This Sunday, Warner Brothers released the third and final trailer for Justice League. This was promptly and understandably overshadowed by Monday’s release of The Last Jedi‘s second trailer – and rightfully so. Because Justice League will be bad. It was always going to be bad.
While this article will focus primarily on the trailers, I would be remiss not to briefly mention two key background points.
1) Director Switcheroo – It’s well known that in May of this year, Zack Snyder (director of Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and originally Justice League) gave the reins of this film to The Avengers’ Joss Whedon in the middle of post-production due to a family tragedy. Whedon is probably one of the best choices to take control of a superhero team up movie while having the online support Snyder always lacked. (Well, when he was first announced…) But changing directors, even to a more beloved filmmaker, rarely leads to good results – especially when it’s one with a vastly different style and sensibility. At best, it will be a disjointed film. And even with extensive reshoots and rewriting, how much can really be changed for such an effects-heavy film? It’ll still be Snyder’s voice. Snyder’s dark, dreary voice. Just look at the Featured Image – that’s Lois in the third trailer.
2) Too Soon…? - It certainly seems like Justice League was rushed into production, but remember that it was four years between Iron Man (2008) and The Avengers (2012) and four years between Man of Steel (2013) and Justice League (2017), so it’s not an unfeasible amount of time in which to build a cinematic universe… provided some strategy is in place. Regardless, Batman v. Superman was released on March 20, 2016, Justice League began principal photography on April 11, 2016 – less than a month later. Snyder and the rest of the crew had no opportunity to learn what worked or what didn’t from that movie. They were ready to film with the deluded belief that “Martha” was the emotional gut punch that would set them apart from the Marvel films. They were entirely unable to take lessons from Suicide Squad and, even more detrimentally, Wonder Woman by the time this movie was ready.
Yet even with nearly half a decade behind them, WB/DC still doesn’t have their stuff together. Only Aquaman is filming, and nothing else appears ready to go despite the dozens of movies they claim to have in pre-production. Now they’re throwing Elseworlds stories into the mix (e.g. the alleged completely unconnected, un-Leto’ed Joker: Origins movie). No wonder they’ve started downplaying the DCEU.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of articles about both topics (including some by me), so no need to belabor those points. Instead, let’s look at what we actually have from the Justice League and why anyone’s optimism should at the very least be greatly tempered by the vast amount of evidence we have to the contrary.
The Superman Problem
When the book – or more accurately the oral history – is written on why the DCEU failed, Snyder’s handling of Superman will be among its first and greatest chapters. Pop culture’s definitive symbol of light and hope has become a frighteningly depressive amoral misanthrope.
Clark’s inner conflict kind of worked in Man of Steel, but his negative traits didn’t dissipate at all in Batman v. Superman. Yet the Snyder films try to retcon Superman into being the icon that he should be, but never was. BvS ends with the world shutting down to have a vigil for Superman and Bruce Wayne talking about how Superman’s sacrifice inspired him to be better – which presumably means not to kill with glee. The material for Justice League also tries to play up what a light in the darkness he was to everyone, and how with him gone it’s a “WORLD WITHOUT HOPE.”
However, for all the lip service Snyder wants to pay to the ideal of Superman, he cannot deny the audience its (fairer) reading of the Blue Boy Scout. The visuals, facial expressions, body language, and even the music during the saving people montage from BvS clearly showed him as someone who helps out of broody obligation rather than the pleasure of helping his fellow man. Superman’s final line before dying was about him wanting to save Lois rather than him wanting to save the world. And we will never forget … that he responds to being accused of mass murder with complete apathy followed immediately by bathtub sex.
Even the Justice League material contradicts this message. Some of the first lines in the new trailer are from a news report saying that since the death of Superman: “violence, acts of war and terrorism are all on the rise.” Snyder’s Superman wasn’t a symbol of hope; he was a deterrent based in fear. Snyder tried to strange our heartstrings with the “If you seek his monument look around you” message on his grave. Well this clearly shows that his monument is a world where ‘violence, acts of war and terrorism are all on the rise,’ a WORLD WITHOUT HOPE. Ironically, that is what this Superman represents to a lot of viewers, but I don’t think it’s what the filmmakers actually intended.
The Forever War
You’d think by now movies would know that elongated battles with faceless foes rarely work. It’s second only to blue lasers in trends that should end. (Maybe third after depressing covers of pop songs in trailers.) Millions upon millions of dollars are wasted on loud, effects-heavy, headache-inducing and way-too-long finales. They don’t connect with audiences because they become repetitive button mashers. This goes beyond comic book movies to other franchises, such as Transformers, The Hobbit, and even the new Ghostbusters.
With Justice League, that is definitely what we’re going to get. The trailers consistently play up the giant battle between the Justice League and Darkseid’s Parademons. It’s clear that this is not just going to be the centerpiece, but possibly even the bulk of the movie. Maybe Aquaman will come up with different clever ways to stab Parademons, but there’s only so many guns the Batmobile can shoot before we zone out. And it has a lot of guns.
The footage also indicates that Justice League will continue with DC’s ongoing Giant Generic Grey CGI Monster villain problem. Avengers was able to successfully utilize the teeming hoard approach with the Chitauri because it had a decent main villain for the heroes to face, Loki. Without Tom Hiddleston as the real focus, there would have been nothing to keep the audience engaged. Even Age of Ultron was smart enough to cast James Spader as Ultron and put him in a mocap suit so there was some actual interplay between the heroes and their villain. Cirian Hinds, who plays Justice League‘s main villain Steppenwolf, admits that he never met the cast. Without a bad guy the Justice League could have a repartee with, how will this be any different from the boring BvS Doomsday fight? A Group of Generic Grey CGI Monsters to back up the Giant Generic Grey CGI Monster?