Culture on My Mind – DC FanDome and Justice League

Culture on My Mind
August 28, 2020

 

Last weekend saw teases of the future for DC Entertainment at DC FanDome. Effectively like Comic Con, but centered strictly on the worlds of DC Comics, FanDome covered the spectrum of comic books, movies, television, and video games. Another event is scheduled for September 12th.

Of course, this event came on the heels of mass layoffs at DC, including one-third of the company’s editorial staff and the majority of the crew at the DC Universe streaming service. The future of DC Entertainment seems to be the recently launched HBO Max service.

In particular, I am interested in the future of DC Entertainment on film, so the majority of the trailers I took in this weekend were from that front.

 

Wonder Woman 1984

The trailer that I enjoyed the most was the Wonder Woman 1984 preview. It is no secret that I absolutely loved the first Wonder Woman film starring Gal Gadot, including how it balanced the realities of war with the title character’s message of compassion and acceptance. This sequel was hit hard by the pandemic and has been rescheduled to October 2nd. I’m looking forward to seeing it in theaters if possible.

 

The Suicide Squad

I was also intrigued by the “roll call” teaser for The Suicide Squad. The first film with Amanda Waller’s team was overly encumbered by its own darkness. There were a lot of interesting moments, and I did love Margot Robbie’s interpretation of Harley Quinn, but the rest really felt like a slog through the swamp.

Enter James Gunn. His work on the Guardians of the Galaxy films for Marvel has stoked my excitement to see this one, as has the lineup of actors. Peter Capaldi had me interested when he mentioned having to lose his iconic hair for this role, and that’s going to be a hard one for me to process on screen.

I’m also reminded that I still need to see Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn).

 

The Batman

The next adventure of the Caped Crusader appears to be inspired by Batman: Year One. When this was announced, I was not particularly excited because I feel like Batman is done too often. Quite often, he’s done with too much emphasis on the vigilantism and fear, and not nearly enough on his technical and detective skills.

This version seems to be getting back to basics. I’m eager to see what comes of future previews when the movie is closer to completion.

 

Justice League: The Snyder Cut

The last big trailer is for a project that I’m not excited about.

I was not very familiar with Zack Snyder’s work prior to Man of Steel. The only film of his that I had seen was 300, and I despised it. While Man of Steel‘s vision of Superman was not what I expected from a Superman film, I still enjoyed it for the most part. It did not have a lot of humor, which is something that I expect from a Superman story, but it was also a “Superman Begins” tale. From his rise as a hero to the lessons learned from killing Zod, destroying massive amounts of real estate, and endangering the people he typically has sworn to protect to a fault, Man of Steel paved a good path forward for a vision of Superman in a post-9/11 world.

Unfortunately, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice did not capitalize on that. In fact, Dawn of Justice was a mess. It played with the dichotomy of how the modern public might see superheroes, ranging from gods to fear-inspiring menaces. It introduced a seasoned and jaded Batman who found a mission in putting Superman in his place by fencing in the Kryptonian’s scope. It introduced the meddling machinations of Lex Luthor who wreaked havoc by playing with forces that he didn’t understand. It also provided us a first look at Wonder Woman in this universe.

But Superman didn’t grow. He was just as aloof and dispassionate in this film as he was in his introductory piece, only gaining a sense of passion and duty toward the human race in the moments before his death (by an overpowered enemy that felt like a last-minute thought more than a natural progression). Meanwhile, Batman’s character was reduced to one of single-minded paranoia-driven reprisals. He did some detective work, which was nice, but that was offset by him becoming that which he swore to defeat by committing theft and murdering so many people in the course of two and a half hours.

Add in the convoluted political plot and the disjointed flashes of DC Comics lore that excited die-hards but confused general audiences – Batman’s visions of a post-apocalyptic world where a vengeful Superman reigns, a time-traveling Flash, and Lex’s remote-learning session with Steppenwolf about the Mother Boxes were true head-scratchers for my non-comics-versed family and friends – and you end up with a muddled experience. There was just too much to cover in the time allotted.

When Justice League came along, Joss Whedon (despite all of his recently-revealed faults) was a welcome addition. His impact on the screenplay was evident with the lighter mood and tone, leaving the story equipped to deal with heavy matters like conflicts within the fledgling team, resurrecting Superman, and saving the world from certain destruction. Barry Allen cracked wise, Bruce Wayne was a detective, and Superman was a caring and emotional paladin again. One of my favorite moments was Aquaman’s heartfelt lasso-induced testimonial.

It was a superhero film that I could cheer with again.

While the circumstances surrounding Snyder’s departure were tragic, Joss Whedon saved this film for me, with the minor sin of using the John Williams and Danny Elfman themes too much in hope of smashing the nostalgia button for fans.

Joss Whedon’s Justice League is why Zack Snyder’s four-hour-long version of this story is not compelling.

But don’t let Zack Snyder hear you talking that way about his magnum opus…

First, while I’m not a fan of Scott Mendelson, this shot was not necessary: Learn to take some criticism, bro.

Second, I definitely disagree with Snyder on his vision of “grownup” cinema. The difference between movies for kids and adults isn’t simply the injection of violence and nihilism. Adults understand humor and hope leagues more than Zack Snyder gives them credit.

 

Other FanDome DC film news

The Flash: Barry Allen has a new costume, the Flash will be time-traveling, and there is the promise of multiverse meddling with a tease of Michael Keaton’s 1989 Batman.

Black Adam: I’m glad to see that this is still on the radar. I’m also glad to see (along with the portrayal in Stargirl) that the Justice Society of America is getting more love.

Aquaman 2: Director James Wan mentioned that this flick will be “a little bit more serious, a little bit more relevant to the world that we’re living in today”, which is good considering how superficial the first one was. Fun, but superficial.

Shazam: Fury of the Gods: I’m looking forward to this sequel. The first one was down-to-Earth wholesome comic book fun.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

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