During even the most trying times, I’m a fan who attempts to defend DC. I try my hardest to look for the potential in each disappointing movie they release and hope that they’ll get it right the next time, but last Saturday, as I went to the theater with my writer roommate, my writer friend, and my writer friend’s cousin, I left the theater without the ability to defend DC movies anymore. I mean sure…I admired the potential of what could have been, I think any fan does that, but as I continued to think of the executional moves that in turn were executioners to the potential of this movie, I couldn’t find it in myself to at any point call this a good movie. I couldn’t call this a defendable movie. I couldn’t call this a movie that was mediocre. This movie was a garbage fire, and though it was better than Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I will not allow this entry into the DCEU a pass. It gets nothing. Nothing I say. For a while I couldn’t figure out who to truly blame, but as I work through my critique, I believe it’ll become evident who I blame.
I mean starting off, and yes I’m going to spoil this movie because you’re not missing a thing, we get this delightful uplifting camera phone video where “children” (because they sound like adults voicing children or just children who can’t read lines that well or act well) interview Superman. And they ask him what’s his favorite thing on Earth, and he looks into the camera, you catch his eyes, he starts to smile and sense the hesitation in his throat as he’s about to answer this question, but you never get the response. It pans out to the opening credits and etc. Just for a moment I felt this movie was going to be uplifting, but then while looking in the corner it said, A Zac Snyder Film, and I already felt disappointed. Later during those same credits, resting on an image of a homeless man with a sign, the words, Story By Zac Snyder, appeared which made me feel even worse. I could tell that this would be a rough ride despite how hopeful I wanted to be about this film watching experience.
One of my biggest issues outside of the villain and the use of their returning cast (which I’ll get to later) is Warner Bros. use of their new characters. When it comes to team up movies one might either want to have the characters already established via previous individual films or extended guest appearances before getting full spotlight or by naturally allowing the characters into the flow of the narrative. You slowly allow them to get their feet and make their place into the piece before pitting them into the center stage. While this movie attempts the latter, rather than allowing the characters into the flow, they push the characters into a river and ask them not to die. A good way of introducing characters, even during a team up, is to have a focal character and then follow them for a while. You get comfy with your setting and the world you’ve been placed in and understand the perspective of this character. You have your extended cast slowly come into the focal point as your lead shares the spotlight. And then the audience can get invested. This movie, rather jarringly, jump cuts to each cast member and hopes that prior knowledge will help the audience keep up. And for the most part that doesn’t work. The other flaw in all of this, at least for me, is that the newcomers: Cyborg, The Flash, and Aquaman, haven’t yet come into their own as heroes. We’re shown their moments before becoming superheroes and they in turn progress and become that during the film, but this cinematic experience doesn’t have the time to fully flesh out each character in a way that you can actually get a sense of them.
The biggest flaw in character being, Aquaman. While watching this movie, I could tell that the writers and the studio had no idea what to do with his character. Instead of naturally bringing out exposition, we’re instead crammed with it. We meet unnamed and quite forgettable ancillary characters for Aquaman’s background who explain his motives through vague dialogue that wouldn’t help an audience if they didn’t know Aquaman’s background already. For every viewer like me who understood Mera as a character in relation to Aquaman, there were tens of people who sat there confused as to how any of the conversation related to him. In the case of Aquaman, since we see him refuse invitation to the League and then see him come to Atlantis, and then change his mind, the point that the main motivations for him to choose to come back to Atlantis and fight for the league in Atlantean gear is mainly off screen feels careless. Sure we get a scene where he faces the big bad in Atlantis, but that alone isn’t enough to make us sure he’s been convinced to fight or accept an Atlantean heritage he’s chosen to reject. Any extension of scene could have helped to flesh him out just a bit. I believe what I’m saying is that in a lot of these scenes we could have lingered for a smidge longer and we’d get what we want.
As for the other two characters, I enjoyed them because of their acting, but also their interactions either with Superman or with each other. We got to see these characters shine when they we allowed to simply be their characters and not be overshadowed by the rest of the veteran cast. The unfortunate problem is that we only get a few of these scenes and never quite get to see them as characters. You could tell that The Flash was a comedy role and that their method of showing his hilarity was in the same vein as using Seth Rogen or Ryan Reynolds. You throw out as many jokes that you can until a few of them land. I realize that Barry is awkward, but not even the awkwardness felt natural. It felt like the awkwardness was more from studio executives wanting to make him a comedy relief and forcing a joke at any point they could because their rival studio makes it work. Also the use of tripping to cause comedy at Barry’s expense was unneeded because it still relies on a trope that should’ve been abandoned in the late nineties. One trip is fine, but making a running gag out of it is obnoxious and seems like choices made by executives who want to keep up with the youth.
The only other glimmer of hope was Wonder Woman and that’s because she was a bad ass and a parental figure for the newcomers (and that makes sense because she’s been alive since before WWI). Though what annoyed me about her inclusion was the use of Steve Trevor as a motivation for her character, because I’m tired of the love trope. Like it needs to go. I understand that love can be a wonderful motivation to do things, but when the world’s at stake we need to stop allowing love be the bigger than life motivation. Especially in the case of Wonder Woman. And while I’m here at this point, Batman didn’t need to call Lois Lane a secret weapon during the fight with a resurrected Superman. We have a pretty smart audience who’s watched the previous movies we know that Superman will drop anything for her sake. And while I’m on this scene, that fight was dumb, because it didn’t add anything to the plot. It was action oriented fluff.
Lastly in my written characters complaints, there’s Steppenwolf. A character with no true background or motivation or should I say, there’s no on screen background or motivations. Sure he brings about calamity, but that’s about it. His role through out the movie is essentially, hey guys we didn’t want the team to face Darkseid yet. I mean even his defeat feels corny and undeserving. At any point after Superman showed up for the fight against Steppenwolf, the battle could’ve been won. Unfortunately the film decided to go the route of letting his own fear get him consumed. Which I get that fear was something mentioned throughout the film all of maybe three times, but for as unimportant/ unfocused of a role that fear truly played (we could have amped that up through the use of our cast and their various fears while in battle or dealing with lives outside of their superhero personas) to make it the means of Steppenwolf’s defeat was unmotivated. A haha (yes not an aha) moment that didn’t stick the landing and tripped up under its clumsy feet.
Oh but wait, Steppenwolf wasn’t my last complaint. It was the handling of Batman. And not because of his choices during the film. It’s because of how the film didn’t convey the emotion behind his choices in the film, rather he talked them in expository manner at the audience. And even so, so much of the motivation behind his choices felt off screen. While necessary ambiguity is great a lot of the ambiguity wasn’t necessary in the case of Batman’s motivations. Batman talks about his past, but it’s never actually revealed in a way that allows the audience to jump to believing in justification for him wanting to sacrifice himself. There was just too much left off screen, and maybe Justice League should have sat for a while as the other members of the cast established themselves in films dedicated to them. But you know, since another studio has a whole linked cinematic universe going on, they had to rush it.
Now that we’re off of characters and how they were written, I think I can move on to the dialogue. It was…bad. It was horrid. And rather than going on and on about it, I’ll talk about a scene. After Superman gets out of his rampage via Lois, he flies himself and Lois out to his Smallville residence. Now mind you, Superman used to be dead. This is Lois’ first time seeing him since he’s been revived. Do they talk about his death? No. Do they talk about him being revived? No. The first thing Lois says to him as they land in Smallville is, you smell nice. You smell nice. I laughed at the line while my friends groaned because we all knew it was bad. Other than that it was more that each line served for exposition rather than showing off our characters. Plot should be character driven and not vice versa. Especially in a medium where we feel attached to characters.
Then there was the cinematography. The amount of gratuitous slow-mo to convey Wonder Woman’s quick actions during her introduction fight was unneeded. In a lot of the action scenes there was wonky techniques used to emphasis the use of the cast’s superhuman skill sets that on screen weren’t aesthetically pleasing, especially when Superman came into the fight. And you could tell that director appreciated Gal Gadot’s beauty, because if they had a wide shot to introduce a new setting, you’d get to see that setting and her butt or chest in nearly every shot. And I don’t know and can’t tell you who approved of the CGI. There’s a difference between realistic and aesthetically pleasing, and the studio apparently chose neither. You can really tell when you get to the scene with the alien flowers at the end of the movie.
I believe what I’m trying to say is that this movie disappointed me. I enjoyed small segments of it, but overall it was just a poorly executed movie that could have waited a bit longer before being made, rather than being rushed out. Don’t compete with Marvel, just try to make yourself better, DC. I just hope the Nightwing movie will be good. Anyways, I usually end this blog articles with a fun video or something, but this movie doesn’t deserve it. Rather than that, DC, I hope for your next set of films you take a risk and use your expensive budget to get better writers and other creators with different ideas. And if you do choose to search for writers, click on the Contact page of this site. I love this franchise regardless of how much it clearly doesn’t care for satisfying its audience and am willing to help. Later days.