"Everybody knows that the boat is leaking.
Everybody knows that the captain lied."
Click here to listen to the Justice League Soundtrack by Danny Elfman on Spotify!
My love for Batman started when I was 4. My older sister made a birthday cake with the Gotham City skyline as the background, and used a Neil Adams Batman figurine (blue, grey and yellow costume) for the cake topper. I actually remember this birthday vividly. It was held at a McDonald's in Little Rock. We sat in that weird, narrow backside room that McDonald's restaurants of the 80's seemed to universally feature. It is one of my most cherished memories, receiving a blue and black cake with my favorite superhero on it, with all of my brothers and sisters celebrating.
Currently, in the corner of my bedroom resides a Joker maquette designed by Brian Bolland. This specific design of The Joker was first seen on the cover of Alan Moore's one-shot graphic novel, The Killing Joke, which was illustrated by Bolland, as well. The book is famous for taking both Batman and Joker to places psychologically their characters had never been, and is a masterfully executed story. The film, of the same name, however, is a mess, and I urge readers to read the graphic novel and avoid the film. I sound hoity-toity, like every bookworm I've ever met, but the main crux of the story in the film revolves around statutory rape and sexual slavery by Batman onto Barbara Gordon, while the book is thankfully not. That's another story for another time, and Brian Azarello (writer of the film adaptation) should be ashamed of himself.
On my wall hangs a large wood/print version of the cover in which Batman first appears in Detective Comics, issue 27 (May 1939).
A comic book box, housing everything from Swamp Thing, to Doctor Strange, to Phantom Stranger, to Bloodshot, to a ton of Batman, sits behind my maquette. The outer design of the box is that of Detective Comics, issue 880 (September 2011). On top of the box resides a trucker hat with Tim Burton's Batman logo on the front. And yes, I got it in 1989, the year the movie was released.
I have a framed poster of issue #880's cover, as well, though it isn't currently on my wall. There are two tin Batman signs plugged into the wall with thumbtacks behind the comics box.
On the radio, Danny Elfman's soundtrack for Justice League is currently rumbling the floors through a (now) antiquated RCA sound system. Across the room resides my record player. Atop the player lies The Music of DC Comics Vol. 2, a double-LP that houses some of the company's most famous theme songs for their character properties.
MAJOR SPOILERS for Justice League abound!
With that said, it should now come as no surprise to anyone reading this when I fly off into passionate fits of nerd rage over the depiction of Batman in 2017's Justice League. I'm positive something was off about the writing for Batman, and it was, in my opinion, much worse than Superman's wacky mouth CGI. One of the finest lines of dialogue in 2016's Batman v. Superman was the "Do you bleed?" line Batman delivers to Superman in the midst of their first face-off. Batman wears a signature bulked-up armor to withstand Superman's strength, and he sprays Kal with kryptonite. Delivering the line only added to the entirety of the scene. It was chill-inducing cinema, a depiction I never thought would come to life, taken from within one of Frank Miller's finest works (The Dark Knight Returns), no less, and an amazingly well-crafted example of Batman's lesser but effectively specific cockiness.
In Justice League, Superman's reawakening sends him into some kind of ethereal tailspin, seemingly unclear as to who (or what) the people who've awakened him are. That reminds me of when Superboy is awakened by the kids in Young Justice, so much so that I'm sure this entire sequence is borrowed from the TV show. He fights with them for a time, and lo and behold, my savior, Batman, reappears after being told to hang back by other members of the league because he "has no superpowers". Batman hangs back (because we're in Joss' world now, and Batman is a dunce with no tactical understanding) until the upper hand is lost to Superman, while trepidation and fear shine across his face. This, mind you, is the same guy who, at one time, calculated a way to defeat Superman, and did so, kind of effortlessly. Batman IS fear incarnate. And, he doesn't show fear, or succumb to it. But, Joss Whedon's Batman not only shows fear, he allows other members of the JL to influence him. He has no plan, as evidenced by him showing up AFTER the supers get slammed by Supes. Batman is a major influencer in decisions made by the JL in every incarnation of the group, yet he allows the team to instill fear in him and ostracize him because he has no superpowers. This is not Batman.
When Batman finally shows up after Superman wins two-hand-touch with flagrant tackles, he's greeted by Superman choking him, asking "Do you bleed?", and Jed's emotions get the better of him. Goosebumps raise on my arms, I get the wild feeling in my chest when I'm literaLLY EFFING ECSTATIC, OKAY?! I mean, I'm having a good time at this point. Superman throws Batman into the only cop car in Superhero Park, denting the side. But, it looks like our boy survived. Ares-with-a-wrinkly-nutsack-face Vol. 2 (Steppenwolf) falls from the sky via a Boom Tube we're definitely not trying to call a Boom Tube, or even explain how he can use a Mother Box as a Boom Tube before he actually has it (because it takes a Mother Box to create Boom Tubes in the comics), even though there's "only" three Mother Boxes in this universe and they form the "Unity" when mashed together. Okay, I'm lost. Hail Darkseid, though. He seems like maybe he'll be a threat if these films survive the negative press long enough to reach that end of the narrative.
Whatever, it's not as important as Batman's health to me. Steppenwolf gets his Mother Box back. Batman, lying on his back struggling to get up, then remarks "Yep, something's definitely bleeding"... For fuck's sake, Joss. You could've left this dumbass one-liner out of the film. This brief moment not only creates a crack in the psyche of Batman as we've known from both the comics and these movies (since they've established the same kind of behavior in both iterations, and Batman isn't a roving one-liner machine), but it takes all of the energy out of the emotional power of the line itself. Superman and his wandering cleft are given the most effective line of dialogue in Justice League AFTER having received it in equally impressive form in Batman v. Superman. And, that joke is the culmination of four years worth of build-up to their inevitable face-to-face. Joss Whdeon and Chris Terrio nerfed (click for definition) the script. Much of the film's dialogue rests upon the crutch of action/cathartic-moment-afterward, as is often found in anything Joss Whedon writes or directs. At best, his writing is The Avengers level. At worst, it's Justice-League-by-way-of-Zack-the-guy-he-replaced-halfway-through-filming. The "I'm rich" line is pretty out-of-character, too. I'll save you the paragraph as to why this isn't Batman, either. We gotta move on because I've got more bitching to do.
Justice League is not a bad film. It's a really good film that doesn't treat it's audience like they are discerning consumers. While the DC films often take a lick for doing exactly this (thanks, in part, to David Goyer), they are spot-on in terms of costuming and having the qualities and appearance of comic books through editing that parallels switching panels in comic books. I mean, sure, Iron Man's movie costumes look cool, but the entire utilitarian design of Hawkeye, Captain America (at times), and Loki (also, at times) leave a lot to be desired regarding their comic book representations.
Where Warner Brothers ultimately fails is in the lackadaisical approach to characterization in some characters, they make up for sticking idealistically to the comic book physical appearance of the characters. Aquaman's depiction notwithstanding, all the costumes were comics-accurate. Even Cyborg attains the bright red sphere in his chest we've come to expect from his comic book look. Flash's point at the top of his mask was weird, but I'm not the biggest Flash fan. It's better than the TV show's costume, which borrows heavily from Bryan Singer's original "leather is better" approach back in the infancy of the X-Men film series.
While Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and Flash all felt emotionally true to their counterparts, Superman has been criminally deconstructed over the last three films, and Batman's only now beginning to slip away from his more analytical side in favor of the reactionary Batman we see in Justice League. It bugs the shit out of me that Batman has so many quips in JL. He's not immediate in his expression of words and feelings. He hasn't been for more than 40 years. Does that mean he needs to retain this type of uniformity throughout the films? No, not at all. But, the fact this felt like a soft reboot of some characters came off particularly troubling to me, and the movie felt imbalanced in the dialogue because of it. I've seen people extolling the virtues of JL making the DC films "complete", and I try not to bother wondering if they actually read comic books at all. I can't get behind the notion that this film is the perfect representation of all characters involved simply because of Superman's overall attitude and Batman's seeming abandonment of his previous (and more accurate) personality.
Some characters are spot-on in the DC movie universe. Sure, Harley Quinn was, like, totally bad ass, but The Joker was a dickhead, and not the kind that made you laugh at and despise at the same time. While there's a rabbit hole called "bad editing" we can fall into in regard to Suicide Squad, I will refrain. I've been a lover of cinema since childhood. I am now fortunate enough to have developed skills and personal desire to make films with a collective of other like-minded friends and colleagues. I love that I've grown up in cinemas across the South. I love Batman and DC Comics. I love that I've spent my life being a part of both cultures. I don't enjoy seeing DC-related movies that I feel like are an unsatisfactory mix of bad writing, misguided character flaws, and illogical plot devices and story issues.
It pains me to both love Justice League, and wholly despise it's lesser qualities. I'm overjoyed to walk away having new respect for Cyborg, and being totally dismayed that the Batman I've known since childhood goes seemingly unfound within Justice League. To have Wonder Woman and Batman conversing out of costume while Cyborg follows them, unbeknownst to either, only for Wonder Woman to have revealed she knew Cyborg was playing Hyde Park Voyeur and Batman NOT know he was there is a criminal misstep in Batman's characterization. The idea of Batman, aloof and punch-drunk, is reserved only for stories involving fear toxin or The Joker's distractions. He shouldn't not know Cyborg is listening in on their conversation.
He is an ever-present person because that's a super power he can have simply by training himself to be mindful of everything. And, he's done just that in both the films and the comics. Or, that's what they established with his fight against Superman in BvS. He is calculated, ever-present, and constantly thinking and evaluating. It may be revealed Bruce is so weathered he's suffering some kind of ailment in a future film, giving perspective to the reason he seems so out of touch in Justice League.
There is a potential the writers were trying to humanize him, but it wasn't executed with an efficacy that spoke to the inherent nature of feeling "human" among gods. He just seemed like a pushover. I don't doubt for a second, given the amount of persisting rumors coming through media about Affleck being unsettled in continuing his time behind the cowl, the writing reflects Bruce's desire to no longer be Batman. But again, the implication wasn't strong enough to warrant assuredness in assuming such. Flashpoint could be the reset Affleck needs to get away from the role. I, personally, believe he is the best Batman and Bruce Wayne I've ever seen on screen, even through the writing. It's not the character I have a problem with, it's the way he was written as an afterthought. He comes off on-screen as a character the writers didn't want to include, but had to because he's part of the narrative. Joss is more interested in rewriting garbage like Flash falling onto Wonder Woman's chest and then making the quirky-face emoji before cutting to something else unrelated and equally as idiotic.
I wanted Christian Bale as Batman years before he got the role, but not all of his performance has dated well. I realize his role was taken in a direction that diverged from the character entirely, becoming his own, lesser version of both Bruce and Batman. What we've run into now is that Justice League has been rewritten in a tonally different way than previous films, and seemingly after the original narrative being told by Snyder wasn't up to snuff. I don't hate Joss coming in to direct the rest of the film. Directing a film is difficult, full stop. Directing someone else's film because the studio isn't happy with it is damn near impossible to do effectively. It's the writing. He didn't need to put a pen to paper as the writer of this film already in production. Superman feels like he has an okay arc, and his rebirth is a redemption of past sins in poorly constructed characterization(by David Goyer). Aquaman is a full departure from the comic book character, though he is more or less a conglomerated version of several Aquaman iterations. Wonder Woman retains all of the fine qualities she was given in her solo film.
Flash is new, and is most like his comic book counterpart. It's TV Flash that gets Barry Allen all wrong. Let's be thankful for Ray Fisher's Cyborg for a moment. His arc is most definite. The portrayal of Cyborg is that of a once-heroic-level sports star, turned artificial intelligence, questioning who, or what, he is. His arc is what filmmakers hope to attain throughout a film's construction: emotional gravity. He's reserved, calculated, impactful when he speaks, and doesn't overuse his screen time by flogging three-dimensional quips and punchlines at the audience. His writing is most eloquent, and that form of storytelling through character is what I hope DC can achieve in the future.
Justice League, while reshot extensively, stood a great chance to be tonally similar to BvS, all the while completing a desire of the executives in charge to get a film that had true-to-character humor. Justice League is, unfortunately, still not that movie. Somewhere before Joss Whedon's god-awful one-two punch writing, somewhere around David Goyer's deconstructed-heroes scripts, and somewhere after Zack Snyder's brooding darkness lie the true heart of DC and WB's movies. That heart may belong to Geoff Johns, new creative leader of the DC film slate, having replaced Snyder during his departure. The quotation at the head of this page is from the song "Everybody Knows" by artist Sigrid, the second single from Justice League's soundtrack, and is featured in the movie. I can't help but feel like those two lines echo the cautionary tale between executives and the audiences in which they request attention. Of the numerous and abundant rumors of directors quitting, being fired, or not on board with WB's formula, to the actors who are, then aren't, but might be playing roles, this all feels like the leak in the ship most certainly originated from within.