‘Justice League’: The Ballad of a Lost Screenwriter

by Simon Williams on November 16, 2017

in Print Reviews,Reviews

Before I begin, one last open letter.

Dear Audience,

I give up.

[Rock Fist Way Down]

So I’m going out on a limb here and guessing you’ve already read something about Justice League by now, or maybe have even seen it. I know where I stand in terms out clout (being nowhere) so instead of doing a rundown of the flaws of this superhero movie I would rather transcribe a story, to the best of my ability, as it appears to of happened.

Okay. You’re a filmmaker in your early fifties. You aren’t a genius by any means but you do have a notable voice and a reputation for wit. You’re a bit of a geek, always have been, but have a way of making your more esoteric interests (anime, superheroes, vampire lore etc.) accessible to a broad audience via a self-effacing demeanor and a knack for lackadaisical dialogue. After a few successful cult tv series you were invited to guide the next stage of one of your favorite comic series of all time onto the big screen and doing so you were instantly jettisoned into Hollywood royalty. This excited you, obviously, and the mere fact you got to write these characters would quickly become the greatest honor of your life.

Then you begin production of the sequel and things are… different. The studio, who was so supportive of your previous efforts, keeps giving you notes that aren’t just bits of advice but actively telling you that you need to change your product. This character needs more screen time. That one needs less. No we need to set up something for later. No that’s too dark.

You’ve heard that this studio had a reputation for this, but you were their guy. Every move you made last time was enthusiastically welcomed. What happened?

But you keep your head down and do your job, and you follow the notes. Eventually the film comes out to… middling reviews. It doesn’t make the same amount of money and it doesn’t receive anywhere near the same amount of love. You see your product on the screen and take the audience’s notes and all you can do is blame the studio. They didn’t make your film. When they ask if you want to go another round your answer is obvious. You jump ship.

You float around awhile, do another tv series, and then you get another email. It’s another studio. These guys are a bit more oldschool, they give their creatives more space. They invite you to their failing franchise, and people ask you why you accept but Jesus. These are your REAL favorite characters. This is the biggest team of all time, and you can help make it the biggest franchise of all time. It’s a literal dream come true.

At first you’re just editing some scripts, asked to pen one solo, still a sideman. You’re happy with that. But then tragedy happens. The big fish, the man helming this entire thing from square one, leaves. He doesn’t just bail; he’s dealing with greater heartache than you can even imagine. His wife leaves too, a spectacular woman who was guiding you through your writing process. It’s as if both President and VP were shot on the same day. The studio is falling to pieces. They’re desperate. They turn to you. Can you finish this?

It’s not going to happen again. You tell yourself that. History will not repeat itself. You say yes, and as you stare at dailies the cracks begin to show. The man was not on his A-game. You don’t blame him. You wouldn’t be under his circumstances. As you watch you realize a few things: you don’t know how to shoot like him. You don’t know how to choreograph actors like him. Hell you don’t even know what he was aiming for at all, you infer from his other work he’s interested in God and power structures and the fallibility of some kind of Ayn Randian Ubermensch, and you’re not into that at all. You like character dynamics and strong women. You like funny dialogue and bright colors. You appreciate what he was going for but how the hell do you replicate it? You keep your nose down, you do your job.

Then the notes start coming again. This studio, this oldschool group of creatives, is just as handsy. Except the last place was driven by capitalist impulse and love of control. This… this is fear. They tell you they want to lose the God stuff. They want it funnier. They want it to have brighter colors.

They want you to do reshoots. God no. Please no. You don’t have the last guy’s eye. How do you do action that’s not just punching and flying? How do you handle this huge, hefty ideas? But sure. Okay. Whatever needs done. Then the stars show up. One has a contract dispute and you have to use CGI to erase his mustache. One clearly just wants to go home and is trying his best to get out of this entire franchise. One, partway through production, accidentally became the biggest star in the world because of her own movie and yep just what you thought the studio wants more of her. She doesn’t have a lot to do in the original script but sure. You roll with it.

Then they say they want it under two hours.

Joss Whedon feels far more present in Justice League than Zack Snyder. It feels very much like an Avengers riff, with over-lit cgi and bad color grading and boring action direction. This feels far more like Whedon’s failure to make something out of a disaster. I don’t blame him. He was handed an impossible task.

As a product, Justice League is uninspired, a tad silly, poorly paced and features some of the worst cgi in recent memory. After years of build-up I was awaiting one final hurrah, one massive disaster but that’s not what we got. Batman V. Supermanwas a vast, confused epic. Few other films in history have failed as bad as it, but it failed with such ambition I almost respect it. Suicide Squad is a modern classic of bad decisions, where every choice was just fundamentally wrong and I honestly can’t take my eyes away. Justice League just makes me sad.

It’s just a bad superhero movie. That’s all.

It feels small, slapped together, uncared for. Gone are the theatrics. Gone is the ambition. In a way this is a good sign. Warner Brothers is expanding its repertoire and is no longer trying to have a giant tent pole be its only hit in a year. It’s growing. They’ve said they aren’t expecting this to be a giant hit anymore. They are fine with It and Wonder Woman. Hell it seemed like Wonder Woman surprised them. But for someone who genuinely loves the genre I feel… hurt. The other films were horrendous but they were trying for something. This just feels small. It makes my job feel small. I feel bad for Joss Whedon. All he wanted was to make movies about his favorite characters, and that’s been ripped away from him.

Justice League is not the worst of this franchise but in a way it’s the one that makes me the angriest. It feels like nobody cared. It makes me wish I could see what Zack Snyder would have given us.

I can’t help but see a possible future. A future where we don’t get films like Batman V. Superman anymore. Happy day, but we also don’t get Fury Road anymore. We don’t get Lego Movie or Lord of the Rings or Logan. I see a future where all these studios and all these properties are given up to the force of the first studio. The studio with complete control. The studio with the notes.

I see a future where all blockbuster cinema is made by The Mouse, and it all feels the same and it all has the same run time. I see a future where every action scene has to have comedy, every movie has to have a plucky comic relief, every movie needs to play to the cheap seats to sell as many tickets as possible. We’ll never see a true disaster again because nobody will ever take a risk. If you’re working with that amount of money it won’t be art just product. I see a future that feels only years away. Maybe months.

I see a future where I will miss Batman V. Superman.

I see a future where I will long for someone as unique as Zack Snyder.

Mr. Snyder, love to you and your family. Take care of one another. I wish you the best.

Simon Williams

Simon Williams is a media critic and filmmaker originally from Columbus Ohio. He makes short films about sad people who don’t speak their minds because he himself is a sad person who does not have that issue.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Patrick Dallas November 20, 2017 at 4:44 am

I have bee a DC fan ever since I was a child. And Justice League didn’t disappoint me but it didn’t sweet me off my feet either. Or maybe I just expected too much. I mean they released 4 trailers, one of which was 4 minutes long and tons of video footage — so I assumed it would be safe to expect some Godfather-length movie. Instead, we got a half-assed 2-hour “ok” project. And the atmosphere of the whole movie is reminiscent of that Avengers 1 (which is probably because of Whedon.) I don’t know the technical term but why does it feel like it was “zoomed-in?” It kinda reminds me of Eric Bana’s HULK. I really wish for this movie to do well in box office, because I’m dying to see more DC movies. Man, I left the theater with a heavy heart. I’ve watched it twice already and it makes me even more sad.

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