“Justice League” keeps returning to my mind. Not because it’s good or bad, but because it’s fundamentally, irritably mediocre. It’s designed by a team of high-level executives at Warner Bros. to be as safe and broadly appealing as possible. It’s a multi-million dollar blockbuster constructed to appease everyone. Therefore, it’s for nobody.
It’s not Zack Snyder’s film, even though he’s credited as the director. He stepped out of the film’s post-production due to a family emergency, and the final product (mostly) doesn’t resemble anything helmed by the stylized filmmaker. Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”) is credited as the co-writer (alongside Chris Terrio) and took over post-production and reshoot duties, and it shows. Though “Justice League” hosts a number of quips easily creditable to the man behind “Buffy” and “Firefly,” it’s too glum and heavy-handed to be his. “Justice League” doesn’t belong to him either. Instead, “Justice League” is the property of WB, and its sole purpose is to course correct the series from the grittier, more serious tone established by Snyder with “Man Of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice.”
Condensed into a busy, jittery two-hour movie, “Justice League” has a lot on going: it introduces three new superheroes (Cyborg, Aquaman and The Flash); continues the storylines of ‘Batman v Superman’ and “Wonder Woman”; establishes the mythos of Aquaman’s underwater world; laments the death of Superman and a world without him; promptly brings Superman back to life; introduces Steppenwolf, a bland, wholly unconvincing CG villain who’d feel outdated in a PS3 video game; and bands together a team of superheroes who pride themselves on working alone. That’s a lot of content for even three movies to tackle, let alone one. I’m not sure the originally planned two-parter could’ve juggled all this, or even a longer version of this movie. As expected, the final product is a mangled, uninspired, overworked production. “Justice League” isn’t interested in being great; instead, it tries to be finished.
However, had Warner Bros. chosen a different path, and made a few different decisions “Justice League” could’ve succeeded. So, let’s break down the ways WB could’ve assessed the damage, fixed their mistakes, and made a better movie.
MORE WONDER WOMAN, LESS BATMAN
I have nothing against Ben Affleck’s Batman, and in fact, I think he’s pretty great in ‘Batman v Superman.’ Affleck portrayed the Dark Knight as a more wounded, reflective soul — someone who amassed decades of resentment against the world and fought his battles as a vigilante. Bleak, brooding and moody, this version of Batman is conflicted. It’s an intriguing, layered take, with exceptional promise, but didn’t get its full due in ‘Batman v Superman.’
However, this Batman, shouldn’t be the one assembling the Justice League. He’s too sullen, too stand-offish. He’s wouldn’t invite his buddies (if he has any) to his place for pizza, let alone put together a team of superhero strangers. But by making him our designated Tony Stark/Iron Man of the group, Bruce Wayne/Batman becomes a completely different character. He makes dry, sarcastic quips, and flirts and holds no chemistry with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). He’s optimistic in the potential of others. Maybe if this was better developed, it could’ve worked. But like everything else, his progress is swift, unestablished and therefore deeply jarring, the product of rushed filmmaking and limited time.
Wouldn’t it make more sense for Wonder Woman to lead Justice League? Diana Prince’s arc in “Wonder Woman” is about seeing the good in man, and someone as strong and independent as Wonder Woman, inspired by the belief of the common good against the greater evil, is a much better fit to bring together a superhero team.
It would’ve been easy to reconfigure the movie for this approach. We start “Justice League” with the London action scene. Wonder Woman is still kicking ass and taking names, but when she learns of a deathly threat on her home world, she knows there’s great danger brewing with Steppenwolf, and that she can’t complete this mission alone. She reaches out to Batman, who is depressed and further isolated from the world following the death of Superman. It’s a challenge to get him on board, but through her optimism and good spirits, she convinces Bruce Wayne to fight for what’s right, fair and just.
With this encouragement, Batman and Wonder Woman find Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and he’s similarly apprehensive. He’s not a hero, he’s a monster, he claims, a freak that’s more machine than man. And he doesn’t know how to use his powers. There’s a confrontation, perhaps a cool action beat, but after Cyborg explains what happened and how he became the Frankenstein creation he is, Batman sympathizes. He connects to Cyborg on an emotional level, and Wonder Woman convinces him that he has great potential.
Eventually, he agrees. Rejoice! Who’s next? Cyborg heard about a guy, someone gifted with superspeed beyond his control. They find The Flash, and similar to the film, it doesn’t take much to convince him to join. Great! Now we’ve got to get Aquaman, but before that happens, Steppenwolf attacks! They fight each other, and while they deliver some good punches, it’s no use. The team needs another ally, and that’s when Aquaman can join the frame.
My proposed outline wouldn’t guarantee a good film, but I’d argue it at least adds a more richly developed story, while still leaving room for spinoffs and sequels.
ACCELERATE THE FLASH TO THE FOREFRONT
For my money, Ezra Miller’s The Flash is the best discovery in “Justice League.” Portrayed as an overeager kid with a motor-mouth who can’t talk as fast as his mind thinks, Miller brings all the right moves, and it’s a shame “Justice League” couldn’t justify his presence.
Miller’s giddy enthusiasm should’ve been the film’s main lifeline, and would’ve given us an audience surrogate we can connect to. The Flash is the only person here who seems legitimately enthused by the idea of forming the world’s greatest superhero pack. Everyone else treats it like the corporate obligation it is. And that’s a bummer, because while the others are established as apprehensive, sulky or resentful, The Flash is intentionally quite the opposite. He’s an outsider, but he yearns to belong. He deeply desires a personal connection with others, something he was deprived since childhood. By joining the Justice League, The Flash — much like Cyborg, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman — is a broken, misunderstood, alienated person who is finally given an opportunity to feel fulfilled. Why not capitalize on that?
Why not make The Flash one of the leads rather than the socially awkward neurotic third fiddle? We introduce him as a kid who doesn’t know how to play well with others. His dad’s in prison, wrongly convicted, and The Flash wants justice for his father. By it’s hard to find justice in a world driven by chaos, especially after Superman’s death. On the news, in public and private conversation, everyone has an opinion on Superman. It’s unavoidable, and while he didn’t know what to think, The Flash knows Superman fought for him.
But even with his extraordinary powers, The Flash never thought he’d hear from Batman. But that’s exactly what happens, and then Wonder Woman enters the equation. They explain their intentions to start the Justice League. It’s a small operation, but they need to do it fast to save the world from Steppenwolf, a supervillain who reigns terror in the wake of Superman’s death. Of course, The Flash doesn’t hesitate to join the adventure, and soon he’s hanging out with Cyborg and Aquaman too.
Through Flash’s earnest eyes, we’re a fly on the wall, watching the greatest superheroes come together to save the world. At first, it’s hard for The Flash to adjust. He’s clumsy, overeager. Maybe even a bit arrogant. But as he develops, the Justice League does too. And this way, we, the audience, get a better chance to see this group come to bloom, and this would give “Justice League” a moral, emotional core, which is something the movie desperately needed.
Holy $hit is this your personal blog to pitch ideas to lurking executives?
My thought exactly. If you want *that* movie, pitch it. Write it. Get it made. Quit butting into others’ work. It isn’t fan fiction, to be bent to your vision. It’s real-world, all the marbles film making. Quit blogging, start writing.