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Saturday, 13 September 2014

Justice League: War.

Huh, my font looks weird today.

Oh, well, see what happens.

Justice League: War.

 “This is a film about the formation of the Justice League!”

Oh, interesting. I mean, I'm not really a big DC fan, but - …

“... In the New 52 universe!”

… Oh. Right. Um. Okay.

That, um. Yeah. Um.

I feel I should provide some context here. The New 52 refers to a rather odd and ill-thought-out editorial decision that DC made a while ago. Purportedly seeking to make their comics more accessible to new readers, they had a massive reset (the mechanism for which was the Flash running very fast) and created a new DC universe (termed the New 52), in which everyone has condensed, vastly different, or outright erased backstories.

This quickly proved to be – a shade problematic. Some of that was logistical problems, like the fact that Batman had only been active for five years, but the editorial staff wanted to keep three out of his four past Robins, meaning that he now churns through Robins quicker than the Ohio Steak Eating Champion churns through a medium rare beef cut. Some of those problems stemmed from poor storytelling decisions, like deciding that Superman and Wonder Woman were going to have the most boring romance of all time in this world. Some of the problems stemmed from the editor's personal issues, such as the decision to completely erase fan-favourites Steph Brown and Cass Cain from this world, mostly because said editor really didn't like that they were popular.

So, needless to say, it was not well-received by fans, and has continued to not be well-received by fans since, despite DC's apparent belief that it'd grow on them, like a fungus or some form of parasitic lobster creature. It's also not really increased DC's readership or drawn in new readers, so we can chalk this one up to 'yet another bad decision by DC, along with most of their live action film decisions.'

Oh, hey, Shazam. Who's apparently getting a solo live-action film.
Before Wonder Woman.

But as I've said before on this blog, DC's animated films are generally quite good, so it seemed worth checking out.

Justice League: War tells the story of a set of just-starting-out superheroes in a world that doesn't like them: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Cyborg and Shazam (formerly called Captain Marvel, until a legal kerfuffle with, um, Marvel). An attempted invasion by alien king Darkseid and the forces of his world Apokolips forces them to unite, thus leading to the tentative forming of what isn't quite yet the Justice League.

So, okay, solid basis. Not really something easily fitted into eighty minutes, and it shows. Everything is kind of rushed and glossed over, and in some cases that's barely noticeable: Wonder Woman's rather thin storyline about meeting the President and people protesting her gets all of about six minutes of screen time, but the situation is sketched out well enough that an audience might barely notice. Sometimes, though, it's glaring, like in the case of Cyborg's origin story (he's the only one who gets an origin story in the film, the others all being active already), which speeds from 'I want to be a football player!' to 'I AM A MONSTER OF SCIENCE,' to 'I have accepted my new role in life,' so fast it gave me whiplash.


(Others, like Batman and Superman, don't really get storylines at all. They're embedded into the main plot of the film with very little thought to what they do otherwise, possibly because it's just assumed that everyone knows already.)

What we do get is – well, it's variable. The plot is pretty straightforward, but it's a character piece, by and large, and how well each character is portrayed varies vastly. Batman, the Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern and Shazam are all great, even if it is a little jarring seeing Shazam in his more mean-spirited New 52 style. Superman and Wonder Woman are really where it falls down.

Superman comes off as alternately bland and cartoonishly overconfident – not without cause, one imagines, given who he is, but it's still a little jarring, because Superman has traditionally always been a bastion of very quiet, subdued confidence. He doesn't trumpet his confidence, but it shows in his body language and his manner. This film's Superman is very, very loud about how confident he is in himself, and tends to be almost a bit derisive of the others, which didn't feel like Superman at all to me.

Wonder Woman was also a bit off. I can see what they were going for: They were going for a Wonder Woman who is very clearly from another culture, who is almost Thor-like in her fish-out-of-water-ness, and who's not a diplomat by trade but a warrior, from a warrior people. She tends to come off instead as being almost – childish. There's a scene when she leaves while waiting for a meeting with the President of the US, citing her reasoning as being bored, and only agrees to go back when Steve offers her the best ice cream in Washington.

I actually really liked this version of Steve, but still.

That's not really Wonder Woman, and I'm not sure any amount of rejigging her character would make it so: She is, after all, a warrior and a princess. She would understand both the virtues of patience (because nobody in war achieved anything by rushing in blindly), and of diplomacy (because she's royalty, and I hardly imagine she wouldn't have been trained in it).

The clear inspiration being drawn here is from the MCU version of Thor, who is also very fish-out-of-water and a bit hotheaded. But one of the defining features of Thor is that he almost never makes the same cultural blunders twice. Wonder Woman, in contrast, comes off in this film as almost cartoonishly inept at navigating the society she's found herself in, and acts as if she has the mind of a small child. It's a disservice to her character.

It's also not really a necessary one, because that scene could have easily been reworked to have Wonder Woman leave not because she was bored, but because she was insulted that she, a princess of an ancient sovereign nation, was being made to wait for a pre-arranged meeting. Exactly the same effect (especially as she never does go back to meet the President, even with the promise of frosted dairy goods), much less degrading to her character.

Anyway, the action of the film is good, and the dialogue is often excellent, with some great one-liners, especially from Green Lantern and Batman. The animation is very odd in places, though. Superman looks like somebody put a muscle suit on Olly Murs, it's very alarming.

Loved you on The X-Factor, bro.

The film is apparently getting a sequel soon, focusing on an invasion by Atlantis, and presumably introducing everybody's favourite Justice Leaguer, Aquaman. So I'll probably watch that at some point, because this film wasn't bad, and I enjoyed it well enough, it was just very flawed, and a lot of those flaws come from the shoddy writing of the New 52 that it's trying to ape.

Seriously, guys. The New 52. It's not worth it.

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