3 v. 3: Justice League
Justice League has finally come and gone. The wait is over. I don’t entirely mean the last few years. This is the team up movie I’ve been waiting for since I was a little kid. These heroes were my first loves in the superhero world, including Aquaman. I remember when I was 3 and a half, my younger brother was born. I played with these action figures over at a friend's house while they took mom to the hospital.
Setting aside my deep connection with these characters, the film is shaping up to be another decisive movie. Core fans clearly enjoy the film while mainstream audiences and critics aren't nearly as impressed. Add in the international box office propping up a domestic market that has been less than impressive at best.
This is the type of film our 3v3 frame was created for. We’re going to jump right into the nitty gritty so strap in. This is going to get bumpy.
SPOILERS from here on.
We’re pulling no punches in our 3 v 3 where we pit three areas the film shined with three areas the movie ultimately fell short - far short <- see no punches pulled. We have our opinion. You get to decide which side wins out. The good or the bad. No matter what we think, your opinion is the one that matters!
They finally got Superman right. He is corny, cheesy, confident to a fault, and totally OP. Despite the moustache issues, which stuck out like a sore thumb, Superman was excellent down to his newly lightened colors. The bright red and the lighter blue looked amazing and hopeful. This was the Superman we wanted after Man of Steel. We certainly didn’t need two films for Superman to become anything close to resembling the hero we know and love - especially in a universe where literally everything else is massively rushed. Heck, we killed him before we even liked him really.
Judging by the amount of time Superman was on-screen with his messed up CGI lip, this was predominantly Joss Whedon while the character arch was set in motion by Zach Snyder. In fact, the times where Superman had a normal face where scenes where Superman was the least “Superman” of the movie. The standout among these anti-Superman scenes clearly being the resurrection scene where he isn’t right. That was Superman from the Injustice games, a different earth entirely. Superman is so "off character", when seemingly directed by Snyder, it has led many to believe we are on a collision course with evil-Superman, just like the Injustice video games have popularized. We don’t think the world is ready for that on film.
This is how you do Superman. We have hope this our Superman from here on out.
As a parting note on Superman, this is the Superman we would have cared so much more about dying in BvS...should have saved that storyline for a time when we cared about the character. A movie centered around this Superman sandwiched in between Man of Steel and the eventual Death of Superman storyline would have done wonders for the DCEU. A film like Wonder Woman where we have a single villain (not one of his biggest ones) and a character specific arch would have opened Superman up for audiences. Whedon apparently gets Superman pretty well. His style fits Supes while Snyder is more Batman. Rushing from emo, angsty teenage Superman brooding like Batman to the grave in a two film arch was a big mistake. But, I digress.
Superman is where he should be now. Let’s hope he stays this way.
Steppenwolf’s First Invasion
The most awe inspiring scene of the film was a flashback with none of the central characters, but whatever. We liked this scene in particular because it served as such a cool easter egg.
The green lantern’s fighting and one dying alongside the old gods and Atlanteans and Amazons was pretty awesome, if only for a minute. It was far more epic than the final battle in Steppenwolf’s re-match with Earth.
The display of their power fit really well with the ancient battlefield. Amazons and so far the Atlanteans look to have been severely out developed by the humans since this timeframe. They still seem to be fighting with swords and pitchforks without having great effect against even World War I era firearms, save for Wonder Woman herself. Seeing these armies fight in a time that fit their tech was great. Hopefully we see their magic on the battlefield more in the future if they fight in present day.
The green lantern’s made the film!
This falls in the good and bad category. Tone was never the biggest problem in BvS and that was all the filmmakers talked about after the film, 'maybe we should have done lighter tone' was chief among their talking points. It seemed to be the biggest mandate coming down from the studio in post-BvS developed films. That wasn’t the problem.
But, it was nice to see some humor because as we’ve noted before, the interactions between these very different characters is what is truly special about the league and flavors the DC comics team ups so magically. A brooding Batman dealing with a rambunctious and youthful Flash was pretty funny at times. The movie didn't get this as well as the trailers did - most of the good scenes were in the trailers.
Aquaman’s wild man streak is perfect for that character and we can lay that chiefly at the feet of Snyder, well done! Aquaman is a badass and that interaction with the other heroic personalities can be very funny. One of the standout scenes in the film was the lasso of truth mishap. That caught us off-guard and was hilarious.
Yet, this tonal shift ultimately did little for the movie in our opinion. It at least provided some respite from the profoundly boring plot...you can see where our counterpoints are going.
Disclaimer: Here is where you can exit if you liked the movie and you don't want to be upset by a different opinion. It's ok. We get it. I've spent my own time arguing the merits of The Force Awakens with other fanboys and haters online. I've even commented long rebuttals to those "plot hole articles" that really rubbed me the wrong way. Trust me, I get it. We love these properties and they become part of our identity and our opinions vary wildly at times. We also view entertainment in a wide spectrum. Some like to shut your brain off. Some want to shut it off but can't. Others enjoy critical discussion and trying to understand why something we love was good or something we didn't like was bad. That's where I am. I want explore. I believe our good and feedback will ultimately help shape future movies for good or bad. If you don't, that's ok. Quit while you're ahead.
Muddled Mess In and Out
Let’s start with taking stock of what circumstance played a role in this film on multiple fronts.
The film itself was surrounded by troubled waters. But maybe lessons were learned and this would be the one where they put it all together.
Batman v Superman was the divisive lead into the larger DCEU. Wonder Woman earlier this year emerged as the lone shining example of what the DCEU could be when story and character are developed alongside the wonderful visuals that took center stage in Snyder’s universe.
Then there was Snyder dropping out of the film for family related issues. The danger this presented the film was seemingly side-stepped when Joss Whedon was brought in. It even looked like Justice League could have been graced by having an amazing team of director’s despite the unfortunate situation for Snyder personally. We’re just talking about the film. Snyder’s visuals with Whedon’s wit, writing, and ability to blend epic heroes together on the same stage. The potential is incredible. Whedon fitting characters like Superman and Flash while Snyder's style works well with Batman and Aquaman.
But that potential isn’t realized in this film. Unfortunately, it appears as though one director is brought in to complete the journey without fully weaving his strengths into the mix. Superman is the lone exception as a better character. His character arch in this movie is still a huge problem for us and that was ultimately Snyder's creative development. It looks like Whedon just whipped up some new dialogue and put some fresh paint on Superman. The end result is a mess. Overall, the movie meanders through a no-man’s land of mediocrity.
BvS in comparison was a film with a bold vision. It was epically masterful in some measure though plagued by cavernous faults that divided fans in a larger view. It at least had ambition.
Stuck somewhere in between visions, without clarity, and ambition. Justice League feels empty.
The re-shoots were a big part of the muddled mess that ended up being Justice League. We had read about Cavill’s moustache and were hopeful that we would miss the one or two times they had to cover it up. Nope. It’s all over this movie. In fact, we think he had a CGI’d upper lip more than he didn’t - maybe 70-30 in favor of mustache.
It wasn’t like Tarkin and Leia in Rogue One, a few side characters (to Rogue One’s story) on screen for very limited time and wholly CGI. Superman’s face was completely distracting. There were more moments when we were taken out of the movie wondering how could they possibly have had to re-shoot this much of Superman? It’s crazy! Both theaters we saw the movie in were all abuzz with talk of CGI faced Superman. It was bad. It might be the worst CGI blunder we've seen in the last few years.
Plot and Conflict: Missing in Action
We preached that a simpler plot would have helped clean up BvS among other major improvements. We didn’t realize a plot could be so boring. There was close to no drama in this movie. That means little suspense and puts the burden on the characters and the action. That could work if the film really has some clear strengths.
Wonder Woman as a successful movie was largely made in the final scenes. Without that final conflict and twist, Wonder Woman is boring - without heart and soul and the rest of the movie falls pretty flat. But, they built up to a crescendo hitting the biggest character moments alongside the best action. With Ares emerging from the shadows, Steve Trevor’s sacrifice and what these do for Diana’s development, the movie shines through and ends on an epic high note.
Justice League tried none of that. It’s like it was stripped of all the big faults from Batman v Superman but accidentally took all of the films strengths out along with the bad.
The only suspense in the film was overshadowed. Resurrecting Superman the way they did it was a big mistake. It was the only point where the film had an ounce of suspense, is he bad? Pet cemetary? It was overshadowed by how creepy, wrong, and against character and mythos this was for Superman as a character and what little it did for the movie.
Superman being brought back in the same way as Luthor created Doomsday from Zod seems clever. For us, it goes against the mythos of Superman in the comics and in BvS, the previous film. Superman isn’t ever really "dead" in either case. In BvS, the dirt levitates above his coffin which implies that there is some of Superman left or regenerating. Regeneration is basically how he recovered in the comics. He was taken out of the ground and went into a regeneration chamber.
Personally, I kept saying to myself - I hope the coffin is empty, That coffin has to be empty. It wasn’t. Instead, we get to see a lifeless Superman pushed under the liquid in the ancient scout ship just like lifeless Zod. It’s creepy. It’s weird. It was a boring plot. They missed a huge opportunity to do something suspenseful with plot. Superman could have entered into the fray as a weakened version slowly regaining his form. They could have done so much creatively here. It also would have put some conflict in the final scene. The point being that what they did ultimately didn't work. Some people may have liked it, but it didn't create suspense or conflict for the arch of of the movie.
He goes from dead to not right, to angry, to the best version of Superman we’ve seen in a matter of five minutes. It's like Justice League looked at the Martha scene and said, hold my beer!
Another missed opportunity was the entirety of Cyborg as a character. They re-wrote his origin story so he could be a point of suspense in the movie being born of the motherbox. Steppenwolf says it. Aquaman points out he might be a double agent. But, he isn’t. He never does anything interesting. He just plays his part in saving the day.
Going in, I was expecting this to be the high note of the film - Flash looked great. I liked the badass thrill seeker Aquaman in the trailers. Batman’s dry humor looked like it would be on display. Wonder Woman has been solid. Even Cyborg had potential as the plot seemed to revolve around his connection to the motherbox in the trailers.
For the most part, their best moments were in the trailers. The trailers were maybe 3-4 minutes of footage total. That left us a shade under two hours of disappointment. We touched on Aquaman’s moment with the lasso has a bright spot, and Flash had a few different jokes that were funny. That’s about it.
So here we go, we’ll be brief as we explore this further.
Flash felt a little too much in spots. Overall, he was the best character. But, he was a little on the bad weird side than the good, funny, weird side. As example, he has beautiful running form in some scenes. In some, it looks like he is a 5-year old running in a park. This and a few of his other humor moments just landed a little over the top. If this was the biggest complaint of the movie, we would be super happy.
Aquaman was cool in his spots but he didn’t really do much. We didn’t get his motivation. We don’t know where he is coming from. He had some moments of bad ass behavior but he didn't have one scene where we were like, damn - that is so cool! Not one. The riding of the parademon through the building didn't wow us. The stopping of the water under Gotham harbor was pretty cool, but he didn't really "command" the water. Saving them with a water bubble would have been more impressive. It just never it that moment of wow for us.
Batman was the worst Batman we’ve seen - outside of Clooney and Kilmer’s campy versions in the 90’s. Affleck needs to step away. He looks bored on film which means he must be completely over it in real life. Some of the dry humor was ok. Batman rolling on the ground saying he was bleeding now was terrible and out of character. The fact that Batman remains wholly clueless about anything is amazing. He even seems to forget that Luthor sent him video footage of the other meta heroes. He has video of Cyborg being made and he still can't figure him out or is even curios enough to dig deeper. His gadgets and abilities are also passed over greatly. Like Aquaman, we didn't get any wow moments. Nothing was anywhere near the warehouse scene from BvS. Batman was a no show.
Cyborg was intriguing but he didn’t really do much either. He was never put in conflict with the motherbox that spawned him in any meaningful way. He was distant from his dad though he saved him. We weren’t even sure that was him that wanted to save his dad. The motherbox oddly controlled him or the cyborg part of him took over, but those moments were never explored or capitalized on. He looked surprised his weapon systems turned on to shoot Steppenwolf back from his dad - like he wasn't making that choice. It was odd and that's fine if the plot capitalizes on it in some meaningful way but it never does. He plugs into the motherbox's and seperates them by pulling them apart with Superman. That falls into massively lame for us.
Superman was the best we’ve seen him, but a horrible resurrection story that meant nothing and a CGI moustache made his involvement a barely passing grade rather than a real triumph. This doesn’t take away from the fact that Superman by the end of the film was the best we’ve seen so far - just that he wasn’t even really part of the team we spend the whole movie with.
Wonder Woman was as central to this film as any of the characters, and sadly she was the one who had an origin story this year. She didn't need so many of her own character moments. Why did we even see her save that bank? In looking at the whole film, it may be that she took some much needed time away from the three characters we had never really seen before. And, this next issue might be nit-picky and a personal preference, but Gal Gadot has to stop doing the inquisitive furled brow in EVERY scene she is in. It’s crazy. Someone tell her to cut that out. The scenes where she smiles and acts like a Wonder Woman are brilliant. That is somehow Gadot’s default superhero face - confused and intense eyebrows. Sometimes it just doesn’t fit - especially now that she has lived in the world of men for over a hundred years.
Overall, Justice League was wholly forgettable. That’s our opinion. If you don’t share it, we envy you because we wanted nothing more than to like this movie - forget the lofty dream of loving it.
Our predictions were way off. We had Justice League coming in at 84% critical ad 91% audience. More like 41% critical and 84% audience.
Before you go touting an 84% audience score as vindication for liking the film (a position you don't have to justify by the way, if you like it - you like it and that's the opinion that counts for you), every comic book film this year was north of 85% except Justice League at 84%. All of these films were within 6% points of each other. Logan was the highest at 90%. Are all these films this year so closely beloved by audiences? Hmmm...probably not. The box offices would paint a different picture.
The DCEU doesn’t look to be in the place we had hoped after Wonder Woman gained so much momentum. As of right now, we’re losing interest and Flashpoint may be our only hope. Sad to say, but this universe might need a reboot. If it didn’t have some of the greatest fans and some of the biggest properties (characters) in the world, this would share the fate of the Monster Universe they tried earlier this year. It would be bombed our of existence. Maybe this film is a muddled version of what it could have been, but we see major issues with what they were going for...even if Snyder had total control throughout.
I think we’ve had enough of a sample size to call the DCEU what it is, still stuck in the dreams of that little kid inside all of us. We still hope that dream becomes reality. The DCEU still has plenty of films lined up, but the more we hear about the box office - the picture becomes more clear. The DCEU is starting to lose people's attention.