In my humble opinion, Justice League was the disaster that the DCEU has been waiting to unleash upon us since Man of Steel was released four years ago. It is an awful film with few redeeming features. Even taking into consideration the reshoots and change of director, there’s no excuse for a film this terrible. But what went wrong? Could Justice League have been salvaged along the way? Or was it doomed to be bad? Oh, click here for my full review of Justice League! Let’s go back to 2013, when Man of Steel was released. We knew it was going to be part of an expanded universe and lead to Justice League. However, apart from Wayne Enterprises popping up a few times, it very much felt like its own film. It didn’t receive the critical acclaim Warner Bros wanted, however. Thus, for the sequel Batman was forced into proceeding to give it a BIG FILM feel.
Now, compare it to the MCU, because that’s the bandwagon Warner Bros wanted to jump on (without doing the work). Iron Man came out, then Iron Man 2 came out. This, like Batman v Superman, sometimes felt like an extended trailer for the ultimate superhero union. But then the MCU gave us Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger before The Avengers popped up and made over a billion dollars. However, in BvS, we were introduced (without much background information) to both Batman and Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman did get her own film afterwards, but instead of a standalone Batman film (or Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg) we were given Suicide Squad. Yes, a film that featured a team of supervillains that had little to do with Justice League (granted, we saw Batman and The Flash, but it added nothing to our understanding of them). So four films in, and we only really knew Superman and Wonder Woman.
Why not give more of the superheroes their own individual films before uniting them against a supervillain? Because Warner Bros wanted the big money Marvel/Disney were earning without doing the hard work. They just expected people would flock to see Batman v Superman without fleshing out Batman’s character (and I’m not saying Batman needed an origin story, although we got that with BvS. We just needed a story, any story, to let us know who the DCEU Batman was!). They just expected people to see Justice League because DC’s most well-known superheroes were uniting.
Think about it, The Avengers was a tough sell. Marvel’s biggest hitters, like Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four were all owned by different film companies. They had to unite B-level superheroes and make people care about it. Perhaps that’s why we got four films about each superhero (barring Hawkeye and Black Widow) before The Avengers came out. But that made us care about Iron Man, Cap, Thir (and maybe not) Hulk. When the Justice League turned up, we barely knew anything about The Flash, Aquaman or Cyborg.
And what do we learn about those three in the film? Not a lot. It’s hard to care for characters that aren’t fleshed out. I’ve read that Cyborg’s backstory was heavily cut down, but what do we really learn about The Flash or Aquaman? The Flash is fast and annoying. His dad is in prison. Aquaman has mother issues. That’s about it. Wonder Woman seems totally different to her character in her titular film. Batman’s still grumpy, but we don’t learn any more about him as a character. So, we have a bunch of superheroes who we could not care less for (apart from Wonder Woman, maybe). The film itself doesn’t aim to make our hearts beat fast or woop for joy when our heroes finally unite, either. It treads water until the heroes unite, then ends in an anti-climatic CGI splurge with nothing at stake. But is this the fault of the change of directors?
I don’t think so. To me, it felt like Snyder’s vision had been watered down. You can tell where Whedon took over occasionally (like the Flash close-ups when he comes out with a quip). But Snyder’s trademark visuals are almost non-existent. The film looks bland. Say what you want about Man of Steel or BvS, but they contained some striking visuals courtesy of Snyder. Justice League appears to be the product of a boardroom, splicing together big scenes with nothing to connect them.
Warner Bros have tried to react to the negative reactions to BvS/Man of Steel by refuting Snyder’s dark, gritty vision for the DCEU. At least his vision was different from the DCEU’s rival, the MCU. Justice League felt like Diet Avengers. I left The Avengers feeling thrilled and joyous; I left Justice League feeling empty. Nothing could have saved Justice League. It was doomed from the start, when Warner Bros saw the success of the MCU and wanted a piece of the pie. But Warner Bros didn’t want to do the hard work. Then they became weary of the negative reaction Snydsr was receiving and changed his vision from dark and gritty to something closely resembling the MCU.
But I watched the DCEU films for something different. I didn’t enjoy Man of Steel, and admired BvS, but regardless of my feelings for them, they stood out from the MCU films. Suicide Squad was a mess that felt light (like an MCU film). Wonder Woman felt like Captain America: The First Avenger. We’ll see where the DCEU goes from here, but if they veer more towards aping the MCU, what’s the point in watching them?
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Click here for my review of Man of Steel (2013)
Click here for my review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Click here for my review of Wonder Woman (2017)
Click here for my review of Justice League (2017)