joy that was in the house previously is gone.

Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne's butler, emerges from his quarters and shuts the door.  Alfred is dressed in the formal wear of his station.  He takes us on a visual tour of Wayne Manor that shows how grand and cavernous its rooms and corridors are.  The house feels like a museum.  Alfred enters the grand dining room and stops short.  The dining table is set for one: plated food, a drink, silverware.  All of it untouched.  Alfred doesn't try very hard to hide his disappointment.  He puts the uneaten food on a tray and carries it out of the room.

Alfred Pennyworth (Ian McElhinney)

As with Commissioner Gordon, casting Alfred was a case of finding an actor to replace a Hollywood icon who already played the role damn near perfectly.  I wanted someone lesser known to diminish expectations, someone who could play the quiet, almost pious dignity of Batman's butler, while also having the physical bearing of a former soldier.  Someone whose eyes have seen tragedy.  Someone who has taken up a noble but impossible cause.  Ian McElhinney, who plays the aged warrior Barristan Selmy on Game of Thrones, displays all those traits.

After depositing the tray in the kitchen, Alfred enters the Master Study.  This was Thomas Wayne's home office; this place is sacrosanct.  There is a large portrait of Thomas and Martha on the wall.

Alfred sees adult Bruce Wayne (Richard Armitage) at the window, staring out, watching the sunset.  Alfred doesn't say anything, just stands, watching Bruce watch the sun go down.  And when it does, when the sun dips below the horizon, like a vampire Bruce snaps out of a trance.  He turns away from the window and goes over to the grandfather clock.  He turns the hour hand until a hidden opening is revealed and the clock slides away.  Alfred follows Bruce down the steps into the Batcave.


Bruce steps up to the Batman costume on display.  Rapid fire shots of Bruce "arming up".  The costume goes on.  The belt goes on.  The gloves go on.  Finally the cape and cowl.

Batman, fully outfitted, walks out of the frame and we smash right into our main story.

To Be Continued…

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