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The ‘Aquaman’ Squalor: How Geoff Johns Was Running DC Films

What Happened We all know that Zack Snyder was creating a world like no other when Geoff Johns was brought in to oversee DC Films. With all of Zacks allegorical references and real-world dichotomies, watching Man of Steel and Batman v Superman felt like a true Saga. From the opening Krypton battle to the political characterization of the American Media, […]



What Happened

We all know that Zack Snyder was creating a world like no other when Geoff Johns was brought in to oversee DC Films. With all of Zacks allegorical references and real-world dichotomies, watching Man of Steel and Batman v Superman felt like a true Saga. From the opening Krypton battle to the political characterization of the American Media, these films truly dealt with a major question: What would our World be like if a Superman existed today? And at the same time, Geoff Johns was creating an Aquaman Comic run for the character that was finally gaining respect.

Without going too much into detail, it was almost as if the films themselves were a commentary for the society we live in. Just like in the Man of Steel, everyone NOT familiar with this version of the character chastized his existence. Because we (the people in the Batman v Superman) knew nothing about Superman, he was a threat. And because they (the bloggers and critics) knew nothing about this film version of Superman, they couldn’t accept it.

Behind The Scenes

What happens when someone involved with creating what we, the audience, actually see in DC Films? Never have we been able to hear the other side of the story. Why was Wonder Woman’s third act not in line with the rest of the film? Why did it feel like Suicide Squad was edited to please an audience with a short attention span? And most importantly, WHY WAS JUSTICE LEAGUE COMPLETELY RUINED?

Well, we might have some answers now. After listening to The Fire & Water Podcast show, it’s clear to me that we can see what happened with the mess that is ‘Worlds of DC’. What I have done is written out a majority of what Neil Daly and his brother, Ryan Daly, talk about on the show. Within the commentary, I will give my thoughts on what is actually being said and what it means to Zacks films in the DC Universe. And if you don’t believe me, you can easily give it a listen here.

The Outset

I paraphrase a lot of what was spoken because to write everything he said down would be useless. I wanted to highlight what he does say, therefore, everything in quotes is a direct statement but with some things omitted for reader purposes. This person had direct interaction with the tail end of Justice League and was heavily involved with test screening Aquaman.

As for test screening Aquaman, just know that during the process it was listed under different names. It was also told to audience members that different studios were involved with creating it. This was a failsafe to help nullify the bias towards Warner Bros., Disney or any other studio that might irk viewers.

The Fire & Water Podcast

Ryan Daly, the host, has already expressed he had a biased opinion of Zack Snyder AND Batman v Superman. He also did the same for Aquaman mainly because of Momoa and Snyder casting him for the film. Now, I won’t shy away from using their negative comments about DC Films since it highlights these aren’t friends of the community. They don’t appreciate the films I do and it’s clear. But, just because I don’t like what they’re saying doesn’t make it NOT true. That’s the biggest take away for me.

Neil Daly, his brother, is a market research analysis for Warner Bros. films. His job is to tell executives and studios what tests well with audiences and what could be a major influence on how the films are received. He tells the studio what works, what doesn’t work, and WHY it doesn’t work for the films they’re testing. He, too, didn’t like Momoa in the role of Aquaman at first. Now, he can’t see anyone playing the character EXCEPT Momoa after watching the film. He also wasn’t a fan of what Zack Snyder was doing with the previous entries of the DC Universe. I say that because even with his bias towards DC Films, what he says is informative. As the saying goes: “The Enemy of My Enemy is my friend”.

The Details On Justice League

Warner Bros. was clearly meddling in Zacks Universe with his plans of TWO more Justice League films. As we should be well aware, Cyborg would have had a definitive role with the entire formation of the League. He also did various test screenings for Justice League and had questionnaires to follow the showings. The main question was ‘Rank the characters in the film’. Neil states:

Wonder Woman stood at the top. Aquaman and Flash were roughly neck and neck. And it was more Flash because of his comedic relief kind of geeky relief kind of thing. Women and Men alike liked Aquaman. They liked Jason Momoa. There was a lot of that and he had universal appeal to both Men and Women as being a marketable commodity. And Batman and Superman fell way at the bottom of the list.

Neils Thoughts On Aquaman

The bar is set pretty low so let’s take that into account. If I was going to compare it to the DC Universe, I would have it probably behind…just behind Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman’s third act was a mess. But I liked the Universe they created and I cared more for the characters in Wonder Woman all across the board than I did for this one. I would put it up there. But again, the bar is pretty low. Now if I was comparing this to say some of the Marvel Universe movies, it’d probably be middle of the road.

DC gave you the movie that they wanted you to see. In other words, they needed to have a popcorn movie. They needed a fun, cotton-candy matinee movie that was fun and pretty and upbeat. Because of the backlash from the previous outings. So that’s exactly the movie that they wanted you to see. So in that aspect, if you take it at face value, they did their job.

What He Was Really Saying

Neil thought the plot was flimsy and had a lot of holes in it mainly because he was there from the inception of Aquaman. “The reason Warner Bros. got James Wan was they wanted another Fast & Furious.” Neil also thought, like my co-host Ben, that “they borrowed too much from the Loki/Thor aspect.” He did enjoy the breakdown for when Orm is reunited with Atlanna and that makes sense. He ranks Aquaman with Wonder Woman. No disrespect meant towards that film, it’s just those like me rank either Man of Steel or Batman v Superman among they’re top two DC films. Again, that’s fans akin to me.

He also brings up a valid point: Arthur was supposed to be the bridge between two worlds and we actually never see that. Similar to Man of Steel, Clark represents the bridge between his Human side as well as his Kryptonian side. Neil reassures us he knows that “THAT is where they’re going within later installments so I’ll give them a pass on that.”

Why That’s Important

Just from the few statements above, it’s pretty shocking. Now we know WHY Batman and Superman don’t have rushed sequels or solo films. To Warner Bros, they’re not important to ‘modern audiences.’ I use quotations because no matter what, no one should be basing decisions on 300 to 400 people for an entire fandom. But now we know that’s what’s happening and it’s a major influence behind Warner Bros’ decisions.

What I also noticed is this: What I said about Aquaman not having layers is accurate. We most likely won’t see the likes of Batman v Superman ever again, and that’s ok. The fact Snyder even got that film released is a conundrum. On the one hand, it’s my favorite film. On the other, it’s so above what I thought a film could be that no other film can match it. I must admit: That’s a good problem to have.

What Does Neil Do?

I’m an independent freelance Market Research Analysis and Focus Group Moderator. I currently have an exclusive agreement with Warner Bros and New Line Cinema. I’ve been tasked to do all the DC projects coming forward. So I came aboard midway through Justice League at the beginning of 2017. I’ve also done Aquaman and Shazam which I can’t speak really much about. I’ve got the schedule of my upcoming projects as well.”

“My job essentially is: The studio will contact me and say they want to recruit a select audience and it’s always under a secret title. But they want to get about 300 to 400 people for a secret screening. [The Audience] knows it’s not complete, it’s a market research project, and we’re gonna show them the movie. They all have to sign VIGOROUS Non-Disclosure Agreements. We check ID’s and we get their personal info and we get their Twitter-handle. They keep it under lock and key. Security is ridiculously tight.”

Why That’s Important

What Neil has just told us is that Warner Bros. puts a lot of stake into test audiences. While that upsets me to learn, I completely understand why. They have a lot of investors that they depend on to finance these films we love so much. Without gaining an understanding of how the ‘General Audience’ perceives their films, they can’t make an accurate assessment. They already know the nerds like you and me will show up. What they DON’T know is who else will show up.

The Process

But then we show them the movies, get their feedback, and the studio will usually section it off. They’ll determine how they want to market it. Usually, for a comic book movie, they’ll want us to score the film in 4 different quadrants. Meaning like Young Males-Older Males. Young Females-Older Females and they’ll determine the midpoint of an age range. Every screening is absolutely different. Then we’ll hand them the questionnaires and I’ll select a completely random section of them.”

“I’m given a selection of random questions ahead of time that [the studio] wants to focus on. Then I’ll conduct a focus group of about 20 people and get into a more detailed and moderated discussions. What their favorite scenes were? What characters they liked or what didn’t they like. How did they feel about pacing? How did they feel about the beginning versus the end? Was there anything they were confused about. And then at the end of the day, I take all the actual written responses and go through them and create a report. Then come back to the studio with a presentation with “this is where your movie is lacking, this is where your movie is succeeding. This is what they want more of. This is what they want less of.

Why That’s Important

If you’re in sales like me, this makes perfect sense. I know that 10% of the market will buy my product with no questions asked (most of us DC Fans). I also know that 10% of the market WON’T buy my product no matter what I sell (some Marvel fans). It’s the 80% that we focus our marketing strategy on. There are a plethora of buyers that just want well-made products whether that be comic book movies or not.

So to be able to show a film in its raw form to gauge response is crucial. The test audience isn’t studying the film as I would mainly because I do that with complete films. But what does a non-cinephile look for in films? And most of all, what will they enjoy enough to keep showing up to theaters? That’s what these test screenings show the investors who have more money invested in these films than most earn in a year. Think about that the next time you think rotten tomatoes is manipulating films at the box office.

What The Studio Says

Then the studio, often times, will take that information and go back to the creative team and recut the movie or reshape it. And then we’ll do another screening a month down the road and kind of go through the same process over and over again. Sometimes [the studio] listens. Sometimes they don’t.

You’ve got the marketing team which is the executives and studio and then you’ve got the creative team which is the filmmaker, the writers, directors, etc. And they’re very often, at odds. So my job is often to mediate between the two. My job is to purely show data in the most analytical way possible.

Why That’s Important

This part is what we all should know. The people involved with lending the money and the people involved with creating a film aren’t one and the same. Christopher Nolan understood that. It’s the reason he told Zack Snyder:

“Hollywood makes two types of movies. Director driven movies and movies by committee.”

We all should understand the difference in allowing creative freedom and limiting it. Even Batman v Superman was tampered with, yet I hardly see the cry against it like Justice League. And rightfully so. At least with Batman v Superman, it was already completed and Rated R before the studio got cold feet.

What Really Happened To Zack Snyders Universe?

There was a far-reaching Universe that was a lot more similar to Marvels plan for the DC project than most people realize. And Snyder was given a raw deal when they chose to pull him out and remove him from the project because there were a lot of things in place. Like for example, there are things that are common knowledge now. Aquaman saves Clark Kent from the oil rig in Man of Steel. And there were things from Batman v Superman that never came to fruition. There was a lot left out. Snyders overall plan was a 5 or 6 movie arc. It was going to be Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League, Man of Steel 2. [And] then a two-part Justice League 2 and 3, essentially.”

5-Story Arc

It was more or less supposed to tell the arc of Superman. [Man of Steel] was supposed to be that Superman, in the beginning, was supposed to be a reluctant, apathetic hero. A man that didn’t know if he belonged on this Earth, didn’t know how much he wanted to save people. And at the time [Batman v Superman] came out, one of the biggest criticisms everyone had was ‘Superman is too similar to Batman, there’s no contrast. They’re both these brooding, morbid characters that are kinda unlikeable.

“That’s the last taste in the mouth that everybody has of Zack Snyders version because then he got pulled from Justice League. Had he been able to play out his whole story, eventually we would have seen the arc where Superman does become the Hero Boy Scout. [The] all American, [The] deputized [version] by the President where we’re never going to get to see that.”

And Aquaman?

“So this kind of started a little bit in Justice League. What I’m saying is privy to being in the room and having first-hand knowledge about [this] so I can tell you these things are true. The idea of doing the Justice League movie was Warner Bros. constant playing catchup to Marvel. Snyder never wanted to release the Justice League movie that early in the Universe. He wanted everybody to have their own standalone films. Have their backstories and follow the same model as Marvel. Warner Bros. didn’t want to do that. They wanted to play catchup as fast as possible. They wanted to get the team out there so they kind of scrambled together to get these castings together.”

“So what James Wan inherited here was Snyders version of the character and where he was going to go with it. The backstory was already there and prewritten. There were things left out. For instance, in Dawn of Justice [Justice League], there was a sequence where Aquaman saves a fisherman. [Aquaman] then goes down to Atlantis to defend the Motherbox against Steppenwolf.”

What Happened In The Snyder Cut

“What you didn’t see was the attack on the fisherman’s boat was by Darkseid’s parademons and Aquaman saved it. That’s when Aquaman realizes Steppenwolf is after the Motherbox and he went down there to protect it. And then there was another whole sequence where Vulko explains to him that the Motherbox wasn’t even in Atlantis. Vulko has a line where he says: ‘There’s so much you don’t know and so much you haven’t seen.’ Now the reason I mention that is because it’s very confusing for people that just saw Aquaman. [The test audience] is saying it looks like he’s seeing Atlantis for the first time. They think he was already there in the last movie.”

The Joss Whedon Effect

I have a working relationship with Whedon and it pains me to say this but he REALLY ruined that movie. When you hear people talk about [how] Joss Whedon came in and cleaned up the movie and did some reshoots…that’s not entirely accurate. Basically, he reshot at least 50% of the movie. 50% of Justice League was completely redone. Gutted, scrapped. I mean Darkseid was in it. Darkseid was the villain. Ares from Wonder Woman was in it. He was cut out.”

“There was more Cyborg. Cyborg had a Knightmare version when he plugged into the scout ship before they [ressurect] Clark Kent. There was so much cut out. The whole Russian family was all Joss Whedon. And then on top of that, what Joss Whedon brought in, James Wan had to completely do away with it. Joss did a lot of bad jokes. He tried to beef up the teenage boy, sexual humor innuendos like Flash falling on Wonder Woman’s cleavage. Martha Kent and Lois being thirsty. And the lasso sequence around Arthur where he starts to huff and eyes her down.

Why That’s Important

None of that should really be a surprise to you. We know that Joss ruined what Zack built. We also know that Ares and Steppenwolf had their own battle cut from Justice League depicted in the Shrine of The Amazon’s. I know from different sources that Cyborg does in fact see the Knightmare version when he plugs into the Kryptonian ship.

The other MAJOR thing that no one seems to be in shock over, is that MULTIPLE Green Lanterns would have been in the History Lesson. Zack was even setting up Goyer’s Green Lantern film, even though he probably didn’t need to. It would have been a great way to insert the Corps without feeling like they needed multiple films. That’s probably why the dialogue “No Lanterns” spoken by Steppenwolf was removed.

What James Wan Did

So James Wan had to really course correct away from [what Joss Whedon did]. [If not] then we could have gotten an Aquaman film where he’s fawning over Mera and making dirty jokes the whole time. They had to really kind of get away from that. So Snyder had a little more influence on Aquaman.”

“James was showing Snyder, AGAINST THE STUDIO’S WISHES, cuts of [his] film and early test screens and storyboards to make sure they were on the same page with the original idea. This is when Snyder gave Wan his blessing of approval and liked that Wan was bringing the character back to the original idea he had all along.

What The Studio Wanted Aquaman To Be

“I screened Aquaman 4 times during 2018. The earliest one was near February. [Another] one in April. And then two back to back around Fall. The earliest one we did was maybe 10% rendered with CGI. But this was when they were fleshing out the characters themselves and working on the script. In these early ones, one of the conversations they had was they wanted more Iron Man in Aquaman. They wanted him to have more wit under his breath with a little more dry sense of humor.”

“Because in the early versions [test screened], there wasn’t a lot of comedy. There really wasn’t. It had to come a long way and they did. So it was neat seeing how they punched up Momoa’s dialogue like “I could have just peed on it”. That wasn’t in the script early on. They wanted it to be more light-hearted humor and they thought Iron Man was the mirror they were trying to go for.” 

Was Warner Bros. Worried About The Character Early On?

Yes. Absolutely. The audiences were stating the movie was too long. I knew that in April, when the movie was coming in at 3 hours, that it was too long. Obviously, we all knew a lot had to be cut. We thought that it would get cut down to the two-hour mark that Warner Bros. mandated for Justice League. Remember, they mandated it could NOT go over two hours. So we figured it would be the same thing. But because that all blew up in their face, they gave Wan a little more freedom.”

“However, what was interesting about this was there was so much involved with this movie. And everyone involved had an issue with the Black Manta character. James Wan kept fighting against having that much Manta in the movie. He kept saying ‘I shot all of this stuff. This stuff is all prelude to the next film I want to do.” And the response from Warner Bros. said “We don’t know if we’re going to get to do another sequel. We have no idea. So throw everything in there and let’s see what sticks.

What They Should Have Worried About

“It wasn’t until the summer that [Warner Bros & Neil] knew we had a hit. We didn’t know it would be a billion dollar hit but results were indicating this was going to be a hit. But the subject kept coming up in my focus group: We don’t know why Black Manta is predominantly featured in this film. They wanted him saved for another movie. And I’ll never forget the post focus group conversation with Geoff Johns, James Wan, Me, and Toby Emmerich and all the executives. Geoff Johns told James Wan:”

“You cannot cut a single frame of Black Manta. I love him in and figure out some other way to shorten it. We’re not cutting ANY of Black Manta.”

So Why Does Aquaman Still Have Orm?

For anyone wondering why they didn’t do a Black Manta as the main villain? That’s because The Snyder Cut of Justice League is still canon. “Aquaman always had to be about Orm because there was a cut scene at the end of Justice League. Zack Snyders ending for Justice League was Vulko & Mera coming to get Aquaman to tell him about his brother. This was all shot and set up.”

“The end of the [Justice League] was basically “there’s a problem at home and you gotta come with us.” [Aquaman] was all set up from that. So going forward, could it have been cut out? Yeah. But I think this movie was already started and being developed. But long before the movie was locked, they knew they had a good movie here. They didn’t need this much Black Manta and test screenings showed this. Somebody in the executive studio, including my discussions with [them] was: You’ve got a hit here. Cut the movie down. You could cut 20-30 minutes out. Limit the Black Manta sequences and save them for another movie. You’re going to do a sequel.

Why That’s Important

Wan going against studio wishes and involving Snyder more than they wanted is key here. It’s the reason Zack was mum during Aquaman’s theatrical run BEFORE it hit a billion. It’s also probably why it wasn’t until AFTER Aquaman earned a billion at the Box Office that Zack resurfaced with more Justice League clues. But hearing Aquaman was a more serious film in its early stages makes sense to me. I even brought up in one of our shows that the jokes felt added in, based on how serious the opening felt. That’s probably why most people that enjoy Man of Steel and Batman v Superman weren’t particularly keen on the humor in Aquaman.

Add that Geoff Johns enforced his prerogative on James Wan by forcing Black Manta not be cut, and it becomes clear. What Geoff couldn’t foresee, was that his input was dwindling. I get the feeling that maybe Geoff knew he was on the way out and if nothing else, wanted to see Black Manta on the screen. When else would he have the opportunity to see him? All it costed him was everything. Where does a sequel go from here? How do you top The Karathen?

The Geoff Johns Era

“Geoff Johns was a heavy hitter in some of these meetings. He had Toby Emmerich’s ear. Before Hamada came in, they had scrapped EVERY Snyder idea and had they used the focus groups during Justice League without starting on Aquaman, they would have made Flash. This is why Ben Affleck wanted out of Batman. Aquaman was the only story that was close to being finished.”

When asked how Aquaman even got into the conversation: “It had to be Geoff Johns. The fact they included Cyborg, that’s all Geoff Johns. This was all his. He was the architect of this whole thing. Including being the reason they went forward with Aquaman being a part of the Justice League as opposed to a Green Lantern. Because Snyder had far more planned. There was stuff that was shot in Justice League.”

“First of all, Justice League was supposed to open with the History Lesson. There was a young Darkseid there and Ares was in that scene. Multiple Green Lanterns which set the stage for the Green Lantern Corps all back then. These things were going to come out then. The team was going to build in Justice League 2 and 3. That was the plan. Even tiny little things like why Bruce lives in a Lakehouse because Wayne Manor was always going to be the Hall of Justice. So there was a lot in place that Geoff Johns squashed.

Why That’s Important

That’s probably how we got a Wall Street Journal piece explicitly ignoring what Jay Oliva contributed on the film. Why else would a narrative be build to discredit someone who physically worked on Justice League? Imagine writing an article claiming ‘sources’ from Warner Bros. don’t know what the Snyder Cut of Justice League is? The movement has caused quite a stir if big name sites are publishing fake news to quiet fans.

The other bit of news looked over? We never had confirmation of (except set visits) that the History Lesson opened the film in Justice League. Even with storyboards released causing confusion on when it takes place, we’ve never had it said. I imagine the feeling of seeing how massive Zacks Saga was becoming, scared Warner Bros. It’s the only reason I can think of with them completely rearranging his film.

The Snyder Cut

This all leads to the Ultimate Question: Is there a Snyder Cut of Justice League?

Ryan: “It sounds like you know whether or not you know there’s a Snyder cut.

Neil: “Ask me that question in another way.

Ryan: “Do you know, definitively, IF there’s a Snyder cut, yes or no?”

Neil: “Yes, I do know, definitively, if there’s one.

Knowing a Snyder Cut exist and knowing if it’s complete are two different things. We’ve all known about it existing when he finished principle photography. The only thing left is IF it will be completed to Snyder standards. Only time will tell us but with all the information given in the Fire & Water Podcast, I’m shocked more people aren’t talking about it.

Father // Senior Editor // Co-Host for The Reel in Motion Podcast @TheReelinMotion // Male Feminist // Unapologetic Snyder Enthusiast // Xbox X



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