It’s fine. The movie is fine. It’s not great or as grand as a Justice League movie should be. It feels small, but not in an intimate way. It’s scale and tone reminded me of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. For a movie that cost as much as it did, I sure doesn’t look great. There’s a lot to dislike about the movie, but, for the first time in this non-solo Wonder Woman series, there’s some stuff to generally like.
After the face-slap that was Man of Steel and the so-dumb-I-feel-bad-for-it Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I pretty much retired any hope of ever enjoying these films. Some people like the darker tones, the hopeless characterization, the over-complicated plotting and maybe that’s a good thing. We don’t want every superhero movie to look and feel the same. I simply had to resign that, like Deadpool, these movies weren’t being made for me.
After Wonder Woman gave Warner Bros. their first great DC movie since The Dark Knight, I felt a bit better but could tell from the lead up and trailers that Justice League was going to be messy. Zach Snyder leaving for personal reasons and bringing in Joss Whedon to rewrite and reshoot seemed like a good way to mess up the joint. And messy it was! But, somehow, the worst feeling I had while watching it was boredom. The anger I used to feel has burnt out and maybe that’s due to the small amount of sunlight that’s allowed through all the sepia tone and CGI-smoke.
First, I suppose, the good. Ray Fisher came out of nowhere and impressed me as Cyborg. In fact, while watching his story, I kept wishing I was seeing the Cyborg movie already, because it would have to be more compelling than what I watching at the moment. I didn’t hate this version of Aquaman, despite being the bro-est bro of bro-dom. I look forward to being surprised by him in his own, solo movie. And Gal Gadot is still a Wonder Woman I would follow into battle. Oh! That reminds me! The fight in Themyscira was fun! And, when there was action on screen, it was entertaining, for the most part.
Now, for the rest. During any scene that there was no fighting, I was bored. And, hey, I’m not some action junky who needs people to shut up and punch! The conversations between these characters, Justice League members or not, felt like time killers or placeholders for the real script. There was always the element of humor laced in the lines, but nothing was able to be truly funny, except for Batman’s, “I don’t not” line.
Ben Affleck’s Batman was less interesting this time around, lacking the fire of his previous performance. The Flash doesn’t really impress and I’m sure that’s due to the fact I’ve been watching a successful representation of the character weekly on the CW for three years now. And Superman, well, that character has been a wash since day one. They try to clean him up a bit, make him a beacon of hope and all, but it’s not enough. He’s still not a Superman I want to watch, even when using all his cool powers. These movies love showing off how strong he is, but the heart is never there.
I’ll say this, and I don’t want anyone thinking I like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice or think it’s even close to a good movie, but Justice League feels small in comparison. BvS felt like an event, albeit a dumb one. It’s tone, cinematography and over-dramatic dialog made it feel like an important, stupid moment in history. Justice League just sort of happens. A big, gray monster-man shows up and is going to make more CGI fire and smoke and some people get together. This doesn’t feel mythic or memorable. If anything, it feels like a preview for a real Justice League movie, with a full roster and characters who aren’t learning their powers or motivations.
So, to summarize, Justice League is fine. It’s watchable and has some moments that make it worth the time. It’s not epic and it’s not a trendsetter, which is a shame. The Justice League deserve better, they deserve to have the best superhero movie, to put the Avengers to shame. This is a team with the biggest names in super-lore and I had hoped for a feeling of awe and insperation. But, that feeling never comes. Sometimes, during the movie, Batman and Superman’s classic musical scores of the past will play and I was reminded of the good feelings and pleasant memories I had for these characters. Unfortunately, I realized, nothing on screen was causing that to happen this time around.. If anything, those themes emphasize the lack of direction and identity this movie has, requiring past visions to guide the way.
I hope a Justice League sequel will be better and I hope the characters can rebuild from here. Whereas the continuity in the Marvel films feels like a boon, these DC movies suffer from it. Every time a movie comes out, I can’t shake the past these heroes are burdened with. You can lighten Superman up, but he still snapped a man’s neck. You can make Batman a team player, but he still loves his guns and shooting people. But, with Justice League, they’re now another step in a more enjoyable direction. I hope they can keep that momentum and get past this version I’ve had not interest in before. I hope I can enjoy future DC films. But, for the first time in a long time with these movies, at least I can hope.
I haven’t written about a DC Animated Movie in a while. I liked Batman: Assault on Arkham, Justice League Dark and the second half of Batman: The Killing Joke. But everything else has left little impression on me. I miss the days of adaptations that brought different styles to each film, like All Star Superman or Wonder Woman. The new continuity driven films are stuck with boring stories and uninspired voice casting.
Considering my disdain for the Suicide Squad’s take on Harley Quinn, I wasn’t surprised by my lack of interest in this new entry. But, when I looked up pictures of Batman and Harley Quinn, I found myself getting excited. It looks like the WB years of The Batman Animated Series! They got Kevin Conroy back as Batman and they brought Loren Lester out of mothballs to play Nightwing! Wow! And Bruce Timm is involved? I’m back in, baby!
The biggest mistake I made with that excitement was actually seeing the movie. I should have watched my dvds of the animated series or read a new Batman comic. Instead, I drove ninety minutes to the nearest theater showing the movie and saw what poison (ivy) can do to nostalgia.
Batman and Harley Quinn doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes, it’s trying to be call back to the great, genre-defining show of the 90s. Sometimes, it’s wants to be the Adam West Batman show with the old cartoon’s setting. Sometimes, it wants to be a comedy. Sometimes, it wants to be a lost episode of Justice League Unlimited. Most times, it’s just bad.
As a comedy, it falls so flat you’d have to think it’s intentionally not being funny. Barely any jokes land and the ones that do are stretched out too far. Melissa Rauch plays Harley Quinn almost as a parody of the Arleen Sorkin. It’s a DOA portrayal, living in the same space of the original character but not breathing the same air. I’d be willing to accept it’s not Rauch’s fault though, as the writing is lazy throughout the whole movie.
Really, Batman and Harley Quinn is a shadow the 90s show, taking the goodwill from the past twenty years and punishing us for it. It makes me wonder if Bruce Timm isn’t as talented as I thought he was. Maybe, he needed all those other writers and artist to keep him from raveling in his inherent tackiness.
We spend far too long in a dive bar with a bunch of extras, watching two twins sing “Don’t Pour Your Love” on stage, only for Harley to then do the same thing with “Hanging On the Telephone“. And, both songs are played in their entirety, because this movie is looking to waste as much time as possible.
The animation looks cheap throughout and closeups are worse. It really does look like a lazy episode of a cartoon from twenty years ago, if that was it’s intention, I don’t know what was. The ending is a dud, but, by then, what was I expecting? The whole affair can’t decided if it’s for adults or kids and is never fun for either. Considering that the 90s show did the whole thing better with “Harlequinade”, it’s hard to understand why anyone thought this movie needed to happen. There were no extra scripts lying around?
Look, if this is canon, I won’t accept it. I’m going to be unreasonable about this for the rest of my life. I’ve long ago said goodbye to the DC Animated Universe of old and I don’t need more of it in my life. Batman and Harley Quinn made sure of that by being the Superman: Braniac Attacks of it’s series. I won’t mourn again.
One more week and we’re right on schedule!
This episode we talk about the history of Wonder Woman, her comics and media representations. It’s a geeky episode, but Wonder Woman is cool so it’s all good!
I really did end up loving the Brian Azzarello run of Wonder Woman comics. It started off rocky and the weirdness of all it put me off. I think the problem was, when it was released, it was so different than the other stories being published in the New 52 and I was looking for anything to make sense during that terrible time. But the second volume really won me over and now I think it’s one of the best series they’ve done and my favorite run of the character. You just have to read it like a Vertigo title, or an Elseworld story.
Did we leave your favorite Wonder Woman story out? Favorite episode of the old Justice League cartoon? Let me know!
See you next week, podcats!
I think the New 52 is failure.
Maybe not commercially, it’s gotten plenty of publicity and I’ve read far more titles in the line than I would have before hand. According to my Goodreads, I’ve read 26 different trade paperbacks. But, if the objective is to bring new readers and to get them interested in new titles, the New 52 is not doing well.
Here’s an example. I’m not a new reader to comic books, but I’m not as into DC as Marvel. So, I tend to feel like an outsider when picking up a DC comic. The New 52 has given me the chance to read titles that I wouldn’t normally because they all started at a first issue. No matter what comic I picked, I should be on the same playing field as everyone else, right?
Or, maybe not. Because to understand Superman, I need to read Action Comics. To understand Teen Titans, I need to read Superboy. And it goes on with books like Nightwing and any Justice League title. Since the goal was to make the DC universe accessible, you would think that I could read one of the books without having read anything else, but it doesn’t work out that way. I was reading Justice League of America and I had to stop after the fourth issue because the next two were part of a crossover with two other Justice League series, of which I haven’t read and weren’t included. And, part of the reason I haven’t read the main series, Justice League, is because it crosses over with Aquaman.
Okay, so, I’m confused but it’s nothing a little bit of Wiki research can’t fix. But, how’s the quality?
Well, looking at my Goodreads, out of the 26 titles I’ve read, I’ve given eight of the series four stars, twelve have three stars, four have two stars and two have a one star rating. So, I’ve found a little more than a fourth of the titles to be great and another fourth to be terrible. That means half of the New 52 is mediocre and that’s not good for a line that’s supposed to be all about bringing in new readers. You know why nobody remembers the Fantastic Four movies? Because they were mediocre. That’s half of the New 52 (or at least, half of the half I’ve read).
How about diversity?
Well, out of the titles I’ve read; two are Superman with two Superman tie-ins, four are Batman titles with three spinoffs, four Green Lantern comics and three Justice League books. That means about a fourth of what I read stands alone from other series. Now, this is more of a critique of my own taste, but it does bring up the question as to why DC is using a line that’s supposed to feel fresh when I can find eighteen books that I’m used to instead of trying something new. Why does Batman need four titles?
Here’s the biggest problem I see, however. It’s not about diversity, it’s not even the amount of four star material. The biggest problem I see is how poorly DC reset the universe. For this, I’m going to be comparing the New 52 to Marvel’s Ultimate line.
When Marvel wanted to update their characters with modern origins and new takes on old troupes, they created the Ultimate line. They had four main titles; Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four and The Ultimates. Crossovers were done in miniseries separate from their main series and were few and far between. So, as a new reader, I could read all about the Ultimate universe with only four titles and if I chose to not read a book, I wouldn’t be lost reading the ones I liked (which is good considering how off the shipping schedule was for some of those titles).
With the New 52, there are fifty-two books to read. Fifty-two! I’ve read half and I still feel lost most of the time. Every title has had some weird crossover, some series take place five years in the past while others take place in the present. I can’t read just one Justice League book, I have to read all of them. I went from enjoying two Green Lantern to having to read four and one I wouldn’t unless I didn’t want to be lost. Even with fifty-two titles, they still decide to cancel titles that show promise because of low sales. I don’t think they understand the concept of spreading themselves too thin.
When the Ultimate line was setup, Marvel didn’t cancel their other titles. So, if you didn’t like the Ultimate version of Spider-Man, it was okay because the regular Spider-Man still existed. You didn’t have to deal with the Ultimate universe if you didn’t want to, it was your choice.
With the New 52, if I don’t like this new version of Wonder Woman or Harley Quinn or Martian Manhunter, it’s too bad because that’s my only choice with these characters.
That leads to a huge problem. With the New 52, a lot of titles read like What If? takes of the characters. Justice League of America is really just the New 52 answer to The Authority or The Ultimates, except those titles weren’t the main canon of a line. A lot of the DC universe feels like material that could have been a miniseries or one-shot take, but it’s the real (fake) universe. Before, when DC had multiple realities, they could have just had a few of these weird titles over at Earth Insert Number Here, but they decided to streamline the universe into one. They did this to keep confusion to a minimum but I’ve already mentioned how that went.
Again, maybe this is all about taste. I don’t want my Justice League comics to feel like Watchmen or Supreme Power, I don’t want Wonder Woman to feel like a Vertigo title unless I have an alternative take. I don’t want Harley Quinn or Starfire or Catwoman to exemplify everything that’s wrong with most female superheroes.
There’s something to be said here about acting bold and doing new things, but there’s something else to be said about throwing away everything, including things that worked. It’s almost like DC was ashamed of everything that came before but overly proud and confident over their new ideas. Marvel is always ‘soft rebooting’ their characters, giving them new takes while keeping their history intact (or retconning it without removing everything along the way).
I guess you could say DC doesn’t doing anything small or subtle, and it’s up to you to decide if that’s a good or bad thing.