Exploiting our Archives: Scalding Hot Takes #2 Justice League
Why? Why? Why must they make so many fucking superhero movies? I know there’s a very solid commercial reason for this seemingly endless boom but from a creative standpoint it’s exhausting watching so many movies about such an exhausted subject.
On a related note, why, for the love of Odin, is Zack Snyder still in charge of the D.C Cinematic Universe? Why does Warner Brothers keep throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at a version of the D.C world that has been savaged by critics and maligned at length by the public, particularly the exceedingly, some might even say unnecessarily vocal segment of the public that comments on message boards?
Why are we locked into something so widely, if not universally despised? Didn’t anybody at Warner Brothers notice that people hate all of these movies (with the notable exception of people who love them with a passion that's both terrifying and inexplicable), and that they might make more money with giant blockbusters that aren’t widely reviled?
Why must following movies even casually entail watching a fuck-ton of seemingly interchangeable comic book-derived super-hero blockbusters? Why is the entirety of pop culture as obsessed with superhero movies and superheroes as my three year old son? This has been our world for something like a decade now. Will it ever change? How many reboots are too many? How many Batmans are too many?
When I was a film critic, I just accepted that the film industry was mercenary, derivative and actively contemptuous of new ideas, and for good reason. New ideas are scary. New ideas are untested. New ideas lose people and corporations money. New ideas get people fired when they don’t succeed.
Needless to say, Zack Snyder’s new superhero team up epic Justice League, the follow up to both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not only predictably devoid of new ideas; it’s shockingly devoid of ideas at all for a movie that takes itself so seriously. Granted, Justice League doesn’t take itself as seriously as Batman v Superman did. Then again, Shoah didn't take itself as seriously as Snyder’s much-maligned, infinitely mocked 2016 blockbuster.
Actually, that’s not entirely fair. Justice League does have one idea at least: that the world is a very sad place, full of not only sad people but sad meta-humans, and with great power comes overpowering despair.
Justice League at least opens on an incongruously chipper note, with Henry Cavill’s All-American Alien from Kryptonite answering questions about what he likes best on Earth from a child recording audio for his podcast. Snyder’s take on DC is so unrelentingly somber that anything that deviates from its ferocious commitment to bumming people out sticks out.
Don’t worry, though! The quirkiness only last for a little while until we are once again reminded that Superman is dead. It would be tempting to say that Superman’s death casts a dark shadow over the proceedings, but Justice League is pretty much all dark shadows, so that would be redundant.
Superman’s death makes his adversary-turned-friend Bruce Wayne even sadder than usual, and, as played by Ben Affleck, Batman’s depression level hovers at Morrissey levels under the best of circumstances. I like Ben Affleck, within reason, but good Lord is his take on Bruce Wayne ever somber and boring.
Affleck essentially plays Batman as a handsome, cultured, very tired older gentleman who takes himself and life very seriously. This makes him a natural fit for Justice League compatriot Cyborg, who Ray Fisher plays as a handsome, cultured, very angry young black man who takes himself and life very seriously, and Superman, who is handsome, cultured, precociously exhausted and world-weary gentleman from outer space who takes himself and life very seriously. Jason Momoa's Aquaman is also a boring asshole, but in a moderately different way.
Momoa Aquaman as a dude-bro of the sea, less a super-hero than a super-male-model and a super-frat-bro. He’s so oily and scuzzy that there’s probably a thin coat of Axe body spray over the surface of the ocean that can be traced directly back to him. In one of the rare moments in Justice League that’s ostentatiously terrible enough to stick out, Aquaman, in a woefully misguided attempt at bonding, shouts, “My man!” at Cyborg, the team’s sole African-American, as if he was greeting Rerun in What’s Happening and not a glowering superhuman robotic super-genius who just happens to be African-American.
He’s the Vinnie Chase of the sea. For him, Batman, Superman, The Flash, Cyborg and Wonder Woman aren't his fellow team-members: they’re his entourage, bro! You should see his man-cave under the sea! It’s sick! He’s got all of the Fast and the Furious movies on Blu-Ray! Waterproof packaging, home slice! And he's fucking a mermaid!
As for Cyborg, he’s Cy-boring. It takes a lot to stand out in this crowd, and with his hoodie, genius intellect and super-powered rage, Cyborg reminded me of Jamie Foxx’s Electro with all of the campy lunacy and theatrical personality that makes that performance so memorably unhinged and unforgettable removed.
That’s the thing about Justice League: it didn’t just make me pine for great super-hero team-up movies like Thor: Ragnarok, the first Scalding Hot Take. It also made me nostalgic for terrible superhero movies like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Suicide Squad that possess elements so exquisitely wrong that they stick with you after all else in this sick, sad world dissipates into nothingness. I’m pretty sure my final words will be, “It’s Slipknot, the man who can climb anything!” Those dying words would be in reference to Slipknot, from Suicide Squad who can climb anything.
Batman sasses Aquaman about talking to fish. Aquaman gives the Batman “the business” for dressing up like a bat. This is DC and Snyder’s idea of fun. Please kill me. Justice League knows just what audiences crave when they see a movie about sexy superheroes who join forces to take on ultimate evil: scene after scene of ponderous, humorless conversations about the nature of heroism, responsibility, destiny and the inexorable horror of contemporary life.
Even when D.C does something right, like casting We Need to Talk About Kevin’s Ezra Miller (he was the Kevin that needed to be talked about) as a pretty, androgynous, motor-mouthed version of The Flash, it still feels like a second-rate version of something Marvel films already did much better.
The Flash, like Spider-Man, functions as an audience surrogate, a superhero fan adorably geeked to find himself fighting alongside his role models. Miller and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman are really all Justice League has but Miller’s performance isn’t even really fun. It’s just the closest to fun the movie gets.
Justice League follows up Batman v Superman. Justice League could just as easily be called Batman, and Eventually Superman or Waiting for Superman, because the film’s plot hinges on the Justice League finding a way to bring Superman back from the dead so he can help them save Earth from Steppenwolf.
Henry Cavill was boring in Man of Steel. He was boring in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I imagine he’s not much of a conversationalist. Cavill is boring here as well but I spent the film pining for Superman to return (not unlike that one movie, Superman Returns, where Superman returned) pretty much out of boredom.
Superman’s return couldn’t help but enliven the proceedings. Then again, so would the introduction of Transformers, the Care Bears, Snagglepuss, the ghost of Paul Lynde or literally anything else. I spent the whole fucking waiting for Superman not because I care for this incarnation of the character, but rather because it gave me something to do.
Otherwise, what is the appeal of Justice League? The suspense of seeing whether or not Batman will successfully put together a Justice League team in the Justice League movie Justice League? If that’s the case, then isn’t the fucking title a spoiler? Is that really worth three hundred million dollars (or much more) of Warner Brothers money and a billion dollars or so of the public’s hard-earned scratch?
Justice League is not as bad as either Suicide Squad or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and that, paradoxically, makes it much worse. Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman were both utter, flaming garbage, but they were egregious horse shit with personality, with flair, with the courage of its misplaced convictions.
Snyder’s latest snoozer once again commits the unforgivable sin of being hopelessly, egregiously boring. I wish Justice League had anything a tenth as exquisitely, unforgettably terrible and misconceived as Suicide Squad’s rightly mocked and celebrated portrayal of Slipknot, the man who can climb anything, who scored nearly a minute of screen time before Suicide Squad decided to pull a Deep Blue Sea and straight-up murder him unexpectedly.
I wish Justice League had anything as worthy of mockery as the “Martha” scene in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight bond over the totally not insulting and convoluted coincidence that their mothers have the same name.
Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor as Max Landis on meth was controversial but infinitely superior to Ciaran Hinds’ Steppenwolf. You’d have to go back to the bad old days of the 1990s cinematic Spawn adaptation and the lesser Sega CD titles to see computer animation and character design that ugly and primitive.
Of all the villains in D.C, this was the best that they could do? Some CGI asshole with a boring-ass army of the dead?
Justice League’s final act involves an elaborate act of grave-robbing not seen since since Plan 9 From Outer Space and an inter-racial, inter-gender collection of superheroes trying to bring Superman back from the dead and the movie still somehow manages to find a way to be tedious. Not even a plot hinging on superhero necromancy can give this stinker any life or personality.
Jeremy Irons has the right idea. He’s undoubtedly being paid a fortune to be a perfectly acceptable Alfred Pennyworth (perfectly acceptable is all Justice League is ever going for when it comes to acting) but not enough for him to either give a single iota of a mad-ass fuck about the film or his performance, or spend too much time standing up. Irons’ performance here is as sedentary as it is mercenary. I don't blame the man. Justice League may be a billion dollar blockbuster but everyone is nevertheless clearly conserving their energy for more important matters.
In the end, not caring is the appropriate attitude not just to being in nonsense like Justice League but to its existence in a whole. There’s something dispiriting about the movie’s existence. It doesn’t matter if I don’t like it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like. Hell, it doesn’t matter if seemingly everyone dislikes it, with the exception of a brainwashed cabal of Marvel-hating super-fans convinced that Rotten Tomatoes is paying critics to disparage D.C movies they actually love. Because this is going to make a fortune anyway. And the mediocre-to-worse movies that will spring forth from it will also make a fortune whether anybody likes them or not. Even when they disappoint, they still make a fortune. They're almost too big to fail.
Despite its pretensions and its unearned seriousness, Justice League isn’t art. It’s barely entertainment. It’s less a commercial enterprise than a feature-length commercial for the regrettable enterprise that is the D.C Cinematic universe, which started off unpromisingly, and just seems to be veering further from redemption.
But that Aquaman movie. Hoo boy. That’s gonna change everything.
Want more commentary about Justice League? Then listen to the second episode of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast, dropping November 22nd on iTunes. Here it is: enjoy
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