To be honest though, that was pretty much the impression I got from the critical reception: that it was a bit by the numbers and not very innovative, but a competently made superhero movie with likeable characters.
It’s just that it’s the first DC movie in a long time that you could say that about - it stood out by contrast, not because it is a work of genius.
[Disclaimer: I still haven’t seen it, just talking about the impression I got from reviews and people here.]
Hail, Caesar would be an ideal choice. Smaller budget movies tend to get fairer reviews, so that eliminates a lot of your other choices. The Coens get better reviews with their “serious” movies than their farces. That’s another layer of how critics show their bias. Seeing how they phrase why the farce “doesn’t work” is a good way to illustrate what I’m talking about. I haven’t even seen it yet, so other than how I historically have enjoyed their movies (to be accurate in this statement, to be clear, I tend to like their material but rarely elevated any of it to my personal favorites), and what history says about how critics respond, it’s an ideal reflection on the DC/Avengers divide.
Edit: Interesting. Seems they actually liked it, 85% fresh rating at RT, with the majority of critics taking it at face value. I don’t think this contradicts my impression (one example doesn’t move the needle of experience), but it certainly means my impression isn’t infallible.
In all honesty you’re not going to like Justice League. There are bits of it, scenes and moments and shots, that I loved and tickled my geek fancy, and I liked that stuff enough that I’m easily able to compartmentalize it and ignore the big picture which is that the movie is a bit of a mess and they jumped the gun on the New Gods stuff.
Definitely go see Thor. While I personally think both Thor and Justice League are entertaining if flawed movies, Thor undeniably has the tighter script and offers the more full and satisfying theater experience.
I liked how they Lord of the Rings the New Gods, gave them a context. Upteem movies later the Thanos narrative is still completely nebulous. In two movies the concept of old gods and new gods is pretty well defined.
It is interesting how the DC universe “concept” has progressed.
MAN OF STEEL pitched it as a dark (but not too deep) exploration of our world’s reaction to a Superman. It was essentially a soft science fiction approach with all the superpowers and aliens being due to advanced technology. They seemed to keep that approach in Batman Vs Superman as Wonder Woman wasn’t really explained entirely in that. You could see them taking that approach for future heroes as well as the technology from the Kryptonian invasion opens the bottle to superpowers.
Then. Wonder Woman comes out, and really, she’s entirely magic. The gods and amazons are not related to the ancient Kryptonian colonists. They are just really Gods and Amazons straight out of myth. Obviously, this opens the door to SHAZAM! as almost every letter is a character from Greek Myth and would connect to the same Gods Diana has.
But, that completely contradicts the original Man of Steel concept that basically we start out in our world as it is now and the introduction of Superman is something historically unique to our experience. Instead, it becomes about the introduction of Superman being something that reconnects us to a fantastic heroic past filled with gods, superheroes, super villains and literal monsters.
So, it’s a good idea to bring in Kirby’s Fourth World to bridge both sides - science fiction and fantasy.
The drawback is that even in comics, the coolness of the New Gods hasn’t been universally appreciated by readers, and as time goes on, various writers have misused the concept. Even lately, I felt that while Morrison really had a handle on them, writers like Geoff Johns actually made them feel more like rip-offs of the Eternals and Extraterrestrial Aesir (Asgardians) of the Marvel Universe. Darkseid in the New 52 JLA reboot felt to me more influenced by Starlin’s Thanos than Kirby’s original.
So, if Justice League does poorly in “blockbuster expectations,” I fear that Warner Bros may more likely blame the introduction of the New Gods entirely rather than acknowledge that they took a lazy approach to a much more complex and potentially rewarding narrative. I mean, after all, the first criticism I’m seeing in the reviews is that the villain Steppenwolf is the biggest failure of the film. That’s really crushing for a Fourth World fan to hear, but at the same time, I would think that they should’ve picked a character people at least vaguely recognize for the first film like maybe Brainiac.
Or surprise us and not go for the “alien god who travels by cosmic portal” approach that the Avengers used, and make the villain someone from Earth like Vandal Savage who’s so old he’s richer than a god and too experienced to outsmart. Save Darkseid and Apokalips for the second or third film after a New Gods movie introduces them properly.
Thanks for finding that out and posting it! Yeah, this is what I wanted to get at… I think that if you look at movies that you don’t feel very strongly about in the first place but are just intered in seeing how they are, more often than not you’ll end up agreeing with the majority of the reviewers. Or at least that’s what it’s like for me - there are always, of course, movies where I disagree (I actually liked Man of Steel and Black Swan’s not as good as it was made out to be, for example, and this is also where I mention Magnolia), but by and large I find that these are clever people who love movies and are often quite good at their job - which is not only giving recommendations, but also thinking about these movies and pointing out things for me that maybe I wouldn’t have figured out on my own.
I think that sums up a lot of the issues I have with Justice League. It all feels lazy and/or forced. Nothing feels particularly earned despite this being the 4th movie in their extended universe (I’m not really counting Suicide Squad since none of those characters are involved here). While I thought this was the closest Snyder has come to getting Superman right, it didn’t quite ring true with the previous two Superman movies where Superman never felt fully embraced by the world and was sulking a lot of the time. And yeah, the introduction of Fourth World stuff could have benefited from a longer build up. Everything just felt kind of rushed together.
And I say this and someone who was entertained by the movie. It just could have been so much more than it was.
As far as this one goes, I think the distinction between old gods (Ares in Wonder Woman) and new gods (Steppenwolf in Justice League) works as well as it does because they occur back-to-back, so the context is immediate. You don’t really need to see more New Gods to appreciate Steppenwolf because he is a direct reflection on Ares, the one who took out the old ones. Steppenwolf is the vanguard of the new ones, as he states quite explicitly, and we get the impression that if we saw more of them, they would be comparable. Which is to my mind the great genius of the New Gods, since yeah, you’ve got Darkseid, but you’ve also got his conflicted son Orion, and Mister Miracle, who I think has never really been exploited (of course, now we have Tom King) for the awesome potential he’s always represented.
As far as Superman being contradicted by old gods and new gods, and how he fits in to such an equation…it’s what he’s always been, the first big public superhero. Wonder Woman, in this version, appears before him, but she would really be a kind of military legend, someone insiders talk about. That’s what her arc has been about. Superman doesn’t negate his predecessors, but he’s the first widely-known version of what used to populate Greek lore, like Heracles (ha! bet you thought I’d reference his Roman name), Jason, Theseus, etc., everyone Wonder Woman is thinking of who isn’t named Steve Trevor.
The United Nations concept is ably represented by Wonder Woman and Aquaman. But there’s a reason the League usually has “of America” attached to it, too.
For me, Superman wasn’t contradicted directly, but the approach in MAN OF STEEL was basically thrown out at this point. Originally, it was a sort of DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL meets WATCHMEN.
In the Twilight Zone, for example, Rod Serling - who really learned about science fiction from speaking with Ray Bradbury prior to developing the show - would often place a basic guideline on his writers. In the story, only one element could be introduced that was not normal. Unlike Outer Limits, by comparison, you wouldn’t have Time Travel AND Aliens in the same episode usually. The introduction of the single fantastic thing was the dramatic core of the episode.
In Man of Steel, that was Superman. It was a limited, but complex event, that established the basic context of the world.
In WATCHMEN, there were two different things - first, the appearance of costumed crime fighters and then, much more impactful, Jon Osterman’s transformation. However, compared to the original Charlton characters, that was far more simplified and basically made Dr Manhattan the anchor for all the “weird” elements of the world.
So MAN OF STEEL was a strong concept that probably could’ve been better explored by someone who actually hadn’t directed WATCHMEN ironically. Personally, my sense of poetic justice would’ve liked to have seen Paul Greengrass direct Man of Steel since his Watchmen project collapsed. However, it was a concept that had that Twilight Zone simplicity and provided a potential Watchmen-like anchor for future DC movies.
However, DC and Warner Bros, probably rightly, could see that as very limiting for future productions. Tying everything back to Man of Steel would probably just get to be a headache. So, I see Wonder Woman and Justice League - at least, conceptually - cracking open the world and recontextualizing MOS. Rather than being an extraordinary inciting event that gives birth to a super powered heroic age out of what was essentially our mundane daily experience, it is one that reawakens many different threads into a super heroic past and cosmic dimension.