Heroism by committee, Film making By committee
Written by: Diego Draper
The delicate balance of business and art has always been something that has been hard to achieve and nearly impossible to master. Christopher Nolan is one of the few film makers who can do this balancing act,an uncanny ability to simplify complicated ideas typically reserved for art house pictures and turn them into Hollywood blockbusters anybody can enjoy. “The dark Knight” offered a film that could be enjoyed on the surface level but for those willing, could be dissected over and over for sub context and underlying themes.
It’s with this same idea and foundation that the DCEU was conceived and constructed. Nolan pitched the idea and hand picked Zack Snyder to shepherd his vision for Superman. From this starting point Zack Snyder was handed the keys to the kingdom. But unlike the celebrated Nolan,Snyder has always been a polarizing and often maligned film maker. He often tries to blend art house story telling sensibilities with flashy,stylized film making. For some, Man of Steel and Batman V Superman were works of art to be picked apart frame by frame. For others, Snyder was a source of vitriol, a child fumbling and grasping at concepts he doesn’t understand nor has the talent to properly tell. Screams of “he doesn’t understand the characters” by his naysayers while his sometimes almost zealot like fan base photo shops his image over Jesus Christ.
And this, is where art meets business. Whatever your feelings of his two previous films, the fact that Batman V Superman underperformed at the box office cannot be denied. While Man Of Steel was met with a tepid reception by critics, BVS was met with scathing reviews. And so, in light of this the executives at WB adjusted plans. While they still allowed Snyder to direct Justice League he was removed from his position as shepherd of the DCEU. WB was willing to back him one more time,albeit on a shorter leash, to play in their sandbox. But, in a tragic event he lost his daughter to suicide and unable to continue stepped down from the project. It sent shock waves through the Internet, exposing the often ugly side.
From these ashes WB had an answer. Joss Whedon. Although rumours persist that Snyder may have already been out the door and Whedon brought on board we can only take WB and Zack at their word. Whedon was announced to take over director duties in light of the tragedy, with reshoots written by him as well.
So,why all this talk about wb and the business before the film instead of simply reviewing the art? Well,sometimes the business and art aren’t in sync and you cannot discuss the art,without the business.
Therein lies Justice League. A film by committee. What was once a singular vision was now a joint effort,with rumours of James Wan even directing scenes involving Aquaman.
Unlike the Avengers, which felt like a culmination event, Justice League feels more like a prologue to a story that may never be told. Instead of a film aspiring to be more, it aspires to be a product to introduce characters to sell merchandise and more films. Now, this isn’t necessarily a negative,especially to an audience that sometimes just wants to turn off the world and watch characters they love for 2 hours crack jokes and win the day. And that is exactly the film that was delivered,no more no less. Well maybe,more more.
The film begins with a frantic pace, often juggling unrelated scenes without much rhyme or reason. Eerily reminiscent of the often loathed film, Suicide Squad. It’s an inauspicious start to a film where so much weight is riding on its shoulders. The first scene involving batman is beautifully staged, the cinematography splashes a vivid image of what a live action batman animated series would look like. In all its negativity, the imagery of DCEU has always been a high point.However,with those highs comes lows. The troubled production can’t help but be displayed on the screen. Wonky facial cgi, Ben Affleck morphing facial structure and body weight faster than even Christian Bale is capable of. At times the film can be stunningly gorgeous, at others it can garishly ugly. It wears the business of its production on its sleeve throughout the entire run time. It’s in this beginning that the production troubles seem most prominent as it’s struggles to intrude the entire cast in a way that weaves intro a coherent story.
The selling point of this film is first and foremost however is the hero’s,not how well a green screen can be made to look natural. And this is where the film shines. This is a different batman than BVS. He is remorseful,but at times playful. Gone is the seething intensity and villainy he displayed in BVS. Wonder Woman,coming fresh off her cultural, beloved film continues to light up the screen. Gal Gadot oozes movie star charisma and it is impossible to keep your eyes off her in any give scene. Flash,played by the talented Ezra Miller exudes child like wonder. A scene involving the bat cave shines because of Flash. Another involving his father played by the immensely talented Billy Crudup allows us into his past and brings much needed emotional weight to his levity. He is the spark of youth to the team. Cyborg is given the most fully fleshed out arc in the film. Snyder has remarked that he is supposed to represent the disabled and it’s with this understanding that you see the struggle and acceptance of who he is throughout the film. Arthur curry, the aquaman, is disappointingly not riven much to work with. Jason Momoa does his best Jason Momoa but often through the film he is just background noise relegated to quip duty. With aquaman right around the corner t feels like a wasted opportunity to sell us on his film.
After the gang is finally together however is when the film finally starts to soar. With no need to jump from scene to scene the film finally allows itself to take a breath and live in a moment. They argue,they quip,rthe confide in one another. We get to see them grow, and to play off one another. A brilliant gag involving the lasso of truth was met with thunderous laughter,another involving a confrontation between Bruce and Diana elicited gasps. It’s these moments that make this film worth the watch. We feel for them, the highs and lows. It’s just too bad they aren’t given a more interesting antagonist to center around.
Enter, Steppenwolf. A compete CGI villain, surrounded by drones of hordes of minions of Parademons. The film does very little to make you care about Steppenwolf or his mission. From scene to scene he just appears,spouts a few cliche lines and then vanishes again until the next piece. Steppenwolf is emblematic of an ongoing issue with villains in film today. Instead of giving us reasons to care or even empathize,he just exists to give the good guys something to do to set up an action scene. This is no scene stealing Joker or Bane. Because of the choice to use pure cgi we aren’t even allowed the chance to see an actor sink his teeth into the role. And rhe problem with this, is steppenwolf himself is driving force of what little plot is even here.
Just like the marketing this review has suspiciously left out a certain character. Without spoiling, for those that hated his portrayal this is a film you will want to see. In a lot of ways Superman in this film feels like like a heart felt apology to those that felt betrayed by the previous films. Now,Wether this is the result of an arc that was always coming,or the result of a sudden shift behind the scenes is up to the viewer to decide.
Just like the League itself, the film making behind this was a team effort. And sometimes the seams show. The film can be messy. It can be ugly. It can be jarring and abrupt. But what nobody can’t say is that the film doesn’t have heart. And for a film that so often reminds you this is the product of a business it can be an almost shocking reveal. It’s a reminder that even in the worst situations,sometimes their really is silver lining. And sometimes,their really is hope.