Justice League released a year ago today and opened to average reviews. In this scribe too, the big DC superhero team-up movie inspired mixed feelings. While it did get the superheroes and their interaction right, for the most part, everything else was a whole lot of mess. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Was it a disaster for Warner Bros and their DC film universe? Absolutely.
First, a bit of history. Warner Bros had plans for a cinematic universe even before the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy hit theaters. The studio had followed the burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe closely. Green Lantern, the movie that was supposed to kick it off, tanked. Zack Snyder, then known for Watchmen and 300, was then given the reins. His Man of Steel released in 2013 to mixed reviews. Its follow-up and also a Snyder directorial, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, was reviled by critics, but was still commercially a hit. Other movies in the universe were Wonder Woman — an almost universally loved movie — and Suicide Squad — another hit but excoriated by critics.
Then came Justice League. Unlike Marvel, DC had decided to launch the big guns and it had backfired. They still did not learn. We first got a Superman movie, then a Wonder Woman movie, and then a sort of Batman movie before Justice League. Cyborg, the Flash and Aquaman were teased briefly in Batman v Superman but it was hardly enough to do justice (pardon the pun) to those iconic characters.
Zack Snyder was directing the movie until he was reportedly fired by Warner Bros execs who saw the early cut of the movie and found it was a disaster in making. Earlier reports said he left the project due to a personal tragedy. Whatever the truth, Joss Whedon, director of the first two Avengers films at Marvel, was brought to finish the film. Whedon was already attached to Justice League as a writer. He finished it, and the movie released.
Like I said before, everything about Justice League except the heroes themselves was just nonsense. The movie had absolutely nothing to say. It had no personality. At least Batman v Superman had an overarching theme of Man vs God (though probably derived by a book called ‘Nietzsche for dummies’). Whether this was due to it being the product of two directors with very distinct styles, we will never know. Snyder fans have been clamouring for a mythical ‘Snyder Cut’ ever since the movie released, though I think it would be even worse.
After the events of Batman v Superman, Bruce Wayne (Batman), inspired by Superman’s sacrifice, enlists metahumans Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), Arthur Curry (Aquaman), Barry Allen (The Flash), and Victor Stone (Cyborg) to fight off an invasion from outer space. It is from Apokolips, a planet from Jack Kirby’s incredible New Gods storyline. It’s a hellscape ruled over by DC’s Thanos, Darkseid (who, incidentally, was an inspiration for Thanos), a tyrant who occasionally invades earth with his parademons.
There was no Darkseid in Justice League, though. What we got was Steppenwolf, his uncle and lieutenant. This would have been fine, except he was written as ordinary a villain as any villain could be. Almost entirely made out of CGI, he had the most generic of motivations (“I’m evil because the story demands it, dammit!”) and thanks to WB boss Kevin Tsujihara mandating the movie runtime to be under two hours, the script was snipped off to bare essentials. This was too short for a movie with as many as 6 superheroes (not to mention we did not really know the three of them). It was like WB was playing it too safe.
Justice League is one of the most expensive movies of all time. It was made on a reported budget of over 300 million dollars, not including marketing and reshoot costs. It managed to gross only 658 million dollars. The only silver lining was Justice League got the heroes right. The interplay between them made the movie worth watching. It had been a dream for many like me who grew up watching Justice League animated series to see them in live-action. In that aspect, if not anything else, Justice League passed the test. If only its plot, pacing and the villain just above average, we would have had a good DC superhero team-up film in our hands.
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