Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks for Justice League

Short Spoiler Free Review:


Slightly Longer Spoiler Free Review:

I could have called this post “DCEU Rebirth” because the Justice League movie did to the DC Expanded Universe (the movies) what the Rebirth initiative did to the comics.   It returned the heroes to Iconic status, recognized that superheroes are fun wish fulfillment, and restored a sense of camaraderie and legacy.

Speaking of Rebirth, my willpower must be increasing.  It took almost a whole month after I read one page of a Rebirth Batman comic before I added Batman and Detective to my pull list. 

Back to the movies:

They could have copped out and done a clean slate reboot, instead they went with a few memory modifications and found a way to build on what came before to shift the characters and their connections where they are supposed to be. 

I'm noticing the negative reviews are more about what the movie isn’t instead of what the movie is.

No, it’s not a Marvel Movie.  It’s a DC movie.  Do I need to get out my characters versus Icons PowerPoint lesson again?

The movie creates the proper emotional resonance as it assembles the pantheon of heroes at their respective tiers.  The Trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are always the top, whether or not they are actively present in the story. Their reputation guides and shapes the rest of the League, including each other.

In case anyone thinks I’m being either sacrilegious or unrealistic with my Icon/Pantheon/ Mythology references, DC calls those three characters “The Trinity,” I didn’t make that up.

The movie is also not a three hour deep psychological look into the complexities and motivations of the villain.  It’s hundred and seventeen minute story about the formation of the Justice League. 

It’s their movie, they get the focus. In this case, the evil forces are there to be a threat requiring the team up. It’s the team up that should, and does hold the forefront.

Individual character development is for their solo movies. The development here was of the team dynamic and how they each fit into it. besides, as Iconic characters, they are archetypes, we already know who they are. Its how they interact that was important for the story.

Due to sheer geekly joy at having what was basically a two hour apology for how dark and depressing the DC films had become I need to put spoilers in the rest of this post.

Especially since my family hasn’t seen it yet, and every time I see something at home that reminds me of the Justice League (something that happens with remarkable frequency) all I can do is look at them and go:

Meaning I have to talk about this movie in detail here, before I explode or they kill me.

You’ve been warned.

I originally intended to write this up in sections about the individuals, but it doesn’t work that way because this is the story of the team.

Steppenwolf is the bad guy, and fairly one dimensional, along with his Parademons. This is exactly what the story needs.  He’s a high powered scary thing with a big soulless army that cannot be handled by one hero on their own.  He’s basic and uncomplicated because his purpose is only to drive the need for the League.

The flashback story amplifies this with examples of his power, and also provides some exposition.  Seeing Amazons, Greek gods, Atlanteans, humans and an unidentified alien Green Lantern tossed in a cool pile of world building amidst a giant pile of action that proves a single hero would not be enough

It also gave the audience something to watch while the need for gathering the Three Mother boxes, which in turn will lead to gathering of the League, was explained.

Steppenwolf needed to be a foe requiring the entire League to form together to oppose, and an indication of greater Darkseidy threats inspiring them to stay together and expand their ranks.

In both areas he was successful.  He was a plot driving evil force, not a complex multi layered adversary…because it’s not his movie.

The Mother Boxes worked as McGuffins because they’ve always been Fourth World connected magical computers anyway. That’s why it also worked to tie one into Cyborg’s origin. Comic book characters are created and revised over decades leading to a large number of similar, yet unconnected powers and origins. Movies, with the benefit of hindsight can combine them to streamline things.  (Reboots can do that too, apparently this comes from the Nu52 origin, but I wouldn’t know.)

Having his dad be played by Joe Morton (a.k.a. Miles Dyson from Terminator 2) was a fun wink!

Connecting Cyborg’s origin to Apokolips/ New Genesis gives him a cosmic element as well, something this incarnation of the League would otherwise lack.  Additionally, his struggles to maintain his humanity, played excellently by Ray Fisher with only half his face available, had more drama  since it’s an alien technology he’s battling this time.

DC is traditionally strong with legacies.  Danny Elfman acknowledges that in his score by using samples from Zimmer’s Wonder Woman theme, Williams’s iconic Superman work, and his own Batman scores.   Old and new Legacies were respected this time out, as demonstrated by Cyborg yelling, "Boo-yah!" at one point, leading to cheers from some younger viewers that matched mine for the classic stuff.

In the comics, the internal legacies frequently are shown via separate teams and sidekicks.  It often governs the dynamics of the individual teams as well.  In this case, Flash and Cyborg are the new guys, gaining guidance from the Trinity.

Wonder Woman’s inspirational example was perfect for Cyborg; matching the comic model of overcoming his feeling that his powers aren't a gift, but a curse. 

To be honest, at first Ezra Miller playing Flash as the youngest most inexperienced member was a little odd.   Barry Allen is one of the prototype straight and narrow heroes from the start of the Silver Age.  Wally West, even when used as the heart of the team, and comic relief in the Justice League animated series, maintained his experience and skill levels.  I think it was a combination of Grant Morrison (JLA) and Mark Waid (Flash) who realized with all the time shifting shenanigans, the former Kid Flash racked up more years superheroing experience than many of the “adult” heroes he teamed with. 

In the movie, he takes on the Newbie role that Kyle Rayner, the then new Green Lantern, filled in Morrison’s JLA, with a dash of the “heart of the team”/ “funny guy” from the Flash in the Justice League cartoon. The other item this Barry shared with Kyle is Batman taking them under his wing and acting as a mentor, highlighted by the, "Save one," moment.

Because that’s what Batman does. 

Batman is not about all consuming darkness. He’s about using the appearance of all consuming darkness to frighten criminals, and insuring that no one else has to experience the all consuming darkness he has.

That’s why he constantly trains Robins and mentors younger heroes who have a lighter outlook than he does, and that’s why two of his best friends and inspirations are Icons of Truth and Hope that operate in full daylight.

Barry had to be the unsure, new to his powers character. 

One of the Trinity couldn't be the unsure one, 

Cyborg had his own “reluctant hero” arc to deal with…

And Jason Momoa’s Aquaman was far too awesome.

His Aquaman was a fun combination of the brooding and focused Peter David version (similar to his few appearances on the Justice League and Unlimited cartoons) and the over the top bombast of the Brave and Bold version.  In other words, (again) Aquaman was awesome.

However, Aquaman has always been awesome.

Making fun of Aquaman stems from a tired and repeated sentiment of his lameness on the Superfriends, which is insane. EVERY character was lame on the Superfriends.  Thanks to limited animation, and overly censored writing, none of the heroes could really do anything on that show.  Batman was useless without his utility belt, Wonder Woman could telepathically control her lasso to flip switches and such, and act as an invisible delivery system with her jet.  Superman fared a little better, being able to fly under his own power and lift heavy things. Most of the grief the series gets comes from hindsight and looking at it through a modern lens. For those of us who were kids when it first aired, it was the only exposure to the whole Justice League we had, and we were thrilled.

Aquaman is master of almost three quarters of the Earth’s surface. (And far more if you go by volume) He stands with only four other heroes to have his adventures continually published since the Golden Age of comics.  This barbarian version claims his rightful place in the League, proves his worth, and entertains mightily. Though the colors were muted, his armor was gold and green, coming close to the orange and green of his classic outfit.  As a step above the “accidental heroes” as the new guys, establishing a Brave and Bold vibe, called themselves, he tended to be the voice of practicality compared to the Trinity.

It’s not a coincidence that the centers of the DC Universe - Batman Wonder Woman and Superman - are icons for Justice, Truth and Hope.  Frankly it is about time the movies and comics focus on that again.

Their importance extends to the influence of their supporting casts.  Due to the relatively short run time for this type of tale, the plot had to follow the heroes.  The Flash's and Cyborg’s Dad and Mera were included in brief roles due to needed story elements.

(Barry's dad (Watchmen's Billy Crudup) is needed if they're really doing Flashpoint.
Cyborg’s origin is from his father.
And who better to show Aquaman’s ties to Atlantis than the woman who would make him one of the first married superheroes?  Amber Heard gives a strong and regal turn in her brief scene, looking forward to more of her in Aquaman.)

People connected to the Trinity, either appearing  or in reference, had much more sway over the action.

Commissioner Gordon moved the story forward, but also served as a humanizing element to the “I"m real when its useful," Batman in both his rooftop conversations with him, and J.K. Simmons adamantly defending the Dark Knight when the actions of Parademons are tried to be blamed on him.

Alfred, as the man who taught Bruce how to mentor, is the most “main” character after the League, and is awesome as always.  Coupled with the first on screen credit for Bill Finger, Jeremy Irons was the only thing that tempted me to see Batman Vs. Superman, and he did not disappoint.  In the wise words of my sister, "Alfred's the s**t."

Because the problem with the previous DC films hasn’t been the casting. 

The presence, and absence of Lois Lane and Steve Trevor were also pivotal to story and characterization.

The focus on the Trinity was established right from the start with all three getting a introductory sequence.

Superman’s was via a cell phone filmed flashback of him addressing children and acting as a beacon of hope. This was later followed by Batman’s monologue about how Clark brought out the best in everyone.

Again, it’s never been the casting. The fact that Superman didn't show any of that in the other films is nicely rectified here.

Batman debuts, (where else?) stopping a criminal on a rooftop,and then keeping him alive during a parademon attack. He was acting, and for the first time moving, like Batman should.  It's a combination of power and acrobatic skills that many of the previous armored Batman films lacked.  He’s an older, wearier version of the character, but dealing with the other members of the Trinity did bring a little lightness to Bruce, as it should. Ben Affleck did well as Batman the planner and schemer, but not to the point that it overwhelmed his abilities as mentor and role as thick headed, and rude, but honorable friend.

As a member of the Trinity, Batman called out Wonder Woman (accurately) for turning her back on the world because of losing Steve Trevor.

Similarly, Diana called out Bruce for being a jerk because…Batman.

Gal Godot was just as much Wonder Woman as she was in the solo film.  As a warrior with a mission of peace, she's both the most dangerous member in a fight, and the glue that holds the League together.   Her film didn’t require fixing, but the character got an arc anyway, taking up her proper role as leader and inspiration following her “coming out of hiding” in Superman Vs. Batman.  (I'm not sure which order is right, I’d look it up but I don't want to accidentally watch it and get all uppity.)

Her introduction was an amazing action piece where she burst into a hostage situation and definitively, powerfully and easily took out a gang of heavily armed terrorists.  However, her main focus in the fight was protecting all of the hostages and preventing any of them from coming to harm.

Because that’s what Wonder Woman does.

Considering the foreshadowing, the references and the released images, it’s not much of a spoiler that Superman came back.

How he came back, and how he’s treated when gone are the key reasons that this was a “Rebirth” film.

As always when Superman is dead (which happens astonishingly often for the non-comic fans reading this) Batman took it the hardest and had the strongest refusal of acceptance.  Again, Batman lives in the darkness to protect others from it. Superman is one of the strongest proofs he has that the light is there and worth protecting.

That’s why Bruce leads the efforts to bring back Clark.

Yes, Bruce calls him Clark, and Diana calls him Kal-El.

I know they used a mix of the Mother Box and Kryptonian technology, but they basically made a Lazarus Pit, based on his disoriented rage when emerging. 

Nice symbolism of the photo of Kevin “let innocents die to protect your secret, son” Costner burning up when Clark was lowered into the pit.  Meanwhile, Diane Lane, as Martha Kent was the perfect personification of him still having positive effects over the sense of loss when Superman was gone, and the joy when he resurfaced.

Superman’s disoriented return was a short and excessively clear showcase of his abilities relative to the League.  He matched most of their power levels while having some additional ones. It’s probable they were holding back due to battling an ally, and while his showing was impressive, there was the feeling that they could have stopped him with severe damage to both sides if they redoubled their efforts.  In a pretty cool touch, everyone's super speed was showed a little different.

In a show of accuracy: physically the Last Son of Krypton dang near destroyed Batman with little effort.

In another show of accuracy: Batman was the one able to stop Superman with what he called “the big gun.”

It had nothing to do with weapons or attack though; it’ was all about Batman as detective, tactician…and friend.

Batman brought in the only thing in the world that could stop a disoriented and enraged Superman:
Lois Lane. 

Amy Adams was back and she was Lois.  There were vague allusions and some tone shifts to what happened between all three of the films with Henry Cavill as Superman to get it to a good place.

She went away with him, while the rest of the League headed into a giant battle against Steppenwolf and his Parademons…and IT WAS EPIC.

Seeing the heroes I grew up with working together in all their glory was magnificent.

Then something happened that opened a can of nerd rage in me coming close to Batman Returns levels.

Out of nowhere, Batman picked up the space rifle of a fallen Parademon and started firing.

I’ve accepted guns on Bat-Vehicles out of tradition, usually explained in comics with rubber or bean bag ammunition, but this was too much.

Yes, I know it was transitioning from the last film.
Yes, Batman looked kind of puzzled as to why he did it.
Yes, I know they were trying to make one of those, “This is the darkest moment,” scenes.

But Batman...

When I was about to (once again) stand up and start screaming at a movie screen, something happened.

Something wonderful.

Something that made me forgive the previous scene.
(Which anyone who's been stuck next to me in a theater knows must be pretty freakin' spectacular.)

Superman came back.

Really…Superman CAME BACK.

“Came Back” from where the real character has been hiding for over five years.

Came back since Superman showed up:
In a brightly colored costume, 
Sporting a big comforting smile,
Making statements about truth and justice,
With the John Williams theme playing,
Belting Steppenwolf into next week and away from Clark's friends.

But then…it got even better.

Superman immediately left the battle, fully trusting the other Justice League members to handle it, and flew off to save innocents that were within the sphere of the battle damage.

Because that's who Superman is.

I still maintain that the best comic book stories are good Batman stories,
But the comic book stories that make me feel the best after reading them are good Superman stories.

I'm not ashamed to say, manly tears were shed.

The rest of the fight was a formality, but a formality highlighting teamwork, incredible powers, dynamic skills and the triumph of Truth, Justice and Hope over evil, darkness and despair.

A shout out to the nice visual transformation of the Mother Box stuff from blackened nastiness to alien flowers afterwards as a nod to New Genesis.

The end of the film proper showed the Justice League as Icons and Examples to the world, as well as friends to each other, underneath Lois Lane reading an article detailing those important points.

And then Henry Cavill finally, impressively, did the "Pull away the shirt and tie 'S" shield reveal."

In summary:

P.S.  Their resistance to following Marvel seems to have lessened because
1) They made a fun, hopeful movie.
2) There were end credit scenes, building both the world and the friendship of the League.



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