It’s been a good year for Emerald Fennell. Coming off two Emmy Award nominations for her work as head writer on Killing Eve‘s second season, the multitalented British actress has skyrocketed to fame thanks to a major role in Netflix’s The Crown, followed by her feature film directorial debut with Promising Young Woman; a revenge thriller seeped in social commentary that has sparked heated discourse while scooping up nominations and wins at every prestigious awards ceremony – including five Oscar noms, three for Fennell herself. She probably doesn’t stand a chance against the awards-season juggernaut that is Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, but either way, she and Zhao will be fine – they’re both now attached to major superhero franchises.
Fennell, it is reported, will write the script for a Zatanna solo film set in the DC Extended Universe and produced by J.J. Abrams as part of his overall deal with Warner Brothers to specifically help bring characters from DC Comics’ Justice League Dark roster to the big screen. Currently, Fennell is only set to write the film, not direct, but hopefully she’s given enough creative freedom and input to leave her distinctive stamp on the final product: if anyone can give Zatanna the adaptation she deserves, it’s Fennell. Promising Young Woman has all the eccentric flair, dark humor, and gloriously campy production design I’d hope to see from a film centering DC’s best magical character.
Zatanna Zatara is a classic stage magician and illusionist, whose character builds on every antiquated trope associated with the business: from the magic wand, to the flowing cape, tarot cards, and top hat (which, in Zatanna’s case, doubles as a gateway to other dimensions). Descended from sorcerers and alchemists dating as far back as Nostradamus, Leonardo da Vinci, and Nicholas Flamel, Zatanna belongs to the race of Homo Magi, who possess the innate ability to cast spells by speaking backwards (and are therefore susceptible to throat injuries). But while Zatanna’s magic makes her one of DC’s most powerful beings, theoretically capable of overpowering Superman, she’s at her best while working alongside gritty characters.
Batman and Catwoman are frequent allies/opponents of hers, a result of living just outside Gotham in a magically-guarded mansion named Shadowcrest, but Zatanna’s strongest allegiance is to the team of sorcerers known as Justice League Dark. Formed by Madame Xanadu to guard earth from supernatural threats, the team goes through many iterations, with Wonder Woman even leading it at one point – while possessed by the fragmented spirit of Hecate, the Greek goddess of witchcraft. Zatanna has an on-and-off relationship with her teammate, John Constantine (who is in the process of being cast for an HBO Max series following the occult detective’s own adventures).
With witches all the rage right now, it makes sense to finally elevate Zatanna to big-screen status, after having previously only appeared in live-action once on the CW. There is currently no actress attached to star in the lead role, although the internet is abuzz with fan-casting. My personal suggestions are British-Indian actress Anya Chalotra, who flawlessly portrayed the sorceress Yennefer in The Witcher‘s first season, and Pakistani-Indian actress Jameela Jamil – who’s already a member of the DC family thanks to a small role in the Harley Quinn animated series. If the film is more serious in tone, Chalotra’s quiet intensity would be a good fit for the role – but Jamil would nail a more irreverent, humorous interpretation.
As a third choice and a bit of a curveball, I’ll also throw Lady Gaga’s name into the mix, because she’s an Oscar-nominated actress who shares the character’s Italian heritage from the comics, and would certainly bring the campiness I want, as well as the kind of star power that could make this a true event film for general audiences. It feels a bit too much like stunt-casting, to be honest, but I’d be open to the idea.
So what do you think? Who are your top fan-casts for the role of Zatanna, and how do you want to see the character brought to life? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
The epic saga of Zack Snyder’s original vision for the Justice League movie is arguably more epic than the actual plots of either his film – commonly spoken of as “The Snyder Cut”, with the kind of hushed reverence befitting this semi-mythical Hollywood Holy Grail – or the almost universally-condemned version of his film put together by director Joss Whedon and released in 2017 – and often referred to nowadays as “Josstice League”; a dismissive nickname for a film which dismissed many of Snyder’s boldest ideas out-of-hand in favor of something more generic and “crowd-pleasing”, laced with Whedon’s traditional brand of humor. For years, “The Snyder Cut” of Justice League was the stuff of legend, so mysterious and controversial that many thought it didn’t even exist, and even those who knew about it thought its chances of being recovered, like Snyder’s over-arching vision for the DCEU, had died.
Yet here we are. Following loud and persistent demands from fans, cast, and crew, Warner Brothers finally gave Snyder the go-ahead to complete his already mostly-finished cut of Justice League, touching it up with some additional VFX work and a few minutes of new footage. The Snyder Cut is now available to watch exclusively on HBO Max, making it the ultimate crown jewel in the streaming service’s collection. But after the excessively long waiting-game, the suspenseful build-up, the pageantry and hype surrounding its release…is it, in fact, a better movie than Joss Whedon’s Justice League? Even if it is, is it really good enough to warrant all the attention, all the hashtags and the fan-campaigns, the uproar and the ceaseless arguing?
Fortunately, the answer is a resounding “yes” on both counts. It’s hard to even compare the two when it’s so clear in hindsight that the Snyder Cut is (despite several flaws) a complete, comprehensive work of art; and Whedon’s cut is merely an abridged and simplified version that strips away the artistry, the voice, the heart, and most damningly the soul of Snyder’s film, all while turning up the brightness and saturation to an 11, which I realize now is why some otherwise unchanged elements shared by the two films, such as Ezra Miller’s Flash costume, no longer make me want to rinse my eyes out with bleach. Is the Snyder Cut the greatest superhero film ever made? Not quite (at least to me personally), but the fact that it now ranks anywhere near the top of the list is enough for me to say this whole endeavor was worth it.
Clocking in at four hours (and helpfully divided into chapters of varying length for a more comfortable viewing experience), the Snyder Cut is basically the exact same story as before, but with all the purpose and power layered back in gradually over the course of the film. There’s just enough new (well, old) material to keep the story engaging and fresh, particularly the entire subplot with the villainous tyrant Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter), but the Snyder Cut’s secret weapon is its ability to take scenes and sequences we’ve already seen – and hated, I might add – and either completely recontextualize them and/or replace the character development and sincere emotion that Whedon removed. And those scenes justify the Snyder Cut’s existence, and make it easy to see why Warner Brothers held out for so long: it’s hard for studio execs to understand that audiences actually want character development and heartfelt stories, rather than nonstop CGI battles and crowd-pleasing jokes every other minute. A superhero movie that’s all about the former, and adds little of the latter? Good luck even getting that movie made.
But superhero movies are evolving well past the limitations imposed on them by studios constantly trying to outdo each other with more and more explosions, snarky one-liners, and third act plot twists. The Snyder Cut is able to be part of that evolution, even as it remains (on its surface) the story of a group of superhumans trying to disconnect sentient alien cubes to stop a cosmic dictator from wiping out all life on Earth. Deeper than that, it’s the story of Victor Stone (Ray Fisher, finally getting the screen-time and justice he deserves), whose every waking moment, trapped in a metal cyborg body designed to keep him alive after a brutal car-crash, is a reminder of pain, guilt, and regret over having been saved from the brink of death in the first place. Victor’s inner struggle is the crux of the film, and out of the large ensemble cast he comes closest to being the singular protagonist. His journey to some level of self-acceptance, piecing together the broken bits of himself to form a whole, mirrors the journey of the disassembled Justice League, which must form to save Earth from Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds).
Other characters have more broadly-sketched emotional arcs, probably as a result of having had origin films or sequels on the way at the time of Justice League’s production. But even so, they’re each benefited by the freedom that four hours allows – Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), the Aquaman, actually gets to interact with some of his Atlantean brethren beyond just Mera (Amber Heard), planting the seeds for later plot-points like his return to Atlantis and his brother Orm’s betrayal. I generally prefer James Wan’s vision of Atlantis to Snyder’s (which is significantly more bleak, and dark, and did I mention bleak?), but it is nice to see Willem Dafoe again as Aquaman’s mentor Vulko, still pestering him about his destiny and the trident and all that, but sporting a far more magnificent wig than before.
As for the Amazonian warrior Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), it’s glaringly obvious how many of the problems with her character in the theatrical cut of Justice League were wholly the fault of Joss Whedon, as Snyder’s take on the character mostly respects the version of the heroine established by Patty Jenkins in Wonder Woman: never subjecting her to sexist humor or cinematography, giving her a far more prominent role as a leader and strategist as well as a warrior, and removing the awkward, inorganic flirtatious interactions between her and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Her action scenes are the best in the film, thanks to the thrilling jaggedness of her physical movements, her unique array of weapons, and the eerie wailing female vocals that accompany her into every battle. And there’s one shot of her – too breathtaking to spoil – that perfectly emphasizes how ancient and otherworldly she really is, and how misguided Whedon was to try and sacrifice that aspect of her character.
But the real surprises, at least for me, were Affleck’s Bruce Wayne and Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen. I had so utterly rejected both these actors’ takes on the characters for so long that it was painful to admit that I actually liked them in the Snyder Cut, especially Miller, whose physical acting whenever they get moving is actually mesmerizing to watch, made up of ethereal fluid movements and incredibly gentle gestures. They’re allowed to be serious, and to make their way through scenes without cracking jokes, and their role in the third act is just…intensely cool. As previously mentioned, even their costume looks decent. The same can’t be said of Affleck, whose Batsuit is still atrociously ugly, but in his case the writing is just better overall. Even though he’s the weak link in the League in terms of physical strength and superpowers, the Snyder Cut shows Wayne actually grappling with that fact as well as working past it by utilizing his intellect in fights. He’s never going to be able to hold his own against Steppenwolf for long, and Snyder doesn’t offer him any convenient plot-armor, so he often has to act cautiously and strategically – underscoring his courage in the third-act battle.
Each character’s specific fighting style (besides just their obviously distinct powers) makes for a series of diverse action scenes, ranging from a surprisingly ferocious battle between Wonder Woman and a group of European terrorists, to the third-act battle in which she, Aquaman, and a resurrected Superman (Henry Cavill, no longer obviously suffering from the digitally-removed mustache problem) go toe-to-toe with Steppenwolf, brilliantly bouncing off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Steppenwolf himself has gone from being one of the worst and most underdeveloped villains in superhero cinema to among the most memorable; a tantalizing, terrifying glimpse of the power of Apokolips. He might look like just a sentient monolith of bone and spine, but he’s almost sympathetic by the time we have to root for the heroes to take him down…and he’s only the weakest of the villains in Darkseid’s inner circle, as the film makes clear. If the Snyderverse is eventually restored, I can’t wait to see characters like Desaad and Granny Goodness join the battle for Earth.
That’s a big “if”, but the mostly self-contained story does include an epilogue with several cliffhangers and teases – all for a sequel we have to hope we’ll someday see, in one form or another. Most of Darkseid’s storyline is left for that hypothetical sequel to deal with, making for a viewing experience that is equal parts electrifying and frustrating, as the four hours start running out and you remember you’re watching merely the first installment in Snyder’s planned trilogy. Then there’s the added wrinkle of Jared Leto’s Joker, a character only recently included in the final minutes of the movie by Snyder, leading to a highly-anticipated encounter between him and his nemesis Batman. No spoilers here, but I was left somewhat underwhelmed by the strange back-and-forth between the characters, which only confirms that Leto’s Joker is not the bold artistic expression he clearly thinks it is.
Rather, Leto’s brief, bizarre, performance is part of a pattern throughout Snyder’s films of small and generally harmless things which, taken out of context and ridiculed online, can easily make the director come across as pretentious and overly-serious. And sure, the Snyder Cut is unintentionally silly at times: an Icelandic villager inhaling Aquaman’s manly scent from his discarded sweater while her fellow townsfolk hail the Atlantean demigod with a hymn is…certainly a choice. Superman posing Jesus-style above the world after his resurrection is some over-the-top religious symbolism. But these are little things, and they don’t accurately represent the entire film.
No matter what you think of Snyder or his past work, it should be obvious that the Snyder Cut is something he loves deeply, and into which he poured a great deal of effort and heart. That doesn’t necessarily always result in a terrific movie, and it could be argued that Snyder loves his work too much, as evidenced by his lack of editing and consequently monumental runtimes – but every moment of the Snyder Cut’s daunting length is worth it for the powerful and quietly respectful scenes each character has gained, for the new perspective on specific arcs and beats we might otherwise have dismissed, and for that love and unique personality which now emanates throughout the story, bringing life back to the Justice League.
First rule of comic-books: no death is irreversible.
There’s a small but memorable scene in Wonder Woman 1984 in which the film’s major antagonist, Maxwell Lord (the irresistibly charming Pedro Pascal), having just worked his dark magic on the President of the United States and sparked an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union, tries to escape from an altercation at the White House only to find himself awkwardly handcuffed to Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), Wonder Woman’s quick-thinking sidekick and lover. I bring this up because it’s representative of the film overall, which handcuffs itself to Pine’s Trevor and stubbornly sticks to him even as his very presence in the story demands that the entire plot revolve around him and not the lead character. The only way this metaphor could have been made even stronger would be if Wonder Woman herself were handcuffed to Trevor in this scene to reflect the film’s inability to give independence or agency to its female characters.
Make no mistake, I loved Pine in the first film – and I adored the mature, elegant romance between him and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot): which was written in such a way that both characters could be strong and vulnerable with each other, and both had equal footing – with Diana clearly and effortlessly remaining the lead. Trevor’s death in Wonder Woman was a heartbreaking and powerful moment that allowed us all to see the good in humanity. And yet he’s back in Wonder Woman 1984, nearly a century after his death in World War I, doing pretty well for a guy whom we last saw get blown to bits in mid-air. Prior to the film’s release, I was as excited as anyone to see him return: in hindsight, I’m beginning to realize how foolish it was to ever attempt something that could so easily go so wrong…and did.
It’s blasphemous to even suggest, I know. The first film relied so heavily on that spark of chemistry between the two actors and their characters. But Wonder Woman 1984 had the means to substitute that timeless pairing for another one that could have been just as well-written and well-received, if director Patty Jenkins and her team of screenwriters hadn’t decided to resurrect Steve Trevor for one last lackluster hurrah: because let me tell you, everything that’s bad about this film’s flawed script, from the convoluted globe-trotting adventure to the random interlude with a Mayan shaman, feels to me like the inevitable side-effect of having to devise an excuse for how Steve was even able to come back at all.
And with the return of Steve Trevor, Diana herself gets sidelined in a story that seems almost uninterested in her as an individual. She’s got nowhere left to go and nothing new to learn, essentially. A vague theme about the importance of being true to yourself is woven throughout the film, but it’s not exactly an urgent message that Diana personally has to embrace, unlike the first film’s timely reminder to believe in the goodness of people. She was being true to herself anyway, before Steve randomly came back into her life and took over her entire storyline (oh, the parallels to Avengers: Endgame). I mean, it’s really a shame there was no way to weave this message more cleverly into the plot and romantic subplot by…oh I don’t know, making this a queer love story?
Just as DC preceded Marvel in the department of successful female-led superhero movies, many of us had hoped they’d be the first to give us a proudly and openly LGBTQ+ superheroine onscreen in the form of Diana Prince (Harley Quinn was vaguely bisexual in Birds Of Prey, and a supervillain anyway). We’ve known for some time that wouldn’t be the case, with Patty Jenkins confirming that wasn’t the story she wanted to tell. But what we get instead is a film that tiptoes around even the possibility of a same-sex romance as clumsily as Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig) strides around the Smithsonian in high heels. Now, to be fair, most of the romantic tension between Diana and Barbara is more a result of the palpable chemistry between the two actresses (the quiet, ethereal Gadot and sparky, exuberant Wiig complimenting each other very nicely), rather than necessarily indicative of anything intentionally written into the script, but at the same time…come on. Both Diana and Barbara are canonically bisexual in DC Comics, and you’re telling me Patty Jenkins didn’t know what she was doing by casting a romantic filter over their awkwardly flirtatious lunch overlooking the Washington Monument, or having Barbara tumble into Diana’s arms in a subversion of a dated Hollywood romantic trope? It’s queerbaiting that only serves to underscore the fact that the rest of the movie is, in the words of one of my favorite reviewers, Valerie Complex; “aggressively heteronormative”.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the scenes that center women are the highlights of the film: from those early interactions between Diana and Barbara, to the epic prologue action sequence on the Amazonian isle of Themyscira, to a cheeky and delightful mid-credits scene. But none of these isolated scenes make up for the fact that the character arcs of both female leads in Wonder Woman 1984 (one of those female leads being a literal icon of feminism) revolve almost entirely around men. For Diana, that’s Chris Pine’s Steve, who returns with the help of an incredibly convenient plot device and plays fish-out-of-water for a while…a really long while, during an excruciating montage that exists solely to trot out every semi-nostalgic 80’s cultural trope you can imagine. Pine is still perfectly likable and has some laugh-out-loud line deliveries, but never truly recaptures what made his character so special – and thus feels like a burden the film must carry.
For Barbara Ann Minerva, it’s Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord – who is quite an interesting character, despite being surprisingly little like the young Donald Trump we all assumed he would be based on the promotional material. An oil tycoon with his eye on a legendary ancient wishing stone forged by the Gods, Lord seduces the world with his voice and power to make the impossible possible. He’s got Trumpian elements to his character, of course (among the more obvious examples: he yells “You’re hired!” at one point), but his motivations are relatable, and his charm genuine. Pascal also just oozes the kind of unshakably consistent charisma that can turn a silent, faceless gunslinger into a beloved icon, or make a dumpster fire of a movie like We Can Be Heroes shockingly entertaining.
Minerva herself does get to transform into the anthropomorphic Cheetah we know from the comics, and the CGI isn’t entirely awful as she flails about in her dimly-lit third-act duel with Diana (or perhaps Diana’s Golden Eagle armor is so distractingly awful I didn’t notice), but she deserved to be the major antagonist of this film, and not merely Maxwell’s loyal henchwoman. I’m also afraid that Wiig’s excellent dramatic performance and thrilling action sequences will be overshadowed in the larger fandom discourse.
Apart from Wiig’s notable fights (particularly her brutal takedown of a drunk man who continually harasses her on her jogging route), the action in Wonder Woman 1984 is fairly slight, with the only other standout being the prologue on Themyscira, where the Amazons compete for honor and glory in a series of challenges that test their physical abilities. If Jenkins is going to commit to having Diana only use her Lasso of Truth as a weapon (an idea I actually really like, as it reflects the character’s refusal to kill), she just has to find better ways to incorporate it into action scenes, because it can too easily come off as overly ridiculous.
Jenkins did make other “campy” elements from the character’s mythology work for Wonder Woman 1984, though, including Cheetah (doesn’t matter if she’s dressing up as a cat, or literally morphing into one: it’s still a hilariously campy concept), and the Invisible Jet – which comes about through a bizarre but acceptable deus ex machina. Unlike Shazam, this film isn’t trying to be goofy or funny: it still takes itself very seriously, and thus comes across as uniquely earnest for a superhero movie. In some ways, I’d say that’s one of several ways in which the movie evokes real 80’s adventure movies: both the good and the bad. The heightened sense of adventure, the not-so-great CGI you’re willing to excuse because everything happening onscreen is just so much fun, and the outdated perceptions of women and foreign nations that make us cringe deeply in our souls (we just need to collectively stop letting white American directors write North African and Middle Eastern nations into their scripts, because they’ve proven they’re not up to the task of handling those nations and their individual cultures at all well).
There’s still plenty of hope for the Wonder Woman franchise in the near future. We’re not dealing with another Crimes Of Grindelwald here (although the box-office reception would seem to disagree). But the divisive audience reactions and legitimate criticisms of Wonder Woman 1984 should hopefully alert Warner Brothers to the need to put this series back on track with better screenwriters and a stronger, more cohesive focus on women as individuals with their own storylines….even (and especially) if that means no more Steve Trevor.
Michael Keaton must have enjoyed his recent stint as the Marvel supervillain Vulture, because it appears that he’s even considering rejoining the DC Extended Universe – returning to the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman for the first time since 1992. And not just for one quick cameo, either: no, the rumor is that Keaton will take on a recurring role throughout several films in the DCEU, in a capacity that many are comparing to Samuel L. Jackson’s guest star roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films as Nick Fury.
Keaton is expected to make his big comeback at some point in The Flash movie. The film – apparently still starring Ezra Miller as the goofy, super-fast hero – has long been rumored to mess about with the DCEU’s already complicated continuity, doing what it can to bring some cohesion to the chaos with the help of alternate realities and time travel. Keaton’s Batman could very well show up to help Miller’s Flash with that daunting task: and as a business strategy, it would be genius. Not only will Keaton’s name and the Batman brand recognition alone entice general audiences, but setting up Miller and Keaton as a comedic duo could keep audiences enthused, entertained, and willing to suspend their disbelief while The Flash and The Batman work out how to fix the DCEU’s canon in a film that could potentially have a lot of pseudo-scientific exposition.
Meanwhile, moviegoers who are still looking forward to Robert Pattinson’s take on the Dark Knight need not fear: while Michael Keaton’s Batman might replace Ben Affleck’s largely reviled version of the character in the main timeline of the DCEU, Pattinson’s version exists on the peripheries, much like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. So don’t expect the entire DCEU to suddenly fit together perfectly due to this: even if we do get a whole bunch of time-travel/world-hopping shenanigans, I’d imagine the intent behind that would be to focus on reversing and/or rewriting parts of Justice League, firmly defining what does and does not exist in the main canon, and putting the franchise on a clear path forward.
Michael Keaton is, as I mentioned, expected to stick around in the role for at least a few more films, including a planned Batgirl solo film. If he were to continue, The Hollywood Reporter notes that his Batman could be “something of a mentor or a guide or even string puller”, which definitely sounds similar to Nick Fury over in the MCU and would probably be very appealing to Keaton, who could reap the benefits for years to come. However, all of that is far ahead in the future, and Michael Keaton hasn’t even been officially signed on yet: The Flash is expected to start filming in the first quarter of next year, giving him a bit more time to make his decision. But the pressure is going to be put on him heavily now: the news is already sparking plenty of fan hype, and the DCEU won’t want to let go of that momentum – they’ve actually been riding high for a couple weeks now, following some very well-received reports that Henry Cavill could return as Superman and that the DC will have their own fan-event later this summer to rival San Diego Comic-Con At Home and Disney’s D23 Expo.
Beyond the fact that Michael Keaton is finally going to return to this iconic role, this casting has major ramifications for the future of the DCEU, as it suggests that other versions of well-known characters could possibly show up, either in The Flash or later down the line – and with DC Comics having a very long history of being adapted to the big and small screen, there’s plenty of material they could draw from: much like what the CW network did when adapting the DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths storyline, where they snatched up a number of actors from various other DC-adjacent properties and had them come together for a spectacular showdown (incidentally, DC may have been laying the groundwork for this very moment when they had Ezra Miller’s Flash cameo in Crisis On Infinite Earths alongside Grant Gustin’s version of the Flash – there’s no word yet on whether CW talent could cross over into the films, but it’s certainly not out of the question anymore).
To be quite honest, this news could be a life-saver for The Flash, which has been stagnating quietly for years now, waiting for someone to come in and save the project from utter oblivion. Andy Muschietti, who is, as of right now, still signed on to direct the picture and is apparently the one who extended the offer to Keaton, was that “someone”. Now let’s just hope we get to see this suddenly very intriguing film soon!
What do you think about the news that Michael Keaton is returning to the DCEU? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!