Review – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

bvsBack in 1986, as Superman star Christopher Reeve was prepping work on the ill-fated Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, he approached the writer of Superman I and II, the late, great Tom Mankiewicz, for advice. Reeve pitched Mankiewicz on his idea for Superman to rid the world of nuclear weapons, a parallel to real-world social issues of the time. Mankiewicz replied with this advice:

Don’t ever get involved with something Superman could fix. He could disarm the world in fifteen minutes. He doesn’t have to go to the UN. If he feels that strongly about it, he could get rid of all the missiles. Superman could feed the world if he wanted to. He could establish agricultural fields in outer space. Don’t bring up things like that.

I would like to add an addendum to that. Don’t get Superman directly involved with real-world issues. Do not twist his mission of peace into a political struggle. Do not bog him down with the ugliness of reality, the superfluity of man’s government, or the problems of democracy, especially at the expense of his message of hope, of inspiring the best in humanity.

I write this, because my many concerns over the past few years with director Zack Snyder’s approach to Batman v Superman were finally realized last month. Not only has the filmmaker indulged in all the above missteps, he’s delivered the most vile, morally reprehensible depiction of Superman and DC Comics on film to date. The film is a brutal assault on our senses, on the spirituality and idealism of these characters, on our intelligence as moviegoers, and on the vitality of quality filmmaking in big-budget studio tentpoles. It’s not just a disappointment; it’s a resolute misstep for the future of the DC Universe on film.

The film centers on a middle-aged Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck getting first billing in a long history of big actors being billed before the guy playing Superman) who after witnessing Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod topple one of his company’s buildings at the end of Manbatman-v-superman of Steel two years ago, grows weary of such dangerous forces being left unchecked.  Rather than blaming the indulgences of the director in the previous film, we are to blame Superman for Metropolis’ destruction. Bruce’s fear is shared by a great deal of the public, who endlessly debate Superman’s heroics and the fact that he “answers to nobody.” Bruce returns to Gotham City plotting to neutralize, and kill if necessary, the Man of Steel, despite repeated claims by butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons) that “he is not our enemy.” “That son of a bitch brought the war to us!” replies Bruce. Blah blah post-9/11 themes.

Back in Metropolis, Clark Kent is living comfortably with fellow Daily Planet staffer Lois Lane (Amy Adams). I guess Lois knowing Clark’s secret identity from the get-go at the end of Man of Steel hasn’t yielded any interesting twists on their decades-long will they/won’t they relationship from the comics. Contrastingly, Superman has been entirely anti-social in public, saving the world yet not really interacting with it in any way beyond that for these two years. Meanwhile, wealthy philanthropist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) plots to acquire the recently-discovered Kryptonite to control Superman, by manipulating a senator (Holly Hunter) and indeed everyone else around him. Oh, and there’s also other DC characters like Wonder Woman (Gal Godot) lying in the wait for the eventual Justice League movie.

It’s an overflowing plot, but there are traces of intrigue. Chris Terrio of Argo fame uses the characters as players in a larger piece about terrorism, power, corruption, and security, the groundwork of an intriguing political thriller. It is critical of heroes like Batman and Superman, examining their failings and the real consequences of their actions. It’s also a huge deviation from the reverence Snyder and his Man of Steel team showed for the universe in that film. In part to blame is perhaps the director’s long-standing love of Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns; Snyder carts over that story’s older, world-wearier Batman, some talking-head-style political commentary, and perhaps intentionally or not, Miller’s own disdain for the Last Son of Krypton.

Indeed, Dawn of Justice continues the tradition of recent Superman media by placing the hero in no-win scenarios that go directly against the winning spirit the character has always been about. There is a scene wherein (avoiding spoilers) Superman enters a building and a bomb goes off, and Superman just watches somberly as everyone around him is vaporized. Uh, Zack? This is Superman. Not Doctor Manhattan.

That’s an issue I had with Man of Steel too, though to a lesser extent. The Superman mythology isn’t about “well, what if he were REAL? What if a humanoid that had all these powers came to earth?” I don’t care how the real world reacts to Superman’s presence. That’s not appealing to me. Superman is about fantasy, he’s an ESCAPE from the real world. He’s a guy flying around in a red cape who makes a difference in his community and inspires those Batman-V-Superman-Trailer-Fight-Heat-Visionaround him to pitch in themselves. Why is there debate about whether or not he’s doing the right thing? We KNOW he’s gonna do the right thing. He’s SUPERMAN. And yet here we are, watching Charlie Rose and Neil DeGrasse-Tyson (both make brief appearances) debate about a Superman that exists and whether or not his power should be checked. But this is a Superman that hasn’t even begun to build bridges with people publically, so he’s clearly failed in his mission. The Superman of the comics won people over with a smile and a wave as he flew above them. Pity Henry Cavill’s Superman isn’t allowed such joy, regulated to stand and mope idly about how people don’t understand him.

As for Ben Affleck’s Batman, he busies himself in these ridiculous, jarring dream sequences reflecting his fear of aliens from the sky. I had hope after one such sequence, wherein a bat-creature bursts from the tomb of Martha Wayne to attack him. It recalls the jump-scares of a horror movie, a cool new twist that might really transport audiences into Bruce’s tortured psyche. Yet the movie never goes anywhere with it, taking us into even more absurd (and immodestly-budgeted) nightmares, one of which is a full, unabashed teaser for the Justice League movie. Pity Affleck, who’s been suckered into this mess with the promise of redemption after the indignity of 2003’s Daredevil. The actor/filmmaker isn’t altogether unfitting in the cape and cowl, but is also far from the finest performer to fill it.

But I digress. After characters have waxed poetic enough, director Snyder yanks the film’s breaks and yells, “less talk, more EXPLOSIONS!” All political discussions or reflections on real-world politics (clumsy as they were) are gone, leaving all its ideas entirely unresolved, lost in Snyder’s blaring self-indulgence and Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer’s blatant, blaring, borderline parodical score. What of Scoot McNairy’s legless homeless guy? Why has Amy Adams’ role been all but reduced to damsel-in-distress? Shouldn’t Clark be getting in trouble every time Perry White (Lawrence Fishburne) passes by his empty desk? No answers here, we only have enough time left in the already bloated two-and-a-half hour runtime for the movie to live up to its namesake – the bout between Batman and Superman.

And…it sucks. Not only does Snyder fail to build up their conflict in any meaningful way, their fisticuffs aren’t satisfying, nor are they really even warranted in the context of the film. It’s seriously the weakest explanation for pitting these two characters against each other. And it was at this point in the movie, after suddenly becoming aware of the intense grimace on my face, I wondered, “aren’t I supposed to be having fun?”

Apparently not. There’s actually a really ugly undercurrent to Dawn of Justice, boasting such brutality, such bloodlust, such hyper-machismo bullshit that makes for the most uncomfortable, punishing experience. That’s not just during the title fight too, that’s the whole movie. Snyder and his cinematographer Larry Fong absolutely do not know when to stop with the hypermasculinity, when enough is enough, to the point where one starts to feel ashamed at being a man at all. It’s more than enough to build a case accusing Snyder, who also shoots the death of Bruce’s parents with all the slow motion and heavy breathing of a sex scene, of using DC Comics characters to work through his own crippling manhood issues.

The studio is even prepping an R-rated cut of this movie for home video release. That’s right, your favorite childhood comic book characters have been perverted into a movie that, without certain cuts, was deemed too violent and too intense by anyone under 17 years old. Wow.batman-v-superman-the-complete-guide-to-frank-miller-dark-knight

So inevitably, we know Batman and Superman are to resolve their differences at some point. And after all that thirst for blood, all that shoddy build-up, their altercation is capped off in the most mind-bogglingly stupid, overwhelmingly left-field conclusion, that literally any idea you, the audience, could come up with as to why these characters should stop fighting, will better qualify you to write this movie than the filmmakers being paid hundreds of thousands to do so.

And then they’re friends, as if nothing had happened, teaming up to destroy an even more laughably stupid threat. And if you thought this film would be answering for Man of Steel’s destructive climax, you’d be wrong, wrong, wrong. Batman v Superman doubles down on the needlessly high body count. In fact, in one scene Batman has the big baddie in a totally isolated area, but rather than returning to the city to bring the necessary tools to kill the baddie to him, he actually draws him BACK INTO THE POPULATED CITY to get HIM to the tools. Remember how Christopher Nolan’s Batman had that one rule about killing people? Apparently Zack Snyder doesn’t share that sentiment.

So we finally realize, Batman v Superman is a movie about uncomfortable extremes. Snyder has always been an overwrought mess of a filmmaker, favoring style over substance, but the responsibility of pitting together two beloved DC characters has done nothing to curb his sadist, ear-rapingly obnoxious hard-on for destruction. What the hell? Doesn’t this go against everything DC Comics characters have stood for the past 70 years? You bet. Both Batman and Superman are acting totally out of character here. Batman’s a crazy, single-minded bruiser who brands criminals and wants nothing short of Superman’s death, while Superman is totally willing to bend his own moral code if his family is threatened. In the comics, the two have had their quarrels, occasionally even violent ones, but they have never, ever been pushed to the point of foaming at the mouth, hungering for each other’s head on a spike like in this movie. Pity the children who have to witness such overt brutality by the hands of characters who should, ideally, be serving as their role models.

And again, pretty much all the problems posed by the movie would’ve been solved immediately had Superman simply TALKED OPENLY. A simple, “Bruce, we’re being played!” would’ve stopped the title fight altogether. And every single other problem of the movie could’ve been completely avoided had Superman simply stood up in front of the public after Man of Steel and been like, “Hey guys, my name’s Superman, I’m just here to help out with the problems you can’t solve yourselves and really just help everyone to do better. Sorry about that Zod character, he’s a bad guy on my home planet, and I was just trying to stop him. Next time we face a threat like this, I’ll do it in space or something so there’s not as many casualties. Again sorry, still new to the whole superhero thing. Anyway, up up and away and all that!” *woosh*

Boom. /conflict.

Even the other DC characters teased in this movie lack subtlety; they basically appear in mini-trailers for their upcoming solo movies. It’s a sad day when I’m longing for the more natural, thoughtful teases of Green Lantern.

I haven’t even mentioned Jesse Eisenberg, who gives the most abysmally misguided performance as Lex Luthor. Eisenberg, known for his mousy-yet-charming teenage characters in Adventureland and _1436830197Zombieland, is not only insanely miscast as the powerful billionaire, he’s clearly never even glimpsed a Superman comic long enough to know who this character is supposed to be. So he instead plays Luthor the only way he knows how – by going over-the-top awkward, hammy, and creepy, his hands shaking as he speaks about power at a charity event, stumbling over the girth of his words. There’s even a point at the end where he actually hums the notes of the musical score. It’s just uncomfortable, a lot like…well, Zack Snyder’s id – angry, unrestrained, bratty, unlikable, and sadistic.

And that’s pretty much Batman v Superman too, the Donald Trump of superhero movies – loud, blunt, ugly, stupid, fear-mongering, extremist, tasteless, and bearing several cringe-worthy teases of what’s to come. Zack Snyder was always the wrong architect for the DC Universe on film, merely a loud, annoying kid bashing his action figures together. I don’t think Tom Mankiewicz could’ve envisioned anything like it, but if he could see Dawn of Justice now, there is no doubt he’d be shaking his head, collecting his valuables, and leaving the theater. I’d be right behind him.

3.5/10

 

QUOTE: Rossen, Jake; Millar, Mark (2008-02-01). Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon (Cappella Books) (p. 164). Chicago Review Press. Kindle Edition.

IMAGES: cinemablend.com, mirror.co.uk, screenrant.com, cdn.idigitaltimes.com, i.ytimg.com

Advertisements

Small Rifts, Max-imum Wonder: San Diego Comic-Con 2014 (Day Three)

comic-con_logoHey guys, sorry I’m late with this post. Balancing passion with paid work is never an easy task…very much appreciate the patience!

 

WB Pictures

Getting the surprises out of the way first, Zack Snyder entered to premiere a quick teaser for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and bring out the three primary cast members, Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Gal Gadot as Supes, Bats, and Wonder Woman respectively. The footage has already leaked online, featuring a Batman wearing heavy Dark Knight Returns-style armor and Superman flying above, eyes flashing red with heat vision. The look of Wonder Woman was also revealed, pictured left.

The WW costume is about what most of us were picturing, I suppose. Not much left to say other than I’m just as excited as I was before this and very much looking forward to the team-up.

Jupiter Ascending was next, a film which I’m interested in, yet weary over after the Wachowskis’ pretentious, overindulgent Cloud Atlas. Following that film came Mad Max: Fury Road, finally debuting footage after a nearly two-year shooting block and an even longer development period. Director George Miller took the stage for his first Con, describing the film as an, “imaginary friend. Popped into [my] head and wouldn’t leave.” Miller went on to say the film would largely be one big chase sequence with minimal dialogue, and gave him, “a chance to return to simple allegory of first film.” Footage screened at the Con can be viewed below:

That’s a Mad Max movie alright, though I’ve never been particularly passionate about the franchise myself. The first film is my least favorite of the bunch; I find it dark and ugly, almost Grindhouse-esque. I much prefer the  down-to-earth, human, story-driven nature of Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome. Give me story over stunts any day.

Still, check out some fantastic storyboards for the film at BleedingCool, which I’m sure will be published as a comic book or something during the film’s release next year.

I unfortunately had to skimp on The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies panel, moderated by Stephen Colbert. It’s a film I have no doubt will be as epic and emotional a conclusion as director Peter Jackson’s five other Middle-Earth ventures.

 

Legendary Pictures

Ended up missing this panel as well. Still, it was exciting to hear of Chris Hemsworth and director Michael Mann, making his first Con appearance, showcasing Black Hat, previously known as the Untitled Cyber Thriller, which they’ve been working on for a few years now. Guillermo Del Toro was also on call to promote Crimson Peak, the director’s latest R-rated horror venture which sounds for more promising than Pacific Rim. For Warcraft, director Duncan Jones appeared to promote the film, which is reportedly an origin story detailing the origins of battling the Orcs. Also announced was a King Kong spinoff of sorts titled Skull Island. Interesting stuff all around.

 

A Dame to Kill For

While I followed this panel, I don’t really have much to say on the film itself just yet. The film comes out in a month, I’m eagerly awaiting it, however (minor spoilers)…we STILL don’t know if Clive Owen will make a cameo in the third act of the title storyline as Dwight post-face operation. You’d think this would be the sort of thing they’d reveal at Comic-Con, despite the spoiler potential. I want to know, dammit!

 

Marvel Studios

Ant-Man-Comic-Con-2014-Exclusive-Poster

Ironically enough, looming large over Marvel’s festivities this year was the Edgar Wright Ant-Man debacle, yet fans didn’t seem to care much as Marvel played the crowd like a fiddle, showing footage from Phases 1 and 2 to kick off their panel. They certainly do like tooting their own horn, even undeservedly, yet perhaps sadder is the fact that people still eat up even the company’s weakest efforts.

Perhaps wanting to get it out of the way first (and unsurprisingly fielding no fan questions), the cast and new director of Ant-Man took the stage first, revealing as rumored that Evangeline Lily would be playing Hank Pym’s daughter Hope Van Dyne in the film. Attempting to better tie director Peyton Reed to the project, Feige eagerly showcased a hand-drawn promo from an amateur rock band Reed played in in the late 80s. The promo was a riff on the cover of Avengers #1 with band members standing in for the heroes; Reed stood in for Ant-Man, in what is I guess a pretty interesting coincidence. Still, it’s a pretty fleeting way of trying to brush past Edgar Wright’s huge commitment to the project in favor of Reed’s.

More promising was Rudd’s physique, clearly just looking at his neck shows he’s been hitting the gym hard for the role of Scott Lang. And Michael Douglas seemed earnestly enjoying his tenure there, speaking of Tales to Astonish and Hank Pym’s background. Marvel also screened some early test footage featuring of Lang running along a table and leaping onto a flying ant.

I shared my thoughts on the new direction of the production a month or so ago, but since then a lot of the anger seems to have cooled based on producer Kevin Feige’s comments that the production really did come down to creative differences. Feige also poked fun at the notion of the “big, bad studio,” and maintained the film in its current state was the, “best version of Ant-Man.” According to who? The studio? More importantly, who’s to say this isn’t complete PR bullshit, the studio’s “official” account of the story, put out there in order to dodge such questions at Comic-Con? If the split between Wright and Marvel was really as amicable as Feige paints it to be, then why did Wright tweet the ultra-somber photo of Buster Keaton, famously cheated by MGM, and title it “selfie?”

There is another side to this story – Wright’s. Feige has said nothing to deconfirm what the trades initially reported, that the studio had gone over Wright’s head and commissioned inferior rewrites of the script. Whether or not Wright “wasn’t used to the collaboration,” is irrelevant, more Feige vindicating of himself and the studio than a subjective recount of the dispute. Regardless, I’m still shaking my head at Marvel, Feige, and all involved who led to Wright divorcing himself from his own work.

There was a bit more fun to be had at the Age of Ultron panel, which included all major players sans Joss Whedon, who’d been undergoing knee surgery. Also introduced was Josh Brolin as Thanos, the sole surprise of the evening after screening some early footage of the film.

 

WB TV

Though I’ve already shared by thoughts on both Flash and Constantine here, the WB TV panel, moderated by Arrow’s Stephen Amell, shared some new details about the four new and current DC shows. For one, an extended trailer revealed that Ra’s Al Ghul will, predictably, be the primary third season villain on Arrow. Fine by me – while Arrow is a show highly derivative of Nolan’s Batman, frequently contains silly plot twists (Sarah’s bisexual?! MY GOD!!), and is generally entirely manufactured drama, at it’s core it’s a solid, entertaining hero’s journey.

I haven’t said a lot about Gotham because there really isn’t much to talk about there. It looks decent, I’m looking forward to seeing where they take the story, but there’s only so many places you can take a series like this without drawing it out and/or deviating heavily from the source material like Smallville did. I’m really just hoping for cameos from past Bat-family like Adam West or Chris O’Donnell.

Check back soon for my final wrap-up of the ceremonies!

Script Review: Justice League Mortal

justice-league-logo1

Justice League Mortal is one of the more curious entries in the storied history of DC Comics adaptations that never were. Back in 2007, out of seemingly nowhere, Warner had greenlit a script written by Mr. and Mrs. Smith writers Michele and Kieran Mulroney for a live-action movie uniting all of DC’s premiere Leaguers – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman. Yet it would reportedly have no connection to Batman Begins, nor Superman Returns, and neither Christian Bale nor Brandon Routh would be joining the proceedings. In their place was a cast of young then-unknowns, people that looked more fitting for a CW drama about high school and dating and locker-side talks about whether or not I’m ready to lose my virginity than the premiere superhero team-up epic for 50 years and counting. Mad Max trilogy helmer George Miller was signed to direct, and production set to begin in Australia. A start date was set, WETA Digital was standing by to do the effects, and the actors had all familiarized themselves with their location and costumes. All that was left was to start shooting.

Then it all went away.

Just as abruptly as it had come, a myriad of complications – the 2007-08 Writer’s Strike, Warner’s Australian tax rebates expiring, a ballooning budget, and overwhelmingly negative reaction from fans – put the project on indefinite hold. Years later, the disenfranchised players would express their disappointment, among them Jay Baruchel, better known as the awkward kid from Knocked Up. Baruchel was set to play the villainous Maxwell Lord, which if you know anything about the character from the comics, illustrates exactly how insanely ill-fitting the casting was. “It would’ve been the coolest thing ever,” enthused Baruchel. “It would have been the neatest vision of Batman and the coolest vision of Superman you’ve ever seen. It would have been dark and fairly brutal and quite gory and just fucking epic.” More recently, on the press circuits for G.I. Joe: Retaliation, would-be Superman actor DJ Contra agreed, “It was a damn shame that we didn’t get to finish that. I promise you that it would have been amazing. It would have been incredible.”

Last year I wrote a scathing blog post about my disgust over the leaked details of the project, which was based on the Tower of Babel arc (see my Justice League Doom review for further details). After reading the script itself (which has since leaked online), I can say without fear of contradiction that it is easily the worst possible treatment I’ve ever seen these characters receive in any medium. There’s just one problem – months after I read the draft, I came across another incomplete draft of the screenplay which I can confirm as legitimate, and its story structure is far different and far removed from the abysmal, seeming fan-fiction senselessness of the first draft. Despite everything contained in this first draft matching up with everything we’ve learned about the production, could this draft be a fake? If it is, I would be very surprised that it took me as long as it did to find it and read it, but if it isn’t, I weep for the state of screenwriting in Hollywood today.

Either way, Mortal’s production hinged on the idea of rushing out a movie based on six different characters without actually bothering to properly introduce them first. Thankfully it seems WB have realized their mistake and are now taking time to introduce and build a cohesive universe for their characters. As for this forgotten relic of yesteryear, I took a long, beat-for-painful-beat look at this first, hopefully phony draft, which makes the likes of Batman & Robin look like The Dark Knight.

***

We open with the “S” on Superman’s chest, described as “black on black.” How that would even be visible is anyone’s guess. We see the heroes, Superman, the Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern (no Batman), laying a fellow member of the Justice League to rest. Wonder Woman stands at the podium and delivers a eulogy. Cut to two days earlier, where Barry Allen and his girlfriend Iris are dining at a superhero-themed burger stand called Planet Krypton, Barry’s favorite. Their grumpy waiter approaches dressed like the Flash, introduces himself as such, and asks to take their orders. After taking Barry’s order, Barry quips, “And Flash…make it quick, will you?” following up with a burst of laughter. Hilarious.

Iris tells Barry her nephew Wally is coming in tonight, but Barry’s attention is glued to a nearby TV broadcasting news footage of Wonder Woman, whom he apparently has a thing for, and even says as much in front of Iris, because fuck being a good boyfriend. We are then violently yanked into space to glimpse Brother Eye, a satellite set up by Batman to spy on the other Leaguers and study their weaknesses. The script tells us at least three times during this sequence that Batman is acting paranoid. Perhaps if we were given some kind of, I don’t know, characterization, I might care one way or the other about the fact that Batman is acting paranoid. This is where the original Tower of Babel got into a fascinating freedom vs. security debate, but without any kind of character background, we can’t lend Batman any sympathy or understanding for his actions, because all we know is that he’s removed from humanity and, well…paranoid.

Paranoid

And not the good kind.

Batman changes out of his suit and heads upstairs to his “surprise” birthday party, which apparently he does a lot because the same damn thing happens in Batman Begins. Suddenly, without his knowledge Brother Eye automatically targets Denver policeman John Jones, alias Martian Manhunter, in a scene awkwardly intercut with the birthday party, where rich guy Maxwell Lord is making a big speech about how great it is to be rich. We cut back to John investigating when he finds some kind of murky black goo in a barrel, which attacks and sets him on fire. He reverts back to his Martian form, speeds away in his car, and promptly runs it into a wall. Okay.

Back at Planet Krypton, Iris is talking to Barry about the other members of the Justice League she’d like to fuck. The script reads, “Warm smiles between them, like you only see with two people who’ve been in love a long time.” Dear god, this exposition is terrible. Barry soon has to run to stop a fire nearby as the Flash; upon arriving at the scene, he creates a tornado with his arms to blow it out, but accidentally sucks another firefighter into the blaze. Nice going, fuckwad. Wonder Woman then enters to save the firefighter, leaving Flash completely in awe of her. “THE FLASH sticks out his hand like an idiot.” Well at least these writers are somewhat self-aware.

We see Martian Manhunter approaching from nearby, completely blackened by the fire. Flash, being the idiot he is, says, “Isn’t he supposed to be green?” before Manhunter catches aflame again. Acute observation, Flash. You’re exactly who I want to help me when I’m burning alive right in front of you. Speaking of terrible characterization, what exactly is Wonder Woman’s purpose here anyway? We’re given absolutely no idea of who she is, where she came from, what she’s fighting for, or any other real details about her other than she’s hot, wears a costume, and helps people sometimes. It’s as if the writers are just dangling action figures in our faces and expecting us to think nothing more than, “wow, Wonder Woman! COOL!”

Back at the birthday party, Bruce is now the one standing slack-jawed at the entrance of Talia Al Ghul, while Maxwell provides the exposition that Batman fought and won against “the Demon Head,” which I’m assuming is a tactless reference to the events of Begins. There’s also a brief “one year ago” flashback which shows Talia and Bats making out, before Bats dumps her altogether. Oh, and Maxwell’s nose starts bleeding, because apparently even the characters in this script can’t handle its complete disregard for logic. Where did Talia come from? How does she already have a history with Batman? Did she just randomly show up after Ra’s died and decided she wanted to fuck the man who let her father die? THIS SCRIPT IS HORRIBLE AT EXPLAINING THINGS.

We again cut back to Martian Manhunter and his Earth Band, where he explains that fire is his one great weakness. This is important, because it’s literally the only semblance of character depth we’re going to get from him. The writers have clearly done their homework, looking through Manhunter’s extensive character history on Wikipedia and scribbling down, “Manhunter, fire=bad.” Superman then enters and ponders with Diana over who could’ve done this. Flash wonders if there isn’t something going on between them, remembers the girlfriend he’s currently neglecting, and makes his exit.

Cut to Maxwell Lord in what I’m presuming to be his secret underground lair, where he’s…um…looking at a bunch of giant monitors with dead little boys on them. Feel free to insert your own necro/pedophilic jokes here. Back at their hours, Barry decides to raid Iris’ fridge and makes a mess by tearing the door off the fridge and emptying it. I’m not exactly sure how this character is supposed to be likable in any way. Iris tells him to go downstairs and see Wally, who’s just arrived. Barry does and sees a ping pong ball being hit back and forth across the table with no actual players visible. Barry quickly reaches out and grabs an arm, and we see it’s actually a 17-year-old Wally West. “Embarrassing,” Wally says, “You caught me playing with myself.” Eeww, when has a 17-year-old ever talked like that, much less to his Uncle? You know what, don’t answer that.

We then randomly cut to Superman flying and crashing into the Aegean Sea with the intent of recruiting Aquaman, before returning back to Barry and Wally’s conversation. What is it with these random cuts back and forth between unrelated scenes? Are the writers not satisfied with fucking up the script, they have to fuck things up for the editors as well? Suspecting nanotechnology to be the cause of Manhunter’s accident, Barry asks Wally to do some research into nanotechnology, because Wally is portrayed as one of those clichéd “good with computers” characters. Seriously, shouldn’t everyone under the age of 50 know their way around the fucking internet by now? For that matter, what is Barry Allen, a fucking police detective, doing leaving a top-secret attempted-murder investigation in the hands of a 17-year-old?

But Barry isn’t the only detective-turned-idiot out there trying to solve the mystery – back in the Batcave, Batman is hypothesizing that maybe, just maybe, someone might’ve hacked his Brother Eye system and used the satellite to compromise Manhunter. Cut to Maxwell and Talia, watching Batman ponder on a giant monitor and making evil comments while Talia hints that she’s not quite over the Caped Crusader. I’m wondering exactly where the tension is in all this, because in Tower of Babel we had no idea who or what was attacking the heroes, even hinting that it could’ve been Batman himself. In this script, we’re already told Maxwell and Talia hacked Batman’s system and are now systematically taking down the League. So why am I supposed to care about this story again?

But who cares about any of that deep stuff when we can have Maxwell initiate “phase one” and get an entirely pointless scene of Batman kicking the shit out of a motorcycle gang? “Damn, this was a brand new cape…” says Batman when the motorcycle gang shoots through his cape. I think I’m finally starting to realize what this script actually is. No character, thin veil of a plot, powers/skills used solely as effects sequences, random things happening out of nowhere with no explanation, and all the thoughtful craft of a twelve-year-old’s shameful fan fiction…this is Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters. This is literally Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters.

justice_league_of_autobots_by_femochko_ferry-d2zgs16

deviantart.net

I’ve made a terrible mistake.

So Superman meets up with Aquaman, who bitches about Earth-dwellers treating his realms like a “toilet.” For some reason Aquaman has a hand made entirely out of water, which I’m not sure would really prove useful to him seeing as how he’s surrounded by water. Aquaman agrees to leave his kingdom and help, but only after confirming Wonder Woman is present. “For her…” he nods. Okay, so everyone’s just gonna be in love with Wonder Woman for no reason then? I mean, aside from the obvious?

Meanwhile, Batman is chasing one of the motorcycle gang members into a theater when he’s suddenly attacked by an OMAC, basically a giant blue robot with a single center eye (pictured below). The OMAC, operated remotely by Maxwell, tears off Batman’s mask and overpowers him. When the OMAC is about to kill him, Talia begs Maxwell to stop, so he…does. Wait, what? Apparently Maxwell was just proving how easy it was to take Batman down and reveal his identity, after which he leaves him completely alive as the OMAC departs. It’s also worth mentioning that the big public revelation that Bruce Wayne is Batman has absolutely zero bearing on the rest of the story. Words fail me.

In another corner of Idiot Land, Aquaman is examining Manhunter while Flash babbles like a five-year-old. “You can call me the Scarlett Speedster. Some do,” to which Aquaman sighs at. I think the person who wrote this script has been permanently cut off from humanity or something, because WHO FUCKING TALKS LIKE THIS. Back at the Batcave, Batman is still trying to figure out how he and the other Leaguers were attacked. He tries searching his system for “OMAC.” The system won’t let him. Batman tries to reset the system. “Access denied.” Batman wonders what’s going on. “There is no fault in the system, creator. No fault in the system.” IT’S BEEN HACKED. THE SYSTEM HAS BEEN HACKED. HOW DOES FUCKING BATMAN NOT UNDERSTAND WHEN HIS GODDAMN COMPUTER GETS HACKED?!

Finally, somebody with a brainstem comes onto the system and transmits the message, “you don’t control it anymore.” You’d think that Batman would have some kind of backup self-destruct to his entire system, but judging by the above scene, I’m guessing this Batman isn’t exactly the kind of forward-thinking guy we once thought.

Cut to Green Lantern John Stewart, in his civilian identity toiling away at a small model of…er…Hal Jordan Memorial Park. So…Hal’s dead? When did this happen? Is it a throwaway reference? A hint at a past we’ve never seen and never will? Stewart uses his ring to create two green little kids swinging on the model swingset, and smiles. O-kay…

Back with the others, Flash childishly gushes over Aquaman’s water hand when a robot mosquito bites Aquaman just as he’s about to return to water. Cut back to Stewart, who bites his pencil and is overcome with the black stuff from before. I’m trying to imagine an actual spy satellite’s detailed files on the Justice League making a note of, “Green Lantern John Stewart – bites his pencils a lot. Possible weakness.” Meanwhile, Aquaman’s eyes grow big at the sight of water and he tosses away his water hand in fear – the nanobots have made him afraid of water. Flash comments helpfully, “Can’t be good for a fish…” and turns to the severed water hand and says, “Now that’s creepy.” The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Flash isn’t being written like a ten-year-old as many would suspect. He’s being written like how a terrible middle-aged writer would write a ten-year-old. Congratulations writers, you’ve failed on two different levels.

At the Batcave, Batman asks Alfred to bring him the backup computers as he watches all his superhero friends suffer. Great idea, don’t go outside and help them or anything. It’s not like you’re partly the cause of all this. Wait, is Batman even friends with the League in this script? Has he even met them before? Can they even be considered the JLA at all yet? Why does Batman leave Alfred to carry those heavy computers downstairs by himself? I just don’t know what to believe anymore.

The JLA, or whatever they are, each start running through their respective rogues galleries – Scarecrow, Parasite, Mr. Freeze, insert your favorites here –  for an entire page to figure out who might be responsible. Aquaman asks about “The Batman.” Flash says Batman won’t be a target because he’s a hero, but for some reason no one else in the League seems to think so. Back to Batman in the Batcave, where Batman makes the incredible deduction that the satellite is attacking their strengths. Uh, don’t you mean preying on their weaknesses? Batman finally resolves to help…by continuing to sit behind his compromised system and try to fix things. Okay, maybe the rest of the League has a point.

Superman decides to take them all to the Fortress of Solitude where they’ll be safe. Flash bubbles, “Oh, man…Fortress of freakin’ Solitude! I gotta tell Iris…” It’s like if Shia LeBouf, Jake Lloyd, Jar Jar Binks, and the kids from Jurassic Park all fused their worst qualities into the body of a beloved DC comics character.

barry-firstapp

If you don’t want to physically punch this guy, then you’re probably reading something else.

But wait, it gets better….Flash pays a quick visit Wally (yeah good idea to head home to your loved ones when there’s a spy satellite tracking and preparing to compromise you), who’s researching at super-speed, before putting on his own homemade Flash costume. Barry says he doesn’t want Wally in the suit, I guess because it’s dangerous or something. Did this script even bother to explain why Wally has the same powers as Barry? Barry stops off in Iris’ bed and explains the situation to her, then they have sex. Or at least I think it’s sex. Flash starts to vibrate, and the script reads, “HE PASSES THROUGH IRIS’ BODY. She GASPS…feeling him inside her, all of her, inside her very molecules.”

Eeww. No one told me I’d be reading Fifty Shades of Scarlett.

After…whatever that was…we see the heroes get to the Fortress of Solitude, an ice cave which for some reason contains an exact replica of the Kent family farmhouse. “Wow. He’s…homesick,” says Flash. Which would make sense, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s FUCKING SUPERMAN. If he was truly “homesick,” he could literally just fly back home to Smallville, instead of building a creepy replica of his old farm to occupy all by himself. But hey, apparently things don’t have to make sense anymore.

Meanwhile, Batman’s researching the OMAC project and ponders its connection to the Brother Eye satellite. Hmm, yes, could it be that the someone who compromised him might be the very same someone who’s trying to compromise the other League members? How curious. The satellite starts targeting another hero, so Bats tells Alfred to “keep digging” and speeds away in the Batplane, presumably to finally help out the people being attacked. Hey guys, here’s a thought: start searching for the satellite, blow it out of the sky, then go beat the shit out of Maxwell Lord. Cool?

Oh, and I forgot to mention that Manhunter has been in some sort of “water cocoon” since his fire accident at the beginning, to keep him from catching aflame again. Because that’s what fans want to see…their favorite DC superheroes completely incapacitated the entire movie. Flash continues babbling about how “homey” the Fortress is and asking if there’s anything to eat, then gets the message that nobody’s really interested in his stupid bullshit. “No, keep talking, it helps, ” says a blinded Green Lantern. Helps what, speed up your death? Flash asks him about his ring, and Green Lantern talks about being chosen and using willpower and all that stuff that isn’t actually insightful into his character at all. “FLASH’s energy is infectious,” the script reads. Yes, just like herpes. Herpes-Flash, everybody.

Thankfully, Maxwell begins targeting Flash as Batman enters and fills everyone in, confessing the satellite is his system and his responsibility. The heroes realize that someone else is controlling his system. Then there’s this gem of an exchange between Superman and Batman:

“Who?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who is it? Who?!

“I don’t know!”

Hmm, do you think he knows who, Supes? Better ask him again. Then this:

“How do we turn it off?”

“I don’t know. I’ve tried.”

“Where is this thing?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tell us!”

“I don’t know!”

It’s a good thing this script is teaching me so much about how actual people communicate. Why, just the other day I decided to try putting its wisdom into practice:

“Hey honey, do we have any more Apple Jacks?”

“I don’t know. Look in the cabinet, dear.”

“Where are they? Where?!

“I don’t know! Check the cabinet!”

“Okay, which cabinet?”

“I don’t know, maybe the lower one?”

“TELL ME!!”

“I DON’T KNOW!!”

*slaps divorce papers on the table and leaves*

So Batman suggests it’d be safer if they all split up. Flash takes a call from Iris on his cell phone, and…um…nanobots enter his ear through the phone receiver. Because that’s how phones fucking work. The bots inside him make him vibrate so hard, he begins vibrating through the Earth altogether, bouncing back and forth between the planet’s poles. Wonder Woman catches him with her lasso, and they begin one of the most thrilling sequences ever conceived for a comic book movie…a surgical procedure! JUSTICE LEAGUE! WORLD’S FINEST HEROES! ACTION! ADVENTURE! E.R. DRAMA!

So Green Lantern, still blinded, uses his ring to envision surgical instruments, which are guided into Flash’s brain via Manhunter’s telepathy. Flash spouts cliches like, “This is gonna leave a mark!” and leave me praying that Lantern just outright lobotomizes him. It’s also worth mentioning that this is all taking place in the goddamn Kent family kitchen inside the house contained within the Fortress, which makes this whole thing seem even less dignified. The procedure works, Flash briefly talks like a retarded Looney Toons character while under Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth, and sadly ends up totally unharmed.

The heroes then go their separate ways – Superman flies into space to find and destroy the satellite he’s obsessed with finding out about, while the rest of the League sans Batman work on removing the rest of the nanobots inside them. In his Batplane, Batman contacts Alfred and asks him to try to access the Brother Eye system. Why it would somehow work now when it hasn’t this entire time is anyone’s guess, but…oh, no wait, it totally fucking works. Cool. Batman asks the system for the data it has on him, including weaknesses. “Just one word, sir…” says Alfred. Are you ready for this? Batman’s weakness is…

LOVE.

Fucking gag me.

Batman flashes back to all the women he’s bonked, including Silver St. Cloud, because anyone who hasn’t read a Batman comic totally knows who that fucking is. Batman realizes Talia is his weakness, flashing back to their fuck-session, which apparently he still had his suit on for. Kinky. The two share some rather uncomfortable bite-filled kisses, which is how Talia transferred the nanobots into Batman’s body and in turn his computer system. Back with the other idiots, the nanobots are surgically extracted from Manhunter and Aquaman, leaving only Green Lantern. How do they get the nanobots out of him? Why, only the most obvious, sensible way, by having him swallow Aquaman’s water hand and letting the water flush the nanobots out through his ears. I would say that I wish I were making this all up, but I would never wish to be that stupid.

Meanwhile, Flash, energy depleted from the surgery, takes Wonder Woman to Krypton Burger so he can load up on carbs and refuel his strength. He offers her food, but she refuses, to which he replies, “Guess that’s why you fit so nicely in that costume…” Wonder Woman says she doesn’t understand the need for males to objectify women. Then Wally West enters and does nothing but stare at her, effectively objectifying her. Wow. Good thing Wonder Woman hasn’t been an inspiration to millions of women for nearly 70 years, or a continuing symbol of female empowerment or anything. Nope. She’s a lasso and a pair of tits. That Michael Bay Transformers comparison is looking more and more on the money.

Megan-Fox-Transformers-Photos-HD-Wallpaper

Objectification of women, check!

Batman finds Talia and sees she’s operating Brother Eye. He suspects she isn’t working alone. Whatever gave you that idea, Batman? Back at Krypton Burger, Wally says he discovered the OMAC project was designed to raise infants to work as one with these special machine suits, but they all died in the process. So go ahead and add child slaughter to the list of abominable things this script purports as storytelling. Then we reveal what we knew all along. The guy behind everything is…gasp, MAXWELL LORD! HE’S AN OMAC! You mean to tell me the villain of the script is also…the villain of the script?! Shock and awe! So Maxwell turns all the people from Bruce Wayne’s party at the beginning into OMACs. No please, not the faceless socialites neither Bruce nor we the audience care anything for! So this new OMAC army starts beating the shit out of Batman, but Talia somehow convinces Lord to stop…again. Lord monologues about how evil he is and how the League are gods, but “imperfect gods.” Riveting. Back with the League, Manhunter detects Batman is in distress and they all fly off to help him.

The last act of the script is pretty much just the shit hitting the fan. OMACs begin attacking, and the heroes all burst into Lord’s lair and try to fight them off. Lois Lane is apparently killed off-screen, and Lord briefly takes control of Superman’s mind to make him think that Wonder Woman was responsible. I’d complain, but at this point I’m so completely indifferent, I just want to power through the rest of this fuck-up with my sanity intact. So Wondie and Supes fight for a while, and at one point they fight on the moon. The only way I could ever possibly be emotionally invested in this entirely insipid conflict is if I had a controller in front of me.

supermanINJ

The only Injustice is this script.

So then Aquaman fights Superman, and then Green Lantern creates a green copy of Superman to fight Superman. Wonder Woman lassos Lord and asks him how to turn it all off. Lord says, “You want to know the truth? The truth is you weren’t there. None of you. Not one of you was there. They were children! And they were dying! And you weren’t there!” Well yeah, no shit they weren’t there, how were they supposed to know the whole OMAC thing was going on? Really, given how young the actors for this piece of shit were going to be, would any of them have even been born at the time these kids were dying?

Lord reveals the only way to stop everything is to kill him, but he knows they won’t do it because they all took an oath not to kill or something. Proving…what exactly? By killing Lord and shutting down all the OMACs, you’re saving millions of civilian lives. If that’s the only way, then there’s really no ethical debate here in killing him. Manhunter tries morphing into Lara-El to calm Superman down, but it doesn’t work. Wonder Woman refuses to kill Lord, and Lord continues asking “Where were you?” to which Batman replies, “Right here,” and snaps his neck. You’d think the script would take a page from when Wonder Woman herself did the same thing to Lord in Infinite Crisis, but no, shock value over logic. Zero fucks given.

Superman lands, cured, and says Batman killing Lord makes him no better than him. Uh, no…idiotic execution aside, just because Batman made the tough call to kill one and save millions, including you, does not automatically make him as bad as a mass murderer. I can see people drawing comparisons between this and the ending of Man of Steel, but let’s be honest, that film properly built up to that climax. Mortal uses it as a gimmick.

So somehow Talia and Lord and…an OMAC, I guess…all transform into an amalgamation of each other. Things transforming, check! Then the whole world’s population turns into OMACs because Lord put nanobots in the food or something. I guess this whole thing is supposed to be from the OMAC Project storyline tying into Infinite Crisis, but I have to imagine the explanation they came up with for people turning into OMACs was better than, “it’s in the food!”

Omac1

Sense. This script makes none.

So being a machine is too much for Talia and she promptly dies in Batman’s arms. Wally West shows up in his makeshift Flash costume to help, but Barry protests again, because the script desperately wants him to be this great father figure without actually putting forth the effort to write him that way. But Barry quickly starts turning into an OMAC himself because of all the Krypton Burgers he ate from before. Which makes the whole “eliminate the heroes via their weaknesses” plot entirely pointless if Lord could’ve just turned them all into OMACs anyway. Thankfully, only 13 pages remain.

Superman starts fighting the Flash OMAC and discovers it can regenerate body parts. Flash is apparently the host OMAC, so he begins vibrating so fast that he bursts free of the OMAC and enters the Speed Force, where time stands still. He goes to visit a frozen Iris for the last time, then runs around the world carrying a mass of OMACs with him in his wake. Wally runs alongside and asks what he’s doing. Barry says, “Tag, you’re it…” hits lightspeed, and destroys them all in a burst of energy. It’s perhaps the only partly redeeming moment in the script, but at this point it’s like finding a silver dollar in a steaming pile of dinosaur feces.

Flash’s costume falls from the sky, just like in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Cut to the funeral from the beginning, where we now see that it’s Barry being laid to rest. Wally West takes up being the Flash, and the heroes agree to officially form the Justice League after convincing a hesitant Batman. Then Superman’s conveniently-placed alien detector detects a weird, starfish-shaped alien creature heading for Earth. GET IT STARRO CUZ HE WAS THE FIRST JUSTICE LEAGUE VILLAIN AND WE HAVE TO MENTION HIM. The heroes jump into action, and the nightmare finally ends.

***

This is without a doubt the single most sour, poorly-written, unpleasant piece of fiction I have ever had the displeasure of reading in full. It’s practically unfathomable, how massive a kick in the groin this script is to  these characters. If there is actually some executive that approved such a ghastly script as a workable template for a film that was mere weeks away from shooting, I fear not only for the state of blockbuster movies, but humanity itself.

Despite most of the traps being taken straight from Tower of Babel, this script executes them without half the thought or urgency, squandering a great setup in favor of a lifeless effects show. Only a fraction of the obligatory team-building dynamic is present, and with no drama, no character, no explanation for anything that happens, and really no purpose for being at all, it’s simply one big clusterfuck that amounts to little more than Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters. Check that, it is far worse than Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters. It’s just chaos. Shit blowing up. And some people with powers in costumes. It’s no wonder the details of this draft soured me on not merely Justice League as a viable film property, but Justice League in general. It is a pure hellish chore to read through and a shameful, shameful piece of filth.

Luckily the legitimate, incomplete draft I acquired resembles nothing out of this draft, and does in fact use its opening 14 pages to establish each character in his or her respective universe before bringing them together to fight a common enemy. It’s actually pretty well-written, detailing who these heroes are and what they’re fighting for. But the ultimate question, regardless of the former draft’s legitimacy, is this: why, instead of establishing each of the heroes in solo films, would Warner choose to blow its collective load early and give us the team-up first? Why risk tarnishing the names of several heroes in one bad culmination, when the company can reap less risk and greater reward by building them up individually? In the end, it seems Warner agreed, and we can thank heavenly Christ they did.

Justice League on Film: Then and Now

 

The-Justice-League

With Christopher Nolan’s Bat-films ending and the seeming new beginning of the Superman franchise picking up steam, there’s been a lot of talk in recent months about Warner’s plans for a live action Justice League film. Bringing together both Superman and Batman, along with Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter, the Justice League has been DC’s premiere superhero team since its inception in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #28 back in 1960. And given the recent success of the Marvel’s Avengers, not to mention the stagnant development on solo films for each of the aforementioned teammates sans Supes and Bats, it’s safe to assume Justice League will be the company’s next foray into the superhero subgenre.

But by going for the big bucks of the team-up without familiarizing audiences with its individual characters and building a cohesive universe for them to occupy as Marvel did, does WB risk tarnishing its most beloved brands? More importantly, will they repeat the same mistakes as they did the last time they pursued a team-up film following successful Batman and Superman films? What we do know at this stage is that a script from Will Beal, writer of the studio’s upcoming Gangster Squad, is being shopped around, and was rumored to have been offered to Argo director and Daredevil actor Ben Affleck. It’s an ill-fitting choice of course, and one which I noted the director would obviously turn down. Still, it’s yet another testament to WB’s sheepish trend of seeking talent within its own doors before branching out and looking for the best man for the job.

But that’s of little consequence, considering the company’s last attempt at joining up its heroes. Back in 2007, after thrilling to the prospects of sequels to Batman Begins and Superman Returns (convinced anything would be an improvement on the latter). After a quick search, I learned that Mad Max trilogy director George Miller would be helming an ambitious Justice League film, subtitled Mortal, and would be gearing up for production in Australia very soon. Then I got a glimpse of the film’s cast list on IMDB, and saw not Christian Bale, not Brandon Routh, but a group of woefully miscast, overly young unknowns, among them a kid seemingly named after a baking soda as Batman, and one of the nerdy guys from Knocked Up playing the villainous Maxwell Lord. All hope was lost.

Worse yet, unbeknownst to me at the time, the script for Mortal by the husband-and-wife team of Michele and Kieran Mulroney (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) was reportedly abysmal. I read a breakdown of the steaming pile here, a thoroughly nauseating prospect made barely readable by the writer’s snide commentary. Described by the script holder as what “would’ve been the new Batman & Robin”, Justice League Mortal chronicles the systematic takedown of the superhero team at the hands of the evil Talia al Ghul and Maxwell Lord, using Batman’s own spy tech. Loosely based on Mark Waid’s Tower of Babel comic and borrowing the ending of 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries, as well as elements from the animated Justice League Unlimited cartoon (on air at the time), the script contains bizarre moments such as a surgical procedure involving a blind John Stewart using his Green Lantern constructs, in conjunction with Martian Manhunter’s telepathy, to extract nanobots from an incapacitated Flash. Later, Stewart’s blindness is cured by swallowing Aquaman’s water-based prosthetic hand, which subsequently spurts out his ears. Just to reiterate, this is a script WB was literally weeks away from commencing production on.

Chief among the script’s travesties was its horrifying misrepresentation of first Flash Barry Allen. Comparing him to Jar-Jar Binks, the script holder described the character’s demeanor as annoying, citing several inappropriately-timed wisecracks at his fellow teammates’ expense. There’s even some sort of screwy, twisted love scene involving the character and his wife, which for the life of me, I can’t bring myself to type out here. Add to that an incoherent, overblown clusterfuck of an ending I couldn’t picture anyone over the age of ten actually penning, and in short, Mortal looks to haven been nothing short of vomit-inducing. Even with some reported changes made by Miller himself, it’s hard to imagine anything worthwhile coming from such an awful, thoughtless template.

No doubt like Batman & Robin, in accordance with WB’s notorious demands, the script presented a multitude of opportunities for selling toys. Still, had this utterly trashy slap in the face to DC’s iconic characters been given the go-ahead to begin filming, again like Batman & Robin, it would’ve surely shot the the slowly reviving comic book movie in the foot. Luckily, with the 2007 writer’s strike preventing WB from commissioning further rewrites, a whopping estimated $300+ million budget, the loss of valuable tax breaks for filming in Australia, and an uproar of fan dissent, the production was mercifully shut down. Mortal stands as yet another example of WB’s cluelessness as to how its DC properties should be handled, and a huge bullet dodged for the continued credibility of comic book movies. As a fitting postscript to Mortal’s reviled history, I distinctly remember reading a rumor or posting of some sort at the time claiming Christopher Nolan had read the script and promptly threw it in the trash. I tried my damnest to find the original source to no end, but if the story’s legit, who can blame him?

Bearing all that in mind, you can understand my skepticism over WB’s next attempt to unite its heroes. Many of the missteps of Mortal can still be easily avoided at this point, so consider the following an open letter to WB on how to properly approach this beast. Objectively, what’s most important is to get the build-up right. The Avengers was such a huge box office success in part because it took its time developing its characters in solo films, giving audience plenty justification why even goofier characters like Thor could be badass. By the time the actual film rolled around, the marketing was practically in the bag. Sure, WB may want to jump straight to the team-up and, if successful, produce spin-offs with the same actors, but it’s an entirely unnecessary gamble. When the company botched last summer’s Green Lantern, the damage was limited to that one character. With JLA, they risk tarnishing multiple potentially profitable properties, and killing off any chance of further films featuring these characters.

Also, it should go without saying that Justice League demands to be part of a shared universe of characters. Creating a stand-alone film featuring different actors than the solo films as Mortal would have is not only insanely lazy, but only serves to confuse audiences. Taking time to plan out each film, its unique place in a larger universe, and being smart about continuity is a must. Thus, if Man of Steel is successful, they’ve got to sign Henry Cavill for Superman. Though I’m sure people will be happy to look the other way if the company were to let Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern contract lapse.

Still, if WB is adamant about moving straight on into Justice League, it’s important they don’t jump right into storylines like Tower of Babel that require prior knowledge of the characters. Something like JLA Year One, giving us ample backstory into who each of these guys are and how they come together would be preferable. And there’s something to be said about using the New 52 for inspiration on the new film. Namely, don’t use the New 52 for inspiration on the new film. Replacing Martian Manhunter with Cyborg, among other alterations in the new comics, is just a flat-out bad idea.

Most importantly, WB needs to get the script right. Lazy storytelling will no longer fly in today’s superhero films; it’s vital they find an accomplished writer, not some in-house brown-noser, who’s passionate enough about the DC Universe to commit him/herself to upholding its established legacy. If the company is dead-set on looking for talent within its own doors, why not turn to Bruce Timm and the animation department? Timm’s team have been creating faithful adaptations of DC comics for twenty years now, surely those guys know a thing or two about how to handle these characters, if not theatrically, then thematically.

At the end of the day, a Justice League film should be a colorful, fun movie that entertains and inspires its audience. As DC’s premiere property, the team requires the same, if not more care and attention than Marvel lent to Avengers. I’ve seen far too many people, writers even, who are convinced Justice League wouldn’t work on film, an admittedly extreme and rather ignorant opinion, given the countless comics and aforementioned Justice League Unlimited cartoon that prove otherwise. It’s up to WB to convince them they’re wrong with a fantastic adaptation that could, in fact, easily blow Iron Man and Co. out of the water. It’s a massive undertaking, WB. Don’t fuck it up. Or worse, bring about another Justice League Mortal.

Review: Justice League Doom

As many of you may know by now, I’m a huge DC fan. But as huge a fan as I am, the now half-decade old line of DC original animated movies usually don’t inspire much more than a shrug of indifference from me. While quite a few of the films are solid enough in their own right, most of the time the potential exists for them to be something even better. The latest installment in the line, Justice League Doom, released last month on Blu-Ray and DVD, stands as yet another example of one such run-of-the-mill adaptation of a great comic book.

Produced by DC animation mainstay Bruce Timm, written by the late Dwayne McDuffie, and based on Mark Waid’s beloved “Tower of Babel” arc, Doom finds the heroes of the Justice League under attack by the immortal Vandal Savage and his Legion of Doom. The Legion organizes a plan to exploit the weaknesses of each JLA member in ways that only the League’s closest allies would know about. The Leaguers soon discover that Batman secretly devised plans to neutralize each of them, which then fell into the wrong hands. The League must pull together, overcome their weaknesses, and defeat Savage and the Legion, but will they ever be able to trust one another again?

Much of Doom’s appeal is getting to hear the voices of Tim Daly (playing Superman), Kevin Conroy (Batman), Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman), Michael Rosenbaum (The Flash), and Carl Lumby (Martian Manhunter) filling their former roles from Bruce Timm’s old Justice League TV series. Fan-favorite Nathan Fillion returns from his turn in last year’s Green Lantern: Emerald Knights to voice Green Lantern Hal Jordan again, though Fillion has a ways to go before he’ll be as accomplished as his fellow cast members.

If only the animation could better support such talent. Cutting corners with an anime-style design, characters’ eyes never move, their mouths move in two repeated frames, etc. This technique works when it’s executed properly, but here, it just looks cheap. Faltering sales in these direct-to-DVD films are likely a contributing factor, but perhaps sales wouldn’t be down in the first place if the creative team consistently went the extra mile in its visuals.

While there’s always a certain amount of awkward, pulpy dialogue in these movies, Doom seems keen to amp the cheese factor significantly. There’s a scene when Vandal Savage and the Legion of Doom laugh and celebrate the destruction of the Justice League together which probably should’ve been prefaced by this:

Classic.

Superfriends jokes aside, where both Tower of Babel and Doom shine is in their creative ways of neutralizing the individual Leaguers, giving the League’s greatest enemies a way to pinpoint each Leaguer’s weaknesses in his/her powers and personalities. Babel’s traps were a bit more effective, shocking, and seemingly long-term, whereas Doom, suffering from a criminally short runtime, features more generic, run-of-the-mill, and easily undone traps. For one, Superman is taken out by a Kryptonite bullet, something we’ve seen in various media several times before.

I especially didn’t care for the way Green Lantern was handled. In Tower of Babel, Kyle Rayner (Green Lantern at the time) is blinded and, as a painter by trade, cannot visualize the images he wants the ring to form, rendering it useless to him. In Doom, the villain Star Sapphire leads Hal Jordan into a mine and ends up killing a hostage, telling him he could’ve saved her and that he’s unworthy of the ring. Hal simply drops the ring and seems to completely give up hope, thus disabling him. Quite the contrast…is this really the best the team behind Doom could come up with? All Hal needs is a good pep talk, what villain would seriously think this was a good solution for eliminating Green Lantern? The film later tacks on an explanation for Hal’s behavior, but it’s flimsy and doesn’t excuse what is, frankly, poor writing. Simply put, a mere hour-and-fifteen minutes isn’t enough time to get this story across with the amount of weight and thoughtfulness it deserves.

As with any adaptation, Doom takes a few liberties with the source material. Among the deviations from Tower of Babel are replacing Ra’s Al Ghul with Vandal Savage and the Legion of Doom, or at least, a version of the Legion that’s limited to an obscure member of each Leaguer’s respective rogue’s gallery. One subplot involving Batman’s parents being removed from their graves is altered for Doom, but without revealing anything, Ra’s purpose for doing so in Tower of Babel was far more sinister and compelling.

Doom also chooses to stick longtime Teen Titan Cyborg into the JLA to reflect the hero’s Leaguer status in the New 52 initiative going on in the comics right now. It also changes Kyle Rayner and Wally West, the Green Lantern and Flash during Tower of Babel, to the original members to hold their respective mantles, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, which again reflects the current comic status. The latter two changes I don’t particularly mind, but Cyborg is incredibly out of place here, included only as a cheap promotional tool for the New 52.

Budget constraints result in Doom not being able to realize its full potential, bringing nothing new to the table and failing to come close to the effectiveness of the original Tower of Babel. It’s also more tailored to casual fans of the DC Universe, non-comic readers with only a passing familiarity of the mythology, rather than diehard fans who will probably be just as nitpicky over the details of the film as I was. Overall though, Justice League Doom is still a decent enough addition to DC’s recent animated adaptations. With a great premise and a familiar, perfectly-cast ensemble, the film is certainly worth checking out for fans of the characters or prospective audiences interested in the universe.

6.5/10