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I don’t think there’s a more inexplicable upcoming blockbuster than Justice League. Built atop the critically charred bones of the Batman v. Superman, the superhero team-up film looks to be the latest in a long line of brand new starts for the DC entertainment universe, except it’s not even that because that’s Wonder Woman’s job. The movie seriously seems to have no actual reason to exist. Maybe a few years ago right Avengers proved that superhero team movies with ensemble casts could be a huge hit, but now it just seems like a late visitor from a bygone age.
We’ve already seen so many failed attempts to launch the DCEU the entire shared universe concept is tanked, Wonder Woman looks like an infinitely more interesting and thoughtful attempt to course correct the franchise, Zack Snyder’s vision for this property has been consistently underwhelming, and we’ve already seen a slew of garbage superhero team-up movies. Justice League only seems to be in production because the studio owns some superhero properties and they’ve run out of Lord of the Rings movies to fill the void. By all accounts, this film should be a rolling dumpster fire…so why does it look kind of fun?
First things first, for those not currently up to speed. The emerging story of the DC entertainment universe revolves around the adventures of Batman and Wonder Woman in the wake of Superman’s death in Dawn of Justice. The two are collecting a team of superheroes using files compiled by Lex Luthor and Amanda Waller after Man of Steel. Their big concern is over an invasion from the planet Apokalypse by the dark gods of evil. Because the home planet is so far away the New Gods, as they’re called, use a super computer called a Mother Box to create a wormhole called a Boom Tube to connect their main force to their target. Justice League is about a race against time between the emerging Justice League and the Apokalyptian troops, called Parademons, trying to assemble the Mother Box’s 3 component parts hidden across the Earth.
As far as plots go that’s about as cookie cutter as it gets with these type of adventures. It’s basically a deflated version of the Justice League origin from the New 52, but with a few key differences this trailer is showing off. Firstly, the scattered McGuffins sounds like a good way to spread the action out to more unique places in the DCU. In particular, it looks like Justice League will be swinging through Themyscira, the island of the Amazons, and the underwater city of Atlantis, home of Aquaman and his wife, Mera.
Aquaman and Wonder Woman look like some of the best parts of the entire DCEU so giving us more of them and their respective mythos is a great call. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if the Amazons and Atlanteans were the ones to first drive back the Parademon hordes in ancient times when the Mother Box was first lost on Earth. Again, this is all very derivative of the same plot Marvel told over Thor, Captain America: First Avenger, and Avengers but at least they’re stealing from something good. By all means, rip-off the Marvel movies, I like them, and they are well made.
As to the rest of the trailer, it’s more a showcase of aesthetic and tone than any other plot based revelations and on that front, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. Let’s take the bad before the good so this can end with a better taste- the aesthetics of this film are still complete garbage. Far too much of this trailer seems to take place on an alternate Earth where there is no sun, and the idea of proper lighting was never discovered.
This is a problem that’s now plagued 4 out of 5 DC film projects, their complete aversion to color and proper lighting. Even if you’ve somehow misinterpreted your own opinion to believe this visual design is actually good, it completely handicaps the whole point of doing a shared universe. The reason the shared universe concept systematically annihilated all competition for 50 years in comics is because it allows one franchise to incorporate a plethora of styles and genres. So if every DC movie has the same exact aesthetic look and vague, grungy “superhero” genre labeling there’s no point in even doing a shared universe. It also makes it very hard to actually judge the action I’m seeing.
The idea of Mera or the Amazons showing up is cool but the reality of their brief moments in the trailer is a bit disappointing. Similarly, there’s a moment in this trailer where the Batmobile turns into a goddamn Mecha-Batman suit, but it took me about 3 watch throughs to actually realize that. On some level, it ends up feeling like they’re hiding something, particularly with Flash and Cyborg.
They feel the most absent from this trailer, which makes a certain amount of sense given they’re the spin-off films least likely to actually happen. Flash has already lost 2 directors and is still playing catch-up to his TV counterpart while Cyborg has yet to even court a scriptwriter. Cyborg feels especially like he’s been given the short shrift given how he’s had almost no screen time and his trailer video from Dawn of Justice was just a lab video instead of something active and impressive like Flash or Aquaman. It also doesn’t help that Cyborg’s design is a mangle mechanical mesh and even in the comics he’s always sat uncomfortably on the JLA roster, usually only present for tech purposes and to act as the team taxi.
That’s the bad out of the way, where this trailer absolutely shines is in the tone, mainly because it’s the opposite of the aesthetic. Everything about this trailer’s visuals might be mired in the dull and dreary tones of the dirt spectrum, but the actual tone of the characters is light, comedic, and engaging. It’s a triumph of ideas and concepts and actors if not cinematography and visual FX.
I already praised the Amazon/Atlantis stuff, but the idea of Batman getting into a giant mech to fight alongside the league is absolutely gangbusters. Similarly, Jason Momoa’s surly, frat biker Aquaman is an absolute delight and completely steals the entire show. I also like that there are jokes at Batman’s expense, like how his whole super power is being rich.
I’ve mentioned before I don’t think Zack Snyder actually gets superheroes in terms of wish fulfillment and while I stand by that he’s found a way here to make that work in his favor. What I think Justice League most resembles is an accidental parody, that’s why so much of the tone is that of rye bemusement at the ridiculousness of the entire situation.
A lot of this same attitude was there in Dawn of Justice in the ridiculously over the top Batman action sequences, it just got drowned out by Snyder’s hatred for Superman. Without that particular emotion, he seems to have finally made enough peace with the parts of superheroes he finds disinteresting to make a movie that’s fun even if it isn’t groundbreaking.
This is all coming off a bit “damning with faint praise, ” but at this point, think that’s more than Justice League ever had the right to hope for. I’m still not really optimistic about the film or expecting anything of a higher grade of entertainment than the average season of Star Trek: Voyager but I also really liked Voyager so that wavelength of entertainment is definitely one I can key into. More than anything it feels like Justice League kind of has to happen for WB to get this all out of their system.
It’s clear by now they aren’t going to do reboots after all the cash and production effort they’ve put into the DCEU but it’s like they aren’t really ready to be properly good films yet. They still need one last wallow in the dim visuals and casual dismissal that is Zack Snyder’s chosen aesthetic before the studio can just get out of the way and let the talented storytellers get things done. Still, even a wallow can be fun so color me open-minded if not quite hopeful.
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