Justice League reopens old wounds, adds a few new ones for good measure

Image result for justice league poster

Hooboy. OK. It’s been a while since I wrote anything here, but since we got tickets to the premiere and therefore some early-access to the movie, I thought I should share some thoughts.

Overview

It’s not bad. It’s not great, because I think it’s too ambitious in some ways (trying to set up more movies) and not ambitious enough in others (giving you characters to care about, so you actually go watch the sequels). It’s not as morose as Man of Steel, the plot isn’t as nonsensical as that of Batman v Superman. On the other hand, it fails to reach — and, I think, more importantly, fails to aspire — to reach the heights of Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman was a great turning point for the DC films. Even stripped of gender issues, she was, more than Superman or Batman, an actual superhero, who inspired not only the other characters in the franchise, but audiences as well. But whatever scab WW grew over the raw wounds of Steel and Superbats, the Justice League tore off, and then added some new scrapes for good measure.

Plot

It’s the same sky-laser floaty-weightless-CGI-action Apocalypse clusterfuck climax that we’ve seen a million times. BadGuy has to find the MacGuffins to do the Sky-laser thing that will Destroy the World and the Team has to Learn to Work Together ™ to stop them. So far, so predictable.

On this level, it’s competent. Things all tend to happen for reasons and there are markedly fewer “Granny’s peach tea” moments. That being said, there are a couple of leaps in logic that seem inexplicable unless you accept that A decides to do B because the plot demands it, and those are difficult to discuss without going into spoilers, so I shan’t.

For the fans, you’ve got the New Gods, Mother Boxes and Steppenwulf, and Darkseid gets a mention as well.

The other part of the plot is Cyborg’s origin story. That bit of the plot is underdone, and that’s sad, because neglecting personal development (that can generally be made compelling by competent writers) in favour of a sky-laser apocalypse plot (which, by now, is impossible to make compelling no matter how compelling your writers are) seems like a bad call overall. It would have been pretty easy to gracefully insert more meat into Cyborg’s narrative. Heck, Justice League: War did it better, and it says something when your multimillion-dollar tentpole movie comes off looking shabby compared to a direct-to-video animated movie.

The Flash and Aquaman feel neglected, but then again, they’re generally more well-known and popular. One guy goesfast and the other talks to fish. Whereas it’s a bit harder for someone who’s completely new to DC to get what Cyborg’s deal is, so putting him before the other newbies is fine — doing so half-assedly, however, really isn’t.

There seems to be a sort of father/son subplot going on (Cyborg and his dad, Flash and his dad), but it never amounts to anything, and is just there to inform you that neither of these characters were immaculately conceived.

Characters:

Brief comments on all of them, I suppose.

Batfleck: I really wish they wouldn’t make him the centre of the DC movies. Yes, he’s canonically the brains of the team, making up in paranoia what he lacks in raw superintelligence, but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily the most interesting character to view the founding of the JL through. I don’t have anything against Affleck’s acting, but I’m not sure what, so soon in a post-Nolan world, an actor/director/writer can add to Batman to make him more interesting. Jaded rich boy? Seen that. Ripped dude who punches homeless people in the face? Seen that. Night-time vigilante sorely in need of a lozenge? Seen that. The “old man Batman” angle was slightly interesting (although The Dark Knight Returns already touched on that, and that avoided the issue by having Batbale invent a knee-brace that lets him destroy his feet against solid brick for some reason), and could have been taken further: I would have preferred to have him realise his strengths and weaknesses, and take a back seat as mission control during the final confrontation, rather than take part. THE BATMOBILE SECTIONS WERE THE WORST PART OF ARKHAM KNIGHT AND THEY’RE THE WORST PART OF BATFLECK. Although him realising at some point that he’s utterly useless and just start shooting the aliens with the alien guns was pretty funny, I guess. The other interesting thing that they could have done with Batfleck was follow up on the “Robin is dead” thing they’ve teased in Superbats and/or Suicide Squad (I forget which): presumably that’s what put him into Bat-Retirement, and given that we now have a sparkly-eyed newbie in the form of Barry Allen on the team, you’d think that Batfleck could have evinced some angst at being forced to mentor an eager kid who is very likely to get killed. But nope, we need Batfleck to have lines about how his superpower is money, and not about how his real superpower is the ability to get young sidekicks killed/horribly traumatised without repercussions.

Barry Allen: I suppose “adorkable millennial” is now a trope that won’t go away, since I wouldn’t be surprised if the dominant American demographic for comic-book movies was dorky white males. And I suppose Miller plays the part adequately. I have to say that TV-Flash and the MCU Spiderman are significantly more charismatic than he is as screen presences. Maybe it’s intentional that he was genuinely annoying rather than adorkable, but if that’s so, that’s sad, since the Flash is generally The Heart of the team, and having him now be written as an autistic person who can’t connect with other people is… a pretty radical departure from a pretty good spot. They probably had to rip out his empathy so they could shove it into Wonder Woman, so she doesn’t play her traditional role of “murderous psychopath” which she generally does in JL ensemble pieces. Miller says the funny lines with acceptable delivery and get some yucks from the audience. It’s adequate, I guess. I kind of wish the Flash had been the point-of-view character of the film, rather than Batman, because he’s really the only member of the team with the optimism and enthusiasm to roll back some of the grimderp nonsense of the earlier movies. The thing that turned me off the most about Barry Allen is that he doesn’t seem to have any real motivation for doing what he does. The Flash is usually pretty damn heroic, selflessly motivated to help people — Superman sometimes gives off the vibe that he does what he does because he’s duty-bound to do so, even though he’d rather not, but the Flash generally seems to do what he does because he likes people… even his enemies! But ADHD Millennial Man is instead motivated by a desire to meet people (because he has no friends) and because he’s a huge cape dork and thinks superheroes and the trappings of superherodom are awesome. While there’s nothing wrong with those motivations per se (personal growth and enthusiasm), what’s lacking is heroism. And that’s pretty lacking all round, I guess.

Cyborg: Appropriately, lacks meat. Competently robotic, intentional or otherwise. The character’s poorly-written, and there’s only so much an actor can do about that. Again, Justice League: War did a much better job with Cyborg, and it was half the length of this movie. There was some suggestion of a father-son thing, but it gets forgotten about during the CGI clusterfuck at the end. It’s also mentioned a couple of times that Cyborg doesn’t have full control over his abilities, and his whole body might be built of alien technology from a hostile faction, but again, this never goes anywhere. It would have been easy (and fun) to have had some bad guy recognise Cyborg’s tech as being related to their own, and try to hack him with some codewords or something, only to have him overpower the hostile programming with sheer willpower and/or tech genius and declare that he will master the machinery, instead of letting it master him, but nothing like that ever happens, and the film is worse off for it. I wonder if knowing that you’ll be able to flesh things out in a sequel makes writers lazy or something. “Do I have to make Cyborg compelling? Nah, let’s save it for his solo movie!”

Aquaman: Ironically, he lacks depth. Yes, I suppose having Aquaman played as a heart-on-his-sleeve adrenaline-addicted dudebro is kind of original, but it’s also stupid. It’s a shame, because Aquaman’s probably my favourite out of the JL founders. His entire presentation, outside of hooting and flexing, is condensed into two short 30 second chunks of infodumping dialogue. “My motivation is mommy didn’t love me” and “I think we’re all going to die and I don’t trust anyone on this team”, basically. The awkwardness of the latter is laughed off, and the laughs are genuine, but just because you can turn a stupid pratfall into a genuinely good joke doesn’t mean the pratfall wasn’t stupid to begin with. I kind of wish the film’s objectification lens was shifted from Wonder Woman to Aquaman. Instead of having every single male character leer at her at some point, why not have everyone going gaga for Momoa everywhere he goes? Have, like, random women run up to Lois Lane and Diana and ask if they know if Aquaman’s taken. Have him rescue some lady who can’t stop feeling up his pecs. I know, double standards, but I think paired with his dudebro personality, that would have been fun, unlike what they did with

Wonder Woman: Who seems to have let all the inertia of her objectification-free movie catch up with her. Remember how Wonder Woman felt respectful, and Diana was portrayed as beautiful in an elegant and graceful fashion? How the way we knew she was supposed to be hot was how people were enraptured by her beauty? Like, worshipful, even? Well, throw it all in the trash, because elegance and grace are thrown out the window in favour of low camera angles to show off her ass, exploitative outfits (like, seriously, her actual fighting outfit may have been one of the most modest things she wore in the film), and all the men around her talking about her sex life and/or how hot she is. The difference is mostly in tone, I guess: when the fez-wearing actor fellow in Wonder Woman talks about Diana, he’s articulate and worshipful; when Aquaman talks about Diana (to her face, no less), he sounds like he’s going to end his sentence with i'll be in my bunk

It’s good that Diana doesn’t seem marginalised when it comes to fisticuffs (in fact, she seems to do the most heavy lifting in combat next to SupOILERS) but her team contribution is also kind of eh. Batman wants her to be the team leader, but she mostly seems like the Team Mom, who pats all the boys on the head with a radiant smile and tells them that they’re good boys.

The Other Chicks: She also shares a problem with every other female in the film, in that her entire life seems to have revolved around One Guy, and without That Guy she can barely function. She has apparently spent the time since Chris Pine’s square jaw got turned into stardust doing nothing but lying in bed and eating Ben and Jerry’s, despite having superpowers and having been around for centuries. Consider that we must assume that in this universe, WW2 happened, and yet nobody knew about Wonder Woman at all. Why? She seems to have spent the entire period moping over her exploded ex.

Lois Lane and Ma Kent suffer from the same symptom. Granted, their loss is way more recent, and it’s perfectly understandable that their shared grief over their shared loss both brings them together and keeps them apart from getting back to their lives. Still, I wish that they had more to do. Especially Lois, whose sole contribution to the film is the revelation that her magic vagina is definitely NOT that of the Woman of Kleenex, and can also cure amnesia.

Tone

The movie sort of just feels off. Yes, in a post-Guardians of the Galaxy world, we can’t have a superhero movie without some laughs. Some of them are even good! But my God, in some places the dialogue seems to have been taken from the worst recesses of preteen fanfiction.

Look, we know it’s important to have some levity, and arguably this franchise needs more of it than most because of how it’s set itself up.

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Skulls are totally festive, right?

But c’mon, you don’t need ALL YOUR CHARACTERS to have quippy lines. Sure, stick Aquaman and the Flash as your designated comic relief. But having others bizarrely join in the yucks-fest is weird and bad. Much like taking part in a farting competition when you have diarrhoea: the end result is tepid, gets cold quickly, and makes everyone uncomfortable.

 

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2 thoughts on “Justice League reopens old wounds, adds a few new ones for good measure

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