Warning: Justice League spoilers ahead! Read on at your own risk!
Zack Snyder's Justice League does a hell of a lot for the future of the DC Extended Universe, and nothing seems quite as important as the fact that it sets up a world for all of these heroes to inhabit. We have quite a few solo movies coming over the next few years, but it's never too early to start thinking about the next time these heroes will stand side-by-side in Justice League 2. With that potential sequel already at the forefront of fans' minds, let's dive in and talk about everything Justice League 2 would need to do in order to match (and even surpass) the quality of the original.
Improve The Villain
There's really no getting around it now that Justice League has debuted in theaters. Steppenwolf is a lousy villain. This isn't necessarily the fault of Game of Thrones actor Ciaran Hinds, but the character is simply too underdeveloped, too dull, and too poorly-conceived on a visual level to ever stand alongside iconic performances like Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor, Heath Ledger's Joker, or even Michael Shannon's Zod from Man of Steel. Looking ahead, DC will need to refocus and pit the League against a villain whose motives, personality, and methodology seem just as exciting as the heroes themselves.
In the DC world, that's not a hard feat to pull off. Nearly every member of the Justice League roster has an insanely dense rogues gallery (with the possible exception of Cyborg, who doesn't have too many solo villains), and anyone from The Joker to Vandal Savage to Brainiac could stand out as a perfect enemy in the sequel. It won't be hard to improve on Steppenwolf's shortcomings, but it needs to happen.
Tell A Self-Contained Story...
World building is something that every franchise needs to do, but many don't do it well. It's natural to want to lay the groundwork for future installments in a series, but this can sometimes get in the way of the film's A story and slow things down to a crawl. Justice League's story is already relatively thin, and the clear setup for future films like The Flash: Flashpoint and Aquaman only take away from the core arc. The sequel needs to strip things down.
The DCEU already has a near-perfect roadmap for how a story like this can work: Wonder Woman. Despite some early connections to the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Patty Jenkins' Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) solo movie could exist outside of the DCEU and nobody would notice because of its clear beginning, middle, and ending. Audiences still seem to respond to that traditional story structure in big budget movies, which means Justice League 2 should look to Wonder Woman as a guide for telling a story that doesn't inherently lead to another movie.
...But Lay Groundwork For The Future
A self-contained story is one thing, but that doesn't mean that some seeds can't be planted for cultivation in a future movie. A cinematic universe like the DCEU needs to create a specific timeline of events, and as we've learned with the introduction of Steppenwolf, a weak villain who completely comes out of nowhere isn't particularly engaging. Justice League 2 needs to tell its own story, but the future of the DCEU will be better off if it can also handle planting narrative ideas with an even hand.
Arguably the best example of how to pull this off stems from the competition over at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thanos merely turning to the screen and smiling at the end of The Avengers doesn't really affect the plot of the Marvel blockbuster, but it serves as an effective Easter egg to let fans know what's coming in Phase 2 and Phase 3. Justice League 2 shouldn't necessarily have Darkseid turn to the camera and smile, but the basic idea of a small tease for the future makes perfect sense for this sequel.
Introduce Green Lantern
One of Justice League's coolest Easter eggs comes during the flashback sequence in which we see a glimpse of Steppenwolf's first attempted conquest on Earth. The alliance to take him down includes the soldiers of Atlantis, Themyscira, the tribes of man, the Old Gods, and one very cool-looking member of the Green Lantern Corps. Though the exact identity of this fallen Lantern remains a bit of a mystery, it definitively confirms that the green-clad space cops exist in the DCEU.
Now that such a tease is out of the way, the DCEU needs to go all in and introduce a human Lantern to round out the ranks of the Justice League. After all, it's about damn time for them to "unite the seven." It doesn't matter if it's Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, or Guy Gardner (well, maybe not Guy Gardner), DC has played coy about the existence of Green Lantern longer than any core member of the League, which means that it's finally time for him to shine in brightest day.
Craft More Memorable Set Pieces
A Justice League movie should have some of the most insane and inventive action sequences of any superhero blockbuster in the game. When you have a team as eclectic and powerful as the one in the DCEU that just seems like a no-brainer. Alas, Justice League's action sequences (with a couple of exceptions, such as the Nightcrawler fight in Gotham) aren't particularly impressive. In fact, the climactic battle scene in Russia pretty much just boils down to the team punching and shooting everything in sight.
The trick here is to hone in on the abilities of each member of the League and find a synergy with the rest of the team. The clearest example of this would be Aquaman (Jason Momoa), who doesn't get to live up to the "aqua" part of his name in the first film. Each of these characters is incredibly unique in his or her abilities, so if one can control water and potentially communicate with fish, then something like that needs to be worked into a major battle sequence.
Maintain The Group Dynamic
Despite some of Justice League's flaws, it is worth remembering that the film actually succeeds when it deals with the dynamic of the team. Each character has a well-defined personality and perspective in every conversation, and that is something that needs to be focused on and expanded in future installments. Between the guidance that Batman (Ben Affleck) provides The Flash (Ezra Miller) in their first battle together, as well as the humorous moment of Aquaman sitting on the Lasso of Truth, there's no shortage of material to expand upon for comedic and dramatic effect.
In the world of comic book movies, this is actually easier said than done. In films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and X-Men: Apocalypse, it seems like one of the guiding principles of storytelling is to separate the team so the villain can divide and conquer. The interplay between the DC heroes is one of DC's best assets, which means a Justice League sequel needs to sidestep that storytelling trope and keep its characters together.
Don't Weigh The Story Down With Side Characters
Justice League is a densely populated movie, and while all of those cameos certainly make for some excellent references and Easter eggs, the fact of the matter is that they bog the film down. By the time Aquaman (Jason Momoa) makes his way back to Atlantis, and we meet Queen Mera (Amber Heard), the story has already bounced all over the world and introduced us to an army of new characters that we have never even seen before. Going forward, Justice League 2 needs to tell a leaner story with a tighter cast of supporting characters,
By its very nature, a Justice League story requires the blending of worlds. We know someone like Alfred (Jeremy Irons) will likely appear in one scene, while Henry Allen (Billy Crudup) might appear in another. That said, we just need a tighter overall cast with an increased sense of focus on which characters actually make sense to include from a storytelling perspective. No more cameos for the sake of cameos.
Adapt the Tower Of Babel Story
Following the massive apocalyptic (Apokoliptic?) stakes of the battle against Steppenwolf, the Justice League franchise needs to scale things back and tell a slightly more personal story about trust and the nature of the Justice League family. With that in mind, many fans have long clamored for a live-action adaptation of JLA: Tower of Babel -- a story that sees supervillains steal Batman's secret contingency plans to take down the League. In the book, it's Ra's Al Ghul who steals the plans, and in Justice League: Doom, it's Vandal Savage and the Legion of Doom, so there's room to play with the material.
Tower of Babel could create a sense of friction between the team and remind us all that Batman's not such a great guy after all. Moreover, the emphasis on contingency plans for each member of the League could pave the way for the introduction of a hero that Batman hasn't planned for; looking at you, Green Lantern.
Justice League is now in theaters. If you haven't seen the DC superhero team-up already, then make sure to take a look at our in-depth review of the film, as well as our handy To 3D guide. Whether or not Justice League 2 happens will largely depend on the financial performance of this first movie, so we will keep you up to date with more information about the potential project as new details are made available to us.