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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

1st Justice League Trailer Analyzed

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Edited by Robert Beach 

Well, I can safely say I didn’t see this one coming.  Basically from its announcement WB/DC’s proposed Justice League movie has been the butt of everyone’s joke. It came off as a transparent Avengers rip-off not helped by the lackluster reception to Man of Steel, the distaste for Ben Affleck’s casting as Batman, and the unmitigated disaster that was Batman v. Superman. 

Even fans of this stuff weren’t onboard with Justice League, especially given the only member of the cast that seemed like a real slam dunk was Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Then SDCC 2016 happened, and we got our first look at 2017’s Justice League. Out of nowhere, the tables have completely turned.  Suddenly, even the most dedicated cynics have at least moderately relented. Everyone’s starting to wonder if this movie is going to be good? 

Okay, let’s not get too excited here. Even as someone who genuinely likes this trailer, I’m still not super hopeful for the film. The bottom line for me is that the same people who screwed up a premise as basic as “Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman team-up” are making Justice League, so I don’t have a ton of hope. 

I do concede this trailer is a lot more fun than anything we’ve previous seen, though I’m not convinced that’s the result of the course correction so many folks seem to think it is. I’ll get into this more as we go on, but I think the big reason this trailer and this material ignited Zack Snyder more than his Superman work isn’t that he finds it exciting or inspiring; he finds it bemusing. 

From the outset, most of the trailer seems a lot like what I was already expecting from the film: a soft launch for The Flash and Aquaman, so they’re well established for the audience at large before launching into their films in 2018. What’s more, I doubt we’ll be seeing that much of the New Gods or their attendant mythology in this, hence Batman’s more vague and cryptic references.  He’s not referencing aliens or anything by name, just “enemies.” The few shots we get of burying the Mother Box make it look a lot more like a fantasy relic than a super computer. 

The big focus of this trailer is Aquaman, which makes sense given he’s the hardest sell of this whole enterprise. For better or worse, the DCEU has come to be defined entirely by course corrections and selling itself as a viable blockbuster outlet, both to audiences and its broader studio. Couple that with the new, modern trend of emphasizing sagas over installments, and the entire structure of the DCEU has become based around facilitating interest in their more difficult undertakings. 

As such, the main task of this trailer (and presumably a good chunk of the film itself) is convincing everyone Aquaman is a cool character. That's why he’s introduced chugging whiskey, grumbling around, punching Batman, and doing ocean stuff. It’s a weird approach. While grizzled and gritty Aquaman has a short shelf life, I’m at least intrigued, especially given that Snyder seems to register how Jason Moma should be utilized as a performer. 

The other major job of the trailer introduces us to the Flash with a big emphasis on his powers and how they work. By this point, Quick Silver and TV’s Flash have become big enough hits to trust that audiences will be fine with the idea of super speed. It seems that the focus of the trailer is showcasing how exactly Ezra Miller’s super speed will be different from that of his contemporaries. I suspect what we see in this trailer is the precursor to the fact Zack Snyder doesn’t get how the Flash is supposed to work. 

I suspect that rather than just being able to accelerate to extreme speeds, this version of the Flash has time powers that allow him to warp time around himself to give the illusion of super speed. That’s why we don’t see any movement blur or speed lines like we do with either of the Quick Silvers or CW’s Flash. It would also explain why Snyder seemed to think Flash could just time travel at will to pop in for his cameo during Dawn of Justice.

Someone getting the short end of the stick in this trailer is Cyborg, which has been a major theme for him so far. His cameo in Dawn of Justice was easily the worst of the bunch, and his movie isn’t slotted for release till 2020. What’s more, he’s barely in this trailer, doesn’t get a recruitment scene. His one line of dialogue is shockingly underwhelming and only serves to set-up Batman’s cool guy line. 

Speaking of, I do like Batman in this trailer, mainly how much he doesn’t come off as overtly cool. Affleck is still affecting a gravely bat voice, but most of the trailer is using him for comedy. Stuff like getting beaten up by Aquaman, bonding with Flash over not having any friends, and getting called out by Wonder Woman work well at defusing him as the coolest guy in the room. 

"Bat comedy" brings me neatly to my point from the top of the article, this is an adaptation that exudes a sense of bemusement and maybe even condescension at the source material. See, while I like the trailer, the thing that makes it most fun is that the characterizations are exaggerated to the point of parody.  

Aquaman chugging whiskey and beating up Batman is going so far out of the way to make him “bad ass” and “hardcore,” it has the opposite effect. The same with Flash being such a nerdy dweeb he openly admits he has no friends. It feels like the trailer is joking with us, having fun at the characters' expense, but I honestly don’t mind that. Zack Snyder has always seemed detached from the superhero material that’s ascribed to him, but I will take rye amusement over active hatred any day.  

Having fun with the characters is still a form of fun, and some of my favorite comics base around being aware of the inherent silliness of most superheroes. I mean, you don’t put a line like “I hear you talk to fish” in a trailer without knowing you’re making fun of these folks. 

Speaking of abject hatred, I do wonder where/how Henry Cavill’s Superman will fit into things. Cavill is still credited as starring in the film. So far, we’ve seen no real indication of what his role in the film could be.  

As far as I’m concerned, that’s all for the better. Zack Snyder has shown nothing but hateful contempt for Superman and his entire mythos. Keeping Superman out of the picture is a good move. He features in the Justice League assembled image, which looks pretty great despite Flash’s costume being a bit too goofy and the team lacks a color balance. 

It was hinted that Superman would resurrect at the end of Dawn of Justice, but I still suspect that his return will be tied to the coming of the film’s villain Steppenwolf, an alien General searching for a lost supercomputer known as a Mother Box. My theory is that Superman will be resurrected as a brainwashed super weapon as the ultimate transition from savior to super villain for the Man of Steel. 

My biggest takeaway from this trailer is this: while I still think Zack Snyder is the wrong person to handle this material, the material at hand is more right for Zack Snyder. Whatever it is that so incenses him about Superman, most specifically Superman’s position as a perfect being and humanity’s ideal savior, doesn’t apply to the other heroes. It has allowed him to find some measure of joy in his adaptation, which has been sorely lacking from his previous installments. 

I’m still unsure about the visual palette of the film (far too many grays and blacks in sharp contrast to the very bright and vibrant assembled photo). While I’m not sure Snyder’s riff on the attendant cast is enough to sustain a film, it is enough to pique my interest. If this is just a big exercise in brand awareness, keeping people abreast of DC’s weird A-list heroes while the real visionaries get the films together behind the scenes, we could at the very least do much worse. 

Justice League is scheduled for release November 17, 2017

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