Justice League is About to Make History … for the Strangest of Reasons

As our resident DCEU apologist, it goes without saying that I am very pumped for Justice League, even though I really don’t think it looks very good. Like at all. The visuals look grungy as hell, Batfleck has a red, puffy, pre-hab face, the editing appears to be in service of incoherent action, and that Flash costume looks uncomfortable to the point of illogic. It has exposed elastic cords for chrissakes! If one of those snags while he’s zipping around at high speeds, someone could be seriously injured. I mean, when the main thing which gets me excited about this movie is the inclusion of Aquaman, I must go in with some sort of reserve.

What an odd feeling it is to do so, especially since I seem to be alone. No, I’m not saying that others are tripping over themselves with excitement, nor am I saying that folks are declaring their intent to avoid the film. What I’m saying is NOBODY SEEMS TO EVEN NOTICE THAT THE FILM IS COMING OUT. Myself included. It wasn’t until a week ago when I discovered that it wasn’t slated for a spring 2018 release. Usually I have a grasp of this sort of thing, but for some reason I missed it. I watched every trailer, I’ve been following production news since day one, yet somehow I just assumed that this would not be out until next year.

But here it is. Dropping in mid-November like some kind of awards contender.

If we remember back to 2015-2016, the lead up to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was turbulent to say the least. After Man of Steel divided audiences into two loud, horrendously inaccurate groups (‘it’s a flawless masterpiece’ vs ‘it’s the death of cinema’), there grew a strange hive mind that formed in preparation for BvS. Criticism soon gave way to simple meanness, and broadcasting this meanness to obtain digital high-fives became the cool thing to do. Online film circles ripped into BvS because:

  • The trailers spoiled Doomsday!
  • Zack Snyder ruins everything and hates all women!
  • Zack Snyder does not understand Superman!
  • Wait, Zack Snyder does understand Superman, he just hates him.
  • Ben Affleck as Batman?!? GROSS! He’s Ben Affleck!
  • Why are they trying to copy the MCU?!?
  • Why aren’t they trying to copy the MCU?!?

There was no winning for BvS, and it started long before the movie was even released. Blogs and articles galore were happy to speak on why it was not just going to be a failure, but that it deserved to fail, and that ensuring its failure was the only way to save superhero cinema. Even clinical box office prediction write-ups seemed to be tinged with schadenfreude, gleefully declaring that it would be almost impossible for the film to make money (it made a ton of money). It was unique to say the least. And while I don’t believe that there was some sort of Disney-mafia funded smear campaign against the film (seriously, that is almost as dumb as being a flat-earther), there is no denying the collective cultural decision that BvS should fail — once again, that it deserved to fail. It was crazy how eager so many were to dance in the flames.

For example, I got in an argument with a fellow writer who led their own social media campaign against the yet-to-be-released film. I asked them why they were so interested in seeing a creative project fail, especially one with contents that are still unknown. Their response was something to the degree of “because if we can make it fail, the studios will have to abandon it.” I then asked why they want the studio to abandon the DCEU, and moreover how this person could be so confident that the movie would be bad, without having seen anything more than a trailer.

The response was basically “I’ve seen enough movies to know what I like, and I won’t like BvS.”

Not sure if it satisfactorily answered either of my questions, but hey, you do you, person who I’d rather not throw under the online bus. Not every movie has to be for everybody, and that’s fine. But it’s odd that such purpose-driven, self-aggrandizing vitriol was already being lobbed at a film which, at the time, wasn’t released, and to this day remains an entirely optional viewing experience.

Resident Film critic at Vanity Fair, Joanna Robinson tweeted “Having seen all of Zack Snyder’s previous films makes me MORE than qualified to pre-judge BATMAN V SUPERMAN. Thank you very much.” This was written prior to release of the film, and it exhibits how Ms. Robinson’s personal distaste for Zack Snyder’s work manifested within her a complete misunderstanding of the critical process (Step one is to watch the damn movie). I single this tweet out because when I called her out on it, I was immediately blocked. Granted, I did call her take “dogshit,” but I stand by my assessment. It’s okay to dislike a movie or to express disinterest, or to – GASP – opt not to see it, but to speak to its quality as a matter of fact without having seen it at all it is a complete failure of criticism. You had one job, and you proudly chose not to do it.

To exhibit how baked-in her venomous desire to discredit Zack Snyder really is, let’s take a look at some of Ms. Robinson’s other tweets on the matter. These are all exact quotes:

So yeah, she’s not coming to the film absent her own baggage (if she saw it at all). Funny how her misunderstanding of her job as a critic is rivaled only by her misunderstanding of the term ‘myopic.’ But I guess that just makes me a “SnyderBro.” This is not a term I made up. It should also be noted that in researching this piece, I discovered another odd Zack Snyder conspiracy: there’s a fair amount of online speculation that he hates his mother. Why? Because Superman. Duh.

Wanna know why Snyder fans are so defensive? That’s why. I’ll discuss with you his technique, his style, his thematic interests, etc., but you lost me in saying he hates his mom, or that I’m a ‘myopic, nasty, unreasonable, misogynistic shit.’ Yeah, sure, we folks who would rather see his films being reviewed on their merits/demerits are the ones who are just sooooooooo toxic. Buncha bullies, the lot of us!

To be fair, I’ve never spoken with a SnyderBro (or maybe I am one and that makes me blind to their existence), but I’ve also never been permitted to speak about BvS without a laundry list of opening caveats designed to maintain my critical integrity while lightly defending a movie that has been deemed factually bad in the court of public opinion. Full disclosure: I don’t like all of Snyder’s movies, but apparently it’s all or nothing in this matter, so I guess I’m ALL IN.

::JUSTICE LEAGUE REFERENCE!::

After the BvS came out, the needlessly pointed attacks didn’t stop. I found the film enjoyable and bold, but not without its fair share of problems. As a fan of nuance, I like to think I can enjoy an imperfect movie or, in extreme cases, find value in a movie that I don’t care for. This is a courtesy which is rarely offered to nerd properties, fickle group of fans that we are, and the response to BvS put the aggressive and personal criticism into hyperdrive. I say personal because so much of what was said about the film was less about its content and more about attacking the talent and intellect of Zack Snyder (see above). Despite having a very successful body of work (which, of course, may not be to your taste — and that’s okay), his name became a naughty word, and his filmic style became unfairly synonymous with everything people hate about the studio system. I remind you that the dude successfully adapted both Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen, two original properties which are, by the standards of conventional nerd wisdom, unadaptable. I digress.

But even among critics who saw the film, the criticisms ranged from valid to nonsensical. I’m not speaking of the former group. Trust me when I say that someone not caring for the film is something I completely understand. I’m speaking more of the inconsistent criticism which seems to be viewed through a lens of preconceived conclusions. This goes for both the blindly allegiant fans as well as the blindly allegiant haters. So many people went into BvS already knowing how they wanted to feel about it, and repurposing any critical thought to fit their narrative. My favorite/least favorite criticism which popped up was “How are you going to make a Batman movie I can’t bring my kids to?” As if Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises are at all appropriate for children. As if there isn’t already a wealth of adult Batman stories in the decades of Batman’s existence. As if, in counterpoint, there isn’t just as much, if not more Batman content aimed primarily at children.

My big issue with it? It delayed/eliminated the chances for Man of Steel 2, which I am still pining for. A smaller issue? The haphazard structure … which became apparent AFTER I SAW THE DAMN MOVIE.

It seems few could address it on a gray scale. It was either the best or the worst, much like Man of Steel before it. But no matter where anyone landed on BvS they were in agreement about the introduction of Wonder Woman. Her glorified cameo was incredibly badass, and her pending solo film was sure to be historic. And it was.

Wonder Woman was a box office behemoth and a critical success. The film was exciting, joyous, and a great showcase for Gal Gadot, Patty Jenkins, and the importance/financial viability of representation in cinema. It ruled on all counts. Even so, since a bunch of jerks decided to get mouthy and sexist about it, everyone decided to go for broke in declaring the film some kind of masterpiece, even though it shared many of the “deal-breaking” structural and visual flaws of BvS. But we won’t go there.

Which brings me to Justice League.

Earlier this year, Zack Snyder announced that he’d need to relinquish directing duties for Justice League in order to deal with a family tragedy. The filmmaker’s daughter took her own life, which led he and producer Deborah Snyder (they are married) to pass the reins off to Joss Whedon to put the finishing touches on the mostly completed film. Before film twitter could snarkily say “At least now it might actually be good!” Whedon came under fire for confusing “feminist” with “womanizer,” and suddenly all went quiet. No one wanted to be the guy picking on Zack Snyder at such a troubling time (even Vanity Fair saw fit to assign their article about it to someone else besides Joanna Robinson — smart move since it seems that even her most DCEU-distant pieces often still find a way to shoehorn in some naughty words about Snyder), and no one wanted to sing the praises of Joss Whedon when he was just revealed to be a dirtbag. So everyone just left it alone. So much so that a super-fan like myself could have missed the release date entirely.

Whereas one could not peruse internet film circles just two years ago without confronting bullyish anger toward an unreleased BvS or its director, now one can barely find anything about Justice League short of standard pre-release press. No pointed box office predictions. No think-pieces as to how a superhero should or shouldn’t behave. No allegations as to the intricacies of Zack Snyder’s relationship with his mom. Just clips, posters, a few Snapchat filters, and a Gal Gadot SNL hosting gig.

And to think all it took was a personal tragedy, the outing of an abuser, and the release of an excellent female-driven in-universe movie to get Justice League what looks like a fair shake. When I put it like that it sounds insane. Yes, I do realize I’m being somewhat reductive here, but it’s not wholly untrue. The only other reason I can think of that comparatively little is being said about the film is that everyone is just over it. But I really don’t think that’s the case. Box office returns will have to be the deciding factor.

The point of this rambling piece is that Justice League now has a very low hurdle to clear. In order to be a critical success, it must only be decent. Hardcore fans and skeptics alike are going in with lowered expectations and a disinclination to be passionately impressed by a film with an abuser’s fingerprints on it or horrendously angry at a filmmaker who just suffered an unimaginable personal loss. The hype machine for Justice League is in full dysfunction. AND IT’S AWESOME.

Are we about to see one of the first nerd properties that’s so mired in baggage that it’s pretty much required to be viewed and reviewed in its own terms? I think so, and in that way, we might be about to witness history.

For the record, I hope it’s really really really good. I’ll let you know after I see it.

Author: Dan Scully

Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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