Lightest and shortest of the DCEU’s movies thus far, Justice League accomplished its primary objective, putting DC franchises together in one colossal vehicle. As far as some moviegoers are concerned, that’s its only accomplishment. As of December 1, 2017, Justice League‘s worldwide earnings were estimated at $481.3 million, according to Google, still a great chunk of change but a pittance compared to the mad dough Thor: Ragnarok is rolling in. Some DC-distrusting critics claim Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War (2018) will be better than Justice League, based on the two-and-a-half minute trailer. Perhaps they should be reminded that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad had pretty sick trailers, too.
As Marvel loyalists trumpet the coming of Avengers: Infinity War, DC superfans are once again doing damage control for the other superhero-filled cinematic universe. Another DCEU movie comes out, another barrage of excuses from DC loyalists hits social media. DC loyalists have a bunch of excuses for Justice League‘s mixed critical reception and underwhelming performance at the box office. Even if you believe DC movies will always suck and you reject anything with Zack Snyder’s name on it, you owe it to yourself to listen to DC fans’ latest lamentations. Some excuses are more legit than others.
16. PEOPLE WANT DC TO BE MARVEL
Joss Whedon, writer-director of the first Avengers, signed on to pick up the pieces after Zack Snyder’s unexpected departure. Whedon’s changes to the script were ultimately extensive enough to warrant a co-writing credit, virtually guaranteeing that this DCEU movie would have a campy MCU vibe. As DC’s hardcore fanbase saw it, the casual fans finally got what they wanted: the most Marvel-like DC movie to date.
So why did the critics dislike it? It was like Marvel in all the wrong ways. Comparisons to Marvel franchises keep coming. A post-mortem by Forbes claimed, for instance, “Justice League made the fatal error of starting the game without properly introducing the players,” whereas Marvel cultivated a sense of “attachment” to the Avengers by introducing them in solo movies. “If only the DCEU had the time and resources…”
15. CASUAL FANS DON’T GIVE ZACK SNYDER A FAIR SHAKE
DC apologists point the finger at fair-weather fans who don’t read the comics, don’t care to understand the mythos, and just want to watch a cool superhero movie.Who is Zack Snyder to such a moviegoer? The guy who directed The 300, who everybody hates for Watchmen? Casual DC fans know who Batman and Superman are, don’t care about the rest. Maybe they even enjoyed Watchmen. Maybe superhero movies shouldn’t pander to that crowd.
Not that they have a choice. As commenter MisterWhisper explained on Gamespot’s ComicVine forum in November 2017, “Casual fans is where the money is.” For all the hypothetical casual fan knows, according to MisterWhisper, “Superman could just do everything himself,” so why even have a Justice League?
14. CASUAL FANS DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THE FLASHBACK BATTLE
After the Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern abomination, DC fans worried they’d never see a live-action Lantern on the big screen again. Yet, in the lauded flashback battle, Amazons, Atlanteans and a freaking Green Lantern push back Steppenwolf and his hordes of Parademons. Set against an iconic Red Sky, this sequence should’ve wowed audiences, right?
According to CinemaBlend, the brief sequence features Hippolyta, Zeus, Ares, Artemis (the Old God, not the Amazon), Atlan the Atlantean hero and evil magic-wielding priests, in addition to the unidentified Lantern! Seeing the Old Gods join in to bring down the rebellious New God should be awesome. Unfortunately, the sequence is so dense and the voiceover is so vague, it’s possible that casual fans didn’t know what they were looking at.
13. CASUAL FANS DON’T KNOW WHO STEPPENWOLF IS
Hardcore DC fans notwithstanding, few folks immediately recognize the DC character Steppenwolf. Among the New Gods, Steppenwolf is smalltime. Using obscure one-dimensional villains is a tactical decision on the part of the studios. Big comics movies occasionally use unknown villains because they can simplify their backstories with minimal blowback from the fanbase.
As Gal Gadot explained to The Toronto Sun, “there’s so much going on with the villain and the end of the world and the fact that we’re introducing three new characters [Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash], I think it was a smart call to limit the movie to just one villain.” You might say the filmmakers deserve credit for learning from Marvel’s successes, not criticism for using an unknown villain. Did casual Marvel fans recognize Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron? Probably not.
12. THE EFFECTS AREN’T ANY WORSE THAN MARVEL’S
Critics hated the special effects. The New York Post’s film critic called the movie a “pointless flail of expensive (yet somehow cheap-looking) CGI.” Likewise, the Associated Press called it a “mess of maudlin muscles, incoherent action and jaw-droppingly awful CGI.” Certainly, there are individual effects which aren’t as pretty as individual effects in Marvel movies. Superman’s poorly erased mustache has become an inconvenient meme for those few fans who think the DCEU can do no wrong.
Furthermore, The Atlantic Monthly‘s review called Steppenwolf “a forgettable CGI construct, amounting at most to a flimsy MacGuffin for our heroes to unite against.” Steppenwolf’s face and electro axe aren’t perfect and there are inconsistencies in the color palette between Snyder’s scenes and Whedon’s reshoots. On the whole, though, Justice League is no uglier than the blurry establishing shots in Marvel’s universally acclaimed Thor: Ragnarok, claim the believers.
11. ROTTEN TOMATOES CONTROVERSY KILLED ITS MOMENTUM
Rotten Tomatoes’ unprecedented decision to delay the release of Justice League’s score inspired conspiracy theories. There must be something wrong with the movie, disgruntled fans claimed on social media. DCEU distributor Warner Bros is a minority shareholder of Rotten Tomatoes, they pointed out, and the site was doing pre-preemptive damage control.
Fueling fans’ paranoia, Rotten Tomatoes posted an article that claimed DC movies outranked Marvel, which went live the day before the score would be published. DC’s scores do come out ahead of Marvel, if you factor in all the classic DC movies and the current Arrowverse shows’ scores. In reality, DCEU movies score far lower than MCU titles. Did some would-be fans see this as another cynical attempt at misdirection orchestrated by Warner Bros and stay away from the movie as a result? To some, it seems likely.
10. EACH HERO GETS A SHOWCASE, NOT A SOLO MOVIE
Cyborg’s scenes with his father, the half-mad scientist Silas Stone, have unexpected depth and emotional power. Wonder Woman’s introductory sequence has her interrupting a bank robbery, deflecting bullets with her Bracelets of Submission, rescuing hostages and just generally being an awesome Amazon warrior princess. The Flash’s high tech pad might not make all that much sense (who is giving this kid all this money, who made his suit, is he a crime fighter already?) but whatever, it’s fun, fans say.
Aquaman spends just enough time in Atlantis to make fans eager for his upcoming solo movie, later saving the team from drowning. Superman returns as confused Mother Box-zombie Superman and pummels his future teammates. Batman gets made fun of by Aquaman, Superman, the Flash and Alfred Pennyworth. Each superhero gets a solo vignette, so why the mixed reception?
9. LIGHTER IS ACTUALLY BETTER FOR SUPERMAN AND BATMAN
Why must superheroism be such a burden in the DCEU? Before Justice League, the DCEU was a dark and scary place. To traditionalists’ chagrin, the DCEU’s Batman used machine guns, committed murder without a second thought and physically branded those enemies who manage to survive. Superman was a moody mama’s boy with the blood of thousands of innocents on his hands. Snyder’s original vision for the DCEU offered little reason for optimism, let alone outright celebration of Truth, Justice and The American Way.
In Justice League, Henry Cavill’s Superman smiles, and Ben Affleck’s Batman cracks jokes and quips at his own expense when he’s injured. They’re still moody but at least they have learned to laugh. Despite the critics’ complaints about the resulting continuity problems, the lighter tone is a step in the right direction. Isn’t this what the fans wanted?
8. PR NIGHTMARES SCARED PEOPLE AWAY
Justice League’s PR woes got serious when writer-director Joss Whedon replaced Zack Snyder, who had suffered a family tragedy and could not complete the film. Their styles are completely different, and fans worried Whedon’s cheeky dialogue would clash with Snyder’s bleak vision. Then, in early November 2017, Brett Ratner’s production company RatPack-Dune Entertainment co-produced several DCEU films including Justice League. In light of allegations of sexual misconduct, Ratner stepped away from all Warner Bros-related projects.
In addition to Ratner, Whedon and Ben Affleck have been dogged by allegations of sexual impropriety. To make matters worse, less than a week before Justice League hit theaters, former DC Comics Group Editor Eddie Berganza was summarily fired over sexual harassment allegations. Nobody wants to think a portion of the proceeds from the DCEU will go into the pocket of an alleged sexual harasser, let alone several. Make sense?
7. AQUAMAN WITH NO NAME
The DCEU’s Aquaman is a drunkard, a litterer, an outsider and a world-class jerk. It stands to reason that some were turned off by his gruffness. He dwells in a Norwegian town, visits Atlantis where he is not exactly welcomed by Mera, his wife in the comics. Slate likened him to “a cowboy taking his third ride on a mechanical bull.” This isn’t the regal Aquaman from the comics or the goofy idiot from Super Friends.
He doesn’t appear to be King yet. Like Lois and Clark or Harley Quinn and the Joker, Aquaman and Mera’s identities are forever intertwined in the comics, though you wouldn’t know it from their brief confrontation in Justice League, comprising the entirety of Amber Heard’s role as Mera. Like other plot points in Justice League, it’s unclear who this Aquaman is. That’s a problem for casual fans, DC Entertainment’s target audience.
6. EFFECTS DISTRACT FROM SUPERMAN AND THE FLASH’S RIVALRY
Justice League gets the epic rivalry between Superman and the Flash right, with high-quality special effects, first-rate performances and side-eye of Kryptonian magnitude. Shame that some fans’ slow-mo-phobia prevented them from fully appreciating the moment.
During Supes’s bout of post-resurrection confusion, Barry moves at one pace, everybody else moves much slower. Then Superman catches Barry in the corner of his eye and matches the Speedster’s pace, tripping him up at ludicrous speed–slapstick superhero comedy at its finest. And yet, as reviewer Matt Miller complained in Esquire on November 17, 2017, “Did you know that it’s been a decade since 300 and Snyder still has that ******* slo-mo fetish?” You’ll miss out on the best part of the movie if you go in with that attitude.
5. CYBORG DONE RIGHT, BUT CASUAL FANS DON’T KNOW WHO HE IS
Cyborg (Ray Fisher)’s high tech self-upgrading armor — already near indestructible — is perpetually evolving. Every day, he discovers a new ability — such as jump jets, energy blasts and the ability to interface with encrypted servers. For all the hate Justice League endures for its uneven plot, Cyborg’s new DCEU-exclusive backstory ties neatly into the coming of Steppenwolf and the Parademons. His armor has Apokoliptian origins, powered by alien tech his father Silas took from a Mother Box. The only problem: casual fans (i.e. most critics) didn’t recognize him.
CBR’s Angie Dahl rightly credited the armor and Superman’s strength with dismantling the Motherboxes and saving the world. As the superhero with the lowest profile, Cyborg could easily have remained on the periphery, but the filmmakers refused to play it safe, making him central to the plot and giving him ample screen time. If the risks weren’t high enough already, Justice League is Fisher’s first movie!
4. THIS FLASH IS NOT THE ARROWVERSE REHASH SOME FANS WANTED
The DCEU allows for multiple iterations of the same character. Before Ezra Miller’s casting became official, some Arrowverse fans held out hope for Grant Gustin to play Barry Allen on the big screen. Gustin himself was never too keen on the idea of moving into Zack Snyder’s movies, which is just as well. As The New York Daily News curtly put it, “there was never a consideration to bring him into the fledgling DC Comics cinematic universe that’s being built by Warner Bros.”
Ouch. Now, Miller’s Flash is finally here and he’s just as endearingly awkward, if not quite as fast (yet). Unlike the Arrowverse’s Barry, this one chronically has the munchies from his insane metabolism, and his one-liners are the best. But he isn’t played by Grant Gustin. Some fans still can’t accept that.
3. GREAT FIGHT SCENES IN SNYDER’S SIGNATURE SLOW-MO
Justice League‘s fight scenes feature a sword-brandishing Amazon, Trident-wielding Atlantean, Speedster still learning the ropes, cyborg hacker who shoots energy-blasts, Superman and the world’s greatest detective all throwing down with ugly Parademons. They’re filmed with the same wide shots and slow-mo that the DCEU has been known for since Man of Steel. For better or worse, Whedon did not bring Marvel’s snap-cut editing along with him when he took over for Snyder.
Some nitpicking fans argued that Batman shouldn’t be able to go toe to toe with gods and godlike monsters. Since when are Batman’s abilities limited to following instructions, Batarang-throwing, pouring obscenely huge glasses of whiskey and being rich? At least in Dawn of Justice, he donned a mech-batsuit before fighting Supes. Great fight choreography is always good, right? Not in the DCEU, apparently.
2. EASTER EGGS FOR SUPERFANS, LESS CONTEXT FOR CASUAL FANS
The DCEU doesn’t get enough credit for its commitment to fan service. From the LexCorp and Wayne Enterprises logos in Man of Steel to the ACE Chemicals building and Slipknot’s comics-inspired fate in Suicide Squad (and Justice League), DC Entertainment takes world-building and fan service seriously. Unfortunately, it can be wishy-washy about providing the necessary backstory for casual fans.
Justice League continues this trend with visual and audio references, including Danny Elfman’s theme from Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and John Williams’ theme from Richard Donner’s Superman, Alfred’s reference to “exploding Penguins” from Batman Returns, and obscure references such as Flash villain Captain Cold in the cartoon on Barry Allen’s TV.
1. POST-CREDITS SEQUENCES SHOW THE DCEU STILL HAS PROMISE
The fanfare continues even after the movie ends with two great post-movie sequences. Together, they breathe new life into the DCEU. In the first, Superman and Flash have a race to determine who is faster. It’s a situation that has happened in animated movies and comics — notably in World’s Finest Comics #199 (1970). According to Nerdist’s “A Brief History of Why The Flash Is Faster Than Superman,” though, it’s no contest, once Barry learns the ways of the Speed Force.
The first sequence is premium fan-service for devotees. In the second, a newly bald Lex Luthor suggests to Deathstroke that they “start a league of [their] own.” At last, the DCEU shows its sense of humor and tradition. An Injustice League movie is cause for celebration. Let’s just hope DC and WB don’t call off the DCEU before that can happen.
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