The Lost Planet
One of the biggest complaints people had about Man of Steel was the massive destruction of Smallville and Metropolis, and how Superman barely did anything to save another living soul. I’ve always felt this complaint was a bit unfair, but considering how the first half of Batman v. Superman was the film apologizing-but-not-really for it, I’m willing to concede that point.
Unfortunately, in an attempt to remedy this problem, films have gone so far in the opposite direction. Now, climaxes have become overly insular and end up lacking all dramatic impact. In Ghostbusters, all of New York was frozen so no civilian actually seemed in danger. Whatever part of Gotham or Metropolis Doomsday was in in BvS was completely abandoned. Ditto whatever city Suicide Squad was set in. Ditto the finale of Wonder Woman. Without a sense of civilian lives in danger, the world or city never feels in danger because there is no outside world anymore. If the heroes failed, it feels as though whatever CGI bad guy they were facing would simply cease to exist.
Justice League takes this a step further by making the finale look as though it doesn’t even take place on Earth. In addition to having no people, everything is obscured by an ugly pink cloud. It come across more as an alien landscape than Gotham or Metropolis or anywhere we can identify. The members of the Justice League stand out by looking disconcertingly unnatural against the artificial backdrops. While this technique worked with something overly stylized like Snyder’s 300, it doesn’t fit with the “grounded” Justice League world.
The Alpha, The Omega
An argument could be made that these trailers aren’t showing everything so they can keep us surprised in the theater. Putting mindless Trailer Reaction optimism aside, we know that’s not true. To contrast, Star Wars trailers are specifically crafted to keep us in the dark. They throw out cryptic lines over lower octave versions of classic Star Wars music and let Internet commentators slash at one another’s throats as they try to figure out what any of it could mean. The vibe from the Justice League trailers is not for us to think or question or ponder; it’s to make us cheer at yet another dorky line from Barry Allen or at Aquaman’s gruffness or at Batman’s tech or at Metallica.
There’s even precedence for this approach – Batman v. Superman. Initially, it didn’t seem like the trailers were giving away the whole movie because they threw out a lot of pieces that didn’t connect together. Turns out the reason was that the movie itself threw out a lot of pieces that didn’t connect together. The movie meandered with unimportant storylines that never actually lead to anything – Africa, Congressional hearings, Congressional bombing, Clark investigating Batman, art history, Batman investigating Superman, Lois investigating the bullets, canceled checks, etc. All that mattered was that Batman and Superman fought, and at the end, even that didn’t matter.
The trailers for Justice League are done in the same mold … because the movie is done in the same mold. Why wouldn’t it be? Snyder, WB, whomever you want to blame had no time to learn from their mistakes, and Whedon didn’t have enough time to fix them. For better or worse (mostly worse), Justice League is going to be the same as Batman v. Superman. There might be a few more bits of personality from the characters – if only because of Whedon’s involvement – but it will maintain the same overall shape, though presumably with an even longer non-sensical climax. It would be great if this movie did anything unexpected (e.g. Chris Pine appearing as a Green Lantern), but that’s not how DC movies operate.
The Hall of Justice…
So will Justice League be a catastrophe? Critically, probably. But Warner Brothers already has a bevy of built-in excuses to guard the franchise from the “haters” – everything from losing its director, to extensive reshoots in a short period of time, to that old standby “we did this for the fans, not the critics.” But based on all the information we have, there is little chance that this movie is going to be anything other than everything we hated from Batman v. Superman, combined with yet another soulless, over-the-top finale. After all, there’s a reason Warner Brothers has started to play down the interconnected DCEU in favor of stand alone movies, and every week there’s a new rumor about Affleck wanting out. Yet it’s still tracking for a $150 million opening weekend, when Blade Runner 2049 struggled to hit $30 million. Just because Justice League couldn’t learn its lesson, doesn’t mean we can’t.