Ellements of Film #4: Justice League | Vol. 5 / No. 5.1

I will admit that I did not go into Justice League with super high hopes. Wonder Woman was, as I have discussed before (and at so much length) amazing. But Wonder Woman was also helmed by Patty Jenkins, a female director with a fresh new vision, and not Zack “grimdark, slow-mo, blood!” Snyder. Justice League is. (Well, mostly Snyder. Also a little Joss Whedon, but we all know I’m still mad at him.) The trailers looked… not great. The CGI was messy, the character motivation was unclear, and for some stupid reason they kept trying to pretend like they weren’t obviously bringing Superman back. They were going to have to forcibly introduce three characters, two of whom also have solo projects that are currently languishing in development hell, and the third has a solo project with no announced cast besides its star, and no attached director that I know of. It was going to have to try to pull off an Avengers with half of the intro material, a quarter of the charisma, and only one lead-in film that wasn’t a dumpster fire. But there were some small beacons of hope. Jason Tondro described Jason Momoa’s take on Aquaman as “Aquabro,” and this became his name in my mind and also one of the things I was excited to see in the film. I also wanted to see funny!Flash and Wonder Woman. Obviously Wonder Woman. But my hopes were not high.

Somewhat to my surprise, and possibly because I came in with such low expectations, it didn’t totally suck. It had some definite highs and lows, and it was nowhere near as good as Wonder Woman, but that is a high bar that will probably only be approached by the second Wonder Woman film. It wasn’t amazing, but it was decent, and honestly better than I’d been lead to believe by the headlines for reviews. (I was trying hard not to actually read said reviews so I’d go in with an open mind.) So the following is my usual pro/con review breakdown. I’m trying not to have too large of spoilers, but you know me. I get chatty. Also, no plot summary this time. Because if you have seen a trailer, you know the plot summary.

Pros:

Casting and character personality.

While Ben Affleck is still not my favorite Batman, he does alright for the “somewhat past his prime, should probably think about retiring” Batman, (hint, hint). Someone in the writer’s room let him have some actual goddamn personality this time, and so you get to see a tiny touch of the actor who was personable enough to help make Dogma pretty cool and was willing to co-star in the music video “I’m Fucking Ben Affleck.” Though he tries so little to hide his identity that I honestly think everyone in Gotham secretly knows who he is, and everyone is just too kind to tell him. Gal Gadot remains amazing (and at one point wears a shirt that I want with the burning power of a thousand suns) and even though she gets injected with Zack Snyder fast-itis, it’s also cool to see her hit some of the more extreme edges of her powers. Ray Fisher is a bit hard to get a read on since his take on Cyborg is more “stoic man at war with his own nature” than Teen Titans Go, but he delivers a convincing performance and gets to have moments that are really cool. And at one point he does say “booyah” so the Teen Titans fans won’t murder anyone. Jason Momoa is way fun as Aquabro (sorry that really is just his name now) and manages to make one of the long-time laughingstocks of the Justice League into someone pretty badass. And I’m honestly fairly tickled by Ezra Miller as the Flash. Fans of the CW show might not be totally happy, as this Flash is a bit more “wide-eyed ingenue” and has moments of comical incompetence, but (as is fitting) his comedic timing is pretty spot on, his face is incredibly expressive, and he’s just a lot of fun. He’s basically a superhero fanboy who is also a superhero, and the pure joy he takes in what he is doing is infectious. Which leads us to:

Tone.

This is still definitely a Zack Snyder film, and it certainly edges more towards the tone of Batman v. Superman than it does Wonder Woman. That being said, it also learned its lesson about being one-note, took some additional warnings from the incoherent tone changes in Suicide Squad (though there are still some weird tone changes between the Snyder and Whedon sections), and delivered unto us a movie that was grim-kinda-dark-but-more-grayish. Bruce Wayne gets to crack jokes, the Flash can trip and biff it during a fight, Aquabro judges Batman’s life choices… it’s just a bit more fun, on top of some of the traditional grim elements.

Character relationships.

A team-up movie can live or die based on the chemistry and relationships between the team members, and this film did a lot better than I thought it would on that front. There are some hints towards a romantic relationship between Diana and Bruce, but they luckily don’t press too much on that (if your names aren’t Kevin Conroy or Susan Eisenberg you step off with the Bruce/Diana romance. Bruce/Selina forever, and Diana doesn’t need to be trifling with your broody bullshit) so it’s mostly lightly flirtatious looks and a dynamic where they try to make each other better, which is what should happen for teammates. And much as there can be some problematic trope elements to a black/white buddy pair-up, I would kill for a combo Cyborg/Flash film. The characters only get a few moments together, but they honestly do a lot with very little. Flash is so awkwardly earnest about trying to be friends, Cyborg is trying so hard to reconnect with his humanity after feeling like he’s been taken over, and both of them are trying their best to deal with changes that have been thrust upon them by outside forces. Flash calls himself and Cyborg the “accidents,” which is both true and kinda heartbreaking, and I think could be the basis of a very good bromance. And Aquabro is Aquabro. And I love him.

An emphasis on Diana’s leadership.

Do you know who would probably be really good at leading a superhero team? A demigod who has trained to be a warrior all her life in a cooperative society and who emphasizes the need to find the strong points in all of her teammates. You know who would probably be really bad at leading a superhero team? Either an overly-moralistic alien who can’t understand why people don’t share his worldview and who preemptively fucks up people he doesn’t like, or a somewhat-psychotic loner who literally thinks up contingency plans for how to take all of his teammates out if they turn evil. Wonder Woman is obviously a superior leader. Why doesn’t she lead the Justice League all the time? She’s so good at it! Yeah, we have to get over some of that stereotypical “I don’t feel confident enough to lead” bullshit, but that lasts for like five seconds, and then Diana starts telling people what to do. Hell yes. Granted, her “leadership” also doesn’t last much longer than this scene of authority (I’m pretty sure “leader!Diana” is one of Whedon’s inserts, but this is overall Snyder’s “Superman is literally Jesus” storyline, so the leader bits don’t always mesh with the rest of things.)

And honestly, this shift does a lot to help with the gender issue in this film and nods at a future where it can help with this team. Diana is still the only woman on the team (so far). The movie passes the Bechdel test because of the Amazon scenes, but even then, it’s a weirdly near thing. The Amazons kinda talk at Steppenwolf more than they talk to each other. It’s hard to have a near-miss on the Bechdel test when the movie includes an all-female society, but they somehow manage it. The only other time two women talk (Lois Lane and Martha Kent) it is about Superman… and a really awkward verbal misstep around calling Lois “thirsty.” That section is not gonna age well.

But two women talking about a non-male isn’t the only way that a movie can be empowering to women or show positive representations of women. Having the sole woman lead the team is at least significantly better than having the only woman be the secretary (no, seriously, she used to be the secretary). It shifts the power dynamics dramatically, and allows the female character to have a central role, even if she doesn’t get to, you know, talk to any other women.

Some genuinely fun action scenes.

Let’s be honest, most of the action in this movie doesn’t really make sense. Aquabro should not be able to drop into a building, go through all the floors, and slide out the front. But he does, and it looks awesome. How does Diana break the laws of physics to do whippy, swingy things with her lasso? Don’t care! It looks cool. How many times is it cool to have the action slow down so that the Flash can do his thing and have all kinds of lightning effects? All the times! It’s Zack Snyder, so there’s a lot of slow-mo mixed with super-sped up action, a lot of shaky cuts, and a lot of CGI, but there are some pretty fun action scenes that make you remember one of the main reasons why we wanted a Justice League movie: because we want to see our favorite superheroes beat people up in really cool ways. The scene where the Amazons are trying to play keep away with Steppenwolf proves just how badass the Amazons are, and how dedicated they are to their mission. They don’t get to kick as much ass as I think they should, but it’s pretty stunning overall.

 

Cons:

The CGI

When I first saw the trailers for the film, and especially when I first saw Cyborg, my thought was “oh, my sweet summer child. What have they done to you?” The CGI was kinda horrifyingly bad for a movie that expensive. But they shaped it up a lot. Cyborg is still a bit more awkwardly fake than I would like, but he’s a lot better than he looked in the trailers. There are some really cool effects with Aquabro, Mera, and some water tricks, and when the parademons get up close I actually think they look really cool. They’re all… bitey.

The biggest problems are Steppenwolf and the artificial environments. Steppenwolf is just… meh. He kinda looks like what happens when Snoke meets that axe-chicken from The Quest for Camelot. The design is not super great, and it’s not really intimidating. You never really feel any actual threat from him, and he’s not a big enough name to have any inherent drama the way a villain like Darkseid might, or the tag-along drama from a former film like General Zod had for Man of Steel. His design is also a fairly weird choice, because in the comics he’s fairly normal looking. I think that the design was changed because there was probably some fear that his original design was too similar to Hades’ design in Wonder Woman.

One of these is a horn-helmeted, armored paragon of war. The other is actually, literally Ares.

But instead of taking the same basic concepts of his design and changing things around in a way that works for the film at hand (like say, Marvel did with Loki, Hela, and Skurge. Just sayin’.) the filmmakers did this:

It’s just… blah. It’s all monochromatic, so any cool design elements are lost in the muddle. And it also makes his skin almost indistinguishable from his armor, so things like his face also get lost in the shuffle. And he’s so uber-CGI that you really don’t feel like the heroes are actually interacting with him. Ironically I had just watched Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow for the first time a couple days before I watched this film, and I got a lot of the same sense of actors desperately trying to interact with a world and with enemies that don’t exist from both films, especially during the Steppenwolf fights. It’s a shame they went the CGI route, because I can imagine a lot of actors who could rock the hell out of Steppenwolf’s original costume. Oded Fehr, Javier Bardem, Clive Owen, Gerard Butler, Idris Elba… So many good choices. And still not as silly looking as David Thewlis in a bucket. Sorry, David Thewlis.

And though the fight scenes are good overall, the mix of CGI background and CGI action with Zack Snyder’s “top notch” cinematography means that a lot of the time it’s difficult to tell exactly what’s happening. Who is punching what? Where are the bad guys going? How many bad guys are there? Who knows, just enjoy the CGI hellscape and stop trying to differentiate things into different colors and tones. Because they are from a world called Apokolips, and everything is supposed to look like hell. Get it?

Inconsistent power creep.

This isn’t a problem just in Justice League (it’s endemic to pretty much the whole superhero genre in general) but it’s really obvious in Justice League. Basically, the power creep problem is actually made up of two problems: one, every hero in the movie having to get bigger and better powers (which usually get exponentially stronger in each film) and two, an inconsistent application of said powers when it becomes plot convenient, so that you don’t really have any sense of exactly how powerful each character is. When Diana first appears, she’s gained a shit ton of skills. She can not only deflect bullets, she can race in front of a crowd of people while someone is shooting at them with a machine gun and she can deflect all of the bullets. She’s weaponized that wooshy thing she does where she crosses her wrist guards and then things explode for some reason. She’s able to burst through walls and ceilings and such. She’s obviously incredibly powerful. And then…. that gets all wobbly. At one point she punches Bruce in the chest when he is sans armor and he shoots back a few feet, then coughs and stumbles up. Are you kidding me? Every piece of his ribcage should be broken. He should be picking cartilage out of his lungs. He just got his ass knocked down by a demigod. The same problems crop up when she is fighting Steppenwolf, and briefly (spoiler alert!) fighting Superman. At times she can totally hold her own and even kick ass. At other times she seems hopelessly outmatched, with no clear differentiation between the two things. It’s never clear why she’s getting her ass kicked in one scene and kicking ass in another scene.

This problem is especially bad with Superman, partly because Superman himself has a problematic array of powers. This is a problem as much with Superman himself as it is with the movie, to be honest. When Superman was first introduced, he had super strength and super speed (in that he could lift a car and outrun a freight train) and he could, of course, leap over a tall building in a single bound. That’s it. Pretty powerful, but not out of control. And then… oh and then. Over the subsequent decades he got pretty much All the Powers, which is the version of him that is used in the film. In the film he has X-ray vision, laser vision, super hearing, invulnerability, flight, ice breath, and super strength and super speed on steroids. He can lift an entire apartment building, and he gives Flash a literal run for his money.

He’s obviously meant to be a literal deus ex machina (because he’s Jesus! Did you miss that in his solo film or Batman v. Superman? Because he’s totally supposed to be Jesus. Zack Snyder cannot emphasize enough how much he is supposed to be Jesus.) and is supposed to be the person/character who allows the team to defeat Steppenwolf. The only teammate whose powers he can’t totally copy and then outdo is probably Cyborg. If you wait long enough, Superman will probably spontaneously learn how to control computers, too. But when you have such a powerful singular character, it makes a team-up movie hard. Much as the inclusion of Enchantress in Suicide Squad raises the question, “Why the hell do you need anyone besides the Enchantress?” Superman raises the question “Why the hell isn’t the Justice League just Superman wandering in and going ‘sup?” Superman makes all of the other characters fairly obsolete, and removes a lot of the stakes for the other characters. Because Jesus Superman will save them.

Power creep doesn’t automatically make a movie bad. There are still a lot of awesome fights and other scenes that can result from overpowered or inconsistently-powered characters. And especially if you’re able to turn your brain off and enjoy things (which… I can’t really anymore) power creep just allows for plot-convenient cool things. In some ways, the superhero genre demands power creep. We don’t want the exact same story every time, and we often want (or at least filmmakers think we want) to see the superheroes gaining new skills and powers. It’s why Iron Man always has to have a new suit, Batman has to get new gadgets, Thor has to access new powers, etc. Sequels, in general, often follow a pattern of “Y +2” or “Y x 2” where “Y” is whatever the premise of the original was. The sequel is going to either add to that original premise, or go balls-to-the-wall and double the original premise. Hunger Games was children from all the districts fighting in a trap-ridden arena. The second Hunger Games film was former champions fighting in an even more trap-ridden arena. It’s also why Supernatural has had to stop the apocalypse like, ten times. And while Justice League is the first team-up film, it’s really best understood as a sequel to Batman v. Superman. And since for whatever fucking reason they decided to go with one of Superman’s strongest enemies right out of the gate in Batman v. Superman, this film needed even more extreme power creep. But the end result is still a logically-inconsistent world where you can’t predict the outcomes of any fights because you have no idea what is actually going on.

My poor Amazons.

My Amazons. My lovely, lovely Amazons. I was originally so happy to hear that the Amazons were getting an expanded role in this film. I adored them in Wonder Woman, despite a few flaws, and I was excited by the injection of a bit more girl power into the male-heavy Justice League cast. And then I remembered that Zack Snyder is a thing. And then I was Concerned.

You may have seen a post going around, comparing the Amazonian armor from Wonder Woman to the Amazonian armor in Justice League. And…. Yeah. It is that bad. The uber-practical-but-still-sexy armor from the last film has been traded in for… women’s beach volleyball uniforms?  Seriously, if you’re trying to tell me that a race of warrior women doesn’t know better than to showcase their squishy, organ-filled middles, I will laugh at you until I can’t breathe. It doesn’t help that in this film the first one we see really showcasing that armor is the only black Amazon to get any lines (sexualization of black womanhood, anyone?). And on that note… where the fuck did all the diverse Amazons go? Admittedly there was a lot of Snyder zoom and shaky cam going on in their scenes, but I’m pretty positive that the diversity of Themiscyra took a nosedive since the last film. Is there a Jeff Sessions Amazon who was rolling back affirmative action? There’s one Amazon who gets a bit of extended screen time who is apparently named Euboea (thank you, imdb) who is played by Chinese-Canadian actress/person-who-can-actually-fight Samantha Jo,  but all of the other Amazons who get significant action scenes appear to have been replaced with Swedish supermodels. No, seriously. One of them (who apparently was also in Wonder Woman but did not look quite so blonde or model-ish) is played by a Victoria’s Secret model who hails from the Netherlands, Doutzen Kroes. There are so many new blondes.

Wonder Woman did a pretty good job, in my opinion, of balancing fan service with practicality. This time Wonder Woman jumped down from something and the audience basically gets an upskirt shot. A woman director and woman costume designer in the former… a male director and male costume designer in the latter. Yeah, that makes a difference. The Amazons are originally amazing but then ultimately disappointing in this, basically in the film to have a couple glorious fight scenes before they get their asses kicked by Steppenwolf, and to provide a bit of cool exposition. And to tan their stomachs, apparently.

Superman. Just… Superman.

Yes, I’m going to beat up on Superman some more. I know it’s passé these days to like Batman more than Superman and to be mean to Superman, but I hated Superman before it was cool. And it’s not even really Superman’s fault. He’s usually just too good. He represents the best parts of us, loves a world that often fears him, and works tirelessly to save people while also keeping a 9-to-5 and I hate him for it. I should admire him, but instead I’m a bitter, cynical shell of a human being. So honestly, any Superman movie is going to be a hard sell for me.

But hells below, do I hate Superman in this film.

In this film Superman, as you are repeatedly reminded, is Dead. Dead Dead Dead. He is Dead. And the world is Sad. And Bad. Because Superman is Jesus. The world is worse because Superman Jesus died.  Yes, a lot of Batman v. Superman was about how people were starting to hate and fear Superman. Yes, Suicide Squad was partially concerned with getting a super team that could take on Superman or Superman-adjacent character if need be. But then Superman sacrificed himself for the world (in a really, really stupid ending to the movie) and now everyone is sad. Also we buried him in Clark Kent’s grave, even though probably every government agency in the country would have tried to get their hands on his body to put him in a Stalin-tomb. Or to dissect him. So much for his secret identity! Oh yeah, and when he comes back, Lois just calls him “Clark” in front of a lot of cops. Because screw secret identities. But then later he’s walking around all Clark-ish and no one notices. Because people are dumb as fuck.

Spoiler! They go through this whole “Superman can’t totally remember who he is and thus fights his friends and talks like a crazy person” thing, which is temporarily cool and then just really boring and annoying. Henry Cavill delivers most of his lines as if he’s an android trying to learn How to People and I just don’t get it. Because have you seen the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? Henry Cavill is also in that movie, and he is a charming motherfucker. He’s cocky and confident and fun and suave and occasionally vulnerable and he has multiple facial expressions. If Henry Cavill played Superman with a quarter of the charm he brings to Napoleon Solo, then Superman could become an actually amazing character. But he doesn’t. He plays him like a block of wood that has been sanded into having a Gaston chin and given a pre-recorded list of inspiring things to say.

And the CGI lip. Oh my God, the CGI lip. To be honest, I was deliberately looking at his mouth, since I’d heard that they had to blow $24 million on CGI just to edit out his moustache during re-shoots. (Btw, that’s a little under half of the total budget for Deadpool. Just sayin’.) And the results are hilarious. He becomes an actual mannequin face in some scenes. In others that little dip on his upper lip seems to disappear entirely. (I know that dip has a name but I’m too lazy to look it up.) $24 million will apparently buy you some uncanny valley shit and it is insane. I know they had production deadlines and all but it would have been really, really worth delaying the movie a couple months until he was done with his other job and could shave so that they did not have to blow the GDP of a small nation on making Henry Cavill look like he was in a wax sculpting accident. Or maybe they should have just given Superman a mustache. They did pretty well with CGI hair in Tangled and Brave, and I can only believe that just covering up… all of that… would have been better than this.

Most of all, I hate how this movie seems to be primarily about solving the problem of Superman’s death, rather than the issue of bringing together the team. Yes, the getting-the-team-together mechanics are still a big part of it, but it’s made clear again and again that the team is not enough, and that Superman is needed. And Superman is only needed because someone made the idiotic decision to kill him off in the last film. This problem literally only exists because someone decided it should, and it has little plot relevance. They try to make his death the reason for Steppenwolf deciding to invade by saying he finally dared to do so because the Kryptonian was dead, but Superman has only been on the scene for like, maybe three or four years in-universe time. Steppenwolf could have invaded any time prior to Superman revealing himself. And also? He’s supposed to be insanely powerful, and extremely war-hungry. If Superman was still around, then Steppenwolf would have probably been like, “Come at me, bro!”

Killing Superman was an obvious ploy meant to tug at our heart strings. And because filmmakers think we’ve never read a comic or seen a superhero movie before, they were hoping to get narrative traction out of bringing him back. Instead we get genuinely interesting teambuilding that we all know is leading up to Superman coming back, and that mostly goes down the toilet once he does.

The exposition. Also, the exposition being better than the movie.

There were a couple things that this movie had to address exposition-wise. One is smaller and makes me madder, while the other is larger and doesn’t make me quite as mad, but more disappointed. I am a woman of contradictions.

Like the whole return of Superman thing, one of the exposition needs in this film is the filmmakers’ own damn fault. As I mentioned in my Wonder Woman review, the way that Diana is characterized in her solo film versus how she is introduced in Batman v. Superman make for some really awkward contradictions. Namely, that Diana, who learned the power of love and belief, who was horrified at the thought of millions dying, and who decided that mankind deserves to be protected no matter what they do…. kinda sits out one of the most horrific periods in human history, aka WWII, and then also kinda sat out everything after that until, in the (paraphrased) words of Bruce Wayne in this film, “Lex Luthor stole a picture of [her] boyfriend.” I know that she was introduced in Batman v. Superman this way so that she could have a femme fatale air of mystery (and honestly, probably so that the writers wouldn’t have to actually put any creative thought into explaining why Bruce and Clark wouldn’t know who she was) but when placed next to her solo film, it’s a huge letdown for her character.

I had heard that this film was going to try to address that period a bit, and was hoping for… something. Maybe she’s been working quietly in the background all this time, not feeling up for total heroics but not willing to stand idly by. Maybe she helped resistance fighters in France, or helped smuggle Jews out of Germany or… literally has done anything helpful for the last hundred years besides get a sweet gig at the Louvre and wear pretty clothes. But according to this film… nope. She has basically been mourning her boyfriend this whole time. In this film they address, multiple times, the way that she basically withdrew after WWI and has had to “learn to open up” again, whatever the fuck that means. I know Steve Trevor was cool and all, but I feel like their relationship didn’t really last long enough for it to lead to a century of mourning that makes her set aside her basic character values. Color me disappointed.

Then we have the major story arc exposition which just… raises so many questions. While over in Marvel-land we’ve been waiting for Thanos to show up for so long that I honestly do not fucking care about him anymore, DC went the opposite route and decided to squish all of the world-building and exposition into pretty much one action/exposition by Bruce, one action scene on Themiscyra, one speech given by Diana, and a few comments by Aquabro. (Yes, he has a first name like the other characters I just described. His first name is Arthur. No, I am not calling him that.)

We start the movie with Bruce trying to catch a parademon, and explaining that they smell fear. One question: how the hell does he know that? How long have parademons been showing up, apparently without alerting most of the populace, in order for Bruce to figure out that they are attracted to fear? How did Bruce figure this out at all? The man lacks whatever part of his brain fear is supposed to be in. He replaced it with Angst, More Angst, and Rage. He can’t use himself as a test subject unless Alfred whispers “Martha” into his ear in an echo-y voice and someone drops a broken pearl necklace. (Yeah, I said it. Step.)

Then all of the sudden, Hippolyta is getting informed that the mother box is awakening/under attack, and then Steppenwolf is there, and the Amazons are just like “Steppenwolf!” as if they totally know who he is (and I cannot take any of it seriously because I keep resisting the urge to hum “Born to Be Wild”) and then there is fighting, and then they send this warning signal that Diana notices, and then Diana Expositions at Bruce. Apparently, Steppenwolf came to Earth thousands of years ago from another planet. (Oh yeah, Wonder Woman totally knew that there were aliens prior to Superman and just didn’t say shit. It slipped her mind.) Steppenwolf tried to take over the world, but a combined force of Amazons, Atlanteans (oh yeah, she totally knew about them, too) “all the tribes” of men, actual Greek gods, and the fucking Green Lanterns Corps fought him off.

Wait just a fucking second.

First of all, this is clunky as all hell. We are having to do a LOT of worldbuilding in order to understand the plot, all while the film is insisting “NO THIS IS NOT THANOS AND THE MOTHER BOXES ARE NOT THE TESSARECT NO I PROMISE.” (Yes, I’m aware that Darkseid was invented first, but the MCU got out of the gate faster and a good portion of the audience has probably never read the comics. You snooze you lose, DC.) Marvel went overboard with the slow-buildup, but this could have probably taken place over at least two team-up movies? Maybe three? Or at least we could have introduced a lot of our characters in other movies, in which we got to hint at the existence of Darkseid, and then this could be the big leadup movie? Like, in a way that is faster than what Marvel is doing but less insane than this? Please?

Second of all, fuck this movie for reintroducing the Green Lanterns after that shit show of a movie, but doing it in thirty seconds and without any actual modern Green Lanterns. No. You don’t get to do that. You want them back in, you do it properly, and you give us a movie that doesn’t suck. And give us John goddamn Stewart while you are at it, because Cyborg is tired of your tokenism shit and your handsome white boys with brown hair and nice pecs. We have enough of those. We won bland white boy bingo already.

Third of all… at what point exactly was this supposed to happen? According to the stories Hippolyta was telling Diana in Wonder Woman, Zeus creates man, Ares turns man evil, Zeus creates Amazons to make man better again (…with sex?) things are peaceful for a time, man enslaves Amazons (…somehow) and then Amazons revolt. So when did this mega battle happen? During the period of “peace”? Did Hippolyta just not mention “then Zeus created the Amazons, and there was peace, until this alien dude came and tried to conquer the world and we all joined forces to kick his ass, and then mankind enslaved us.”

Fourth of all, this narrative brings up the same problems that we have in Thor: The Dark World in terms of backstory exposition and technology. In both cases, we get stories about a force that invaded thousands of years ago, using laser-based gun weapons against the heroes’ forces, which were using medieval/classical weapons. So the heroes’ groups obviously learned that such things existed, and had a couple thousand years to try to reverse engineer this obviously superior technology. Then in both films, when the invading force comes back, still using these energy weapons… the heroes’ forces are still using their medieval/classical weapons and get their asses handed to them. Hell, the Amazons in Wonder Woman looked kind of shocked by the use/existence of gunpowder-based guns, and these are the same Amazons that fought Steppenwolf. Literally the same ones. Except for dying in battle, Amazons seem to be functionally immortal. In this movie one of them talks about how something hasn’t happened in 5,000 years, making it clear she was there the last time this happened. Were they all dropped on their heads? Did they all get collective amnesia and forget that guns were a thing? Was there not a single Amazon who said “Hey, I know we have this kinda classical Greek aesthetic, but I promise if you let me work on this “gun” technology thing, I’ll figure out a way to incorporate brass, leather, and an eagle motif, it’ll be awesome”? Why the hell are they using bows and arrows against Steppenwolf, which are obviously inadequate based on how easily he brushes them off? WHY IS EVERYONE A LUDDITE FOR PLOT CONVENIENCE?

Additionally, Aquabro later makes a comment that gets almost no reaction about how the Atlanteans and the Amazons once went to war against each other. WHAT? When the fuck did this happen? Why don’t we know about that thing? Why isn’t anyone talking about it?

And you know what the worst part is? EITHER OF THESE MOVIES WOULD HAVE BEEN COOLER THAN THE JUSTICE LEAGUE MOVIE. We had the option to film an entire “Battle of Five Armies”-style Amazon/Atlantean/human/God/Green Lantern Corps vs. Darkseid and parademons movie and we didn’t do that? Are you fucking insane? Do you know how much money I would shove at someone in order to watch that film? So much. So, so much.

Also, we could have had the introduction of Aquabro, or at least Atlantis (since Aquabro claims the battle was “before his time” and I don’t know what that actually means because no one is clear on timeline consistency or how fast the supernatural characters age in this film) via a war with the Amazons. Hell. Yes. Think of the extra layers that could provide! Both Aquabro and Diana having to work past deep-seated prejudices in order to work together? Both of them realizing that their own people have probably produced a fairly revisionist history to explain what happened in the war? An island nation having to defend itself from people who control water? Why is this not also a thing? Why did we get another twenty minutes of Superman Jesus instead?

The final word:

So that, in a very big nutshell, is Justice League. I did like it a lot more than I thought I would, but I don’t think that makes it a terribly good film overall. I think for me it is a movie where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. There are individual elements that I really liked, and things that I at least liked more than I thought I would. But when everything got squished together, it remained… messy. Honestly this movie should still be considered a triumph by DC’s standards, because at no point did I yell “what the fuck?” at the screen or groan so loudly I concerned the people around me, so for them that’s a win. I think that DC is finally finding a middle ground between constant angst and pointless humor, and that they are finally realizing that just explaining characters’ personalities to us is not as strong as letting those characters actually inhabit themselves. But the film also seems to be holding onto some outdated dynamics, can’t figure out how it wants to perform worldbuilding, and wastes some really amazing ideas on some throwaway moments.

I think DC can find its way around most of these problems. It just needs to stop letting Zack Snyder and David Ayer touch everything.

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Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not getting into every last bit of these movies for fun, she studies gender in popular culture.

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