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‘Justice League’ Deserves Better!

“Stark Raving Fan” is a column about one man’s love for all things involving popular culture – television, movies, and all facets of pop culture from here to there. Of course, it’s not the kind of love that unites a group of people like a bunch of hippies. More like the kind of love someone has when they’ve blown a gasket and have something to say. After all, aren’t we all just driven mad by fanaticism sometimes?

To quote a wise old sage that everyone around the world should know – and by sage I mean the great Winnie the Pooh, you know, soft-spoken golden rod-colored bear with an affinity for honey – I offer this to start off my rant.

“Oh, bother.”

Well, okay. You got me. Really, more like this.

Three days after release and the DCEU hasn’t just suffered a setback, no no, this is much more significant than a setback. More than a stumble, tripping over your own feet, slipping on black ice, hell, use whatever metaphor you choose about falling onto your own keister. But boy, did Warner Brothers stumble out of the gate this past weekend, claiming the number one box office spot but millions of dollars significantly lower than executives forecast. Justice League is a film that I’ve already made my thoughts crystal clear about. Sure, the movie’s a bit chunky at spots despite being still fairly entertaining. Like when Ezra Miller isn’t trying to be a total ham like an opening act for an amateur comedian. (Really, any comedian’s schtick is better than any of Miller’s ill-timed yucks. Oh look, he’s tripping over his feet, aw gee!) Or when Aquabro isn’t swigging cheap bottom-shelf whiskey and trying to look like an Adonis with his full body tats. Or The Scorpion King Steppenwolf talking to no one but himself, Parademons buzzing about his head and spitting monologue like a knock-off Megatron, Michael Bay hiding somewhere in a corner snickering on a leather recliner and wildly applauding.

Despite the rotten tomatoes being aimed at their direction, Justice League still managed to outlast both Wonder (a carbon copy of 1985’s Mask but lacking an overemotional Cher and Eric Stolze’s creepy make-up) and Thor: Ragnarok (which just crossed $700 mil worldwide without even trying). Revised numbers show that Justice League only earned $94 million over the three-day weekend. Early estimates tracked the film as high as $110/$120 million. Justice League carries a $300 million budget thanks to 17 months of principal and additional photography. Oh, and add in the $150 million spent on worldwide marketing. So, to really make just a dollar, the movie’s gotta double its budget and make every penny back so, this plus that and add that and, yeah, the magic number is $750 million. Hell, pundits are saying Justice League could earn as little as $635 million. (For comparison – 2012’s The Avengers earned $1.519 billion.) That’s a rough estimate too but, given that Justice League may not stand on its own feet against upcoming competition, earning all that money back may not be as easy as the Warners suits expected and writing off a substantial loss may become a reality.

Thing is, I don’t fully blame Warner Brothers for the film as delivered, not as much as Snyder. (Well, alright, the studio did edit down the movie to two hours because they wanted a shorter movie. Aanndd sacrificed plot in the process.) Yet again, here we go and I’m blaming yet again one particular sect for the demise of a movie that ain’t all that bad. You know, throwing…rotten tomatoes? …no? Should I get a billboard erected with flashing neon lights and arrows pointing to the words? Alright. Like Transformers: The Last Knight earlier this summer, once again a certain website that amasses reviews to compile a red (fresh) or green (rotten) tomato rating seems to have sunk another battleship. Most movies this year that have been either tentpoles, blockbusters, or popcorn fare have had to live or die by these ratings, movie-goers failing to remember that you base your interest on the trailers, not what some clueless mouth breather tells you what movie demands your cash and someone can’t tell a review may actually be positive, not negative.

You tell ’em, Eleven.

This is already a topic I went into great detail about near five months ago now. I lit up hoity toity film critics for not able to unplug and actually enjoy popcorn movies, since 2017 has had quite a few mindless campy flicks released. Lest you forget, here, read for yourself and see what I mean. But here we go again, as we ease into both Thanksgiving and Christmas – oh, I’m sorry, the holidays – and the amount of movies coming out and getting ripped to shreds like a chew toy in a Doberman’s mouth is too damn high. I’m as sure as the ice caps melt in the Arctic that critics will remain perched on their thrones for Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, smirks on their faces as fingertips tap away on the keyboard, nary an ounce of understanding what the term ‘space opera’ even stands for. They all are preoccupied with seeing all of the Oscar bait in the coming weeks. Yes, pluck their heartstrings. Tug at their emotions. Make ’em cry. I mean, why try to unplug from the doldrums of 2017 and actually take joy in a new release?

Critics had their chance this year to just switch off and kick their feet up. Yes, Thor: Ragnarok was a warm and welcome surprise, a loving homage to the days of 1980’s Flash Gordon, embracing the absolute hokiness of its characters and plot. Critics cherished Taika Waititi’s first big blockbuster. Yet, two weeks later, the same critics couldn’t unplug and see another super hero movie with an open mind? Fine, whatever, these are the same folk who’ll eat dried corn off of the ground too for money. And sure, did audiences deserve Justice League so soon when the DCEU has had as much build-up as a three-year-old baking a wedding cake? Nope, we didn’t. As others have pointed out, getting Justice League so soon would be like starting off with Iron Man, seguing into Captain America: Civil War, and then dovetailing right into Guardians of the Galaxy. We needed to develop an attachment to the characters first before the big team-up brawl-for-all, not just strip to our jimmies and jump on freezing cold waters.

Yet, in some tiny way, Justice League is still a movie worth paying money to see – even just once – in a theatrical setting.

That’s right. Surprise! Listen, Justice League is nowhere near as fun as most other super hero movies – yeah, I’ll even include the likes of Kingsman: The Golden Circle in that grouping too – but some of us have been waiting years to see DC’s Trinity finally amass together on the big screen. I won’t count the bleak and dark showdown they shared in Dawn of Justice, by God they deserved so much better than to fight a Kryptonian monster born of Lex Luthor’s blood. No, they deserved a movie that felt right and given the proper direction by someone who grasps the mythos. We needed to have a Flash zipping about across the screen saving commoners in harm’s way. We needed an Aquaman that, uh, well, we needed an Aquaman who wasn’t a dude bro but it is what it is, we still have an Atlantean who kind of talks to fish! And, despite some dodgy CG effects, we finally have a living, breathing Cyborg on the screen, and a more adult version than the giddy manchild trolling about on Teen Titans Go on Cartoon Network. (Though, this is as close a Cyborg as we’re gonna get, and better than most previous incarnations on the small screen.)

I’ve opined since watching Man of Steel, which broke my damn heart, that Zack Snyder was wrong for the DCEU. He and David Goyer wanted to continue the thematic elements that made Nolan’s Batman trilogy so wildly successful – and that blew up in their faces like overfilled balloons at a kid’s birthday party. So when Joss Whedon took over to complete filming – c’mon, people thought he was not going to complete rewrites and shoot new footage? – I was stoked. His pedigree speaks for itself. Buffy the Vampire SlayerFirefly. His work with the MCU. Say what you will about Age of Ultron but he is immensely gifted with crafting dialogue and character. The dude is as big a fanboy as Kevin Smith but, unlike Smith (who sometimes is a tad too nice about movies), Whedon is unafraid to be wholly honest about his opinions. Sure, he kept pretty mum about taking over Justice League but what did you want him to say? “Oh yeah, Warners told Zack to go take care of himself. But they aren’t going to bring him back. Whatever, we’re gonna attempt to turn this turkey into a beautiful Thanksgiving bird, just you wait and see!”

Ah, no. But the footage he shot, which seems far more than the 20 percent indicated by producer Charles Roven, is tonally different than anything previously seen in the DCEU. Okay, so Whedon couldn’t replace a third-rate villain who controlled Parademons like he was the Wicked Witch of the West, minus the cackle and flying broom, a role whose only function was to tease the existence of Darkseid and Apokolips. But Whedon did more good than harm to the overall film.  Whedon nearly reshot all scenes involving Superman, painting Kal-El as more a heroic being than one riddled by guilt and dissension. Hell, his Superman smiles and has fun – FUN I say! Nearly all of the Cyborg material is brand new too, painting him tragically as a young adult who didn’t want to live, instead preferring his mother survived an accident and not he, now a freak of nature thanks to a Motherbox. The dialogue between Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince pops, Whedon making them romantic foils in a movie that doesn’t necessary need the subplot but rolls with that front anyway. (Does it work? Eh. But their banter does give the movie a bit of breathing room from the chaotic editing and pacing.) But moreover, even though the action sequences are a smidge predictable, a couple of scenarios actually are damn intriguing to watch unfold, Whedon’s ability to weave plot into the action impeccable, actions providing as much story as words when one is up against a wall.

Now, yes, the differentiation between the original and additional footage is glaring. You ever put a 4K movie up against a DVD copy? Yes, that distracting. But at the very end of the day, Whedon has done everything he can to make Justice League a somewhat sensible movie, injecting a hefty dash of his talents into a movie that could have been written off to fail with fans and critics. Instead, fans have come to see the movie actually ain’t all that bad, even if the movie has two distinct voices and identities. Whedon may not have contributed much during the press junkets – actually, I don’t think he said a word at all – but he made no negative remarks about the DCEU’s latest. Well, except liking a tweet that essentially equates Steppenwolf to a ruptured septic tank disaster. But really, can you fault him?  Steppenwolf is God-awful, even worse than Dennis Hopper’s Bowser in 1993’s Super Mario Brothers. (And let us never speak of that woeful rolling dumpster fire ever again.)

I ask you this, oh hapless critics of the faceless Internet. Is Justice League so bad? Are any of you at the age you can remember paying money to see Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever in theaters? Hmm? I can. And that movie stunk of spoiled Thai food and fresh baby farts. Yet, I still managed to disconnect and just appreciate what that film was, despite the abysmal plot and weak theatrics. Hell, Justice League is probably the second-best movie the DCEU’s four year history. Nothing can touch Wonder Woman but the seeds sowed in this team-up aren’t just to catch up to Marvel. That sure ain’t the case. The DCEU needs to find its footing for the future, and the elements planted do more than enough to illustrate that Geoff Johns wants to course-correct the movies. But how can they be given that chance when everyone easily dismisses Justice League and automatically places the film in league with Batman vs. Superman? Yeah, I was initially one of those people. I watched the movie with a clear mind. And I actually found the experience not so bad. And you know what? So can you, if you all would dismiss what an emoji on a website says and just have your own judgements! But hey, it’s up to you. Until next time, you keep reading them and I’ll keep writing them. Gal Gadot, please, take it away, show me some happiness!

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Jerrold Reber

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Jerrold spent his childhood in southeastern Pennsylvania ingesting far too many TV shows and movies, thus creating a stark-raving mad geek. He’s a movie aficionado, binge-watches Netflix, and is a total TV junkie. His addiction has led to an unhealthy and rabid obsession of various geek pantheons – Star Trek, Star Wars, both DC *AND* Marvel,
cult 80’s and 90’s television, Supernatural, The X-Files, Doctor Who, and, and…holy overload. He’s still waiting to run away in a 1967 Impala or a a blue police box.