Justice League

Apologies don’t mean much if you aren’t actually apologizing. When all you’re doing is changing your behavior because others around you don’t like said behavior, that isn’t an apology– that’s just you wanting to be liked. You aren’t learning to be a better person or anything like that, you’re just making sure you don’t step on the wrong toes the next time you do whatever the hell you please. It’s a tactical change rather than a strategic change, because your plan is still the same. That’s fine in sports or games or whatever, when it’s about adapting to the opponent just as much as it is sticking to what makes you you, but it smacks of dishonesty and manipulation in other facets of life. When a politician apologizes for “sexual misconduct” with someone, they’re only making that apology because they got caught, and if they don’t do it again it’s because they’ve calculated that they can’t get away with that behavior anymore. They’re still scum on the inside– scum with a spit shine.

That’s Justice League. It wants to “apologize” for Batman v Superman. BvS was too dark, too cynical, and too grotesque. It had jokes about piss jars, a villain who was basically Mark Zuckerberg, and two beloved super heroes butting heads philosophically and physically. It was an ugly movie on every level, finding no conventional joy in its antics. That, too, was a form of playing to the audience, but it was also well within the established psyche of Zack Snyder. He was being him, and it was expected that audiences wanted exactly that. Despite making ridiculous money, it wasn’t what audiences wanted, so the powers that be deemed things be changed midstream. They wanted a more “friendly” take on the DC super hero team-up thing, not because they felt that was the “right” thing to do, but because it was because audiences were expecting one thing and got something completely different.

Had this apology been made in a manner that was somewhat competent and enjoyable, it wouldn’t be too much of an issue. If the villain didn’t look like a Mortal Kombat guest character from those Injustice fighting games (with a far less interesting story than such a character), things would have been better. If things didn’t boil down to the standard “object will do bad things to the world, so object has to be destroyed,” things would have been better. If Aquaman wasn’t recast as Aquabrodudebro, all tribal tatted out and reeking of a cocktail of CrossFit mania and frat boy scum, things would have been better. The movie makes so many missteps in what it believes to be what audiences are expecting that there’s no way to look at it other than completely dishonest and backhanded. It’s a movie that wants to be fun, but it has no idea what it’s like to actually experience human joy.

I honestly think a good chunk of this is due to handing Joss Whedon the reigns after Snyder had to bow out of the production. What seals that theory for me is a particular framing device that’s very similar to something Whedon did in The Avengers. In Avengers, we see a lot of the alien invasion of New York City through the perspective of a particular woman on the street. We don’t know who she is, we just happen to follow her as things get bad, and eventually she’s saved by some of the heroes. It’s a really bad attempt to humanize the carnage, because somehow we’re too dumb to understand that people are in trouble unless we get a character we can “identify” with who experiences it for us. It’s a complete misunderstanding of people’s ability to comprehend the abstract idea of “danger.”

We get the same sort of thing in Justice League, except it’s quadrupled. Instead of following one woman, we follow an entire family– mom, dad, sister, and brother. We meet them maybe halfway through the movie, as their hovel in a Russian city ruined by a nuclear disaster is being taken over by Parademons. They freak out. They try to find a way to get out. They hide in fear. The daughter gets a can of bug spray because HAHAHA Parademons have bug wings! How relatable! And when the climax goes down and people need saving, we specifically get to see this family saved by The Flash, because why would you care about innocent people being saved from disaster unless you’ve been in their presence and laughed at their Star Trek The Next Generation styled simulations of jokes no human with a sense of humor would actually crack.

That’s just contempt for the audience. We aren’t expected to roll with a story, we’re focus grouped and studied so that our demands can be predicted and calculated. We aren’t getting this version of Justice League because someone wanted to make it, we’re getting it because they believe the audience might get mad if it wasn’t exactly this way.

That said, the elementary school kids sitting a few seats over from me were digging it, and they were super excited during the two post-credit scenes. Good for them. 20 years from now, if they still give a damn about movies, I’m sure they’ll see something that makes them feel the same way this movie makes me feel now, and they’ll fondly remember Justice League as something far more pure. But I can’t roll with that.

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