[Are you ready for some SPOILERS? If not, come back after you have seen this movie.]
I saw Justice League.
How do I feel about it? Better than I was expecting, but because of some odd and unexpected places. There were things I didn’t like about it, too, but similarly, in odd and unexpected places.
- Danny Elfman. I really want to leave it with that period, but I can’t. Elfman brought a score to this movie that recalled the mystery and magic of the past. It wasn’t the sparse and painful lietmotifs of BVS, instead, it was whimsical, relevent, and inspiring. Indeed, part of that inspiration comes from the inspiration that inspired him. A number of times throughout this movie, I found myself catapulted back in time, to an age when Batman and Superman could resonate with me on a child-like level. Listen closely, and you will believe that a man can fly, and maybe, you just might turn around to see Joker, Penguin, or Catwoman stalking you.
- Joss Whedon. Say what you will about the lighter tone of this movie, but I see what DC did there. I see the ultimate brilliance of bringing Joss into this. And by “brilliance” I do not mean “smart”; I mean “bright.” See, the biggest problem with Man of Steel and Batman V Superman was the sheer darkness of them. They were oppressive to the point that people left the theaters wondering what the hell they had just paid to see. These are superhero movies with some of the biggest and brightest heroes out there, yet both films left audiences in dreary, dark, rainy, Seattle/Tacoma/Olympia rainstorms. Unless you’re conditioned for this type of weather, most people would run screaming from it. Even those who are acclimated to this weather recognize the value in leaving it every once in a while for the sun and surf of places like California. Killing off Superman left audiences (literally, considering the meaning of Superman’s sigil) without hope. Superman was killed and we were left alone to figure things out for ourselves. We were left wondering waht the hell had happened to our heroes, to our hopes, to our dreams. Had they died? Were we Superman – dead on a slab? Were we Batman – stupid idiots who made a dumb-ass mistake? Were we supposed to be the giddy tool Lex Luthor? Were we the jaded Perry White? Of everyone in these two movies, who the hell were we supposed to relate to? More than anything, MoS and BvS failed because there was no audience barometer within the movies, themselves. Instead, we saw people who took themselves far too seriously beat the living crap out of each other, and there was nobody and nothing to help guide us through the emotions of the trudge through the molasses. Joss Whedon, however, knows his audience, and he knows how to connect to them. Through Flash, the young kid of the team, who loves his single parent (imprisoned father), Joss was able to use him as a means of unifying the more innocent and optimistic elements of the story into something that audiences could connect with. Comics were (and still are) a medium for kids, and if kids cannot connect to the spirit of childhood, they’re going to have a really hard time with all this. While I don’t know exactly what Joss brought into this, I’m sure I can guess. There is enough that plays within the film that feels like his touch. I have no doubts that that bit at the beginning, with the kids getting Superman on film, was him. And man did we need that. And man, did we need to see more of who these characters were. Enough of the stakes. We know what they’re all up against. We know that the world is at stake, but come on, even in times of stress, comedy can shine. Not “I’m going to make a joke” comedy, but the simple comedy of life. People are funny. Even the most boring of us are beautiful and funny people. Joss revels in this. He looks at a person and accepts them for everything that they are: good AND bad. Because he can appreciate it all, he can see these people for exactly who they are: flawed people doing the best they can. If you can see that in someone, then you can open your heart to them all the better. People love Buffy Summers not because she can kick ass, but because while she’s doing it, she’s bumbling through the problems of life, love, and the greater meaning of her role as The Chosen One on the life of a Valley Girl. We adore Spike because he’s a complete and utter villain, but who suffers a horrible case of humanity. We feel for Ultron because he was only trying to do the right thing, little realizing that he was as flawed and imperfect as those who created him. DC can be dark. I’m not saying that it can’t be. But in order for this to work, it needed light. Darkness in more darkness is just drudgery. But darkness set against the brightness of hope…? That is what Joss Whedon did for this. It humanized everyone, and since I found the characters to be the most compelling part of this, over the action, over the powers, over everything else, I have to give some mad props to the execs for choosing to have Joss complete what Zack started. (To Zack Snyder, I hope things are better with your family. My heart genuinely goes out to you all in this.)
- The opening scene is exactly what I mean about the last point. It starts with Superman having just saved someone, and a couple of kids approach him, innocently admiring his larger-than-life persona, and asking questions of him, much the way any true fanboy would. This perspective – that of a kid – is exactly what we needed to establish with this film. We needed to feel the hope that Superman actually does represent. And we needed to feel it immediately. Sure, they cut away from that into the bleakness following his death. But Imagine that bleakness without that brief child’s perspective that maybe – just maybe – he really is bigger than life. And death. That maybe, just maybe, if we believe enough…
- Batman was more human than we have seen him in years, if ever. He is not a team player (something that Jim Gordon actually touches upon briefly when he sees the team gathered). He is a loner, paranoid, obsessive, and dangerous. He is an old man who has no heart save the one that beats only to save others. But in this role, he is almost lost. All he knows is that he does need to save others, even if he is old and broken. It is not mistake that I started writing a circular description, because that is exactly what has been happening to Batman. Until he met Superman. While I loathe BVS, it did put Batman on the road to a redemption that we see in this film. We see Batman unifying the team to stand behind them, supporting them from the shadows, building up the kids while he goes on doing what he does. I was not expecting him in quite this fashion. To be clear, he is not passing on any batons to the next generation, save one: Leadership. He will be everything the Justice League needs – supporter, treasurer, rallier, detective, but he will not be their leader. While this might hint at some very deep emotional scars, it does humanize him in a way that he directly addresses. When all is said and done, I really like this Batman. Ben Affleck is doing the Caped Crusader true justice with him and the material he has been given.
- Flash is us. He is the kid in everyone, the fanboys and fangirls, the ones who want to put on the tiara and lasso villains, the kids who grab a pitchfork and dive into the pool, who tuck a towel into thier shirt and race around as if they were flying. He is green and immature and lost, but without a doubt, he is 110% present. One interaction between Batman and Flash is utterly perfect, and it stands out above everything else (which says a lot, considering how pleased I am with him). When he asked Batman what he could do in the fights, Batman was curt, precise, and clinical. “Save one,” Batman said. It was the perfect piece of advice he could give this nervous kid because it is simple, and ultimately, it is the heart of Batman. Kudos, sensei Batman-san.
- The Green Lantern nod. From here, I don’t want to see Hal Jordan. I want to see either Jessica Cruz or John Stewart. Either one would be the perfect place to go if – when – a Lantern is finally brought to Earth. Plus, am I the only one who thinks there is actually a Lantern Ring roaming around the planet somewhere? I mean, when the Lantern was killed in the flashback, where did it go? We never got to see that, which means we’ve got a Chekhov’s Gun just waiting around for us to find, pick up and create flashy green things with.
- The race. No. Let me amend that: the races. These were the most beautiful nod to the source material, and they were perfect. All three of them. “Three?” you ask. “Where was the third one?” I count their first meeting as the third. You know what I mean. That sidelong glance… yeah. That started it all up.
- Wonder Woman was weak. She was clearly the most badass of the Justice League (at least until the final fight), but then, when it mattered, she was seriously outclassed. I don’t like her playing such second fiddle to Superman, and in this capacity, I mean she really was his inferior to quite a large degree. She is tough, she is a warrior, but from what we saw, it is clear that she would absolutely lose in a battle with the Man of Steel. Not just once or twice, but every single time. That said, I felt there was nowhere near enough of her. What we saw of her was great, and the movie even also explains her seeming invisibility over about a century. Yet, it does create a simple problematic question: If it was Steve Trevor she was mourning, and not Antiope (her aunt), does it somehow diminish her love for her aunt? Even this is kind of lampshaded when Batman admits that he wanted her to lead the JL, but still. I can’t help but wonder. Maybe in seeing Trevor in the face of everyone who fights for her that she will lose, maybe (yes, two maybe’s in one sentence, but grammatically, it’s sound. Stand down, Grammar Nazis.) she is actually channeling her inner Antiope.
- Cyborg. My beef with him is simple: there was simply not enough of him. He was hugely important in this story, and he worked really well, but with the exception of the clearly filler scene of him and Flash in the graveyard, we got almost nothing about him, save for him as the Dues ex Machina linking humanity to New Genesis technology.
- Aquaman. Just like Cyborg, there was simply not enough of him. I wanted more interactions between these misfits of the 5 corners of humanity. His interactions with Batman were boring and boilerplate, and he simply had nowhere near enough with anyone else. The bit with the Lasso of Hestia was great, but it was literally forced out of him.
- The fighting. Every time Diana went to fight someone, she would do her cuff smash. Batman felt old and slow (save for the opening rooftop fight, which was great, btw), Aquaman felt too CG, and Superman was too quick. Or else maybe I was reading into it all too much. Maybe I have seen too many movies, but very little of the fighting felt unique, inspired, or worth the price of admission. The Aquaman battle in the ocean was alright, but far too short. Diana’s opening fight was good. Parts of a number of other fights were good, but nothing really got me rooting for a battle.
- The Movie Trailers. Normally I’m not against trailers, but for this movie, I felt everything was telegraphed. I saw every line from the trailer telegraphed, and when they were finally delivered, I was like “Oh, well. Yeah, that could have been fun.” I just didn’t think the lines were fun. If I had seen the trailers for this movie as many as I saw the Star Wars: Episode I trailer, then it would have made sense. (An aside: for those who don’t know, before Episode 1 came out, there was a ridiculous amount of excitement for this movie. The only Star Wars that George Lucas had given people since RotJ in 1983 were a couple crappy Ewok movies and licensing to some brilliant authors. Take off your “I know what happened” filters and watch this trailer for the potential that you see, and you’ll understand why I watched it so much. This was a perfect tease of a movie, and I wanted it more than anything. Sadly, it failed to deliver on even a fraction of the wonder promised). But I only watched the Justice League trailer a few times, and certainly not enough (to me, at least) to anticipate every single line of the trailer.
- The pacing, but not in this movie, itself. This is the pacing of the world before it. It was too rushed. We got Man of Steel. Then we got BVS, which felt like it was trying far too hard to get more in than it could, and in the process, we were given a total mess that wasn’t worth the cost of the paper towels we needed to clean it up. Wonder Woman, at least, felt whole and complete, but it was only a glimpse of a far larger world that set up something far too big to be handled in 2 movies. The good news from this one (JL), is that now I actually want to see more of Aquaman and Cyborg and Flash and the others.
- The potential world that BVS set up. We saw the potential in this, too, which followed very closely on the heels of the previous one. Superman unglued will be the threat that Flash’s trip through time was meant to stop. When – if – Lois dies, who is to keep Superman from going all crazy on the world and killing everyone? Honestly, I don’t want to see that world. Unless they’re going to play it up as Ultraman and the Injustice Society, then I have utterly no interest in seeing that world come about. The writers of these movies might be good, but nobody is good enough to create a movie that will make me want to see a Batman V Superman in an utterly totalitarian society, ruled by the New Gods. Nope. Sorry, Geoff Johns and all at DC, but if you want to make that movie, then I’m going to stand aside. I got enough of that miasma in BVS. I’m not going in for it again.
All in all, I’m pleased. It was certainly better than I expected it would be, and it brought in some elements that it sorely needed, and by being just meta enough to recognize (and even acknowledge) this, it moved away from the dreary wash that Snyder had developed with Man of Steel and Batman V Superman, and gave us a real taste of hope that this will move in a direction that fans will be able to enjoy for years to come.