“It shouldn’t have been approved internally let alone gone all the way to make it into the film. That shocked me a bit. We were all looking at each other when the film started like ’WTF is this?!’”
This is you, a DC effects artist, on the record (but withholding your name) during a Reddit AMA. You’re speaking about the now-infamous post production repair work done in the opening scene of Justice League. Granted, you weren’t talking about your own contributions to removing Henry Cavill’s post-film moustache in other re-shot parts of the movie, but this quote still seems to perfectly summarize a lot about Justice League.
It’s not that Justice League is a terrible film, per se — it actually works much better than many of its forebears, especially the Zack Snyder-directed Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (although comes nowhere close to the thrills of Wonder Woman). No, like the clumsy depilation of Cavill’s Clark Kent, Justice League feels reactionary and rushed, not fully thought through.
It’s an exhausting affair: Fitting Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg would be hard enough without also worrying about side stories for Lois Lane and Martha Kent. Heck, I got tired just typing all those names out.
When you factor in a runtime of less than two hours, everything—and everyone—ends up being reduced to storytelling signifiers more than actual moments and characters. I mean, this is a movie co-written by Joss Whedon, co-starring Joe Morton as a scientist working on advance cybertronics that can’t even find a few seconds for a sly Miles Dyson reference. Yes, it’s a crying shame.
Factoring all this into account, it’s no wonder that the main plot of Justice League, which concerns a series of Skyrim-level scenes of a CGI character named Steppenwolf* trying to conquer Earth (natch) is near indecipherable.
*Seriously, as a special effects guy, can you provide any insider details on what kind of Faustian bargain Warner/DC made that’s resulted in the godawful, impenetrably dark CGI that plagues every one of these films?
I’m not just talking about the lack of groundwork laid in previous instalments for all the characters introduced in Justice League, however. True, Disney/Marvel did a lot more heavy lifting to get mainstream audiences ready for the first Avengers film. (Before 2008 did the average action fan know or care who or what an Iron Man is?) Even if Justice Leagues three new characters didn’t have to rely on a hackneyed introduction in Batman v. Superman, in which they are introduced by that classic of cinematic conventions, email, Justice League would still feel like a patchwork quilt sewn together by multiple contributors.
The reason for that is most likely that Justice League was itself patched together by two main contributors: Snyder and Whedon, both of whom directed scenes. While I’m loathe to factor in extra-textual sources when reading a film, in this case the film itself makes this clear. Whedon and Snyder are such different stylists — one relies on more basic, TV-style camera setups; one interested in visual style to the detriment of any kind of coherent storytelling (I’ll let you guess who is who) — that seeing them in the same film creates an inescapable stylistic dissonance.
The true miracle of Justice League is that it does manage to create a few compelling moments for its ill-defined, underdeveloped cast. Through the late contributions of Whedon, brought in to add some much-needed levity and character, Justice League escapes becoming the complete dirge that is Batman v. Superman.
Still, I can’t help but return to your opening quote. Justice League, like the shortcuts taken in the work forced on your and your fellow artists, shows the scars of being rushed to hit a release date more than make a good film. And no amount of digital trickery can erase that.