Justice League
Directed by: Zach Snyder and Joss Whedon
Written by: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon, and Zack Snyder
Starring: Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ben Affleck, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, and Henry Cavill, among others
Produced by:  Geoff Johns, et al

Pre-Review by Dean Zeller

The first portion of the review contains no spoilers of Justice League, by DC Entertainment.

I just completed my review for Thor: Ragnarok a few days ago.  It was a long and grueling process that wasn’t completed until over a week after its release.  Being my first review, I had no idea what precisely went into it.  So, I am starting this review two days before the release of Justice League.  I can do all of my preamble stuff first about what I was expecting, and a background on the creators and industry.  I don’t know if I will like JL at all, so it is interesting writing this before it comes out.

I will use two movies as benchmarks of quality for Justice League.  The first benchmark is what I would call the “industry benchmark,” is Joss Whedon’s Avengers, back from 2012.  This was Marvel’s first stab at doing a team-based movie using previously-established characters.  I was looking forward to it for a long time, and was pleased with the results.  My only complaint was the generic copy-and-paste aliens at the end, along with a weak ending that was too easy to accomplish.  The second benchmark is Captain America: Civil War, my all-time favorite super-hero movie.  In summary, I really loved Civil War, for the clever use of its fight scenes.  It will serve as my personal basis for what I am expecting out of any team-based super-hero movie.  (For more details on my love of Civil War, see my Ragnarok review.)

Benchmark #1
Benchmark #2

So now I turn my attention to the DC side of things.  I have a tremendous love-hate relationship with all of the creators involved with the Justice League.  I was always a Marvel person, but appreciated the Justice League.  My favorite incarnation of the Justice League was the Justice League Detroit, where all the “real heros” quit, and Aquaman had to find a bunch of rookie replacements.  I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between Martian Manhunter and the bickering teenagers Vibe, Vixen, Steel, and a few others.  However, all that was in the comics, which is interesting in its own right.  Here is my history with the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).

With a few exceptions, I have not liked any of DC’s movies.  Even the ones that everyone thought were totally awesome put me to sleep.  This goes all the way back to my childhood.  Everyone loved 1980 Superman by Richard Donner and starring Christopher Reeve because of how real the FX looked, even before FX was a term.  I will admit, it looked pretty good at the time, but the plot was totally boring.  Superman II was enjoyable, even if it was a bit campy at times.  Superman III and IV had attained just new levels of utter awfulness.  And then Batman came along, with the director of Pee-Wee Herman and the star of Mr. Mom.  And things got good again!  Except they didn’t, as Batmen 2 thru 4 each got progressively worse.  Great pattern, DC!  They gave it a go with Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, which sucked.  They got Chris Nolan to do the Dark Knight series, but I only enjoyed Batman Begins; I completely hated the other two, and it seems I was alone in that.  All these movies were previous to Avengers, so the idea of combining them into a universe was never seriously considered.  So far, the pre-DCEU movies score a 3 out of 12.  Man of Steel is credited to be the first movie to start the DCEU, so I’ll make that a new paragraph.

At one point, Zack Snyder was my favorite director of all time.  I totally loved his Watchmen and 300, proving to me that he could do comic-book movies as easily as any of us eat corn-flakes (with or without milk).  I even wanted him to be one of the two directors for movie adaption of my Dungeons and Dragons game, Piper’s Dreamworld.  I loved his plot flow, his visuals, and his overall direction.  Marvel already had their Joss Whedon superstar to do the Avengers, so they told Zack to start off the DCEU with a bang.  Snyder was given full creative control.  He was going to make some changes, and Man of Steel was the answer.

Brooding, as always

And people hated it.  Not everybody — it did get a 55% on Rotten Tomatoes.  But the complaints were clear.  This was not the Superman everybody knew and loved.  He seemed not to care about anybody in Metropolis, actually helping to cause its utter demolition.  Characters were casually killed, and it did not set things off well.  I hated it.  However, I never really had any affinity with the Superman, so I didn’t hate it as much as I could have.

Brooding with a friend

And then Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice came out.  I was so looking forward to it.  I naturally went in, again using Avengers as the benchmark for my expectations.  And visually, it was wonderful!  Awesome special effects and action!  Great sound!  But the plot was just so… dumb.  A few people liked it, but I couldn’t believe DC was trying to pass that off as quality.  With its abysmally bad RT-score of 27%, it was the talk of the town.  Scenes didn’t make sense, or totally didn’t have explanations.  How was Lex able to capture Superman’s mother without him knowing?  How did Lex know Bruce Wayne was Batman?  How could Lex sneak a bomb into the senate hearing without Superman’s super-hearing picking up the ticking?  Why was Batman so weak that a few letters from Lex put him over the edge?  Why was Superman so selfish that he would try to kill Batman to save his mother?  Why didn’t Wonder Woman use the kryptonite spear to kill Doomsday instead of Superman?  While the crowd cheered for Wonder Woman, everything else about the movie was just plain awful.

What did this scene even mean?

And then came Suicide Squad.  Now I was never a huge Batman or Superman fan.  I could never relate to the characters.  But I absolutely totally loved the Squad.  I have every issue of the 80’s series, signed by writer John Ostrander from a convention in the 1990’s.  I also got signatures from the other creators that were at the con, such as Kim Yale (r.i.p), Doug Rice, and others…  It is one of my most treasured memories of my 20’s.  I completely related to the characters, as “reformed” criminals trying to do good, in order to be released.  (Not that I have ever personally experienced that, but it is a story I enjoy reading.)  Even though it was part of the DCEU, I was totally looking forward to it.

Now THIS is my Squad!

And it utterly sucked.  More than any other DCEU, or other comic-book movie in history.  Sure, there were some real stinkers previously, such as Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, the first Punisher, and Supergirl.  But not only was Suicide Squad bad, it was completely insulting.  Suicide Squad is a covert team, one that could be denied if necessary.  The villain in SS was so powerful, nobody would have argued with using unnecessary force.  In fact, were was Batman and Wonder Woman in all this?  I wanted to see the SS assassinate a super-powered President of Argentina, replacing him with an exact duplicate, or something covert like that.  Slipknot looked totally bored with his role, given only 5 seconds of screen-time.

He looks bored already.

At this point, DC had totally screwed it up with me.  I had no confidence that they would ever produce anything of any quality.  At some point in all this, favorite writer Goeff Johns was made Chief Creative Officer of DC.  I loved his stories, even though at times they seemed to be rather “out there.”  He has since made some fundamental changes to how DC movies and TV shows are done.  DC has now declared that their movies will focus on individual characters for a while at first, and then go into further team-based movies.  DC has also recently hired Brian Michael Bendis as an exclusive contract.  BMB was “the brains” behind many of Marvel’s creative directions, so I am hoping he will do some amazing things over there at the Distinguished Competition.

Brian Michael Bendis vs. Geoff Johns

And then Wonder Woman came out.  It was directed by Patty Jenkins, who’s only previous director experience was 2003’s Monster.  WW was the only good thing to come out of BvS, so everybody was hopeful for its success.  Overall, there were a few times it was cheesy, but damn, it was good.  It scored 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, vastly outranking Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (82%), and remaining quite steady with Doctor Strange at (89%).  When Jenkins was asked to do a sequel, she was able to garner the highest paycheck ever for a female director.  For the first time, things are looking hopeful for the DCCU.  One-in-a-row — not bad!

Patty would make a pretty good Amazon, herself!

Just like the Apollo 11 moon landing, one-in-a-row is a good start, but now, they’ve got to perfect it.  They meed multiple decent movies in a row, and get people to like the characters again.  Do this right, and you can have a universe just as successful as the MCU.  So far, many others have tried, with The Mummy, Kong: Skull Island, and potentially a Steven King universe.  Justice League will be a momentous point in DC-history.  Will it be good, continuing the momentum?  Or it could it go back to suckville like BvS and the Squad.

So let’s talk about that.  Zack Snyder started his third movie for DC, and the press was definitely not good.  He had his following, but overall, his work was no longer praised as it once was.  After a tragic death in his family, he and his wife decided it was time to give up the reins to someone else.  So DC hired Joss Whedon to finish the direction and post-production.  He had already developed the script, and had plenty of directing experience.  I am noticing a pattern of DC hiring on my favorite people from Marvel.  I do not regard this as a bad thing — DC is doing what they can to remain competitive and fresh, and I applaud them for their efforts.  Marvel had their shot with them, so now it’s DC’s turn.  So while Joss declared he was going to do what he could to keep Snyder’s vision for the movie, the first thing he did was replace the music composer from Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL, to my favorite Danny Elfman, who does all the super-hero movies.  It would be fun to hear what Holkenborg had in mind, but we will probably never know.

A new partnership.

I am quite hopeful that Whedon is able to correct the flaws I didn’t like about Snyder’s directorial style and decisions for plot and characterization.  Snyder was there to film everything, with his awesome visual and cinematic style, but Whedon will put the finishing touches with editing and plot corrections.  So this movie has all of the potential for greatness, or for all-out sucking.  I plan to see it opening night, and get my review out there ASAP.

 

RANK: <unknown> / ??? stars out of 5 / Thumbs ???

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