The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic:
on JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017, 120 minutes, PG-13)
The Quick of It -
I want to say to all the haters, “Suck it.” But, I will be nice.
It is the latest fashion, I tell you: to ‘hate’. And, I will explain why you shouldn’t be so rushed to judge the JUSTICE LEAGUE in an overly-critical manner. As I now have come to understand it, there is one huge problem when putting together a project like this and hoping to not suffer any backlash. The key problem? There is just too much source material. This maybe a quick and an oversimplified answer, yes… but follow me on this, and my, journey.
The truth is, everyone has been introduced to and experienced the DC Extended Universe in various ways. Was it the comics? Was it any of the animated series they offered? How about the plethora of movies that have had various directors at the helm? A combination? And, how has your opinion matured on what is or is not acceptable? Much has changed as the DCEU has evolved and there are numerous contributors along the way that have helped or hurt your current mindset.
I remember while in middle school, standing out front with the masses waiting for the first bell with a number of friends talking about the world of comics. There were many young comic book readers back then, and they openly chatted about the latest issue or reminisced over the Silver and Gold ages. It was kinda like the Greeks in Athens discussing the tenants of democracy. Kinda… Marvel was constantly the main topic because they always tried crazy gimmicks to keep their readership high. Now, comics are not as prolific in everyday small talk thanks the billions of other distractions this new technological age has introduced. At the time, I enjoyed both Universes when I could but lacked the funds to collect all the titles. So, I drifted to the one that resonated with me the most, Batman. To put you in the timeline, this was the mid 80’s.
During my days in high school, DC evolved into something greater. In 1988, Batman: The Killing Joke was released, and it shook the world. Then, following that, The Death of Superman. Another crazy moment in panel-print with the splitting of Superman universes. DC was getting intense and grew into a more mature style that worked on deeper, and sometimes darker, levels of writing. Also, 1989 saw the release of Tim Burton’s Batman… a big moment for me (squee!). I remember the day I sat down in the theater to watch with the family and friends. The excitement level was super high for my adolescent heart, and I probably cried a little in my popcorn when I heard the Danny Elfman musical opening. DC reached a new level for comics who were based films at that point. You must understand, Marvel was not so prolific on the silver screen till much later. BLADE (1998) was its first real release, and no one cared that it was a Marvel story. Great movie but everyone was hung up on the vampires. Some of you reading probably didn’t even know that it was Marvel-based. So, looking at the bigger picture, Marvel blossomed in the 2000’s with Fantastic Four and X-Men at the start, while DC already cut ground long before. Superman had already ruled the 80’s and Batman the 90’s.
As time went by and I grew a tad older, I was pulled back into comics with the release of Batman: The Animated Series. If you didn’t know, which you really should, the series won a number of awards for its progressive style… including four Emmy Awards. I was hooked. I would set my VCR to tape episodes so that I wouldn’t miss anything new. Kevin Conroy will always be Batman’s voice and Mark Hamill the Joker’s. Never will that change.
So, to jump forward further, we have this rat race between Marvel and DC on film projects. Marvel seems to have the upper hand with critics. To explain this, scan back and remember all your experiences with Iron Man. Hmm… waiting… Okay, Thor… Let’s go with Captain America… I’ll give you one. The Hulk? Yes, a fun TV show with a green-painted man and a theme song that will forever haunt you (…such melancholy). So, when they launched all these guys in the MCU, you’ve had not much to go one except a couple of questionable Hulk films. For the fanbase, most were ignorant of their beginnings. The writers could sell you whatever they wanted and you will buy it without question. How could you argue?
By this point for the DC world, everyone has an opinion and a particular vision of what they want on the silver screen thanks in part to all the potential paths they took to become a full-grown DC fan. And yes, apparently, everyone can write an amazing script as well, one that will appeal to the snobbish masses who require their version of the story, and nothing else. If you hadn’t noticed by now after all these films, take note of the problems listed for any of the recent DC films you may have and then compare it to the Marvel films. You will find that there are a surprising number of things found in the Marvel films that people gave a pass to. Why is that? My favorite answer is, “Oh, they just did it better.” Silly, there was no difference.
So, when watching the JUSTICE LEAGUE, remember that this is just a story made to be entertaining. You have the power on how the next couple hours will be filled. It will be a great ride. Jason Momoa as Aquaman is quite entertaining, almost steeling the scenes with his brash demeaner. This is something everyone was convinced would be a failed experiment. Ezra Miller as The Flash, again hilarious in his own way. (Yes, I supported the thought of having the CW’s Grant Gustin play the role so that the small and large screen was linked in some way.) Miller filled the role of a naïve hero, bringing a sense of wonder and new-found excitement when trying to be a part of something grander. Gal Gadot… never in question after WONDER WOMAN. Even Ben Affleck plays the aged Batman with grace and a lot of snark. One tip of the hat is required for Ray Fisher as Cyborg. With only half a face, he shows a great range of emotions throughout, making him the surprise winner here on an acting level.
The story is the continuation of the Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice story arc. The call that Lex Luther mentions is answered by Steppenwolf and he brings the fight to earth, hunting down the Motherboxes. He is a powerful villain and you never think his defeat is possible as they battle. Without spoiling, things get crazy and desperate measures are taken. By the end, Steppenwolf still shines better than most baddies who required a massive team-up to fight to date for the group films.
Yes, there were some questionable calls. The CGI was over-the-top. Yes, because superhero movies no longer require CGI at this point, people and filming tricks are on a new level of awesomeness (that’s me being a wise ass). Some complain Steppenwolf’s CGI was not great… wait for Thanos. Even in the quick clips, I cringe at what they are thinking is not too cartoony for live action. When scanning “these here interwebs”, critics seem more interested in trying to present clever jabs and irrelevant issues than discuss the movie. Again, some seem to have not enjoyed one comic or have very superficial knowledge when it comes to DC superheroes.
The strongest point I can make would be to reference what a typical person having an opinion that they are offering on a subject that is counterintuitive to their argument. I heard a particular segment on radio, one where a gentleman said how Star Wars and Lord of the Rings were stupid, or something to that effect. When trying to defend his opinion to those trying to understand, he also added he had never seen any of the films or read the books. Again, he said he wouldn’t like them and they are stupid, so why bother. My problem with that is – “How can you have an opinion if you are completely dismissive?” Sure, it may not be something you would enjoy, but it sure as hell can’t support your authoritative cry that these things are ‘stupid’ and a waste of time.
For those that do have some inkling of the DCEU, remember your roots but understand that there are many ways to tell a story. You have the choice on whether you are open to something different or suffer the influence of others. From the director’s side, it has both Zach Snyder’s darkness – to include the first song Sigrid’s cover of Leonard Cohen “Everybody Knows” (which I know was his decision, being based on Concrete Blonde’s version, we are kindred spirits of that age in music I tell you) and Joss Whedon’s wit and flair (even if he was to keep the same tone as was initially filmed). There is some sense of disjointed scenes, but what do you expect with two directors, a large cast of Type-A superheroes, and the studio mandating a runtime of less than two hours.
In the end, the action is intense, the story arc continues in a confident manner with multiple subplots to be excited about, and there are two after-credit clips worth seeing. I am thankful for the continuous efforts made to make these stories available to the masses and the diligence to create something grander, beyond the scope of one person’s opinion… even if it is my own.