Written by Mossiah Smith
I’ve buffered my thoughts quite a bit, trying to formulate the best fashion in which to talk intricately about my biggest disappointment this year. This was supposed to be the magnum-opus of this entire DC Cinematic Universe, a universe sparked by Zack Snyder’s entrance to the world of Superman: Man of Steel, and a direct follow-up to the trials of Superman given to us with Batman v Superman. A homecoming for our colorful roster of heroes finally ‘coming together’ with Superman at its heart.
Justice League is what we get from the aftermath of the current critic and blogger atmosphere after Man of Steel, and Batman v Superman. Zack Snyder (director of both films) found himself being declared a pessimist, his films declared “grim-dark”, and hundreds of horrible names and false allegations against his own character. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman are films that are heavy in subject matter and substance. Man of Steel turned heads with it’s 9/11 imagery in the final act, and a heavy visual performance from a conscientious Superman as he finds his place in the world. Along with Batman v Superman, taking the renowned story ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ by Frank Miller and flipping it on it’s head and bringing Superman at its center in tandem with pointing out the fallacies in Batman’s crusade. Taking place in a post 9/11 landscape and its climate. Snyder’s films were met with a lot of criticism, accusing him of making Superman brooding and even confusing Henry’s performance of a conscientious Superman to be ‘flat’ or ‘with no personality’. The critic and blogger landscape were vocally denying these films. One of the best examples of their vitriol was the ongoing ‘Martha’ debate. Where many critics, bloggers and fans attempted to dumb-down and strip the Martha scene of its value in Batman v Superman’s narrative in a means to flip the scene into hilarity on the internet. Throwing away any of its actual story-telling purpose with the intent of calling it stupid and in return the filmmakers stupid.
Man of Steel, and Batman v Superman were controversial, and for Warner Bros; a studio that was striving for both films to be financially and critically successful — that meddled with their plans. I can see why they’d like to make executive changes and continue hitting the drawing board. Regardless of the backing from one of their most successful directors at their disposal, Christopher Nolan (executive producer of all 3 installments in Snyder’s trilogy), they yearned for change. With Man of Steel, and Batman v Superman making a sum of 1.5 billion dollars they still didn’t see this as enough against the ever-growing success of the empire Marvel Studios has built with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. WB following this backlash from critics and fans displayed their responsive behavior for the first time with the theatrical release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Warner Bros. had made a number of changes to the theatrical cut of the film. They wanted this film to be a smash hit with everyone but ended up stripping the film of key sequences that hurt the way scenes were interpreted. Regardless, this not only hurt the pacing but the entire story that Snyder was striving for. He was already fighting an uphill battle critically for this film, but this time he wasn’t even given a fair swing. Luckily for thousands of fans and critics, their minds were changed with the release of the ‘Ultimate Edition’. A cut of the film by Zack Snyder, adding 30 minutes of footage. Somewhat rectifying many of these unacceptable removals of key scenes, Zack was able to get his vision out there – and for many people it proved to be the superior cut of the film. We get key scenes like Clark’s investigation into the Batman, Superman stopping the missile fired by Lex Luthor’s goons in the Africa sequence, and Superman’s aid in helping the wounded during the aftermath of the explosion. Though the theatrical release of Batman v Superman was flawed, it at least looked as if Zack played ball with WB execs to try and coadjute toward an acceptable film for both parties. This lead to fans and even critics calling out WB for their reactionary behavior and looking to betray their promise of director lead films.
Once we get past the necessary preface, we get to finally talk about Justice League. We were all shocked by the news that Zack Snyder had to take time to be be with his family after the unfortunate death of his daughter. For many, including myself we saw this to be heart-breaking. Zack Snyder reportedly convinced former Avengers director Joss Whedon to take over production due to his recent tragedy, and that’s when we started to see various changes ranging from WB’s attitude, to even more vital changes. We imagined that all would be well, and Joss would be finishing up Zack’s vision as he intended; that’s not exactly what we got. Once Zack stepped away, we saw the intended composer Junkie XL drop out of the project, and the position shift to Danny Elfman – a frequent collaborator of Whedon’s. The question is: if you were only finishing Zack’s vision, why would we need a different composer? A lot of people saw this fashion of thinking to be a bit presumptuous and I can’t say that it doesn’t read that way on the surface level; but in hindsight I believe the dialogue deserved to continue. Junkie had shown continued interest in the project, working constantly before Zack’s departure; he was invested. What would cause him miraculously not to be? Especially due to the circumstance? These are all questions without answers, and I won’t attempt to even suggest I have them – the important thing is: we were asking them.
Danny Elfman didn’t take long to start speaking on his work for the film and spoke constantly on his beliefs regarding the themes of Superman and Batman, two of the biggest heroes on the team and the subject of contention for many after Snyder’s last film. He declared that they both had defining themes already (alluding to Batman 89′ and Superman 78′) that should never be changed. Going as far to say that the idea of creating new themes for these characters “…is a bullshit idea”. Though some fans called him out for this behavior, many bloggers and critics started raving. This started to speak more volumes regarding the attitude WB had with the film more than ever. Fans and critics continued pushing on in anticipation for the film, but took note of the change that looked to work in vein of Whedon’s comfort, and the studio’s desire of nostalgia. Shortly we got word of Whedon’s confirmed writing credit. More due-diligence was done by fans and detractors of Snyder alike; until they met the resolve that the Writers Guilt Association deemed Whedon as having made “changes of a substantial and original nature” or in a quantitative manner, worked on at least 33% of the script. This doesn’t guarantee to be a bad thing, right? Many fans of Snyder’s loved The Avengers and respected its impact to the Superhero landscape in cinema. This fashion of thought would of worked for us all until we got the growing rumor that Zack’s cut of JL had screened ‘terribly’. Not many of us fans can decipher who it is that WB pulls for these screenings, but looking at the specific individuals they had picked out for the initial set visit of the film: they were looking to ratify things for those that didn’t connect with Zack’s work. For Zack’s detractors this looked like their endgame of having him removed was finally coming true, and it didn’t look too different to Zack’s fans either. That was the last bread-crumb we got. Giving us our last hint as to what the end product would be.
Reckoning day finally came. Millions of fans rushed to the theater to see Justice League, and regardless of our different ranges of enjoyment; we saw exactly what WB had been looking to manufacture. The studio in tandem with Joss Whedon looked to strip the film of any of Snyder’s intended vision: rearranging how scenes played out if not with editing – with reshoots, adding various jokes via reshoots or ADR, removing many scenes giving many characters needed narrative, re-shooting various scenes to manufacture their own last minute narratives and shortening the run-time from what looks like its intended target. Obviously for WB this is the cut that screened better with their target audience and that is exactly where our problem lies. WB was trying to mimic the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe once again, but didn’t bother going to the films themselves but the consumers. Which resulted in a easy-to-digest soulless husk of what Justice League was intended to be. There is little to no character work here because every character is stripped of it – if it’s not hiding behind 2-3 lines of leftover dialogue that is. The story meant to be told, the themes we were to expect, and characters we wanted to see evolve were all thrown to the cutting room table. WB attempted to try and transform this film into some sort of commercial success and came off looking like everything that term stands for excluding the success part. This film has thrown fans and critics into confusion, many critics already changing their stance on Snyder’s past work and starting to pull out their ‘controversial’ takes that JL was missing everything that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Man of Steel had. WB has proven to be out of touch with not only their target audience, but their core fan-base as well. Zack’s misfortune appearing to be used as the opportunity for WB to make such changes. My buzz is quickly running out for Justice League; with the film stripped of it’s narrative and half-assed into some sort of easy-to-digest ‘popcorn film’ instead of what Zack intended for us all to come to the theater for. Justice League’s $96 million opening domestically only reaffirms that WB has missed the mark. Keep in mind that number is less then Batman v Superman and it’s direct successor Suicide Squad. This film is a shell of what it was intended to be, and it is no ones fault but theirs. The constant desire to be the next Marvel yet lack of being something of their own is what lead them on this path and hopefully Justice League’s misfortune is what will open their eyes.
The current blogger and critic climate has proven to be formidable, causing large tentpole films to undergo massive changes even with 3-4 months left in production in an attempt to meet the needs of the few rather than the many. The important thing is that we all heed Justice League’s predicament to be one of the biggest wake-up calls for Warner Bros and other studios in terms of their approach executively with these films. Though the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is nothing less of a wonder, not every tentpole franchise is due to be exactly what it’s predecessor was. Hopefully we see Warner Bros. attempt to rectify their actions and handling of Snyder’s film, especially due to the circumstances of his leave, and hopefully we continue this dialogue in an effort to keep pushing forward this ever growing genre of Superhero films.