Justice League (2017)
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons
Director of Photography: Fabian Wagner
Music by Danny Elfman
Edited by David Brenner, Richard Pearson, Martin Walsh
Written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon
Directed by Zack Snyder
Rating: 5 out of 10
I hated Man of Steel. I really hated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (that title alone still makes me gag). So why would I go and watch Justice League in a theater? Well, I had to. I didn’t need to watch the abomination that was Suicide Squad but a Justice League movie, even if it is directed by Zack Snyder (yes, and Joss Whedon) and even if it’s based upon the two horrible Superman movies, is simply something I need to see. I love comics too much to skip that.
The movie is mostly what you’d expect. It’s a tonal mess, for sure, jumping from downbeat to cheesy to goofy from scene to scene at times. Especially in the first third there are scenes that are unconnected to anything else, have no sense of space or structure and dialogue so bad you feel bad for the talented actors (at times you can finish their sentences as the dialogue is so extremely obvious). But the movie has its moments and is entertaining at times, which is a big improvement over the previous installments.
The first scene of the movie shows Batman using a criminal (we guess but never find out) to as bait for a parademon. Batman doesn’t know it is called a parademon and but knows they smell fear. There’s no clue where the parademon was hiding, why Batman needed an elaborate plan (based on coincidences) to lure it out and why the criminal gets away free (but not before having an extended monologue about Superman’s death). The scene is symbolic for everything that is wrong with the movie. There is no real reason it is there and it hinges on the barest plot connection (the parademons are kidnapping people) while serving to show lots of stylistic moments of a swooping Batman. The first scene with Aquaman is even worse as it lacks even a hint of logic.
Zack Snyder always has been a stylist more than anything else and most of Justice League is typical Snyder: slow motion (with a new favorite, slo-mo staring), pathos (I could barely watch the scenes of Superman in Smallville) and CGI overkill. For long stretches, it wouldn’t have made a difference if we had seen the actors in front of green screens because it might haven’t looked as artificial as the CGI backgrounds, no matter if it’s Themyscira, Metropolis or an East European nuclear wasteland that serves as the colorless location for the movie’s climax.
The movie is more or less saved by The Flash, the only character with a real sense of humor who doesn’t seem to be dragged down by its past (despite having father issues like everyone else in the movie besides Wonder Woman). Barry Allen is the only character that feels real (I’ll be damned if the Pet Sematary line wasn’t written by Whedon), while Wonder Woman at least isn’t embarrassing but is not nearly as captivating as Wonder Woman allowed her to be. Batman has never been less competent, Cyborg is more or less wasted and Aquaman simply starts flying in the end because it obviously was too difficult to find any reason for him to use his actual powers.
But let’s talk about what always bothered me the most about Snyder’s movies, which are his worldview and the message he tries to tell us. Justice League’s is somewhat interesting. Because Superman has died, the world has lost all hope which makes it vulnerable to Steppenwolf’s (I don’t want to talk about that CGI disaster) attempt at… power? Destruction? (he never tells us more). So, in order to save the world, the team has to revive Superman. The way it is set up, it would mean that the world finds hope again because of Superman but actually they just need Superman to beat up Steppenwolf. The way the symbolism falters completely in the climax shows how problematic the whole concept is.
Snyder has been obsessed for two movies with Superman as a savior figure with father issues. To use him now as that symbol of hope makes sense plot-wise but not according to Snyder’s own mythology. Justice League hits us over the head with the idea that the world lost its way because of Superman’s death. The credits sequence shows us lots of sad and disoriented people who’ve given up (there’s a slo-mo shot of a beggar with a sign saying ‘I’ve tried’ – it’s even worse when you see it) and characters point it out constantly. ‘I don’t recognize this world’ Alfred says (played by Jeremy Irons who must feel weird after publicly hating the previous movie himself). Martha Kent talks to Lois Lane (in, I think I have to say, the worst written and most awkward scene in the movie as you watch Diane Lane and Amy Adams having no idea what they’re supposed to do) about the terrible news on TV and the bitterness in people. There is even more. It is supposed to signify this big shift because the greatest hero has died.
But this is the worldview that Zack Snyder has been serving us for years, in both Superman movies, in Sucker Punch, Watchmen, 300 and Dawn of the Dead. In Man of Steel, Superman is seriously messed up since his father’s death and doesn’t care about killing thousands of civilians while fighting Zod. In BvS: DoJ he is celebrated as a god in several scenes while also being depicted as being capable of causing 9/11-like carnage. In the end, he causes another destructive mess in Gotham City. And people in both movies were always bitter and confused, so where is the difference?
As so many people in our culture, Snyder believes the world is a mess and humans are a mess (ergo, you and I are a mess) and he uses hundreds of millions of dollars to give us that message. By tricking us into believing that the message changes to tell us that actually hope wins over our bad sides, he makes it even worse. Because, again, what wins is Superman’s powers so that eventually we do need a savior figure after all. Snyder is not alone in having those beliefs (he is not even extreme) so I can’t blame him more than any other creator of fiction that normalizes our unhappiness while at the same time telling us that we should be hopeful. But I can still use my hope to wish for future movies without him that might actually have inspiring superheroes or actual hope or any movie that doesn’t tell us we are the problem because we are inherently flawed.