In a previous review, I discussed how DCEU director Zack Snyder uses his films to seemingly ask: What if superheroes exist in our own real, flawed, fucked up world? What would be the social, religious, and political implications of god-like beings and vigilantes living among us? While Marvel films are pure generic escapism, a safe and colorful thrill ride through comic books, the funny papers don’t actually exist in the realm of DC. We’re not spectators there, we’re involved.
In the first act of Justice League, Snyder expands that narrative by showing how the world might react if we lost one of these heroes. War, crime, and some scenes that depict several hot button issues follow: A white man raging against a Muslim store owner, the plight of a homeless man who has given up, and the threat of gun violence against elementary school children.
It’s this darkness Snyder injects in his films that get him in trouble with critics. Superhero movies are supposed to be light and funny, according to their conventional wisdom, not somber reminders of our society’s problems. But social and political allegory has been a literary device since antiquity. It’s designed to make the reader or viewer actually think about what they’re experiencing. And it’s demonstrated beautifully in act 2 when Batman admits his reason for wanting to ressurect Superman and make things right are, at least partially, to correct past mistakes.
Our country has a problem with racial hatred. We don’t take care of our own people, as evidenced by the number of homeless people living on our streets. And the gun control debate was effectively over once we decided pouring bullets into the heads and chests of 20 second graders with a semi-automatic weapon was bearable. Yet most of us don’t want to be reminded of these lest we be compelled, like Batman, to act to correct these past mistakes. I’m certain this is one underlying cause of the negative critical reactions Snyder’s DCEU movies garner. Critics just don’t want to be reminded of the fucked up world we live in. They want sanitized plots and fun snarky heroes who eat at shawarma restaurants after battling the bad guys.
So Warner Brothers, bowing to pressure from the Rotten Tomatoes Overlords, replaced Snyder with Joss Whedon with the mission to lighten up the DCEU. The marching orders were likely along the lines of ‘we don’t want to make critics actually critique, ’cause then they’ll have to think, and they’re not real good at that.’ That’s why there’s a mild but noticeable shift in tone about midway through Justice League. It doesn’t necessarily make the movie better or worse, but the differing styles of the two respective directors are apparent.
In other words, Justice League was dumbed down in hopes of getting better reviews. Too bad it didn’t work because the pretentious wine connoisseurs posing as critics on Rotten Tomatoes are still pooping all over it. I can’t help but feel the critical reactions were pre-ordained, leaving me to wish we could have seen Snyder’s full three hour vision for the movie instead of the sanitized 121 minute version we got from Whedon. I mean, it was going to get bad reviews anyway so we might as well get the film as originally conceived. I would have loved to have explored Aquaman’s Atlantis a bit more. Themyscira scenes were shortened as well, but still cool. I believe Amy Adams (Lois Lane) lost screentime during edits, and her pain over losing Superman could have been a compelling backstory and key to filling theater seats with female viewers.
But that’s not to say Justice League isn’t a great movie. It’s a total crowd pleaser. It’s lean, moves quickly, and every character shines in her or his own way. And that’s the real strength here – the characters. Unlike most Marvel teamup films where each hero tries to out snark the other, the Justice League members all have distinct personalities and motivations. Batman is as dark and somber as you’d expect, bemoaning the fact that, after 20 years, his body won’t be able to take much more abuse. He feels partially responsible for Superman’s death and, as previously mentioned, he’s now driven to fill the void left by the man of steal. Aquaman is a wild surfer dude / southern redneck hybrid who is reluctant to join the team at first but is finally convinced of the stakes when his wife is attacked during the villainous Steppenwolf’s raid on Atlantis. Cyborg is grappling with his newly acquired cybernetics as well as his conflicted feelings for his father who made him into what he is. The Flash? Wow, did he ever steal the show. He’s the quirky nerd we all know who desperately tries to fit in but can’t quite connect all the social pieces required to have healthy relationships. And Wonder Woman. Batman realizes he’s too old and battered to lead the team into the future and looks to Princess Diana to pick up that mantle. Gal Gadot was born to play this role and 10, 15, 20 years from now when these characters are rebooted again, finding someone to fill her boots will be an even more difficult task than following Chris Reeve’s iconic portrayal of Superman.
And Superman? Of course he’s back. And although I rather like the three dimensional, tortured character Zac Snyder developed, I’m happy to report that Supes’s return to the land of the living has made him more upbeat. For the first time since Superman II, we see a Superman in a film who appears to have been ripped right out of the pages of a comic book.
And that’s the general feel of the movie as a whole – a live action take on a comic book or an episode of the Cartoon Network’s excellent Justice League cartoon series.
I’m not going to parrot the lines soooo many reviewers who are borrowing from each other. Saying Justice League is good ‘despite flaws’ is pretty fucking stupid because the implication is other movies DON’T have flaws. I mean, did ONE critic say Thor: Ragnarok was good ‘despite flaws?’ No, none did, even though it and every other Marvel film has them.
I refuse to complain about the CGI. It was average for this type of movie – and I have serious doubts most reviewers have a clue of what CGI is. And, swear to RAO, if one more writer complains Justice League is too dark, I’ll buy the damn newspaper or magazine Bruce Wayne-style and fire his or her ass. Anyone who says Justice League is too dark has definitely not seen this movie.
But I’ve seen this movie and it’s likely the second best in the DCEU series, behind Wonder Woman. Ignore the critics and go see this movie. It finds the right balance between two director’s styles and boldly proclaims, “DC is back, bitches, and this is how Superhero movies are done.”