By: Kevin Jordan
Baby steps (or, I see you, Joss Whedon)
You know how when President Trump gives a speech that doesn’t contain racism, attacks, lies, or ads for his properties, certain people gush over how good or presidential he suddenly is? What’s that – too political? Okay; a different analogy. You know how when your dog doesn’t shit in your living room you gush over what a good boy he is? Oh yesh, jusht such good boy! Here’s a treat! That is where our expectations sit with DCEU movies. Thus, we have Justice League – a movie that can hold its bowels, but still chews up your couch.
Before getting into the movie, we need to talk about the movie production. Zack Snyder was roughly 80% through production when tragedy struck his personal life and he left the project. Joss Whedon was brought on to complete the project, including completion of shooting and extensive reshoots. Bringing in Whedon was a strange choice, not just because of his extensive involvement with the Marvel movies, but because he and Snyder are exactly opposite when it comes to directing and writing (Whedon also was one of the credited screenwriters on Justice League). Whedon makes movies that are usually light-hearted, quippy romps, heavy on character development and relationships. Snyder makes movies like a horny, 12-year old boy with the attention span of gnat who has perfected the perfect slo-mo shot of a just-fired shell casing falling in a drab, sepia-toned world. You will have no trouble distinguishing which parts of the movie belong to each of them. In a normal world, this contrast would doom a movie, but Whedon manages to keep the movie from ruining your carpet.
(Side note: There are also two scenes featuring Henry Cavill where his face has been poorly digitally edited to hide a moustache he wasn’t allowed to shave due to filming Mission: Impossible 6.)
(Some SPOILERS because, of course there are. It’s a review).
The problem with the DCEU is a complete lack of long-term vision beyond dollar signs. Snyder has helmed the franchise since the start and his sacrifice of narrative and storytelling for visuals and playing to the die-hard fan boy has resulted in an incoherent mess of nonsense. Wonder Woman is somewhat of an exception (a female director, Patty Jenkins, helped immensely), though still bogged down in parts by Snyder’s bullshit (again, it is obvious which parts). Justice League picks up with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) stopping a terrorist from blowing up four blocks of London, then stopping him from gunning down a bunch of bank patrons. This scene serves no purpose other than to remind you that Wonder Woman is hilariously overpowered. To be fair, it’s a decent action scene, but the bad guy’s stated motivation is to force the world to revert to a simpler time before technology. Huh? By blowing up a few buildings, Earth will be back in the Stone Age? That makes as much sense as Batman (Ben Affleck) wanting to kill Superman because “what if Superman decides to kill everyone?”
The plot of the movie is nearly as pointless as that opening scene, which is essentially forming a super team to thwart an impending alien invasion of flying insect monsters. Batman spends the first part of the movie recruiting the heroes promised in Batman v Superman to thwart the bugs. Then, a tall, devil-y looking, poorly rendered CGI guy named Steppenwolf (worst villain name ever, voiced by Ciaran Hinds) shows up via Thor’s warp tunnels to steal a mother box (worst MacGuffin name ever) from the Amazons. We learn there are three mother boxes and if Steppenwolf puts them back together, he’ll be able to destroy all civilization on Earth…or something? He refers to mother and the insect guys follow him and when they smell fear they attack and wow is this story really stupid. We even get one of Snyder’s standard flashbacks of whatever convoluted absurdity he fever-dreamed to give Steppenwolf a back story that explains nothing. As an added bonus, he says he’s finally able to return to Earth because the death of Superman left no Kryptonians on Earth. Okay, shut up. Superman (Cavill) was literally the last Kryptonian and only on Earth for 33 years. Steppenwolf was banished 5,000 years earlier, so why couldn’t he come back for the other 4,967 years? You know what – I don’t give a shit. And that is the crux of the DCEU problems.
LOOK! It’s a bird!…It’s a plane!…It’s a middle-aged balding man wearing a browncoat! While I continue workshopping that sentence, two things. One – Superman is resurrected in this movie and if you didn’t see that coming, I envy your innocence. Two – Whedon injecting some sorely needed levity into the film. The Flash is the most obvious example and has almost all of the quipping lines. But the part that makes you have hope for the future of the franchise in a non-Synder’s hands is when the Flash joins the fray in a pointless Superman-fights-the-team-scene. The scene is in slow motion to highlight the Flash’s speed and as he nears Superman, Superman turns his eyes, then his head, to look at the Flash. The surprised look on the Flash’s face is brilliant and funny and projects everything this franchise could be in a non-pre-pubescent hands.
Virtually everyone coming out of the movie said it was okay or just fine or “thank God it wasn’t as bad as Batman v Superman.” Despite Wonder Woman carrying much of the movie and Whedon injecting competence where he could, the movie was a far cry from being the pinnacle of the franchise like The Avengers was to MCU. The new characters are minimally developed, even to the point of all of them having the clichéd dead moms (seriously, all but Wonder Woman’s mom is alive, not counting Martha Kent). Don’t get me wrong, there was just enough for me to want to watch a Flash movie, Aquaman movie, and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) movie. But Amy Adams and J.K Simmons were completely wasted and I am way off the Affleck-as-Batman train. To top that all off, we get a teaser at the end of the film that is so poorly conceived that it felt like the movie was trolling us (and you have no idea how badly I want to spoil it for you). One of these days, we’re going to get the DC movie we deserve, but a smidge of progress is better than nothing. At least we didn’t have to break out the carpet cleaner this time.
Rating: Ask for half of your money back. It’s fun at times and not fun at other times, but baby steps, people.