Why the Justice League Movie Will (Probably) Fail (No Coast Bias, 11/7/17)

(This post originally appeared on No Coast Bias. To view the original version, click here.)

*Spoilers for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice*

The new movie Justice League is coming out soon, and… well, it’s not looking like an Oscar-winner to say the least. Putting Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and others in a movie together, it should spell success, but that might not be the case here. Now, there are so many reasons that this movie will be a train wreck that I could give an entire Ted-talk about it, but instead, let me lay out a few bullet points.

DC/Warner Bros. Have a Bad Track Record

Things have not been great for the filmmaking partnership of DC and Warner Bros. After the Dark Knight trilogy ended, they were desperately trying to compete with Marvel Studios’ rising cinematic universe. DC’s new movie universe has four movies so far: Man of Steel, which was critically panned, Batman V. Superman, which was a critical failure, Suicide Squad, which was a substantial mess, and Wonder Woman, which was – well, actually, Wonder Woman was just really good.

Justice League 1

All three of those movies were bad in their own unique way. Man of Steel was gloomy and bland. Batman V. Superman was full of dumb plot points and sounded like it was written by a 13-year-old quoting philosophy textbooks just to be edgy. Suicide Squad focused on having cool graphics and catchy songs rather than a good story or interesting characters. These points really are just a few of the things that made these movies particularly bad, but they’re certainly not the only things. It would be one thing if these movies were consistently bad for all the same reason, and there were only one thing the Studio needed to fix, but the fact that they all have a wide range of problems shows that the Justice League cast and crew has their work cut out for them.

Troubled Production

Justice League has had more than its fair share of problems. The most prominent was the departure of Zack Snyder. After the tragic death of his daughter, director Zack Snyder decided to step away from the post-production of the movie. Snyder directed Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, along with 300, Sucker Punch, and Watchmen. He’s been at the helm (or at least involved in) each of the DC Universe projects. Is he the source of the problems these movies have been saying? It’s difficult to say. But his departure will definitely have a profound impact on the way the movie turns out.

In order to finish the film, the studio brought in Joss Whedon, who found tremendous success directing The Avengers and as a showrunner for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Whedon might not have total control of the film, as almost everything that was due to be in the film was already filmed, but he did direct a few additional reshoots to account for the changes he made to the script. Ultimately, Joss Whedon will be credited with co-writing the screenplay, and Zack Snyder will remain the director. Ben Affleck recently said about the transition, “I don’t think there’s any way to go back, for me, and say ‘That’s a Joss scene.’ They were both working towards a common goal.”

Henry Cavill’s Mustache

Justice League 2

This absolutely ridiculous point is more of a symbol of the problems this movie has had rather than an actual problem in and of itself. During Joss Whedon’s reshoots, Henry Cavill, who plays Superman, was called back to set, after he had already started acting in Mission Impossible 6. Now of course, Superman doesn’t have a mustache, so that can’t be in Justice League. Since Cavill needs his mustache for Mission Impossible, the obvious solution is just for the special effects crew of Justice League to edit it out. This shouldn’t be hard, but it’s just silly, and gives a proper indication of just how rushed and messy the making of this movie has been.

We Know a Major Plot Point

Those of you who saw Batman V. Superman (but might not be able to pick up on obvious clues in that movie) might say, “Hey, wait, I thought Superman died at the end of that?” And you’d be right. The most recent Justice League trailer portrayed the world after Superman’s death as a world in turmoil. But the trailer before that had a moment in which Batman’s butler Alfred says to (sarcasm font) a mysterious and completely unknown character: “He said you’d come. Now let’s hope you’re not too late.” Obviously, it’s supposed to be Superman.

If you’re a studio and you’ve got some big reveal like this in your movie, there are essentially two ways to do it: you can put it at the beginning of the movie and promote it in all the trailers, or, with greater impact, you can keep it a secret for viewers who go to see the movie. Justice League couldn’t decide which one to do, so they half-assed both. People watching the trailer know that Alfred is talking to Superman in that scene, so why not show Superman? Or, better yet, why not exclude the scene with Alfred, and at least pretend like you’re going to keep Superman dead.

This brings me to my next point:

Killing Superman Lowered the Stakes

It’s easy to understand both sides of this situation. By killing Superman, the studio adds a moment of great heroism and sacrifice, and successfully raises the stakes and danger for the remaining heroes. But this works them into a difficult space: if you keep Superman dead, you miss out on a glorious moment of triumphant return, but if you bring him back immediately, it’s like his death didn’t even matter. Ideally, you could keep Superman dead for a movie and then bring him back when it’s appropriate, but the studio decided it wanted its big reveal more than significant consequences for its characters.

If you bring Superman back from the dead so soon after dying, it basically shows that death isn’t so bad. The studios making Superman the first very significant death in this series and then bringing him back almost immediately shows the audience that our heroes being dead is like us being sick – they’ll bounce back after a little while. In a way, it’s impressive; they’ve made death – the most significant endpoint in a human life – seem trivial.

Desperately Trying to be Funny
Justice League 3

A lot of people walked out of Man of Steel or Batman v. Superman saying that these movies were bad because they were trying so hard to be dark and/or weren’t funny. Yes, those things were true, but they weren’t the reason these movies were bad. Justice League has a plan to tackle these criticisms, but perhaps not a very good one.

In the trailers, you’ve probably also seen the Flash, played by Ezra Miller. For those of you who are unfamiliar, he’s the one in all the trailers making the awkward jokes that don’t really land. The only one that really did work was when the Flash asked Batman what his superpower was, and Batman says “I’m rich.” And that’s the funniest moment in the trailer. But almost every single thing the Flash says is read like it’s supposed to be a joke, but instead just makes you cringe, like that kid in the 5th grade who thinks he’s the funniest person alive.

The movie is just overcorrecting for something that wasn’t really the biggest problem. I would say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but in this case, I would say “if it’s only a little broke, fix something else.”

Jason Momoa is better the less he speaks

Justice League 4

All right, I know what you’re saying, “I love Game of Thrones! Jason Momoa is great in that!” And again, that’s correct. One would think that he’d be great as Aquaman because in Thrones he plays a powerful ruler and heroic warrior, much like Aquaman. But think about his role on Thrones – which is, at this point, might be the performance he is best known for – and try to think of one of his best lines. Well, you probably can’t. With perhaps a few exceptions, most of his lines as Khal Drogo lines are in Dothraki, not English. Jason Momoa’s strength as an actor centers around his physical presence rather than the delivery of his lines or performance. I hope Jason Momoa proves me wrong and delivers a charismatic and fun performance, but I wouldn’t expect it in Justice League.

The Superhero Team-Up is Getting Stale

The Avengers is a great movie. The issue is, its success created a formula for others to follow. Guardians of the Galaxy, Suicide Squad, and The Defenders all followed this formula to varying degrees of success. Justice League will probably follow the same formula, and eventually, these kind of stories are going to start boring audiences and critics. Is this an indicator that the genre is not sustainable in the long term? Definitely. Will this fatigue effect how much people like Justice League? Maybe, maybe not.

In Conclusion

Justice League 5

It’s not impossible that this movie turns out all right. Joss Whedon is a great director, so his intervention might be the big change that this movie needs. Coming off of Wonder Woman, the only really great movie in the franchise, the studio might have their next big hit in Justice League. Maybe the person Alfred is talking to in that trailer isn’t even Superman, and Superman’s death in Batman v. Superman still has meaning. Who knows? That being said, I wouldn’t bet on it.

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