Justice League (2017)
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenwriters: Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Amy Adams, Amber Heard, Ciarán Hinds, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Joe Morton, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons
In the aftermath of a poor 2016 that saw Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad not only bomb with critics but also experience some of the heaviest box office drop-offs in history, Warner Bros were so pleased with the critical response and financial achievements of their must-win movie Wonder Woman in the Summer of 2017 that they developed an awards season campaign in the hope of landing director Patty Jenkins an Oscar nomination. Justice League was their attempt at capitalising on the regained faith of its super-fans and the casual movie-going audience so, despite Joss Whedon taking the director’s seat late in the process due to a personal tragedy suffered by original director Zack Snyder, the studio putting the script through multiple treatments in response to their 2016 failures, millions of dollars worth of re-shoots, and a studio scrap surrounding Henry Cavill’s moustache costing the production a lot of money to CG from the face of their Superman, Warner Bros unwisely pressed on with their late November 2017 release date to produce what was the worst film of the current phase of DC movies and undoubtedly one of the largest blends of bad ideas put to screen in 2017. It really was that bad…
Justice League was essentially the typical superhero team-up story we’ve become accustomed to through the years, with vastly different and sometimes opposing personalities coming together to fight off the never-before-spoken-of villain from a foreign planet. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again, but the tiresomeness of the film’s structure seemed less of an issue than its demand that all 6 of its heroes be introduced individually, creating one of the most prolonged first acts known to the genre; a lengthy mess of disconnected introductions that served little purpose other than to bore.
There were lackadaisical attempts to stitch the act together through ill-timed and obviously forced (re-shot/re-edited) interactions between head recruiter Bruce Wayne and a number of the other would-be league members, seemingly with the misplaced intention of cheering up the film’s end of the world narrative tension and the death of Superman. The entire first act – all 35 minutes of it – felt like a combination of ideas attempting to serve the same message, which read: let’s forget all of the dark, serious themes we’ve developed before and instead produce the funny and colourful movies they’re doing at Marvel. None of said decisions worked to serve the story.
In the midst of this cloud of nonsensical boredom came the reveal of the film’s worst-kept-secret, the villainous Steppenwolf, a character so bland and underdeveloped that his story arc was almost as insulting as the video-game-level CG that Warner Bros used to animate him. Entering the planet via a beam of light he would use to travel with, but conveniently only when he wasn’t desperate or in combat with superheroes, aliens or his own lackies, the villainous Steppenwolf needed to find some boxes for less than clearly defined reasons that would ultimately bring an end to mankind. As such, there was a need to illustrate his strength and dominance, leading the team at Warner Bros to decide that he should destroy almost everything and everyone on Wonder Woman’s home island Themyscira, therefore literally killing the only positives to exist in the DC cinematic universe to date – a quite fitting metaphor for the way Warner Bros have handled their “Justice League” films. It was a mind-bending decision that, much like everything else in this film, failed to serve the story – of film and universe – moving forward.
Said choice was indicative of a creative process at odds with itself; a team of creators forcing their opinions into a mixing pot, the results of which were poured onto screen with little thought for the consequences. The prolonged introductions were the result of failing to prepare the universe in advance and therefore giving each of the characters their own introductions in different films before stitching them together for a team-up; the entire plot of the film was underwhelming and poorly defined as the result of an assumption on the parts of Snyder, Whedon and company that audiences had a pre-existing knowledge of DC comics (ie, the cheapest of all writing tricks) and the generally woeful structure; the poor CG was typical of Warner Bros’ productions for over a decade – including the likes of Harry Potter and Wonder Woman – and is a problem that needs addressing, especially for a film costing $300million, and; the way in which all of these missteps combined still couldn’t forge a memorable moment throughout the entire 2 hour run-time, including the destruction of an entire race of Amazonians (that was somehow about as bland and lacking investment as is possibly believable), is an absolute creative travesty for all involved.
The DC universe is however, despite all the odds, not without hope, and this is entirely because of the manner in which Cyborg and specifically Aquaman and The Flash were handled.
The characterisations of most of the heroes in the film, with the exception of Batman who seemed to revert back to something close to people’s worst nightmares for the character pre-BvS and Superman who they tried to cheer up despite being brought back from the dead, were strong. Each forged their own unique contribution to the story and, despite the convenience through which they all join together, acted almost always by the book of who the characters were introduced to be, never oddly straying from their personas in a way often seen in action movies (notably Fast & Furious). In some ways, the movie’s insistence upon portraying the characters’ quirks damaged the presentation of the villain and the potential for an end of the world coming to pass, but without them the movie would’ve been without redemption and the undoubted end to a waning franchise. At least in this respect, Warner Bros can take hope from their unfortunate mess of a production and press on to an auteur-led future presenting strong and vastly different characters.
Whether the future of Warner Bros’ DC universe goes ahead is a question we’ll be sure to get the answer to in the coming weeks and months, though regardless of where they take the franchise there remains a clear need to drastically change the output from this point. Justice League was an awful movie, whether you like comic books or not, and even with solid characterisations of beloved characters many have wished to be seen on screens for years, there was simply too much that failed in terms of filmmaking, nevermind $300million worth of filmmaking, to make for anything better than what is undoubtedly one of the worst mainstream superhero movies of all time. This is a movie that was more fascinating behind the scenes than it was on the screen, another blotch on the record of Warner Bros’ DC team-up that will be hard to come back from.