Companion piece for Geek Out Of Water Episode 59: Justifying the League.
For a full review of Justice League and greater context, listen to Episode 59 of Geek Out Of Water.
Finding my peace with Justice League.
Love it, hate it or indifferent Justice League has split opinion the way in which only a DCEU movie can.
The interesting thing to note here is that the opinion is reversed to the usually mostly critically panned DCEU.
Most movie goers and critics have called it 'fun' and a 'step in the right direction'.
But there are a number of fans of the DCEU who have likened it to a kick in the nuts, fans who have supported every other DCEU movie prior but vehemently oppose Justice Leagues end product.
Although I will never justify horrible or violent reactions facelessly via the internet or in person, being a passionate fan myself I want to attempt address from personal experience why I think there is such a divide and why there is such a passionate response from fans regarding Justice League.
I loathe the rhetoric that exists around any form of Marvel vs DC fan war. Yes there are extreme fans of both, yes most people have a preference but in my experience most of them are more than happy to experience both on their merits so I will not be making any Marvel vs DC comparisons except this.
Marvel launched their universe from relatively unknown characters (to the masses) in Iron-Man, Thor and Captain America. These characters are known but the average Joe has no idea of their characteristics and origins etc.
This means Marvel has told their own story for their characters essentially telling the audience who they are and what to expect, the audience is being appeased from day one and the fans are left to accept that "at least we get to see Thor on the big screen".
The DCEU has launched their universe off 'The Trinity' (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) the three most well-known and identifiable characters in comic law. The inherent problem with doing this lies in that everyone thinks their version of these characters IS the definitive version. You can't please everyone and it leaves their portrayal very open to criticism.
I'm a Batman fan, always have been, always will be. Batman was my peek into the world of comics and every other character or series I've read since has not compared to my staples of The Dark Knight Returns, Batman Knight Fall and Batman No Mans Land.
I did not see Man of Steel (MOS) at the cinema.
I have never been a big fan of Superman outside of his comings and goings within Justice League Comics, and in the lead up to MOS I wasn't very interested.
I'm not 100% sure why I had decided not to see MOS at the cinema. I had liked the casting for the movie but I remember having my reservations about a dark and gritty Superman story, completely dismissing that there could be an iteration of Superman outside of my own personal interpretation.
For me Superman had always been a beacon of hope, the true representation of Truth, Justice and Wholesomeness. Superman was who Captain America looked to for inspiration.
A lot of the articles I read regarding MOS spoke about how we didn't need a dark version of such a bright character and I agreed, so Man of Steel fell off my upcoming movie radar and I figured I would wait for great reviews before wasting the proverbial hard earned.
MOS released and the reviews came out, the general consensus among the internet, press and media was that I shouldn't go see this movie at the cinema as it was full of darkness, depression and brooding so I didn't.
Sometime later I bought a Blu Ray copy (probably during a sale) and although the movie had some faults (sticky points as I call them), MOS went from being off my radar to my all-time favourite Superhero movie... ALL TIME!
Blasphemous I hear you scream, you are a Batman fan what about The Dark Knight? Directed by Christopher Nolan featuring Heath Ledgers Joker performance which won him a posthumous Oscar, HEATH LEDGERS JOKER!
As much as Christopher Nolans Dark Knight series upped the quality of the superhero genre and as much as Marvels creation of a living universe across multiple movies changed the superhero genre, none of the movies in these series have had such an impact on me as MOS.
MOS had been a movie I did not want to see. I watched it because there was nothing else to watch, the expectation I had was minimal at best.
Zack Snyder presented me the Superman character not as a superhero, but as an alien that had been sent to earth. Here I am expecting a superhero movie and what I got was a sci-fi.
It was the minor details, the Easter Eggs seemingly shoved anywhere they would fit. The long quiet camera shots with naked sound effects echoing through my ears.
I was arrested by Zack Snyders visual flair and moved by the most amazing film score I had ever heard.
But what blew my mind was the story steeped in thematics. How the destruction of one world can lead to the saving of another, when not letting our heritage define us shows the path of hope to others.
Snyder presented me a Superman who is likened to a god over and over yet all he craves is to find his place among man.
That I was so invested in Superman (a character who I had felt to be rather one dimensional prior to MOS) he became one of my favourite comic book characters is testament to the impact MOS had on me.
Instantly I started preaching the gospel, everyone I knew HAD to see this movie. Not everyone who took me on my recommendation agreed with my high esteem for MOS, actually many disagreed. But I had a connection, a passion and an unwavering certainty that Man of Steel was the best superhero movie I had ever seen, and anytime someone asked that's where I would point them.
The next Superman movie was announced with such explosive grandeur (alongside a reading of the most iconic passage of The Dark Knight Returns) that the Comic Con show floor erupted unlike anything seen before or since (WATCH HERE) for a measly 5 second logo peek. It still gives me goose bumps.
Thus Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) pretty much upped it's own ante straight out of the blocks.
There's a lot that has been said for BvS by many fans and critics alike. It seems to divide a crowd into love it or hate it.
Thursday March 24 2016. Opening night Batman V Superman:
I connected with BvS almost immediately. The less than two minutes we see of Thomas and Martha Wayne being shot outside the theatre portrays Bruce's reasoning for becoming Batman better than any movie (live action or animated) had ever done whilst at the same time paying complete homage to The Dark Knight Returns.
The soundtrack took things up a level from MOS with the introduction of JunkieXL to Hans Zimmer's iconic score. The now iconic Wonder Woman music along with a number of new themes and the beautiful MOS Superman theme made their way into the DC Universe.
I thoroughly enjoyed and supported the theatrical cut. There was so much to enjoy, but like MOS there were a few sticky points that just didn't sit comfortable. Turns out it's because they were cut.
The difference between the Theatrical cut and the Ultimate Edition (BvS:UE) is around an additional 30 minutes. The extra 30 minutes help to shape the conflict between the world and Superman, Lex's deviance, Clark Kent's investigation into Batman, the tie in to Justice League and adds a little extra violence which really hammers home Superman's ultimate sacrifice in his final scene.
It surprised me that the continuation of Superman's story and his internal struggle of who he is to what he might be felt so personal to me. My connection had carried over from MOS and although Batman was also in the film, it was Superman's story I was engaged in. Watching Clark trying to understand how his mere existence could strike such fear and political agenda in those of great power. How much of the public seem divided either hailing him as god or afraid and concerned about his existence and intentions despite his actions stating otherwise, despite Clark wishing to be neither.
Then the juxtaposition. The Batman. Who appeared to be mostly accepted and ignored by the public, allowing him to operate in secret under the radar in brute vigilantism "a one man reign of terror". Batman was struggling to keep his aging head above water, struggling to find purpose in the existence of Superman and the last 20 years of his crime fighting career. It was the Batman on the big screen I have always wanted and was played to perfection by Affleck.
But I couldn't escape my fascination with Superman's story. It felt like in the contrast between Superman and Batman, Zack Snyder wanted the audience to be aware of the contradictions and hypocrisies in our ethical understanding of superheroes and of the real-life consequences when they (or we) use violence in an attempt to achieve peace.
After watching BvS:UE it's obvious that the cuts for the theatrical version were made to streamline the experience, to get the audience to Batman a bit quicker, to get to the end a bit quicker without losing the audience in the middle. I understand the hesitance of the studio to release a 3 hour R rated blockbuster but ultimately it feels a lot like cutting off the nose to spite the face. Left uncut I feel the film would have fared better critically and at the box office. There is evidence to support this as once the UE was released tweets from many critics started to pop up apologising to Snyder or voicing disappointment in the studio for making such cuts (A FEW EXAMPLES).
It made it's dough at the box office but there seemed to be the resemblance of a message materialising to the Studio from fans and critics alike "give us the complete vision, let us support your product and make up our own damn mind".
Suicide Squad (SS) came and went to mixed reviews. Taking more at the box office than expected by Studio, critics or fans.
There were clues in the behind the scenes of SS that not all was right, that the studio was a little shaky post critical fall out from BvS (44 on Metacritic, 27 on Rotten Tomatoes) but we mostly ignored it when we finally got to see Harley and Joker onscreen together for the first time.
We also somehow ignored or forgot Jared Leto's insistence that there's a lot of the Joker left on the cutting room floor.
Maybe it was the Extended Cut which made a splash on digital release garnering praise for the extra 15 minutes of footage that added depth to a couple of characters, the team and sprinkled a little more Joker around.
Now I was positive that there was a message from critics and fans to the Studio "give us the complete vision, let us support your product and make up our own damn mind" surely they could see it too.
Wonder Woman (WW) launched to some of the best critical acclaim of the year for any movie superhero or otherwise eventually becoming the highest grossing superhero origin movie of all time.
It appeared the complete package. Each scene had time to linger, each character had a foot in the door of their comic book origins, there was humour, heart, pulse raising girl power action, pacing spot on and that No Mans Land Scene was a show stopper.
Unbeknownst to fans and critics, WW was actually their biggest win for an unobstructed vision.
It was later revealed that the Studio had pressured director Patty Jenkins to completely cut the No Man's Land scene from the movie and if it weren't for some mighty Wonder Woman fight of her own, the Studio would have been successful in cutting the most iconic superhero scene since the Avengers grouping together on the New York Streets.
Mission Complete. The message from critics and fans was crystal clear "give us the complete vision, let us support your product and make up our own damn mind". There was no way now that the Studio would force anymore cuts or style changes upon it's burgeoning DC Universe.
But then again, I'm a glass half full kind of guy.
Thursday November 16 2017. 21:00:
It was here, the epic conclusion. I was so excited to see the Justice League team on screen.
Sitting in the cinema seat, waiting the 10 minutes of pre-feature ads, I was getting excited now. As the minutes ticked over they felt like hours. I had kept up to date with most of the news surrounding Justice League but had limited my pre-screening footage viewing to the four main trailers for the movie so as not to spoil it for myself.
Although I was a bit worried about Studio involvement post BvS, I was still expecting a movie with that signature Snyder gaze into the real world, that signature atheistic and to see the "return of the Superman character as a symbol of hope". A Batman "closer to the classic character we all know".
I expected all this not only because this is what we had received in MOS and BvS prior, but because the Studio themselves had told me to expect this. They had stated they were not changing Snyder's signature style, that the re-shoots were "only minor" and that it was "still Zack Snyder's vision".
The movie played.
THIS MOMENT, right here, seeing metaphorical questions around the real world and change glossed over in the opening montage, watching the introduction of our characters fly past in the blink of an eye, listening to Batman quip, watching on in horror as literally night turned to day (League vs Superman revival fight, first trailer footage released of Flash was at night) I realised that what we got was NOT a Snyder film and my stomach churned. I cringed through a lot of the third act and I felt betrayed. I had tethered myself to the DCEU citing that they made "directors" movies, that it was the intention of the DCEU to look deeper into the source material and find real world relevance by making something unique to the other generic superhero movies and we didn't get any of that.
I walked out of the movie and as a DC Fan braced to be battered by everyone else ever (internet or otherwise), I had not much enjoyed my time with Justice League and all things considered it was actually quite a horrible experience.
But the guys I went to see the movie with thoroughly enjoyed it. Others I conversed with started telling me the same, surprisingly most people even noting they were going to see the movie a second or third time at the cinema.
I started reading reviews and "internet thoughts" and realised that the vast majority thought the movie was "good" and "a step in the right direction for the DC Universe".
It was here I realised that the only people that thought it was horrible and that felt insulted were actually the Snyder fans, everyone else thought it was pretty good.
Justice League divided the fan base due to the diverse movies recently released into the DCEU. Snyder had directed the first and second (and now fifth) entries into the DCEU and while many fans of the DCEU enjoyed, liked or loved what he had bought to the first two entries they didn't necessarily relate it to a Snyder style. In fact they may not have even been fans until the first time they saw Harley Quinn on the screen or maybe it was the leadership and heroism shown by Wonder Woman leaving Themoscaria that enticed them, frankly Justice League itself may win over a number of new DCEU fans. This means that some fans readily accepted the version of Justice League released and celebrated others "finally" seeing what they had seen in a previous DCEU movie. Further, the masses appeared to appreciate the "course correction" and felt as if the Studio was "finally giving the fans what they wanted", the Studio had found a way to deliver a product that was new and familiar fans and new comers alike.
It all made sense now. You see the movie WAS generic, the movie WASN'T a Snyder film, the movie DID give many people a Batman "closer to the classic character we all know" but that didn't make the movie worse off, it was just catering for the masses.
It seems with Snyder stepping away commercial success became more and more important.
Don't get me wrong that isn't necessarily a bad thing, and it makes complete sense on paper to appeal to Joe Public and be more commercially successful. All you need to do is be familiar to the biggest audience possible, shorter movie means more cinema's and more viewings and more money, make it more kid friendly to open up the audience, make it fun and word of mouth with spread and we will have a bigger audience than just that of which the Snyder nerds can rally. This is a decent strategy and they mostly succeeded in doing this.
Justice League was just the wrong movie to do it with. Justice League was supposed to be the epic conclusion to the Snyder Trilogy, the DCEU's Return of the Jedi and what we got was a standalone soft reboot.
To be a successful soft reboot the DCEU had to bite the hand of those who fed it, that had backed the DCEU through the turbulence.
For me the Justice League had knelt before the all mighty dollar and asked how it could be of service, the DCEU had sold its soul.
Now that I had my epiphany I wasn't sure if I felt better or worse about the movie.
As luck would have it, a few days after my first viewing I was off to see Justice League a second time, this time with my daughter. I was a bit apprehensive and not sure if I could complete another sitting so close to my first.
Having heard so many others had enjoyed the movie and post epiphany, I decided this time I was going to watch the movie expecting a standard fair superhero movie.
Something that isn't going to challenge the audience. A movie to keep me entertained for 2 hours. Bang for my buck.
At the end of this viewing I had enjoyed my experience far more. I could see how others had enjoyed the movie, how it could feel like to them that the live action DC Universe movies were "getting better".
Maybe it wasn't so bad after all.
I am still gutted, upset and feel cheated out of the movie that almost was, but then again I have seen Justice League a third time now and plan on seeing it a fourth.