I was one of the few people who liked Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2016 and stood firmly by my opinion in the face of a communal tide of negative reviews and feedback that the film garnered. I still watch it sometimes and did a quick re-run before going to the theater to watch Justice League along with its baggage of obstructive evaluation bordering on premonition. I wanted it to be one long ride of DC goodness. I also wanted it to not suck as much. Well, you can’t have everything, Chico.
Justice League (JLA) is the fifth installment in a series of films made under the banner of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). With its tainted track record (Green Lantern, 2011) and the Martha Debate, DC decided to hire eleven writers to convene six superheroes and have them packaged into a nice Mother Box and have the merchandising ready in time for Christmas.
The eleven writers also include the Avengers: Age of Ultron 2015 director Joss Whedon who apparently broke down on the set of Ultron, thankfully after filming had ended and the movie was in the last stages of post-production. However, his condition while penning and co-directing JLA is not fully known. Additionally the pre-credits, opening sequence were completely different from what Whedon had in mind and on paper.
The first few minutes of JLA gave me hope. I like to think that I am a nihilist by nature but that smile sent an electric surge up my spine and I felt like mourning. I decided against it, thinking it would be premature. Little did I know that my response wasn’t the only premature reaction that I would be dealing with for the next 120 minutes.
Zack Snyder has a penchant for melodrama and he tries to fit it in wherever possible. In my opinion The Watchmen, 2009 is a visual treat where the character arcs have been handled with utmost care, giving each character a sense of earthiness. The source material from Alan Moore (who had his name taken off from the credits and did not want any association with the film) is heavy-duty, a high alkaline charge of history gone wrong, or the missteps of an alternate past.
That was The Watchmen, this is JLA. Not too different just a little strain of a reverie that just might not take its title characters as seriously as perhaps Rorschach or Doctor Manhattan or Nite Owl. Watch closely and you will notice a similarity between the costumes of Nite Owl from The Watchmen and the new Batman, especially the latter’s tactical suit.
Having its share of production difficulties and a personal tragedy, and with the tag of “one of the most expensive movies ever“, JLA was jaded since get go. Billed at three hundred million dollars and taking the number two spot after Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, 2011 ($378 million), JLA shares its position with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 2007. The good news is that the film has recovered all its money since November 16th. It made a whopping three hundred and thirty two million dollars in less than ten days.
When the lights came on after, one word lingered in my head – murky and non-serious. After the smile the audience is pushed into a fight sequence, which has Batman trying to overcome a Parademon, entities with glowing eyes and fly-like wings, which when in thousands resemble a horde of locusts and make for the monstrous shock troops of Apokolips used by Darkseid and in this case, Steppenwolf who gets hold of one of the Boxes from Themyscira, a fictional city in the DCEU. The battle takes place in the air and as we watch Batman tackle the foot soldier in mid-flight, we are taken back to the tacky and inconsequential cockiness of Batman (1966 – 1968) the TV show.
It was as if the scene was shot for the sake of just that. Nonetheless, the apologetic tone of the film is set with the words “I Tried”. It could’ve been the tragedy but Snyder, of late, isn’t his usual top billing. Having made fine films, which again received mixed to negative criticism, like The Watchmen, 2009 and even Sucker Punch, 2011, the man it seems cannot get the Superman origins straight. His Batman looks and fights like a cool cat, except when he’s wearing the goggles that come with the tactical suit. However, in Justice League Batman is disconnected, unconcerned, lean and somewhat confused, even light-hearted if I may. Those are my tertiary gripe with the character and how it affects the arc that ultimately blends in with the film as a whole, blithe and soulless.
Justice League somehow manages to go over-the-top in its meandering.
The opening shot shows to us in flashback the return of the prodigious son, an archived news-footage of the Man of Steel who many complain caused enormous, almost war-like damage to life and property; but then if one is a god, a demigod only because the laws of physics are different on Earth, one shall create and destruct as and when he pleases, to ensure the continuation of human life – the hecatomb and mass-destruction are only by-products.
The DCEU and Marvel Universes are but an outlet, in these times, where capitalism could almost be a prescription for the collective-strained-psyche.
They called BvS dark and brooding. Well, this one almost borders on the brightly farcical.
From the full-throttle gravitas that the Amazonians are shown putting up, to the runny one-liners and punchlines at the cost of character building; the film hovers somewhere between the territory of the ridiculous and almost likeable in scenes where the ensemble is being put together by Bruce Wayne. JLA doesn’t waste a single moment and dives straight in to the deep end (literally, with its Darkseid may care attitude). It tells us about the Mother Boxes and how many civilizations, including Hal Jordan’s, have given up their lives to protect the damn Boxes and how Steppenwolf has finally become successful by raging wars on those who protect the Mother Boxes.
“Why do you all keep saying that?”
Steppenwolf carries with his tall, looming, artificial self of sense a false credence (much like the film itself) he thinks he can rule the Earth now that he faces no resistance. Little does he know that an army of modified (by genetics, mechanics or money) men and women (I’m also counting Amanda Waller) is coming together to defeat him. It is here that the film is most heart-warming. Bruce Wayne goes looking for Arthur Curry, with his snow-goggles on; much like the fan-loved Knightmare scene from BvS, when Diana Prince gets the signal, when Barry Allen goes all The Matrix (1999) on the batarang, when something highly ambiguous (if not for the trailers) happens to the very badly broken body of Victor Stone, when Batman takes out a thug pretending that he is Michael Keaton and that the film is directed by Nolan. It is when all these scenes are pulled out in a bunch that the film starts to show saving-grace. Without it the film would be nothing but a parody of its predecessors.
All this is shown with a gracious use of CGI and a sense of comic relief even when Affleck’s Batman is around. Yes, it is a treat to watch but it does not have a novelty of its own. The film settles for joyless and ill-lit scenes where the battles dispense lights when things go boom and especially when Steppenwolf slams his axe into the ground every time he is upset for some reason. We have Jason Mamoa as Aquaman/Arthur Curry, he is also eye-candy for the strange demographics of 2017. The Flash is played astutely by Ezra Miller, whose Barry Allen is a smart ass, wise cracking, fastest man alive after Superman and Quicksilver, which reminds me of a cheesy scene. The film demands that we not take it seriously every time Gal Gadot flashes that lovely smile, however this is the JLA, and they are going up against Steppenwolf, in all his evil glory and the weight of the super villain, which it refuses to become because of the rabbit in the hat appearances.
This is Snyder’s shot at redemption; Prince’s fixation on Pine (holding on to the DCEU success story), Cyborg‘s unforgiving conflict with his father, Steppenwolf and Aquaman in a brawl (one of the finest scenes in the movie, which also echo Snyder’s mind-set and sometimes that of Whedon), Parademons on Chernobyl, Parademons on shrooms, Batman on sedatives, the JLA going up against two of the universe’s mightiest forces and getting their backs broken, Cyborg always playing with his orange balls, Batman stepping back and letting Stone do all the detective work (whatever little gadget crank is required), selling Mercedes is all trying to recompense the flaws of BvS not realizing that in doing so it is repeating its mistake by shifting the tone completely for a film with so many bad asses; it is once again on a collision course with the very fabric of the DCEU.
Justice League is a weak acid trip, unable to work up to Marvel‘s sense of humor, nor its authority. It is a creation of uneven execution and fatigue; running out of time and energy as the minutes labor by. Perhaps a second viewing will put things into perspective.