In-Justice League

Zack Snyder’s third entry in the DC Universe speeds along like a Joss Whedon film (no surprise since screenwriter Whedon took over directing and post-production after Snyder had to drop out late in the game.) This might be a good thing under other circumstances — like if it was actually a Joss Whedon film — except it only serves to make the movie feel schizophrenic and confused. If a mash-up of Lord of the Rings and The Avengers sounds cool to you, where the Justice League sits in for the Fellowship, and Sauron becomes a CGI dude appearing out of a spacetime/inter-dimensional vortex, then maybe you will like Justice League.

If you‘ve read my reviews before, you know of my obsession with the 1966 Batman TV show, but also of all things superhero. From Superman (1978), to Saturday morning TV like Super Friends and Shazam followed by the well-loved Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk and the poorly received Amazing Spider-Man (1977,) I watched it all. I would beg my mother for more TV time, and cajole my Dad into watching the Hulk with me. So when the modern era of superhero movies arrived at the turn of the century, I knew my time had arrived!  

In the last 17 years I have seen nearly 100 Marvel and DC films, including a lot of animated fare. I LOVE superhero cinema, even mediocre movies like Amazing Spider-Man or 2003’s Daredevil (a guilty pleasure for sure.) I loved Man of Steel, but two terrible films later (Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad,) and I wasn’t so sure about Snyder’s bold new vision. But my lifelong compulsion to see these characters possessed me and I had no choice but to go see Justice League in the theaters. I never could have imagined that what came next could be so bad, so laughable and so incredibly dumb. And all the more disappointing because these movies are made for me personally!

We get little tidbits on three new members of the Justice League as Batman and Wonder Woman do their recruiting … Batman doesn’t really know why they are  making this super team, only that Superman’s death has left a void in the world. For my money only Ezra Miller as the Flash transcends the clunky dialogue and Joss Whedon’s jammed in jokes. All these misplaced jokes were the first sign of trouble.  I love a good laugh, but this movie felt confused out of the gate. Cyborg and Aquaman are introduced in short vignettes that I imagine were intended to pass as character development, but felt like we were checking boxes in Superhero Screenwriting 101.

Captain America: Civil War, perhaps one of the best recent genre films, makes us feel like there are real people behind those masks, and that the decisions and relationships mean something.  Captain America and Iron Man are human beings with a past together. Their relationship means something and therefore their conflict means something.  And they are fighting for real stakes that translate to our world.  Freedom, rights, responsibilities … concepts explored in the highest traditions of comic book fiction. The story has emotional relevance. Justice League somehow ignores the idea that a story should have connection to viewers and something to say about the real world.

Windbags of exposition (I know, who am I to criticise that point!) introduce our villain du jour, Steppenwolf — a being who exists “only to conquer.”  Oh yeah … and we get a flashback very much along the lines of the LOTR prologue. There are three boxes (think the rings of power) and hordes of parademons (Orcs or Chitauri.) Which brings us to lots of stuff flying and chaos happening and the new Justice League getting their asses handed to them.

Following said ass-whooping, we are force fed the most ridiculous and absurd resurrection narrative ever put on screen, or in a comic book, or maybe anywhere.  Whedon thinks because he references Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery that will make it all ok. When this same storyline played out in the comics source material, we got a fully realized narrative and connection to Superman’s past and alien origins. But here it’s just to call in the cavalry. Oh yeah … and it is also an excuse to give us another Batman v. Superman fight.

And about that cavalry … I am not the first to point out that the fundamental problem with Superman: How do the stakes mean anything at all if you can just bring in a guy that literally no one anywhere can defeat? We’ve seen this character brought down to Earth before … John Byrne in the 80’s Man of Steel comic book, the 90’s TV show Lois & Clark, the CW’s Smallville all did admirable jobs with the character.  Superman hailed from another planet, but Clark personified the most human of us all. Not here … all powerful unstoppable Superman is first, and Clark is the alter ego.

Justice League doubles down on  the dark and self-serious, while expanding global world-ending peril from a completely unmotivated threat. In some regard it collapses under the same fate as Wonder Woman — unlike this, a pretty good movie for the first two thirds — but suffered from absurd villain syndrome and completely went off the rails in the third act. Professor Lupin couldn’t just be a figurative evil in the world, they had to go and make him the literal God of War. Initially I chalked up my boredom to superhero fatigue … at both Wonder Woman’s superfight, and now the Justice League’s battle with Steppenwolf.

But I don’t think that is it at all.  The makers of the Justice League have created a film which treats its characters with little regard, and it’s viewers with even less.  Instead of offering a movie about the people — about the heroes — we get a film about, well I’m not quite sure… Evil? A team that is together because of Bruce Wayne’s superpower? (Being very rich in case you missed the trailer.)

With a reported $250 million budget (including $25 million in reshoots,) Snyder and Whedon  should have at least dazzled us with the visuals.  But no … I think I could actually see the green screen in every shot. Nothing looked real. Is it possible that the narrative influenced how I saw the pictures? Can a movie look bad because the story has no emotional authenticity or human relevance?

It’s no wonder Ben Affleck has dropped out of directing the next planned Batman film, and is rumored to want out of the universe all together.  See this movie if you must, and only if you must.  I know how you feel. But beware you are in for 3 stinking Bat Turds out of 10 Potential Amazonian Warriors.

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