Thoughts On: Justice League - Smart-Stupid


Justice League - Smart-Stupid

Thoughts On: Justice League (2017)

Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and more team up to fend off an apocalypse.

Justice League isn't horrific. But, it's still a DC-Snyder shit show. Starting with the good, I could point to a handful of sequences in which all the elements of cinema aren't grinding against one another and actually start to flow in the same direction. These moments of minor harmony are few and far between, but, at least they're there. Moving swiftly on, the best part of Justice League, unsurprisingly, is Wonder Woman. She is the only character who has been given a semi-respectable stand-alone film (the first act is horrific, but it's forgettable). The warmth and personality that was built in the final half of Wonder Woman carries over to Justice League, despite the writer's constant attempts to bastardise her back story. With that said... I think that's it for the positives. Some of the more competently designed action sequences are immersive and the story itself is somewhat respectable, but these elements are undermined by the sometimes terrible, other times ok, post-production and the brain dead writing.

It's the writing and the aesthetics of Justice League that signify the major faults of the film. Starting with style, I think that it is simply distasteful. Whilst you can try to analyse Snyder's direction and critique its 'style over substance', I think you'd be working in vain. To talk about how poorly Snyder captures the subtext of scenes would be pointless as you'd have to assume that he has other elements of direction (i.e, colour, framing, movement, composition, etc.) dialed in. Justice League is an ugly movie. If it looked good, maybe we could start talking about its other, more complex, flaws, but it just doesn't. Let's just take a second to look at the big bad guy of the film, Steppenwolf:

The job done on the post-production of this figure, especially work with texture, is about as bodged and full of air as the job done in the script. The fact that superhero movies don't know how to construct bad guys seems to be intensifying. And there's little to be said about this.

The more I think of the multitude of faults in Justice League and how prevalent they are in superhero movies, DC films especially, the more tired I get. I then can't help but ask myself: Is there anything worth criticising in Justice League?

My answer seems to be no. Almost. There core fault of Justice League is that it seems that nobody is really trying to create anything of true worth. This is far from new, and it's not at all surprising that huge blockbusters have their minds on many other things beyond the creation of substantial - it seems so stupid to say this in such a context - art. Justice League is a mere symptom of a flue that cinema has always had. Movies are a great invention with so much potential; they can say and do so much. But, they also make a lot of money. Movies themselves don't just generate money, however. Ask this to the millions of failed movies of film history, and ask this to the thousands of independent films available to watch across the world right now that won't be seen by more than a few hundred people if they're lucky. Successful movies aren't just made for money; you can't just follow a formula someone wrote in a book and print money. Successful movies always have some substance or value in them. There have been thousands of huge, successful movies, however, and the bar for substance isn't too high. This is why there are an endless stream of movies that make money, but are pretty crap. Justice League is another one for the mountainous pile.

Justice League has value in it. If I didn't care so much about film, I probably wouldn't be able to see what makes it so terrible. I may sense that it's not the best movie I've ever seen, but that's about it (my younger brother seemed to like it, so that says something). This indicates that Justice League has value in it, and I think most of this is found in the fact that movies like Justice League simply don't come around every day. Hundreds of hours of hard work and a million times more dollars went into creating this. That's what draws me to big cinema; it has so much potential behind it, and you just hope that it can be fulfilled. Even if big cinema doesn't live up to its potential, the mere fact that you can feel its potential (the money, time and resources) pulsating from the screen provides the 'big cinema buzz', and such is not only true with Justice League, but the big cinema buzz is pretty much all it has going for it.

It is because big cinema is a value unto itself, albeit, not a very substantial value, that Justice League's script could have been shat out and put to screen as shamelessly as it is. Big cinema knows that some work needs to go into the heart of cinema, the art embedded into the writing, direction, editing, etc. However, it has a tendency to do the least work possible. Big cinema is smart - in a very stupid way. It simply has very little respect for itself.

Watching Justice League, you can feel this smart-stupid dichotomy emanating from every frame. In such, if you have read a few screenwriting books, you will be able to see all the lessons and tips that the writer's have collected in the general logic of the film. It is then obvious that the writers are very familiar with their story beats, their characters and all the ways in which 'screenwriting gurus' tell you you write a film. The writers do a competent job; they put all the sockets and screws in the correct places. But, they didn't add any finish to the story. Justice League simply appears to be the notes you would write about a film: what the character motivations are, what their interior dialogues are, what the theme of the film is, what the story's questions and conflicts are, etc. The writers are somewhat smart; they have a good grip of characters; they know what they're trying to say about good, evil and justice; and they know how structure functions. However, they're stupid for thinking that this is all that it takes to write a film.

To make anything of substance, you have to sacrifice to it your heart, personality, self, being, soul--something. This something, I do not know what the word for it could be, belongs to you and it is hard to get out and put it in something. However, great art is the product of someone, or a huge group of people, taking a part of them - a part that is worth sharing, that has been honed, polished and worked on - and successfully putting it into the mechanisms of trade. The trade of screenwriting, and filmmaking more generally, involves structure, conflict, theme, character design, etc. The art of filmmaking goes far beyond this; it's easy to recognise and talk about, but you can't spell it out without it already being there. Watch Justice League and you will see a brilliant example of a film whose trade workers did an ok job to create a barren land almost completely devoid of any real art or substance.

With little else to say about this film, I'll leave things with you. Have you seen Justice League? What are your thoughts on all we've covered today?

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