This article has spoilers. Tread carefully.
Justice League is a fun movie. It is one of the best roller coaster rides of the year. But it is just that. A roller coaster ride in which the seats come with a complimentary automatic massager that does a damn good job of stroking the nether regions of DC fans, like myself – I squealed when Green Lantern made an appearance, got a heart attack when Superman’s classic theme played and literally died when I saw Deathstroke.
This is a good movie that should have been great! It should have been more than just popcorn fun. Here are two BIGGEST issues that prevented “Justice League” from being one of the better superhero movies of all time.
Steppenwolf and the Mother Boxes
In his book titled, Story, Robert McKee wrote, “A protagonist and his (or her) story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.”
This is why “The Dark Knight” is constantly referred to as the “Citizen Kane” of comic book movies. Christian Bale’s Batman is excellent, but it is because of Heath Ledger’s Joker that the movie really works. And I’m not just talking about his phenomenal Oscar-winning performance, but rather the way the character is written. The Joker’s motivation in “The Dark Knight” is clear, and, he’s extremely powerful. But by Powerful, I do not mean he can open a giant beam in the sky and destroy buildings. Powerful in this context refers to the antagonist recognising the protagonist’s weaknesses and is swift at attacking those weaknesses.
Now compare that to Steppenwolf in “Justice League”. Besides his name, what do we know about him and his motivations? He wants the Mother Boxes to destroy the planet… or something. We learn this in the opening few moments of the movie in the form of expository dialogue and an action-heavy flashback. After that, we don’t learn anything. Steppenwolf doesn’t do anything interesting either. He’s collecting BOXES for crying out loud. Because of this, “Justice League” doesn’t feel personal.
Even when we watch “The Dark Knight” we know for a fact that Batman isn’t going to die and The Joker will most likely be defeated by our caped crusader. But what Nolan does exceptionally well is convince us that The Joker is going to win by constantly having him break Batman psychologically. This is something Snyder/Whedon do not accomplish in “Justice League”. Steppenwolf may say shit like “you will love me”. He can swing his giant glowing axe repeatedly. He can combine the Mother Boxes and tell us that the world will go BOOM. But not for one moment do you actually believe that our heroes are in any danger.
Also, what do we know about the Mother Boxes besides the fact that they’re square? I know what they are in the comics. But what are they in the MOVIES?
Patty Jenkin’s “Wonder Woman” gets it right. Sure, “Wonder Woman” may not have a villain note-perfect as The Joker from “The Dark Knight”, but there are interesting layers to it. The main villain in “Wonder Woman” isn’t necessarily Ares or General Ludendorff or Doctor Poison. They’re all parts of a bigger idea and the bigger villain – war. “Wonder Woman” thought her purpose was to defeat Ares. She believed that triumphing over Ares would rid the world of all evil but later learns Ares merely whispered ideas into the ears of humans. It is flawed human beings who decided to take his ideas and roll with it, kick-starting World War 1 in the process.
Steppenwolf in “Justice League” is nothing but a CGI prop for our heroes to defeat. He doesn’t represent an idea. He doesn’t symbolize anything. Calling someone Steppenwolf doesn’t make the individual STEPPENWOLF.
The emotional core and turning point… or lack thereof
The problem with “Justice League” is that it lacks a second act, or at least one that actually matters. “Justice League” is a fun ride that’s always in 5th gear and before you know it, it’s over. In that sense, it’s great. There isn’t a single moment in the film that’s boring. You’re always smiling. The moment the ride’s over, I couldn’t wait to jump on it again.
However, for a movie to be truly impactful, you need an emotional hook. Let’s take a look at two brilliant comic book team-up movies, “The Avengers” and “Captain America: Civil War”. “The Avengers” is fun. But it also takes its time, slow down and NOT be fun. The turning point in “The Avengers” comes when Loki murders Phil Coulson. It’s the moment in the movie where you don’t have a smile on your face. It’s the moment when the characters in the movie and the people in the audience are in a state of shock. Omg, did that actually just happen? It is also the moment where Loki’s master plan comes to fruition. Hulk – the wildcard on the good guy’s team – loses control of himself, causes the entire team to be in a state of disarray and then falls from the SHIELD Helicarrier. The movie slows down even more, after that. The characters felt hopeless. And because of that, we felt hopeless too. It is because of THIS moment, that we fist pumped the air and screamed f**k yeah! When our characters eventually put their differences aside and decided to team up.
“Captain America: Civil War”, has plenty of moments like that, too. Tony realising that Zemo has been playing them all along is one such moment. But the most intriguing moment comes when Tony discovers how his parents were killed. It is at that moment where Tony stopped being rationale. He doesn’t care that Bucky was under the control of Hydra. Overwhelmed by emotions, Tony wanted nothing but to end the life of the person who took his parents away from him.
Moments like these are almost non-existent in “Justice League”. Superman being evil almost accomplishes it. It is the only moment in the film where you actually feel that our characters are in danger. Lois Lane hugging Clark and saying, “Let’s go.. Let’s go,” is a moment of brilliance, both in writing and in terms of performances. Unfortunately, the moment doesn’t last. We should have gotten more from Clark, Lois, and Martha Kent. We should have gotten a scene in which the rest of our heroes felt like they tried everything they could, but failed. We get hints of that, with verbal jabs between Aquaman and Cyborg, but again, it’s just brushed over. What follows is a comedic moment in which Aquaman delivers a monologue. It’s a hilarious scene, sure. But a scene that once again makes the entire situation feel light.
Here’s a bunch of other stuff I wrote about “Justice League”.
Spoiler-free review here: https://hype.my/2017/148596-justice-league-review/
Rotten Tomatoes and Critics: https://hype.my/2017/148790-peoples-obsession-rotten-tomatoes-ruining-film-criticism/
Why did underperform at the box office: https://hype.my/2017/148872-justice-league-box-office-failure-reason/
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