Justice League (2017) will be a bad film. Actually, no need for future tense, because Justice League exists in some form now – partially edited with shoehorned effects that likely look like glabrous Batman-shaped stains reminiscent of Garry’s Mod memes. There exists no reality accessible by our comprehension that includes a good live-action Justice League movie. If such a realm does exist, its own version of Justice League is not our version of Justice League – not the version that has cobbled together an absolutely abysmal marketing campaign, or cast a bizarre mix of A and D-list actors, or hired a revolving door of bottom-tier showboat directors without one iota of merit to their respective oeuvres, and certainly not the Justice League that just dropped its first ‘official’ trailer.
It would boggle my mind to consider that there are people out there who are truly excited about these upcoming films, if I hadn’t been so disaffected by the existence of this franchise in the first place.
It hurts. It really does. For many people my age, born just at the cusp of Generation Z, the Justice League: Unlimited (2004-2006) cartoon was ample sustenance on sleepy Saturday mornings. The early ‘aughts brought about a renaissance in DC animation. After the runaway success of Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995), Warner Bros. and their DC properties recognized a veritable cash cow in animated franchising. The Dark Knight was joined by Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000), a series of crossover films such as The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest (1997), and absolutely stellar spin-offs like Batman Beyond (1999-2001) and Static Shock (2000-2004), all culminating in Justice League (2001-2004) and Justice League: Unlimited. Even as Marvel Studios was imploding, selling off their film rights to a cavalcade of production companies and studios in a move that would take almost a decade to un-do, DC was bringing complex, high-stakes storytelling to the living rooms of a new generation. Their subsequent fall has been a true Hollywood tragedy; all the money in the world, and not an ounce of talent or competence.
This new Justice League trailer kicks off with the same visual loyalty to Christopher Nolan’s fetishized Dark Knight films that the franchise has been beating to death since Man Of Steel (2013). DC should pay ‘Where’s Waldo’ pros to find any colors besides blue in each frame of their films, because I don’t think anyone else is qualified. Visual critics have lambasted the Marvel films for never color-grading their films (a notable flaw, to be sure), but I believe most would honestly prefer the raw digital look to the dreary blue sheen plastered over every inch of Justice League. Character designs are predictably sci-fi fashion-forward, with Jason Momoa’s Aquaman looking like an aquatic Goth (Germanic tribe, not angsty teen) on his way to a Kid Rock concert. The battle scenes look to be just as poorly shot as those in the past DC films and the dialogue is as melodramatic as it is campy.
Tonally, it’s apparent Justice League has no idea what it’s doing. The tremendous flak OscarⓇ Winner Suicide Squad (2016) and Batman v. Superman (2015) took for being self-contradictory in mood would have had any studio half worth its salt scrambling to correct such a glaring error in craft. But not DC, and not Justice League. Much like the upcoming Wonder Woman (2017), Justice League apparently can’t decide whether to take itself seriously, laugh in its own face, laugh in your face, or just resign itself to hurling incomprehensible VFX shots at the screen and hoping they elicit some sort of visceral response. Experimental films designed to lack tone and cohesion (i.e. Michael Snow and Alejandro Jodorowsky) are more holistic than this garbage.
I can’t tell much about the plot from the trailer. That’s not a compliment. It’s very obvious the forthcoming story is plastered shamefacedly all over the screen: Darkseid and his robo-demon army are coming to Earth and it’s up to the Justice League to stop them, i.e. the ol’ reliable of Justice League storylines. It’s just that this noncommittal, uninspired iteration of a classic Justice League narrative is ostensibly so convoluted and overstuffed that it’s already clear, based off a two-minute trailer alone, that there will be no need to care. The character introductions are going to be woefully jack-hammered into the first twenty minutes a la Suicide Squad, evoking neither pity nor fear for ‘our heroes,’ and the middle chunk of the film will doubtlessly be bogged down by pointless squabbling between these demigods who obviously are just going to make up at the end to confront the major threat. Sadly, it would have been easy for me to presume all of these elements before even seeing the trailer, as all big-budget blockbuster superhero films are relatively easy to predict at this point. But to have these suspicions confirmed by the trailer did little to bolster my (nonexistent) enthusiasm.
Justice League has already committed the heinous sin of releasing not one, not two, not three, but four trailer-teaser-trailers (i.e. the 4-second snippets teasing the upcoming trailer designed to play during basketball games and before YouTube videos if you haven’t wised up and downloaded AdBlock yet). Unsurprisingly, the payoff is bad. I will readily admit that this trailer is not as bad as the nearly-unwatchable Wonder Woman trailer from a couple of weeks back, which is not even to comment on the laughable hubris in a studio as browbeaten as DC attempting to release two blockbusters in the same calendar year. But beneath the Cronenbergian horror of the Wonder Woman trailer might actually lurk the heart of a halfway-decent film. There is no such absolution with Justice League. The visuals look like a cross between an Unreal EngineⓇ tech-demo and a grad-student filmmaker’s half-assed attempted to learn Nuke the night before their final is due. I weep for Ezra Miller. It’s a shame they dragged him into this.
Justice League comes out this November, although I can’t imagine why you would care.