This week saw the release of trailers for two high profile super-hero movies due for release later this year, namely Justice League and Spider-Man: Homecoming. However it really highlighted to me the difference in how Marvel and DC are approaching the tone of their films, and also how confident they are in marketing them.
Spider-Man: Homecoming looks incredible, the trailer balances humour, action and drama just right. If the final film follows suit, it could easily be the best Spider-Man movie since 2004’s Spider-Man 2. Tone = perfect.
However Justice League looks like a film struggling to find its own identity (or a marketing department struggling how to sell it). Visually it looks very similar to Man of Steel and Batman v Superman; sombre and desaturated colours with a heavy emphasis on slate/grey CGI environments. Yet then there’s a few quirky one-liners and some upbeat rock music which seems out of place (or at least inconsistent with the existing DCEU tone set in the previous films).
My initial impression after watching the JL trailer was Warner Bros are begging audience to think this will be a fun film. But here lies the questions - has lack of fun really been the problem with the DCEU movies so far? And will blindly focusing on “increasing the fun” ultimately hurt the final version of Justice League overall?
It’s no secret that since the negative backlash against BvS, Warner Bros / DC has been pro-actively making changes to rectify it’s future movies specifically based on this feedback. The perception is that the main reason Batman V Superman didn’t succeed (critically and some-what commercially) was because it wasn’t fun, and Warner Bros seems to be squarely aiming all of their course correction on this one area. This is apparent in the marketing for JL so far, with emphasis on the aforementioned one-liners and upbeat rock music over the trailers.
However, I’ve never believed the lack of “fun” in BvS was the problem, and I’m concerned that purely addressing this one issue isn’t the right (or only) thing that needs to be fixed.
Suicide Squad is a prime example of how this knee-jerk reaction can seriously hurt a film, as soon as BvS started getting hit for not being fun. The marketing for SS changed (as did the post-production of the film), there was a heavy emphasis on fast-cuts, bright colours and including multiple pops songs. A lot of this didn’t fit together and we ended up with one of the worst comic book movies in recent year (imho).
Yes, BvS was a dark, brooding, gritty movie that takes itself very seriously, but that wouldn’t really have been a problem if it got a lot of other things right. Audience have shown with the success of LOGAN that they’re willing and want to see more adult takes on superheroes, so to say the lack of fun was the issue isn’t really accurate. There are major issues with BvS that JL needs to be addressed, which I’ve summarised below…
1) The story structure and editing is poor
There are multiple plot holes, leaps in logic and lack of character development/motivation that make it difficult for audiences to get invested in the movie. It has scenes that are just spliced into the narrative that throw off the momentum of the film (i.e the Knightmare sequence, cutting to Wonder Woman looking at computer files, etc) that damage more than contribute, and the opening act is genuinely hard to follow with it’s sporadic editing. This was somewhat rectified with the Ultimate (extended) Cut of the movie, but the majority of audiences saw the theatrical version and this was when the negativity began
2) It’s too long and uses it’s running time inefficiently
No one should be coming out of a film almost 3 hours long, saying it needed more time to develop characters or story points. Yet this was the case with BvS, the over-arching story is relatively simple, yet it is told in such a convoluted and meaningless way it takes almost 3 hours to complete. Much of Lex’s masterplan (that the film spends almost 2 hours setting up), is under-mined when Lex eventually just kidnaps Superman’s mum and says he’ll kill her unless Superman fights Batman. The resolution of this fight also serves to undermine all the set-up with a simple “our mums have the same name” conclusion. To spend 2 hours getting to a point you simultaneous render mostly pointless is a complete waste of a movies (and the audiences) time.
3) The action is underwhelming
Say what you will about Zack Snyder, but the guy knows how to direct spectacle and visually exciting action sequences (see 300, Sucker Punch, Watchman and even Man of Steel), but you’d be hard pressed to see much of that in BvS (with the exception of the Batman warehouse fight). For me the most underwhelming aspect is the titular fight itself. More of a rough and ready bar fight, of which Superman is pretty much just thrown around whilst unconscious is pretty boring and not the ultimate battle between two iconic characters years in the making you'd expect.
So in summary to learn from the mistake of BvS, Justice League needs to tell a concise story with interesting characters, efficiently and effectively whilst delivering some exhilarating action. Seems pretty obvious right? However so far it looks like Warner Bros are just tweaking the script to add some one-liners and adding some pop/rock music.
If that’s the case, then JL is in danger of also being just as poorly received as BvS, even if it is “more fun”.