Justice League (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Justice League (2017)

Please join the Twitch stream at Can't Stop the Kittens. Andrew's writing is on hiatus, but you can join the kitty stream at night with gaming and conversation during the day.

Superman is dead, and with him the hopes that humanity might join him in the stars. Batman, wracked with guilt over his role in Superman's death, feels the rumblings of an invasion and begins assembling a team to confront the horrors of the future.  Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon direct Justice League, with the screenplay written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, and stars Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, and Ray Fisher.

Zack Snyder started the cinematic superhero renaissance with Watchmen, anticipating and critiquing the blithe indifference of most superhero films.  Warner Brothers initially went all-in on Zack's vision, resulting in the deeply empathetic and triumphant Man of Steel, and following up with the complex interrogation of United States ethics in Batman v Superman.  David Ayer and Patty Jenkins added their stamps with Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman, further complicating the ethical pool and questioning the good of heroics for a species prone to perpetual war.

Now, thanks to Joss Whedon, what was once a series of complex and challenging films has been reduced to just another superhero film.  It might seem unfair to place the blame squarely on his shoulders but to say otherwise would mean ignoring the vast changes he made as soon as he took the production over from Zack.  As a director, Joss' vision has not evolved passed the "people standing around talking" visual level that even fellow nerd savant Kevin Smith got bored with.  His involvement tears Justice League to pieces, resulting in a third of a film that puts the best of us on the front lines for a spiritual reckoning, and the other two-thirds where Joss gets to write a joke about how thirsty Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is.

Hard to have hope when you've got meddling studios and hack directors muddying up the work of visionary artists.

Remember the goose bump introduction of Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman, or the inspirational heroine who gave hope on a desolate battlefield in Wonder Woman?  Only the tiniest glimpse of her remains.  Showing he didn't learn his lesson with Black Widow in the awful Age of Ultron, Joss saddles Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) with being the mommy of the team, teasing romance, and being the nurturer who tries to get the moody teen away from his computer.  Women have so few prominent roles in superhero films that Joss' default state has been to cram them with every "expected" role a woman should play.  When Wonder Woman sets Batman's (Ben Affleck) shoulder in a scene approximating a mother "kissing the boo boo" I was tempted to hiss at how devalued her character became in Joss' hands.

You may hear the difference before you see it.  Wonder Woman's introduction in Justice League, on a visual level, is classic Zack characterization through action (being one of the scenes completed pre-Whedon) hurling herself through a bank to defend its patrons and giving the best, "You're in for it now, son" look when she deflects a bullet in speed-ramped slowdown.  Listening to the scene is a different manner, with composer Danny Elfman replacing the powerful cello with less impactful strings because - in Elfman's words - "having heavy electric guitars or that effects-heavy sound would’ve made it feel campy or funny."  So not only are the character building elements of Wonder Woman diminished in Joss' vision, the pounding spectacle of Tina Guo's cello rendered tinny in a man's hands.

I'm focusing on Wonder Woman so much because it's painful how relegated to the background women became in Joss' cut.  Martha Kent (Diane Lane), once another complex voice for Clark to turn to, gets to make a cheesy joke then appear for one more scene where she cries at her son's return.  Lois has what may be the worst line in the film, telling Clark (Henry Cavill), "I wasn't Lois Lane dedicated reporter," once more diminishing her agency in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman as someone who contributed to apocalyptic fights in her own way.  I'm exhausted with the conversation as to whether Zack's films are sexist or not, especially since Justice League marks the second time women have been completely erased from his films (the first was Jena Malone's role in Batman v Superman, this time it's Kiersey Clemons' role.)  Cooler (and more directly involved) heads have weighed in on the discussion about Justice League's costuming, so I urge you to read that in lieu of me trying to find a way to scream coherently in this review.  My feelings are likewise on Cyborg (Ray Fisher), introduced as a body horror victim of man's quest for power in only a few seconds of Batman v Superman, reduced to a guy who stands next to computers. A lot.

Where is the pathos in the dozen or so scenes of the team sitting or standing around spelling their motivations out in dialogue?  Regardless of how you feel about Batman v Superman, Lex Luthor rambling while a party becomes increasingly uncomfortable or placing a candy in another man's mouth are visual elements that add to the characterization.  The scene where Aquaman (Jason Momoa) spills his guts because of Wonder Woman's lasso is terrible, replacing visual characterization alongside dialogue with dimly lit backdrops highlighting how little Joss understands a visual medium to pivot around a silly reveal.  Even Power Rangers, a flawed if ultimately compelling film, hinged its emotional unveiling of the fully powered team on a heavenly triumphant score and march recalling the cinematic legacy of The Right Stuff.  Joss just throws some steam behind Batman and company while arranging them in single-file and Elfman's limp tunes carry on.

Glimpses of what Justice League could have been peek out from the corners of an otherwise flattened piece of art.

What hurts the most watching Justice League is seeing the bits of Zack's work that still made it into the film.  Aquaman's anger at the way humans are corrupting the sea and refuse to make room for the, "people who have been kicked out of everywhere else" is more compelling than any "sitting around" scene.  I love how the Flash (Ezra Miller - once again stealing every bit of whatever film he's in) is tuned in to millennial anxiety, desperate for somewhere to fit in, and jumps at the chance to help Batman (again, another scene completed pre-Whedon.)  Then there's the sublime moments worthy of the DCEU canon - Flash defying gravity to tap Wonder Woman's sword to her in a visual allusion to "The Creation of Adam", or the cinematic allusion to devilish fever-dream Häxan as villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and his satanic horns pierce the violent sky.

Even those moments can't paper over the fact that Justice League feels like a two-bit yearbook photographer duct-taping their worst work onto the Book of Revelations as illustrated by Frank Quitely.  The wonder, the spiritual yearning, the complex questions of what our best selves might look like...all gone.  I'm not so pessimistic that the awe and hope I felt watching previous DCEU films can't be reclaimed.  But with Zack and, more importantly, Deborah Snyder taking a break to heal I worry for Patty Jenkins and James Wan.  Earlier DCEU films showed how we could be our best selves in spite of the horrors in our lives.  Now, I'm not so sure.

Enjoy the piece? Please share this article on your platform of choice using the buttons below, or join the Twitch stream here!

Justice League (2017)

Directed by Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon.
Screenplay written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon.
Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, and Ray Fisher.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (1) Trackbacks (0)
  1. If you love comic books and you are ready to see a superhero movie then this movie is what you need to see. Some people may see that this movie is not as good as marvels but let me tell you something, yes the DC universe is darker than marvels personally I do not understand how that is a bad thing, in my opinion, both marvel and DC movies are worth watching and are unique.

Leave Your Thoughts!

Trackbacks are disabled.