Does it or does it not? Suck, that is? We seem to have several very loud sides in this discussion; from Marvel fans, all to happy to jump at anything DC and DCEU, to DC fans, loudly defending not only this film, but also the previous DC hits and misses (and let’s face it, there have been more misses), and let’s not forget the large-ish number of DC fans that feared the worst for this live-action feature, and who are now disappointed with yet another DC(EU) flop. The two fandoms rage on in a squabble almost equal to the eternal Star Wars fandom vs Trekkie feud – the universal geekdom apparently just brims with bloodthirstiness. Aren’t we supposed to be less savage than the rest? OY WITH THE POODLES ALREADY!
So instead of another moan fest about how DCEU has better material than Marvel (which is true), but Marvel makes better movies (which is also true), let’s talk about why this film is turning out to be so divisive and why its superhero-shake didn’t bring enough geekdom to the yard.
It all starts with the momentum; Marvel seems to have been much smarter in building the general Marvel Universe live-action fandom. Before the 2012 The Avengers, Marvel Cinematic Universe planned out several stand-alone character films to build on the superhero buzz before they took the screen as a united front, from Iron Man (2008 and 2010) and Hulk (2008), to Thor and Captain America who both received standalone features in 2011. Other Avengers characters were either featured or cameo-ed in enough MCU films to make their presence and characters known. We had fresh knowledge of who the Avengers were; we only had to lean back and enjoy their stunts when they all came together. But DCEU attempts to do the opposite with Justice League, seemingly aiming to introduce half of the characters in stand-alone film productions post-Justice League.
To be fair, there are at least two Justice League members that did not need any extra introduction – Superman and Batman had series of films and TV shows to make their characters familiar to the general audience even prior to DCEU. Wonder Woman had a live-action TV series in the 1970’s, but that placed her way beyond the average audience memory span; this was rectified when she received her standalone DCEU Wonder Woman feature just this year. Besides WW, pre-Justice League DCEU reboots include Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), which focused mainly on Superman and Batman and offered only teaser glimpses of the other members; there was even less of that in the DCEU Suicide Squad (2016), which focused on an entirely different batch of characters.
As for the other JL members… Even though the original JL was composed of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern, the last two were not included in this JL version. The one who got featured was Cyborg, originally a part of Teen Titans; he only got introduced as one of the founding members of Justice League in 2011, in “The New 52”, a.k.a. the DC comics reboot of the entire line of DC superhero comic books (this is your geek fact of the day). According to DCEU, Cyborg is set to receive his first solo feature only in 2020. The first live-action standalone for Flash, Flashpoint, will also be released in 2020, while Aquaman has his first solo feature coming out next year (in 2018).
Why is the standalone timeline important? Because – save from the die-hard fans who read the comics and watched the direct-to-video animations and the TV series – half of the Justice League was too unknown to the general audience prior to this movie. And so, unlike The Avengers, Justice League got tasked with not only having an entertaining storyline, but also had to decently introduce three of the JL members, and that is no easy feat to do in a single feature.
Even so, the movie tries its best to give us some background stories for each of them, and it manages to make at least two of them really likeable – all sides agree that casting both Ezra Miller as the nerdy, quirky Flash – a first-ever Jewish superhero! – and Jason Momoa as the hot (and people-bothered) Aquaman was a brilliant choice. Cyborg as a character perhaps carries the least appeal since he is quite robotic, but we still get enough melodrama for him to matter as a member. The big minus of the cast (and this is not my lone opinion) is the continuing presence of Affleck’s Batman. He just… doesn’t cut it. On the list of character-related slip-ups, we also cannot ignore the attention-diverting Superman “moustache-gate” – it is true, it was sloppily done and Henry Cavill’s entire appearance felt photoshopped/CGI-ed (even if it was just his upper lip that got the treatment). Also, character-wise, two major flaws of the film were the underuse of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and the big, black-ish hole that is Steppenwolf, a.k.a. the overly dramatic, under-developed, anger-issue-ridden kitten, continuously screaming for ‘momma’ (ok, ok, searching for Mother Boxes to please his master, Darkseid), who was not the scary villain on any of the given levels.
This leads us to the ultimate divide of the film that came off as painfully obvious, palpable even to those who were not aware that Justice League had two directors. Zack Snyder wrapped up principle photography, but due to family tragedy, Joss Whedon took over and directed the additional scenes that he himself wrote before Snyder stepped down, and he also oversaw the entire post-production – and that is a big layer of Whedon on top of Snyder. Both are known for their very distinctive styles – and the mix of the two made a mess out of the tonal consistency of the feature.
To wrap up this lengthy discussion – Justice League, as many predicted it would, packed a great number of issues. BUT. Even with all of its flaws, this movie is fun. I consider myself a DC girl so I was painfully aware of most of the slips, but I still managed to enjoy the experience. Will I watch it again? Not in the near future. Am I sorry that I have not avoided watching it to spare the bruising of my fangirl heart? No. It may not reach for the cinematic heights or entirely do justice (sorry, had to) to its source material, but Justice League IS a solid popcorn movie – so hey, let’s give it some love, eh?
Written by Sanja Struna
Photos © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC and Ratpac Entertainment, LLC