Tabbing Zack Snyder director of an upcoming Justice League film, as Warner Bros. did over the weekend, isn't what I would call an inspired choice, but it sure is an intriguing one. If nothing else, WB has positioned itself as the anti-Marvel Studios once and for all. It might be after the same Avengers-style box office success as Marvel, but it seems intent on achieving it in an entirely different way. Start with Snyder. And before even glancing at his somewhat checkered filmography, consider that he is just one man. Snyder directed the Superman reboot Man of Steel last year. He will direct Batman vs. Superman, which is due out in 2016. And he will follow that with the Justice League movie soon after. Warner Bros. could reasonably expect those three films to be among its 10 biggest earners for the entire decade (a semi-wild guess there), and the buck stops with just one man.
It's nigh unfathomable to imagine Marvel Studios, faceless above-average-movie-making machine that it is, trusting one person with so much. Sure, Joss Whedon gets to come back for Avengers: Age of Ultron, but even after raking in more than a billion, his story still has to fit in to the overall Avengers universe that has been constructed -- a universe that sprawls out across multiple sub-franchises and is managed by a veritable sea of creative voices, comparatively speaking. And this is roughly the point where it becomes quite a gamble for WB to entrust so much to Snyder.
If someone over at Marvel puts out something that's sub-par it almost doesn't matter. The faulty cog is cast aside. The machine rolls along. What happens to Justice League if Batman vs. Superman is a disaster? Is it time for an awkward conversation with Snyder? Does WB double down? The reality is that it's unlikely Snyder's upcoming films will be Titanic-style shipwrecks, at least financially speaking. Batman and Superman are still more recognizable (and thus bankable) than anyone in the Marvel universe, and the appetite for comic book adaptations doesn't appear to be slowing in the least. Couple all that with Snyder's success on Man of Steel and it's hard to imagine a scenario where he's hemorrhaging money all of a sudden.
But short-term finances give us a limited, narrow view of success. Put another way, not all financial windfalls are created equal. Quality builds consumer trust and consumer trust builds brand loyalty. This is a lesson that Marvel Studios' parent company, Disney, illustrates as well as any company on the planet, and, at least in the comic-book-to-movie-adaptation world, it is an area where WB is well behind its biggest competitor.
There's a dual risk in aligning so closely with Snyder. If the films are actually (not financially) good, then, as with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, it could be more his success to celebrate than WB/DC Comics since he will be so directly responsible for them. If they are not, then WB/DC Comics falls further behind Marvel Studios in the credibility department.
Lest you think that the latter isn't a possibility, keep in mind that Snyder is responsible (recently, too) for Sucker Punch. His track record at least hints at a lower ceiling of excellence than, say, a Nolan or Whedon.
That's another way of saying WB has quite a bit riding on just one guy -- not an auteur or a genius or a wunderkind -- a guy. It would be enough to keep me up at night through 2019 ...