Justice League, or, Has Anyone Made a “League of Their Own” Joke Yet? There’s No Crime in Bat’s Hall? Something Like That? I Don’t Know.

justiceleague

Batman v. All Kinds of Folks: Noon of Justice

“You’re not brave. Men are brave,” Batfleck told the Man of Steel in director Zack Snyder’s cumbersome Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I hated that line. To me it had seemed the epitome of the over-the-top, macho bullshit Batman is always in danger of succumbing to in the wrong hands.

“You’re not brave. You’re a little boy. I’m a big strong man, because I’m tough and grim and that’s what a man is, and by the way I just discovered the work of Frank Miller.”
I walked out of Batman v. Superman angry. Not disappointed. Angry. But it stuck with me. It stuck with me and despite myself my mind would return time and time again to various moments throughout the film. I found myself considering it. Digesting it.

“You’re not brave. Men are brave.”

Macho bullshit, or theological outrage?

“You’re not brave. You’re a god. You don’t know fear and you don’t know bravery because you don’t know what it is to be human. You don’t know what it is to be fragile living in a world that can kill you by accident. You cannot save us from ourselves because you will never know what it is to be us. You’re doomed to frustration and failure. And what then?”

Zack Snyder’s superhero films have no interest in being the Marvelous “world outside your window.” They’re more attempts at reflecting Joseph Campbell’s monomyth against a battle of minds and souls and ideologies. Hefty stuff. A reach that neither Man of Steel or Dawn of Justice were able to close fingers around. But they were each a helluva reach.
Justice League doesn’t feel that way. Very much an empty bath tub, Justice League feels like a panicked response to the backlash against Dawn of Justice in which all of the tropes of a Snyder film were numbed, rather than just the problematic ones.

I often found myself frustrated with Snyder’s previous films because of the contrast between their best and worst moments, between their potential and their actuality, between the leap taken and the distance traveled. But Justice League feels like less of a leap than a hop, like Zack Snyder’s ambitions have finally started to bear the weight of critical reception.

A lot has been made of the possibility that Justice League would feel like a battle between two voices, Snyder’s and Joss Whedon’s, who was brought in to complete the film when Snyder dropped out for personal reasons. But the only tug of war I felt in the film was between the lofty, operatic vision of Snyder and a very corporate, frugal sense of uncertainty holding that vision back.

There’s the slimmest thread of Snyder’s ambitious storytelling here, a messianic thread that casts the five marketed Justice Leaguers as sort of apostles, with Ben Affleck’s Batman playing the role of a repentant betrayer trying to make good. At times the film very much feels like Man of Steel 3, a third act following that familiar but fascinating template of life, death and rebirth. But the scope of that narrative, which reigned unshackled in the two previous acts, is downplayed in Justice League.

There are also hints of Snyder’s more problematic tendencies. The film opens with a laughably bleak montage of a world without Superman, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that Snyder’s camera has less respect for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman than Patty Jenkins’ did. But even these more irritating quirks are toned down. Peaks and valleys alike are buffered and filled in so that unchecked ambition is replaced by a sense of noncommittal, corporate safety.

Writing about Justice League I feel myself warming up to it, coming to terms with what it is rather than mourning what is isn’t. But I can’t shake the feeling (and it is just that, a feeling) that Snyder was reined in on this film because of the lackluster response to Dawn of Justice, and because of that it’s follow-up is, if not outright worse, at least exponentially less interesting.

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The Origin Story Retold, or, Justice League: War

STRAIGHT TO DVD ATTACK

STRAIGHT TO DVD ATTACK

Who knows how Batman vs. Superman is going to turn out? Sure The Avengers worked out, but will lightening really strike twice with the summer blockbuster-squared approach? The more information revealed about the film the stranger and more ambitious it seems. But one thing is certain: the flick is poised to serve as the launching ground of an entire DC Cinematic Universe. Based on which rumors you put stock in the movie almost even seems poised to be the start of the full of Justice League.

But what if you’re a weirdo who didn’t like Man of Steel’s imposing sense of dread? What if you aren’t happy with the tone director Zack Snyder has set for his DCU? What if you’re already entirely turned off from the movie based on the already announced casting choices?

Whether you’re looking for an alternative to Snyder’s upcoming epic or something to whet your appetite as you eagerly anticipate its release the DC Animated film Justice League: War is worth a viewing.

Where arguments can be made between Marvel and DC as to who is the reigning champion in comics, movies and television, DC is the undisputed champion of the direct-to-video animated feature film.

Niche? Maybe. But superiority is superiority.

Last year DC offered up excellent adaptations of Flashpoint, Superman: Braniac and The Dark Knight Returns. 2014’s first offering, Justice League: War, is an adaptation of the New 52 Justice League origin story, aptly titled Origin.

It follows the first meeting of Batman, Green Lantern, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg and Shazam as they team up to face a worldwide invasion by everyone’s favorite misspelled baritone, Darkseid.

“Where’s Aquaman?” you ask. “Wasn’t Aquaman in the source material?” you pant desperately. “Why oh why would they replace Aquaman with Shazam?” you bellow, tears of fury streaming from your reddened face.

Me too buddy. Me too.

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's not Aquaman!

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s not Aquaman!

But the characters that are depicted in War are do so admirably enough.

The younger Superman seen here, voiced by Suburgatory and Firefly’s Alan Tudyk, is a tad brach and cocky, but arguably a more classic take on the character than Man of Steel offers. The bickering between Batman and Green Lantern lends the movie an entertaining, human backbone and helps flesh out both characters. Wonder Woman, voiced by True Detective’s Michelle Monaghan, is sufficiently badass and brutal. In short the characters in Justice League: War are the characters you know and love.

And you do know them. You may not know the Flash’s alter ego or how he got his powers, but you know he can run fast, and War doesn’t demand you know any more than that.

Unlike its live action counterparts like The Avengers and Man of Steel, War doesn’t waste time on concrete origins and exposition for all of the characters. It understands that we, the audience, understand.

There’s no 20-minute montage of character backgrounds. War is concerned with showing you how Hal Jordan became Green Lantern. Its concern is showing you Green Lantern. And Justice League: War is better for it.

TEAMWORK ATTACK

TEAMWORK ATTACK

The characters in this movie don’t spend time explaining their backgrounds within an inch of their life to one another. Why should they explain them to the audience? You don’t know who Green Lantern is? Neither does Batman. And neither of them know who Shazam is. And he doesn’t know who they are. Throughout the events of the movie the characters are unveiled to each other just as they are unveiled to the audience.

Justice League: War isn’t perfect. For the love of Poseidon, there’s no Aquaman.  But it does an excellent job of telling a steam-lined origin story without the constraints of exposition big studio efforts insist on. If Zack Snyder can create a live-action equivalent of Justice League: War the DC Cinematic Universe may just take flight.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. SRSLY THO why isn’t Aquaman in this movie?

2. Do you like Shazam more than Aquaman?

3. Was Shazam that movie with Shaq in it? Or was that some other magic word?