Review: Justice League (2017)

Whatever happened to all the heroes.

by Iñaki Oñate

Review of Justice League (2017), directed by Zack Snyder. USA.

Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead and while he rests beneath the earth, a
member of Darkseid’s Elite, the new god Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), has set out to conquer the planet and, eventually, the rest of the universe. The only way to stop the alien invasion is to make a coalition of superheroes. Batman (Ben Affleck) along with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) set out to assemble a League in order to confront and destroy the supervillain from outer space. Barry Allen a.k.a The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg a.k.a Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) join in and establish the first chapter in this Hollywood popcorn-fueled money-making superhero series christened Justice League.

Remember when you were a kid? Remember when you used to play with
your cousins during the family meetings and each of you would pick a
superhero? I was always Batman. As I played with the rest of kids a storyline so ridiculous and spectacular would unfold as we delved further into our imaginations and our super-egos. As I watched the film I was taken back to my childhood. The more the story progressed, the more spectacular and ridiculous it became. I even dared to think to myself: “The stories we made when we were kids and pretended to be these superheroes were much more convincing, not to mention dramatic”.

Justice League, to me, comes out as a clear demonstration of the catastrophic crisis of the heroic figure and of the Hollywood industry. It’s a case of decadence and the repetitive need for intertextual snobbery. In the film there’s an in-joke (twice!) about the movie Pet Cementery (1993) that serves me well. Somehow it feels as if these superheroes have been exhumed out of their cinematic graves, but they have come out as decomposed zombies, not remembering who they were. This is not just a subjective impression I’m afraid. The symptons are there: for instance, the musical score composed and arranged by the legendary Danny Elfman is a mashup of his own Batman (1989) score from the Burtonian universe and also includes musical phrases from the John Williams score from the Superman series of films by Richard Donner.

This clearly accounts for the fact that this film is so weak and silly that their producers and its director Zack Snyder kind of felt the need to strengthen it by connecting it to vintage superhero films series that actually made a deep cultural and commercial impact decades ago. Even if I should judge the film mainly as dettached action-based entertainment and weigh its qualities as such, I’d say it’s kind of tedious and not that thrilling.

The reason I’m putting an emphasis on the meta-textuality of the movie is
that I’m trying to understand the proliferation of these exploitative superhero movies. Which is what they are. This films responds to a trend
the same way biker films, cannibal films and splatter films did in their
own time. The only difference is that those kinds of films were made with very low-budget costs and through alternative means of production. In some cases they were considered second category products because of the bad storytelling or the lack of technical proficiency, but let’s not forget that it was in that context that people like Roger Corman gave the initial push to author such as Coppola, Scorsese, Demme and Cameron.

We know how these names would eventually revolutionize Hollywood and
establish new rules. But they all came from B-movies. A world filled with pretty bad films that from time to time would generate a gem, an outstanding freak of a film that would set the bar higher. Today the B-movies, the bad ones, are the blockbusters.

Justice League is no exception, it’s a pretty lame movie but with enough
cash behind it to hide it’s errors and the poor dramatic quality. I can’t
help but think of Michael Cimino‘s ghost. Standing at the gates of heaven
and looking down on us and laughing. He made a film once that cost him his career and put and end to an era. When the movie came out people crucified him with it but, decades later, it has proven to be a typical case of a genius and his masterpiece being misunderstood. The public execution of that film gave way into a second coming of the studio-driven films. Today we’re experiencing the decadence of that structure.

Today studios are making B-movies, bad B-movies, with astronomycal
budgets and top of the line A-listers. Don’t get me wrong, Gal Gadot is
probably one of the most beautiful, sensual leading ladies of today
and Ben Affleck makes for a good, slightly chubby Batman. Henry Cavill
has not only a pumped-up, fully-ripped physique but also… well maybe he
just has the looks. Never mind that, they’re charming and engaging and
they certainly help to give the film by gracing it with a good cast.

Maybe the problem isn’t the movie itself but the audience that buys the
tickets. Why do people need to see a washed-up version of superheroes that only fight and fly away and roar? OK, so we like to imagine ourselves as those on the screen, fair enough, just like when we were kids. But when I pretended to be Batman, it wasn’t about him being rich, it was about the darkness in his spirit, and whenever I think of Superman I think of a boy who lost his real father and mother and will always be an outsider in the planet that he loves beyond himself. Whatever happened to all the heroes? There was a time when they had darkness and light. Now it’s all surface and flashy tights.

IñaIñaki Oñate / Writer (Quito, Ecuador – 1988) Iñaki resides in Buenos Aires, where he studied film directing at Universidad del Cine. His short films have been part of the official selection at the New York, La Habana and Cannes festivals.  He’s currently developing his first feature film with his own independent production company, Undergofilms. He also works in music and art illustration.

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