Why Justice League may be the end for the current DC Universe

DC and Warner Bros. need to make some drastic changes to continue this franchise.

I want to start this feature by saying that I did not hate this film; I went into with severely lowered expectations after Suicide Squad (2016) and Batman V Superman (2016). I expected something more like these two films rather than Wonder Woman which was released earlier this year and was very enjoyable. With this in mind I will go through the good points first and then get into the bad areas, and also go through why this film suffered.

The film is a breezy 2 hours which, under studio interference, was a direct result of the BVS near 3 hour run time. Although only 2 hours it does fit a lot into it and the story itself is simple enough to follow. There aren’t many twists or huge reveals which you haven’t seen before and the film maintains a swift pace through.

The characters are all well served baring a couple of exceptions. The Flash (Ezra Miller) is fun, Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is cool, and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is not as bad as I thought he might be. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is by far the standout character in this film, in comparison to everyone else she still maintains powerful presence on screen as well as strong character development, her relationships with other characters do form the focus of a lot of the film and it is better for this. However she is not presented as the main character within this film, which honour goes to Batman (Ben Affleck), who we will come back to later.

There are some other areas I want to praise but they will come under spoilers so I will mark them below.

Now the bad…and oh boy, are there some bad areas to this film.

I want to stress again I had fun in this film and did enjoy seeing it. I also don’t think everything should follow the Marvel way of doing things and that DC and Warner Brothers should follow their own path in terms of film making. I am in no way a Marvel Fan Boy; I like the Justice League comic universe and the animated movies which have come out featuring them.

However this film is the culmination of 3 other films which is supposed to compete with the juggernaut that is The Avengers and it doesn’t even feel like it’s in the same sport let alone the same league. The CGI is atrocious throughout, the first scene (I don’t think this is spoilers) features mobile phone footage of Superman (Henry Cavill) after saving people and the CGI to remove Cavill’s Mission Impossible 6 moustache is so unbelievable you’d wonder how it got to the screen. (If you don’t know about the issues between Warner Brothers and Paramount over Cavill’s upper lip do read up on it because it is fascinating). It is not just the jarring look of a man’s mis-shapen upper lip but also the sets which never feel real. This may be a symptom of the reshoots but nothing feels quite real in the film. Characters seem rubbery and sets seem superimposed.

The story is relatively simple and follows almost the formula you’d expect however the writing is busy trying to convince that Batman and the world has seen Superman as a beacon of hope and that the world has fallen into chaos without him because of this lack of hope. I am not sure about other people watching these DC films but Superman’s character has been severely misrepresented throughout, he smashed up metropolis in Man of Steel (2013) and was taken to federal court in BVS because people were split down the middle on whether he was good or bad. This dour, mopey, angry Superman is not who they are describing and as he died at the end of BVS then these feats of bravery and valour must have happened before his death, but were never shown on screen. Unfortunately, I don’t watch the film off screen, I have to watch what is in front of me and this ret-conning of Superman felt forced.

Given the reshoots with this film and the time taken to film these DC films back to back, my next point might not be too surprising but Ben Affleck looks incredibly bored in the role. Every scene featuring Batman, the main character, seems forced and changes his character from the previous films. Unfortunately, for Affleck he looks out of shape (Hollywood out of shape not real out of shape) and there are no set pieces which even come close to the warehouse scene of BVS. His story arc in this film seems to contradict his story arc in previous films and whilst he doesn’t kill anyone in this film he makes up for it by pulling a new vehicle out of nowhere every half an hour, which are essentially useless.

The contrast in tone: Zack Snyder has a very distinctive way of directing a film. Some like his visual style, I personally liked it in Watchman (2009) and 300 (2006) however it does not work here. It is not helped that Joss Whedon was brought in for the reshoots and his tone is very different to that of Snyder’s. There are moments of comedy that don’t seem to fit and a little too many quips from characters, especially the Flash (fair enough Barry Allen can be flippant) and Batman. The tone is indicative of a film which does not know what it is trying to be, in some scenes it wants to be the dour gritty BVS and in others it is trying replicate a light comic book feel and it never really manages either.

The villain is forgettable. This is often leveled at Marvel films but it is also true here. Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) as a villain is bland, it is never really revealed what his motivations are and he looks awful. This second point is again a problem with the CGI in the film. His overall character and back story see him as a strong powerful figure but this is never really developed. He acts more like a story telling device rather than a foe and given the power he has he makes Batman redundant in most situations. The shorter run time might also have something to do with this but it may have been better to use this massively super powered being in a later film and have a more focused story around character development in this film.

I thoroughly enjoyed the new characterisation of Superman and it was nice to see Cavill with more to do than mope. He was allowed to be charming and fun in this film. However this is an issue overall with this series of DC films, in previous films he has not seemed happy to be there and the character was more in line with the classic brooding Batman character than the classic Superman character. The film seems to suggest that being killed has allowed Superman to find his humanity and want to be the beacon of light the world needs, but it all feels incredibly rushed near the end.

Overall the film feels rushed. The CGI, the story and the reshoots do not help this film. It felt more like a 2 hour extended Arrowverse TV show than a $300 million film. The fanfare around this has been small and it seems to have been released at a strange time.

Now all of the above may be forgettable and forgivable, but the problem with this film from DC’s standpoint is that it is so thoroughly mediocre. This film feels more like an X-Men Apocalypse (2016) or a Spiderman 3 (2007) rather than an Avengers or what a Justice League film should be. There should be a grand scale in this film which was not present, it felt cheap and rushed and ultimately there are no stakes in the universe if Superman can make everyone else superfluous. The question is where do they go from here?

Ben Affleck looks likely to leave as Batman, which is not surprising as he looked thoroughly bored in this film. I can understand this is Ben Affleck’s point of view as well, he spent years being mocked by Hollywood and then focused on directing and starring in more story-focused films like The Town (2010) or Argo (2012). These DC films have been critically panned and he may not want to be associated with them. Which then brings another problem, if Affleck leaves the Batman role who replaces him and how do you replace him? Will Jake Gyllenhaal simply take over the role and no one mention it, will the character then change from being near retirement to being in his prime? This is fundamental in the universe at the moment.

Whilst Marvel have had to retcon things they don’t seem as drastic and they have had character focused films to do this in. DC have opened themselves up to so many problems in terms of continuity and this may be down to the lack of direction the films have had overall. Now, again not everything has to stick to a strict narrative for the overall DC Extended Universe but until recently no one was steering this ship, there was no Kevin Feige (Head of Marvel Entertainment) in place. Geoff Johns has taken over the role, who is someone who does like to return things to the status quo which might explain why we had an ending in this film where everyone seemed to be taking up their traditional roles.

The problem with a mediocre superhero film, any superhero film, is that it makes the whole genre seem stale. Not everyone is a massive fan and will go and see these films based on what they have heard, they may not be invested in the Marvel, DC or Fox extended universe and if audiences tell others it’s bad, they will not watch it. To clarify I will see all of the next DC films forever…until my ultimate demise…but I am a super nerdy fan who feels compelled to. Not everyone will, and films like Justice League do not help the genre overall.

I think the problems DC have been having with filming and holding onto directors might be a symptom of the wider problem going on at Warner Brothers and they may have to step back from trying to compete with their biggest rival on their level. Perhaps smaller, lower budget, character focused films may be a better way to go, much like Logan (2017) this year. Potentially they don’t focus on their big heroes but make a Nightwing tale or Supergirl film or a proper characterisation of Green Arrow as opposed to Batman, like we are getting on the CW’s Arrow. Maybe the focus needs to shift back to Superman with a proper characterisation where he does have the traditional inspiration which has always been a part of that character, but until Justice League was distinctly lacking in this version of the character.

Despite all this I had a fun time with this film and although there are some massive problems with the film and series as a whole there were things I enjoyed about it, Superman’s characterisation, Wonder Woman’s arc and Jason Momoa were all great. However, it is incredibly average for a film which is the tent pole for this universe and this is a problem, for a $300 million film it felt small and cheap and not the ‘event’ it should have been. Of course this is just my opinion and some may have enjoyed the film. However, I would be more than happy for them to scrap this whole franchise and start from scratch without the hangover from Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman.

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