29 November 2017

First Impressions: Justice League

It wasn't totally against my will, but for some reason I did regrettably watch Justice League (2017) in the theater. And read this huge bit about THOR: Ragnarok (2017), I'm not Marvel biased, but everything that Ragnarok stumbled on, League fell straight on its face into a ditch. This was an absolutely atrocious film that doesn't deserve any attention at all. There are bits and pieces of things it does really well, so I won't go total ham here, but this is going to be an upsetting batch of impressions. Having said that, SPOILERS forever in this discussion.

Presenting all the good characters in this movie
This film's production history has been dissected to death, and at this point we even have a good idea of what is Whedon and what was Snyder. The more I reflect, though, and I anticipated this in our preview post, this reeks of a studio that saw a film headed in an unfavorable direction and switched directors with a dude who had the most possible direct experience with this kind of film. Now, I'm not so heinous as to delegitimatize Snyder's sincere family tragedy, but the Whedon replacement seems far too on the nose. Why not a David Ayer or Patty Jenkins or hell, even a Wally Pfister or something. He's not doing anything. Someone else who has been a part of this team or in house? Why the hell did they choose the one dude who has the exact opposite vision of a superhero universe as Zack Snyder does?

Well, Avengers (2012) changing the movie franchise game and cracking a billion dollars at the box office has a lot to do with it. I've said this before but WB keeps chasing what works while Disney dictates what works. It's a huge discrepancy. The clash of styles here is the source of all this film's problems. Physically, Whedon brightens everything up, ruining Snyder's design choices. Thematically, Whedon ignores all of Snyder's big dramatic ideas in favor of superfluous throwaway lines, ruining his on-going motifs. These go over better coming out of Robert Downey Jr.'s gag machine Tony Stark than from Ben Affleck portraying the dark conflicted Batman we all know and love that feels a little less weighty. It appears as if what didn't work was cut and it's clear that was quite a bit. This film is in shambles. It lurches from scene to scene lacking any coherent momentum, congruity, conflict, or stakes. It's fucking terrible.

I complained about this quite a bit with Ragnarok. Everything in that movie felt designed to get to the next Hulk vs. Thor scene. Nothing happened for a reason within the film, it was all external fan service. Ragnarok was carried by its charm, characters, and even its aesthetic design. Justice League contains none of this support structure. Every problem that arises is solved instantly. Steppenwolf's coming? Well, let's just get Superman to beat him. Superman's dead? Well, let's just revive him. With every problem that comes along the team instantly figures out a way to solve it with little significant debate or time for contemplation. When Superman finally comes back and goes nuts (for no real explained or lasting reason), he just punches Steppenwolf and that's about it. Good to have Superman back. No need to worry about all that fearing gods among men talk from the last two movies.

This is always a weird issue to have with movies that mostly feature people punching and shooting each other, but I'm talking about real conflict. Real obstacles towards characters' goals. And what was any character's goal? Nothing beyond vaguely saving the world, and that's important, sure, but we ought to feel some personal stake, right? Batman wanted to save the world in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), but that was interesting because 1) He thought he was saving it from the threat of Superman, which wasn't really a threat and 2) He was motivated by seeing his own people and his own company destroyed in Metropolis. And yes, I just used Batman v. Superman as an example of tangible character motivation and conflict as compared to Justice League, where a bunch of shit just happens.

Maybe it's spawned from Bruce's obsession with his visions of the apocalypse. If so, shouldn't those be more tangible? Or you know...exist? Shouldn't other characters be a little wary or suspicious of this ranting lunatic in a batsuit? Luckily the Amazons and Atlanteans have battled this threat before, which is a such a huge plot convenience to get them both on board. Batman doesn't have to actually convince anyone to help his mad quest. Convenience over conflict. It's terrible.

Steppenwolf is a huge part of this problem, and although Ciaran Hinds actually does more with the giant plastic CGI man than he had a right to, something about this should have been personal. I mean, he killed a lot of Amazons and Atlanteans, right? Shouldn't we feel some sort of stake in Diana and Aquaman's fight? He's just too nuts and eccentric to be a proper threat. On the other end of the spectrum, I do think that someone like Ultron who has all these quippy character moments is neutered because his motivation is never clear, therefore masking his threat. The best villain is somewhere in the middle.

And I'm not really looking for deep explanations or anything. I like how this movie didn't really care about explaining fucking shit. I have no idea what an audience who didn't at least see Wonder Woman (2017) would think. I at least saw that, but not Batman v. Superman, but I felt alright with that. If you had no knowledge of Apokolips or boom tubes or parademons I can't imagine what you'd feel in this film.

So much of that felt like a Saturday morning cartoon, which I actually dug. This boils down to a singular moment - when Batman whips out the Bat-Nightcrawler, which for some reason climbs up and down sewer tunnels. This kind of shit would never exist ever, but it's such a perfect Saturday morning cartoon / stupid comic book thing to throw up on screen. The movie doesn't totally buy into its own goofiness, but I'm so okay with shit getting weird. We just need stakes. Considering how much we're supposed to just accept and roll with, though, it's insane to think that this series evolved from the Nolanverse. Nolan was all about creating these reasonable real-world explanations for zany comic book antics. Snyder doesn't give a shit about any of that.

So what does this franchise want to be? It was supposed to be dark and brooding to contrast with Marvel's cheerful superfluousness, right? But it's dark and brooding but not...realistic? Fine, that's doable. But now it's dark and...inconsequential? This was a bad move and totally ironic that Marvel is definitely the more grounded superhero juggernaut right now. Besides Logan (2017). How did that fucking happen. X-Men is killing it in everything besides its core franchise, which is off the rails, but using different time settings to justify its garish comic book attire.

I digress. Let's talk about the characters, piece by piece, because they're the best part of this film. I've always said that Ben Affleck has his place (that profile was written eight years ago btw, and definitely definitely still holds up) and is usually an add to a movie rather than a distraction, although he appears so damn disinterested here. And fat. Like, it's weird to have a costume with abs over such fat. I get it, that's part of the point of older batman, but his appearing and disappearing beard, big buff gut, and conflicting characterization doesn't work well. I want to talk about his introduction, too, which is terrifying in Batman v. Superman but totally neutered here by the awkward confrontation with a criminal who seems to just want to hang out. In reality it's just so Fatfleck can bounce some one liners off him.

Gal Gadot is unsurprisingly solid as Wonder Woman, who is noticeably a bigger deal here, undoubtedly in reaction to her film actually doing spectacular. There are still somehow a lot of weird shitty male gaze moments, though. Seriously, her tits are hanging out in every damn scene. I wouldn't go so far as to call them misogynists, because I think both directors have had solid female characters in their films, but fuck you Zack Snyder for being a blatant exploiter of the female body and fuck you Joss Whedon for being a disguised one. Gal Gadot as Diana does so much more than just be beautiful, but that's all anyone seems to be able to talk about. She's the powerhouse here, although I always thought she could handle going toe to toe with Superman. Definitely not in this universe. Her will and passion keep the fragmenting Justice League together, even through Benfart's asshole and out of place Steve Trevor remarks.

Setting Wonder Woman in WWI, while really cool, thus presents a shitty problem for the DCEU. At least Captain America was frozen. What did Wonder Woman do for a hundred years? Just chill at the museum? Batman has a point that it's shady she didn't do shit, but at the same time that's not Diana's fault, it's the writers and orchestraters of this franchise. I wonder what reason Marvel will come up with for keeping the 90s-set Captain Marvel (2019)'s eponymous female hero out of the in-universe spotlight for twenty years.

Jason Momoa as alcoholic surfer bro Aquaman is a fucking amazing turn for that character and he's proving the kind of career you can make out of having a really huge chest. I love you, Miami Man. There are a ton of questions leading up to James Wan's Aquaman (2018), though. Like, is he the King of Atlantis or not? Is he secretive and subdued like in his intro or braggish and wacky like he is for the rest of the film? Does he dislike landlubbers or not? Who knows. What's up with Mera? Amber Heard is badass, but I don't think her name is even mentioned here. Why do they need to talk in air bubbles? They live underwater, right. This maybe gets nitpicky, but any time something really stupid happens that's just a way to take the audience out of the movie a little more. Piece by piece we end up not giving a shit.

Ray Fisher and Ezra Miller I'll do together because they're bros and personality-wise polar opposites. I'd love to see a Grant Gustin Flash mix in with this, although I can see how tonally that'd be kind of insane (besides, Ben Affleck isn't ever going to appear on a CW show), and how Gustin's Flash isn't really filling the Peter Parker-esque role Miller is. He's definitely funny and legitimately learning how to be a hero, which is really cool considering how powerful he is. I really loved his role as more giving support to all the big guns, which is how the Flash should be used. Except for when he gets really awesome and does stuff no one can. Speaking of that Justice League Wally West flash, this Justice League Barry Allen was totally just Wally West, ironically more so than the CW's Keiynan Lonsdale's Wally West. Ya'll still with me? I go ham in this shit.

Ray Fisher. Let's try this again. Word is that when Snyder was in charge of this film this was very much his movie and while he still has a fairly central role, Fisher does awesome things with by far the least recognizable of these characters. Cyborg is a classic Teen Titan who was definitely shoved into the New 52 Justice League to be both a token black character and a techno-guy to interface with all the new fangled technology running about. The mother box corruption is actually a nice arc and personal conflict for him to deal with. All shit that would make for a really interesting movie, Joss.

Let's go on to the least weighted character death ever. I mean, when Supes died in Batman v. Superman we all felt nothing. What made it so much worse, though, was how much Snyder TRIED to make us feel. Even the opening moments of this film just hammer us with Super-mourning. THE BIGGEST CONTROVERSY OF THIS FILM WAS HENRY CAVILL'S MOUSTACHE. His death was such a fucking joke! It's all masturbation. It's like when Optimus Prime died in Revenge of the Fallen (2009). No, that actually had some weight. Believe it or not, I've spoken about this at length, about how it's instrumental for the character of Sam Witwicky.

Even if we didn't know this huge spoiler, this could have been handled better. Actually show us the threat of a world without Superman. He only did his thing for what, a couple years? Months? Was he that important? It carries so much more weight even in Superman Returns (2006) when Lois rights that "World without Superman" article, since he leaves after having a huge impact for years within that movie's chronology. Kill off Brandon Routh at the end of that film, then we can actually mourn.

Yes, add Superman Returns to Batman v. Superman, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and THOR: Ragnarok which I've cited in this article as doing the same shit better than Justice League.

Just one scene of Affleck eating as many ho hos as he can
No one's actually sad that Superman is dead. His mom makes a joke about Lois being thirsty. Any actual drama is defused. Now, there will be some spoilers for other comparable movies from the Transformers and Guardians franchise here, so just skip this paragraph if you want to go into Age of Extinction (2014) cold. I love Deadpool (2016) and there is a time for jokes in superhero movies. But during the dramatic parts of Deadpool, he didn't make wisecracks! Even when fucking TJ Miller dies in Transformers: Age of Extinction we have a moment of respect with Mark Wahlberg. It's sad! Look at Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). We fucking care about Yondu and TJ Miller more than we care about Superman's death! This is because they're actually treated like characters instead of trading on their cultural weight. They had no cultural weight so the film had to generate it. The deaths were permanent. They were real. There was no magic box that could be re-purposed to bring them back to life.

Now, to be fair, using the Mother Box is not really any less stupid of a reason than Superman's return from death in the comic books. We don't have to get into the Reign of the Supermen, but that was significant. It took time, deconstructed various aspects of Kal-El, and added some characters that are legitimate and still kicking around the DC comic universe. Resurrecting Superman here is devoid of conflict. Batman suggests that the Mother Box could be used so out of the blue I didn't even realize what he was talking about at first. Wonder Woman protests, but this is a man's movie so she's silented. Then shit goes wrong. Don't worry, Cyborg can fix it. Shit goes wrong, don't worry, Flash can fix it. There's no tension, no struggle, not even a compelling urge to bring him back. Is Superman the only answer to Steppenwolf? Maybe? But we never know for sure. He's a very literal deus ex machina, though.

While we're on the subject we should note that Supes coming back and going nuts is an amazing scene, particularly when he notices the Flash and starts beating him down. Again, it's over too quickly and without satisfaction, though. Batman brings out Lois and everything is all good. Brainwashed, confused Superman is just instantly back to being a fucking Boy Scout. Why did he want to kill Aquaman? Who knows. Was there something wrong with his soul? Yeah, it got no pussy in that grave. I'm sorry. Thinking for more than a second about this movie has caused so much rage inside me. Batman should have just yelled "Martha" again.

Actually, legitimately that would have been a cool callback to stop his rampage as it stopped Bruce's back in Bv.S.

I won't get into the bizarre Russian family living alone in a nuclear wasteland intermittently being attacked by bug people. A whole movie centering on them would have actually been way more interesting. The sky turns red and mysterious flying monsters invade? That'd be sweet. It's fucking Lovecraftian, man. Like the ending of The Evil Dead (2013). Sick, man.

Let's wrap up with some Easter eggs, which this film does pretty well. There are lots of sweet teases for things to come, if we ever get another sequel to this trainwreck. There is a huge ancient battle against Steppenwolf and the Parademons that features a bunch of Green Lanterns, which is an amazing tease. There are also a few of the Old Gods, which conflict nicely with Darkseid and Kirby's New Gods. The main dude seemed to be Zeus, but I actually thought it may have been the original SHAZAM! Wizard. That'd be cherry as hell.

Finally, that end tease of the Legion of Doom. We've tried so hard. Sinister Six (2016) failed. Suicide Squad (2016) was a nope. Yes, at one point both of these movies were going to be released last year. Now, a film probably wouldn't focus on the Legion, but setting them up as adversaries seems a little weird when Darkseid is the obvious big bad. Perhaps the fact that his plan would be the exact same as Steppenwolf's (which was actually the exact same as Zod's from Man of Steel [2013]), maybe we're waiting a tick. All I want is an Evil Swamp Skull and someone yelling about pants. Do that and we're all happy.

So that's it, folks. I fucking hated this movie, but there are some good things in here. DC can do some things well and its characters are so damn good. It just wastes everything on rushed pacing, a plot that makes no sense, and a horribly misguided tone. I wouldn't watch it. Watch some trailers. They're legitimately funny and they contain every money shot. The trailer for Infinity War (2018) dropped today. Watch that instead.

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