Anghus Houvouras on Joss Whedon’s involvement with Justice League…
I’m still processing the Frankenstein franchise film that was Justice League. A not totally unenjoyable blockbuster that felt like a movie that had been stolen from Zack Snyder and taken to a chop shop where it was stripped down and reassembled based on the notes from a dozen executives who spend a little too much time reading the YouTube comments section.
Justice League hasn’t been met with the same critical gong that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice received when it was released last year. That movie was not only gonged but then beaten with the mallet until all that was left was a pulpy mass of indistinguishable blame. The film is far from perfect, but unlike Zack Snyder’s earlier DCEU movies the film has a lighter tone. ‘Lighter’ might not be a strong enough term. It’s more like a tonal 180.
Justice League is filled with enough jokes, riffs and quips to exhaust even the most prominent vaudvillian. This is Warner Brothers finally conceding to audience demands that the DC Extended Universe transform into something more accessible. The darkness and iconography that Zack Snyder brought to this world has been jettisoned in favor of four quadrant entertainment that requires no further thought or review.
Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were not great films, but they were at least interesting. There were avenues explored and deeper reservoirs explored than their fluffier Marvel Cinematic counterparts. They were dark, brooding and (in the Ultimate Cut at least) brutally violent. This is territory that hasn’t been explored in-depth with these particular comic book heroes. So while the Snyder films weren’t as wildly entertaining or marketable as their counterparts at Marvel, they were still intellectually interesting. The idea that an older, more bitter Bruce Wayne/Batman is deathly afraid of Superman and his destructive potential is interesting. There’s more going on under the surface than the typical super hero punch fest.
After Snyder’s departure, Warner Bros. turned to a director familiar with this genre and enlisted his aid: Joss Whedon.
I audibly groaned when I first heard that Whedon would be handling the re-shoots, because i immediately knew two things. First, the movie would not only embrace a light tone but become a quip-filled menagerie of yuckity yucks. And second, the movie would have zero stakes. Man of Steel had Superman wrecking an entire city. Batman v Superman examined the idea of the role of a hero in a world that stopped making sense. Any overarching themes that may have been present or under examination were jettisoned with the blunt force of a nuclear powered toilet.
Ugh. Whedon. If there was a Marvel show about Joss Whedon it would be called AGENTS OF COMPROMISE. Watching him re-work Justice League with his bland sensibilities and painful, cringe inducing one-liners left me frustrated with the final product. Because Joss Whedon doesn’t write characters. He writes ‘character’. One character, and they’re all the same. Everyone in a Joss Whedon movie speaks with the same voice: Joss Whedon’s. This works with some characters like Ezra Miller’s Flash who is engineered to be comic relief for serious characters. But Whedon films don’t have serious characters. They’re all the same semi-serious caricature with a pre-loaded joke on hand ready to be deployed at the tail end of a tense moment to suck all the stakes out of a motion picture.
Avengers: Age of Ultron was a terrible movie, employing the same Whedon flourishes that took one of comics’ most awesome, fear inducing villains and transformed him into a joke-spewing machine. In ‘The Whedon-verse’, every character defuses tension with comedy, even when they’re dying.
There are so many cringe-inducing Whedon moments in Justice League. Lois Lane shows up twenty seconds after she learns Clark has been brought back from the dead and one of her first sentences is “You smell good.” Superman replies “Didn’t I always?” How on earth did something this banal make it into the Justice League movie? Or the gaffe-filled conversation Lois has with Martha Kent where the word ‘thirsty’ creates an awkward moment?
There are so many tiny moments of disappointment in Justice League, most of which flow from the pen of Joss Whedon. Most of them can be attributed to Ben Affleck who had to be saddled with turning his dark, tormented DCEU Batman into a jokey, neurotic mess. Whedon’s writing requires a special kind of talent. One who can spin his cringey banter into a seemingly sensible sentence. Affleck is not this kind of performer. Every line of Whedon’s he tries to read feels forced.
My expectations were not high for Justice League. What I was looking forward to was seeing the completion of Zack Snyder’s interesting, sometimes baffling vision of a world filled with super-heroes. Justice League abandoned what Snyder started in an attempt to create something crowd pleasing. It was like Whedon was trying to make a pizza out of a cheese and charcuterie plate. All the basic ingredients are there, but there’s a difference between prosciutto and Pepperoni and Gouda and mozzarella. Justice League is that middle of the road, super average Pepperoni Pizza. And while it might be more popular, I had hoped for one more round of the strange cheese plate that I had been feasting on, interested to see what the chef’s next choices would be.
To me, Whedon represents that bland, middle of the road creative voice who is capable of making something likable but incapable of achieving something grand. His designs are simple and frequently re-used. Bringing him in to fix the Justice League meant reducing the film into something painful, simple and utterly forgettable.
And that, my friends, is disappointing.