So I wanted to write a review of Justice League. Regrettably, I have yet to see Justice League. I have about 2/3rd’s of Justice League with 20 minutes of Joss Whedon drivel slapped onto it, but I have yet to actually see Zack Snyder’s Justice League. And this is a problem that has serious implications.
So, let’s review how Justice League was turned into a shadow of its former self.
Zack Snyder made a movie. If what I saw is any indication Snyder’s Justice League (SJL) was about two-and-a-half to three-hour-long film that used the characters of the Justice League to rip apart the philosophy of Ayn Rand. As Man of Steel snapped Plato’s neck, Dawn of Justice was the doomsday for Nietschze, and Wonder Woman obliterated John Calvin, this was supposed to be the latest in a philosophical oeuvre that was probably going to end with Justice League 2 embracing the philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas. SJL was supposed to show the flaws of Rand’s idea of the people who can make the world better taking a step back (“Each of us has held back”), challenges Rand’s lack of humanity in her character by showing it was empathy and compassion, not their powers, that made all of these characters great, and while the core of Rand might best be stated “Strong man is strongest alone” pointing out that this insanity is the opposite of the truth. And had I seen the full film I could probably point out more than just phrases like “Engine of the world” and the fact that a ship that sank has the same name as the building project in The Fountainhead.
It would have almost unquestionably been a great movie. One that would have stood the test of time.
Then tragedy struck Snyder’s personal life and he had to step back.
So, Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy and Firefly, as well as the director of the first two Avengers films is called in to do reshoots. Reshoots are part of any movie, even great movies. But usually, in great movies, it’s a scene here a reserve shot there. Reshoots that take too long are usually a sign of ruining a film. And this is no exception (full disclosure I thought the high price on the reshoots was being exaggerated but apparently it wasn’t the case). Whedon, it was thought, was a very good writer/director. Although his early successes on TV—where he had a whole team which included such talented writers as Jane Espenson, David Fury, and Tim Minear—have led to increasingly disappointing work on film. Avengers was fun and all, but aside from the scene where the Holocaust survivor squared off against Loki rather lacking in depth. Then came Age of Ultron where plot points and character development made not a damn bit of sense. And then came this year’s revelation that he is not the feminist he always claimed to be (which in turn leads to some disturbing reevaluation of Joss’s work…like the fact that while Whedon has a reputation for killing character, he brings the males and Buffy back a lot whereas women almost never seem to come back…heck Wash and Book might come back at some point in the comics. Run the list of people who die in a Whedon work in your own head and see how it skews toward women staying dead and men coming back).
So, with that said, Whedon reshot too much of the movie and then poorly edited what was left. Shots of Wonder Woman’s ass in tight pants (which mirror similar shots of Black Widow in Avengers), scenes that mirror Avengers almost too perfectly, arcs that parallel the horrible moral choices of Ultron. So forth and so on.
What the final result was a bastardization. Probably the whole Superman arc was gutted and inferior to the original version, most of the character arcs were done poorly this way, and crude sexual humor was added where it had no business being.
SJL was likely an equally deep film that treated its audience like adults. Whedon’s and Warner Brother’s Justice League tried to be a stupid comic book movie for no one with the maturity above a teenage level but failed even at that because it tried to be half and half.
As such what was released is only okay in its own right, and absolutely terrible when you consider what it could have been.
So why did this happen?
Well despite the fact that for all intents and purposes the DCEU movies have been making more money than Marvel movies from a Return on Investment standpoint (it’s really hard to say for sure as Hollywood accounting is intentionally a pile of lies and misinformation), the studio felt that they would make more money if they dumbed the movie down.
They demanded a two hour run time. Despite the fact that many of the best biggest blockbusters of all time have been over three hours.
They demanded a “lighter” tone. In this case, lighter means stupid and lack of depth. Despite, again the fact, that some of the biggest blockbusters have been serious films.
They demanded more sexualized scenes, despite the fact that you don’t need it.
Because Hollywood has no idea what makes for a good movie. They’ve been at this for over a century and they still do not have the first clue as to how to make a good movie.
When you look back there are a few things to consider. While the role of the director has changed over the years (in the early days of Hollywood they were little more than cinematographers while the producer had most of the powers that would usually be those of a modern director, e.g. O. Selznick was the producer for Gone with the Wind but really had more control over it than any director), it does seem clear that a good film has one single voice controlling things. Be it a director or a powerful studio executive, there needs to be one single voice from start to finish controlling the movie. Too many chefs spoil the stew. Think about it. Name for me a movie that has been any good when there were multiple people in charge over the course of the film with differing visions? I’m sure if we look through the entirety of film we’ll find an exception, even though I can’t think of one right now…but for every great film I can think of there has been one voice that helmed the ship from start to finish. For bad films you can bet that the script will be rewritten a thousand times to the point there is nothing of the original left (e.g. Suspect Zero) or script doctors called in at the last minute (e.g. Waterworld), there are reshoots after reshoots (e.g. Geostorm) and recasting and new crews brought in at the last minute (Ridley Scott has done some great work but this last minute recasting of Spacey for All the Money in the World is probably not going to go well). Great films have one voice, this is a lesson Hollywood seems to never have learned despite a mountain of evidence.
Second, longer films are better. I have watched hundreds of deleted scenes in movies, and seen dozens of director’s cuts. You know what I’ve noticed the vast majority of director’s cuts are always superior to the original. I can think of only one exception (the director’s cut of Pretty Woman is actually pretty bad). But be it the scene before Thor enters the throne room in his first film which shows he is not a shallow and petulant child, to additional moments of character development of Wrath of Khan, to Deadpool having his character motivation stripped away, to the fact that we all know the Lord of Rings director’s cuts were superior, and of course Dawn of Justice extended cut was far better than the theatrical release. I can think of no good film (save Pretty Woman) that wouldn’t have been a little bit better with those scenes back in and no bad film that could have been improved by cutting. Yes, there are always things that work on paper and don’t work on screen and need to be adjusted or cut, but that should be up to the director who is thinking of the quality, not the studio who is thinking about the cutting time for seats. Maybe people aren’t going to see movies not because they’re too long but because what you get at the theater is gutted of all substance and if you’re going to spend your money better to wait and pay for the director’s cut. If Hollywood was smart, something they’ve never been accused of, they might want to release their cut versions in wide release and then in one or two theaters per market an uncut director’s cut at the same time for some upcoming movies. Charge more for these longer screenings. I know I would pay 50% more in ticket price for 50% more movie. I think most movie fans would do the same. Maybe the dual showing model would be the most profitable, or maybe they’ll find that more people will clamor for what the director wanted. In this age of binging shows it’s not that people don’t want long-form storytelling, so why is Hollywood trying to cut things down to the bare bones? Probably because executives are stupid.
Third, quality is more important. Do you want to know why Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are having a Renaissance of shows? Because for the most part, these are shows that deal in quality. Granted, when you go for quality you tend to limit your market because what is quality to one person is trash to another. But with quality comes repeat viewings. I will go see a good movie more than once. I will take people to see it. I will spread word of mouth. So, while some people just go see a movie every weekend, there are other people who will go see movies several times, who want the old idea of date night movies, who want an actual experience. And those people are sitting at home and watching Kimmy Schmidt, or Man in the High Castle, or Mind Hunters, or Handmaid’s Tale. If the theater going experience is going to survive then it’s going to need more than low brow Marvel schlock, you’re going to need more movies of quality like Snyder and less mindless crap that Whedon is trying to push.
The fact is that Hollywood studios are stupid, short-sighted, and insane. Need more proof? I mean besides the fact that it seems like every other man in Hollywood is a character straight out of SVU? Well, Steven Mnuchin was a Hollywood executive producer before becoming Secretary of Treasury (yeah, hiring a man from an industry that can’t make money on Superman seems a little stupid, but, hey, Trump’s mentally challenged). And Munchin besides not knowing how to do a publicity shot (you would think someone from Hollywood would at least know this) but who also thinks that automation of most manufacturing jobs along with large swaths of other industries is 100 years away, 50 at the earliest. It’s already here for a lot of food service and manufacturing and mining. It’s only a decade away from transportation. God knows textiles and janitorial work are only a couple decades away. The blue collar job has two decades left and nothing more. And this idiot thinks it’s a century away…and he was the one tapped to be a cabinet member. Hollywood is filled with morons.
So why is this important?
“Politics runs downstream from culture.”—Andrew Breitbart
Besides the annoyance that I now have to waste time threatening Warner Brothers with a boycott (no seriously I will not see any WB material, movies, TV, tie-in books, NOTHING until I get Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and I will do everything in my power to make sure others do the same) this has more important results.
For the last 40 years, Hollywood has fed us an increasingly stilted pile of drivel. Certainly, there have been intelligent films in that time, but of them, few people see them (in no small part because critics pan anything with depth, I.e. Winter’s Tale, Tomorrowland, Lady in the Water, Man of Steel, Age of Adeline, Collateral Beauty). So, the number of films of depth that get viewed are fewer and fewer and more and more Transformers and Fast and Furious pieces of shit get put out there.
Granted this hasn’t exactly led to a dumbing down of society—society has always been dumb. And it’s not like Hollywood has this golden era where everything they put out was high quality, the old stuff looks better because only the good stuff has survived the test of time. But what the old works like O.Selznick and Curtiz, Capra, Fleming, Wyler, Cukor gave us films that were intellectually deep. That is something that is disappearing. In old Hollywood you had it weighted toward stupid movies, a few intellectual films about as many pretentious pieces of crap that thought they were intellectual but really weren’t. The problem is that while we have stupid crap and pretentious crap we are getting fewer and fewer works of actual intellectual quality.
And if you think this doesn’t have consequences, you’re wrong. If people think that killing a villain when you have no choice (I.e. Man of Steel and the whining people had about the ending) isn’t an indication of the lack of moral turpitude people have, you’re wrong. If you think that praising shallow characters of the modern Star Trek while ignoring the complexity of its roots isn’t a problem, take a look at the shallowness of our leaders. From Plato and Aristotle to Andrew Breitbart, it has always been acknowledged by intelligent people that our morals are not only reflected but shaped by our art. If all we have are characters who are only faced with easy choices that never boil down to anything more complex than “we’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys” where villains are nothing but caricatures and heroes are always right then
you will see a society where whatever tribe a person is a part of will be viewed by them as the good guys, and anything is permissible…but maybe I’m thinking of a distant future where people will excuse child molestation and rape, treason and corruption, tactlessness and intelligence, just because someone is in your party or the same race as you. Or maybe that day isn’t so far in the future. Art isn’t the only thing that shapes our ethics and philosophy, but it is a major source of those ideas.
Granted even if Hollywood had a complete turnaround and everything they put out was at the caliber of Nolan, Snyder, and Affleck, it wouldn’t turn everything around immediately. People would still be the same stupid people they’ve always been. Society would still have all its ills. BUT, the worst in humanity would make slower inroads and the better angels of our nature would have a greater foothold in our psyche. It would not be an immediate change, but depth in the art would yield societal results over the course of generations.
It’s a slow and thankless battle that has to be fought alongside all the battles political, spiritual, and personal that we also have to be engaged in if we feel the world is something we should care about.
And, to bring things back to where we started, Justice League could obviously have been one of those works of art that would have helped in that fight to provide people with a touchstone of intellect and ethics. And because it is something that can change the course of whether we get those kind of films, whether Hollywood feels that it can give us mindless crap and make a profit or not or whether it has to occasionally give us something of substance. So, this is one of those times we should draw a line in the sand, demand that we get the version that had substance, or state we will not fund the studio that insulted us by trying to give us mindless crap.