Now that Justice League has been released, and the critics have finished tearing it a new one, now seems like the perfect time to once again examine what has gone wrong with a DCEU movie. It seems that this movie has suffered most by studio meddling. There have been reports of extensive re-shoots under the helm of Joss Whedon and a studio mandated runtime that didn’t exceed two hours. These occurrences have no doubt affected the movie drastically, and it’s no surprise that the movie currently enjoying a theatrical run is not the movie that director Zack Synder set out to make. Now I know it’s become popular to blame Synder for much of the DCEU’s problems, primarily its dour tone and self-serious nature. However, despite what people might think of his movies, they are at the very least memorable. There are scenes, images and visuals from Synder’s movies that have stayed with me, the complete opposite of many Marvel movies which, and I mean no offence, go in one ear and out the other while being perfectly entertaining in the interim.
One of the things that I particularly like about Synder’s films, particularly Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, is that both these films I felt were trying to tell me something, they had a thesis at their heart. Now these theses may have been clumsily delivered to some, but few could argue that they don’t exist. Man of Steel is about a human coming to terms with the reality of his inherent superhuman abilities. Do these gifts make him alien or more human than human? Batman V Superman deals with the world coming to terms with the presence of Superman among them. What does his presence mean? The film also deals with the problem of evil in the world using Superman as a cipher for God. Now while I understand that many may feel I’m clutching at straws in seeing some of these things in movies that were both largely maligned upon their release, it is nevertheless true that these films had substance beneath the surface if went looking for it.
With all that in mind, it’s a great shame that Justice League doesn’t have any of the same meat beneath its exterior. The movie, in the state that its been presented to us, is not trying to tell us anything, or get us to think in any meaningful way. In many ways it is closer to a Marvel movie, but I don’t mean that in a positive way. While I thoroughly enjoy Marvel movies, many of them breeze past me after their release and don’t stay with me in any meaningful way; Justice League felt like one of those disposable Marvel movies. I have thus far enjoyed the more serious tone of the DCEU movies, and to see them shift their tonal direction so rapidly in the face of BVS criticism is rather disheartening. The tonal difference between Marvel and DC movies have worked well up until this point, so much as you never felt like you were watching a Marvel movie while watching a DC movie and vice versa. However, in the face of criticisms, it appears that Warner Bros have indeed decided to close the gap in difference between these franchises and give audiences something more akin to what they’re used to in a Marvel movie.
If the superhero genre is to continue and thrive then the movies and franchises need to be bold and unique in their approach, not simply copy one another. Look at FOX and their newest batch of X-Men movies (minus X-Men: Dark Phoenix). Both Deadpool 2 and The New Mutants appear to be function against the common perception of superhero movies, the former being anarchic and postmodern, with the latter will no doubt be horror-movie inflected. This is how a genre survives, it evolves. Simply rehashing a tried and tested formula for Marvel Studios will not be sustainable forever.
It’s sad that we’ll never get to see Synder’s true vision of Justice League, despite fans clamouring for it. Now it’s perfectly possible that Synder’s movie may have been just as problematic as the finished article, but I highly doubt it. I’m sure that it would have been more coherent and linked more fluently with Man of Steel and Batman V Superman then the perfectly average, if unremarkable film we ultimately got.