Join superfans E. Stephen Burnett, Austin Gunderson, and Kerry Nietz as they react to DC’s Justice League. In real time since the film’s Nov. 17 release, we praise, complain, and above all hope for a better Ultimate Edition of the superhero trilogy begun by director Zack Snyder.
Full disclosure: we’re all big fans of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. These are required viewing for anyone trying to make sense of Justice League and its fans.
Read the complete series. In this part, we begin sharing our early reactions to the film.
E. Stephen Burnett: Folks …
Justice League is a two-hour trailer for the real movie. ? Adjust expectations accordingly.
This review is correct:
The film is very clearly a Frankenstein’s monster of a motion picture. Two very different films are present here stitched together with the barest of connective narrative tissue. The one film is very clearly Snyder’s: all grim bombast, cool poses, and CGI-enhanced action. The other is fully Whedon: quippy, light-hearted interactions that are enjoyable but hold no real narrative weight. If these two films seem like they might be at odds with each other, you are not wrong. The film at times has tonal whiplash. Warner executives have said that Whedon only influenced 25% of the final film. I find that number hard to believe. Almost every interaction between the heroes feels like it’s been pulled from the Whedon playbook. Every time action occurs it feels like a more serious film where posing and “cool” shot placement takes on more importance than coherent visual filmmaking.1
Austin Gunderson: I agree, Stephen. The whole way through, it felt glaringly obvious that it was an intermediary installment. I’m gonna have to mull over exactly why this was, but it definitely felt less apocalyptic than Man of Steel.
The team dynamic was really fun, though.
Stephen: Oh, the characters are great. I love each and every one of them. But this rushed story and world around them felt shallow and empty. Sometimes literally. … Cities around them had no life.
It needed another full hour. It needed Snyder’s deft hand in the editing and post-production.
Justice League vs. Warner Bros. editing
Stephen: I signed this petition earlier for an Ultimate Edition of the film, perhaps three hours long, actually directed by Snyder. I don’t agree with everything the petition starter says, or with the gratuitous run-on sentences. But he gets it. Even down to the lame music substitutions.2
Austin: Heh. I remember the fervency of fandom that took hold after John Carter was a flop. I remember “Take Me Back to Barsoom!” This petition feels like that.
Stephen: Except all that original footage and production already exist.
Austin: And I agree with everything you said, Stephen, but I feel the main weakness lies deeper — in …
… you know what? Kerry may not have seen it yet.
… in the fact that Steppenwolf was no match for Superman. That’s been the key strength of the previous films to me: that Superman wasn’t boring. I thought this movie managed to Make Superman Boring Again. Not because he was unlikable, but because he won so much I got tired of winning.
Stephen: I don’t mind Superman coming back a bit happier. Or easily vanquishing his enemy. But … the film offered no continuity to his peace in sacrificial death before. No meaning to his return. And unlike I’m the original Death of Superman story, when he resurrects more naturally because his cells undergo rebirth, this is just fssshhtt, science. Boring. Interest fading. Bruce Wayne pulls a Tony Stark and creates a Vision.
“Emptied of meaning” describes a lot of the story.
And honestly, gentlemen, I’m tired. Getting over a cold. Can’t sleep. Feeling very alone and stupid for liking stories other people hate and bemoaning stories other people are mixed to fine about. It does get a little personal for me sometimes. Like: What is wrong with me?
Austin: Eh, the world’s screwed up and there’s no wisdom in crowds. Art isn’t democratic. The higher denominators aren’t common.
Stephen: That’s a problem if your life’s goal is to encourage and create great works of story-art.
Huge, depressing, potentially debilitating problem.
Austin: Yup. But you don’t need to proselytize everyone; just enough. A handful. An intrepid company. A band of brothers.
Justice League vs. story flaws
For myself, I was okay with the forced-resurrection subplot. It at least gave meaning to the otherwise-dumb-and-derivative Marve— er, Mother Boxes, and it paid off the Knightmare scene from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. (“Lois is the key!”). Also, I like that Supes didn’t just pop outta the ground like a daisy. I’m so sick and tired of resurrections “just happening,” and this one at least felt weighty, like there was a real risk involved.
Regarding the DCEU, I’m not surprised at the direction it’s taking (assuming Snyder doesn’t return for future films — I’m not aware of his plans). It was always only a matter of time before the narrative threat-level and the highbrow artistry could no longer be believably sustained and the franchise slumped into a Marvel-esque malaise. I don’t think it’s quite there yet, but for any franchise that trades in end-of-the-world scenarios yet is unwilling to permanently part with any of its main protagonists, such a fate is inevitable. The only options at this point are to dramatically lower and internalize the stakes (as Batman v Superman did to some extent, and as a solo Batman film might — or a film where Luthor’s the main villain), or to cut straight to Darkseid. Anything in between those will just feel like a superfluous step, and unfortunately that’s Steppenwolf’s category (pun very much intended).
However, no matter what the future holds, we’ll always have Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. The real wonder is that those films got made at all.
Stephen: I’ll be content if we just get an Ultimate Edition, Whedon parts and all. I didn’t mind those so much, but in this drastically shortened cut they felt so superfluous.
Austin: What frustrates me is that the Whedon parts were the most memorable. The underlying drama simply wasn’t given enough room to breathe, and suffered a uniform diminishing as a result. High drama must be earned, lest it become melodrama. It’s earned chiefly through adequate time investment. It has to sneak up on you over time. It has to become a “lived experience.” Whereas gags are funny by themselves — even without context. And so the fact that my favorite moments were all gags disturbs me.
Stephen: They worked in isolation. But as with some of the Marvel movies, the gags often stepped on the weightier moments. When the weighty moments stood alone, they also worked very well.
But the movie wasn’t even full-on Whedon. He’s now wrongly maligned because of Marvel mandates for the two Avengers movies, especially the last one. But this is the guy who gave us Firefly, which is more than just the stereotypically witty-quippy stuff. There’s plenty of ideas in there too.
Austin: Oh I think Whedon’s great the way Lucas is great: he does one thing really really well, but he doesn’t know when to stop.
Justice League vs. cynical critics
Welp, there goes the dream …
Stephen: And this too.
Justice League Is the Epic We Deserve[3. Armond White writes for National Review and is not at all a respected critic. He will literally positively review a film that comes under criticism, and vice-versa, as if solely to act as a contrarian.)
Seeing it again today so my wife can join me this time.
When you’ve won Armond White, it’s all lost.
Real director’s cut or get out.
Austin: LOL. Why do you even read that stuff?
Stephen: I didn’t. Just saw your headline and knew who it was (Armond White).
Hope Warner Brothers (the film producers) learns the right lessons from this. All this is the fault of messing with the movie. Because now they irritated even the Snyder fans.
Austin: Yeah, no kidding. If you lose your base, what’s left? The Marvel partisans will never love you.
But “learning the right lessons” is not a feat at which studio execs are adept. They’ll probably ask Whedon to direct the next one.
Stephen: Which means it might be better because the theatrical cut isn’t even pure Whedon either.
Austin: I don’t want pure Whedon. Everything’s pure Whedon. I’m up to my eyeballs in pure Whedon. What is Thor: Ragnarok if not pure Whedon? What is Guardians of the Galaxy if not pure Whedon? I’ve had it with superpowered jokefests. I want drama commensurate to the genre’s milieu, otherwise I’m out.
Stephen: I mean, it might at least be a better put-together movie even for a jokes-stepping-on-serious-themes story.
But I’m with you.
I’ll get over this, but I’ve seriously considered stepping back from superhero movies as a whole over this. I’ve already dropped several TV shows and will not pick up any others simply because of limited time.
Well. Better to have loved and lost than not loved at all.
Or to expand on C. S. Lewis’s quote: to love a story at all is to be vulnerable.
Remember to sign the petition.
Fans are further motivated by the leaked deleted scenes.
Thinking about it again, on the other hand …
Audiences are ranking it higher than critics.
Also, all the other films have released in spring/summer.
More of the people I know are talking about it. So it may be that people are waiting until the holiday weekend to see it.
Also I don’t get people talking about Superman’s mustache erasure being terrible. I looked and looked and never saw anything weird. Purely psychological.
Austin: Yeah, I didn’t know that was a thing until after the movie, and I never thought to myself, ‘What’s with his upper lip?!?’ People have no ability to compensate for their expectation biases.
- Wheels grapples with the good and bad of JUSTICE LEAGUE!, AintItCool.com, Nov. 17, 2017. ↩
- Note: Since the petition’s original wording, the petition writer has revised his text twice (as of this date) and made a stronger, more conciliatory case each time. ↩