Zack Snyder Presents His Idealized Vision Of Justice League

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the culmination of over three years of an internet campaign that started soon after the release of the much-maligned Justice League from 2017, a movie that I personally liked, but that was seen as not in tune with the previous two movies directed by Snyder that came before it, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Joss Whedon was brought on to finish and reshoot much of what Snyder had done after he left the project due to the death of his daughter. The rise of streaming services, in this case HBO Max has allowed this long-awaited version to be completed and finally see the light of day.

The basic plot points from the theatrical version of Justice League are the same here. Batman gathers together the Justice League by seeking out Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg with the help of Wonder Woman, resurrecting Superman and confronting Steppenwolf. He is an alien attempting to steal ancient technology called the Mother Box, which is hidden throughout the world in three parts and if the parts are united he will be able to conquer Earth in the name of his master, Darkseid.

The differences between Zack Snyder’s Justice League and the theatrical Justice League are the fact that the Snyder cut is a much deeper experience with backstory added for each character, especially Cyborg whose relationship with his father is given center stage on many occasions, as well as The Flash rescuing his future love interest Iris West, and Aquaman speaking with his mentor Vulko, who was previously seen in the Aquaman standalone movie. We had glimpses of these backstories in the theatrical version, but with its studio-mandated two-hour running time, things had to move at a quicker pace. The extra time in the Snyder cut allows for more of these characters to be established which makes it an enjoyable experience, provided you have four hours to spare. The fact that this is meant to be seen at home is a big plus since you can stop and start at anytime. This is helpful due to the fact that the first two hours set everything up, which can make the film seem slow.

The action picks up at the halfway point in an underground tunnel battle, which shows the League fighting as a group for the first time. The fight scenes are more visceral in this version and are a highlight. This is also true for the other action scenes, such as Superman’s resurrection and battle with the other League members, and the final showdown with Steppenwolf. Speaking of which, the main villain has undergone a redesign and has a kind of flowing metal armor which is more interesting and menacing than his design in theatrical cut. Another highlight is the on-screen, live-action premiere of DC supervlillain Darkseid, who is shown in his home world directing Steppenwolf in his quest to unify three Mother Boxes to conquer Earth. This whole plot point is fleshed out in this extended version and explains Steppenwolf’s obsessive desire to acquire these artifacts and sets up Darkseid’s attempt to conquer all of existence. This is one of several other plots that are hinted at in the original version, such as Lex Luthor teaming up with Deathstroke to take on Batman, as well as the onscreen debut of Martian Manhunter, who warns Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, of Darkseid’s coming invasion. Lastly, some new scenes showcase the anticipated Knightmare sequence of a future world ruled by Darkseid and an evil Superman similar to the Injustice storyline. Here Batman is leading a resistance and allying with his nemesis the Joker, played by Jared Leto. This finally gives viewers these two versions of the iconic rivals interacting for the first time.

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Superman & Lois Takes Off To A Promising Start

When the latest DC superhero TV show on the CW, Superman & Lois, was announced, many of us shrugged our shoulders based on the previous quality of superhero shows on that network. While the so-called Arrowverse DC TV shows are usually entertaining, they quickly fell into a worn-out formula that catered to the YA audiences of the CW. These shows were known for humdrum cinematography, average-to-obvious CG effects, a quirky support team for the main character complete with a nerdy IT person who talks too much. and a light tone with angst-driven melodrama.

Adding to the preconception about Superman & Lois was this version of Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) was the same one introduced in Supergirl and many fans complained loudly over how the showrunners intentionally made Superman inferior to Supergirl in her show. This was the last thing the character needed in this day and age where he struggles to stay relevant. 

Well, after viewing the pilot episode of Superman & Lois, it is  great to discover that the show, so far, has taken a different approach with an emphasis on quality that approaches what one would see on HBO Max and even on film. 

The pilot begins with a summary of Superman/Clark Kent’s life from the moment he arrived on Earth as an infant to how he met his future wife, Lois Lane (Bitsie Tuloch) and to the birth and raising of their twin sons, Jon (Jordan Elsass) and Jordan (Alex Garfin). During the pilot, a life-altering event occurs which forces Clark to return with his family to his childhood home in Smallville, Kansas. He and Lois find themselves at a crossroads in their lives and careers as they find out being journalists does not offer career or financial security. Real world problems invade their lives. Throughout the episode, Superman investigates a mysterious villain, while the boys struggle with their sense of identity and finding their way in a changing world.

From the start, the show featured exceptional special effects and cinematography, a more mature tone, and actual characters. Tyler Hoechlin turned in a fine performance as Superman and Clark Kent, who is conflicted with his responsibility to his family versus his life as a superhero who is constantly on call. Even though he is invulnerable, can bend steel with his bare hands and is faster than a speeding bullet, Clark still struggles to relate with his teenage sons. One of them has a social anxiety disorder while the other is an up-and-coming jock. These revelations showcase a more vulnerable and relatable side to the superhero, which is needed since he is criticized often for being a perfect boy scout. 

A caveat with the pilot episode of Superman & Lois is that it does feel at times like a CW show, especially when it devotes screentime to the boys. Their moments of teenage angst comes off as an updated version of Smallville complete with the dumb jocks, coy would-be girlfriends and teenage social gatherings that go awry. The partial reveal of the villain’s identity could produce some groans because Superman has a large gallery of villains to pick from that have yet to appear in live action. The episode could have used a bit more humor to liven up the mood. Then again being that the Arrowverse usually goes overboard with humor to the point it detracts from the drama, the more serious tone of Superman & Lois is very welcome.

Another point to be made is that Superman & Lois casts off much of the Arrowverse trappings to the point that it can be argued that it does not take place in the Arrowverse. It takes its inspirations from Man of Steel instead of Supergirl and it shows from the redesign of Superman’s costume to its hand-held photography (it is more brightly lit than Man of Steel, however) to its grittier tone. Be that as it may, Tyler Hoechlin’s take on Clark Kent and Superman is much closer to Christopher Reeve in the early Superman films than Henry Cavill in the recent films. the rest of the cast are also fine in their respective roles. 

Also, there is a terrific nod early in the pilot to the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons and even the first cover image of Action Comics #1 where Superman sports an early prototype costume complete with the red trunks. The cinematography during the opening segments/flashbacks contrast nicely with the current setting and helped set this episode apart from the other Arrowverse pilots. 

The first episode of Superman & Lois is a welcome surprise in a crowded TV landscape of underwhelming superhero shows. The makers realized that unlike the early Arrowverse shows, it is competing with other shows that raised the bar in terms of production values and writing. It is only the first episode and it remains to be seen if it can maintain this tone. The big test will come with the inevitable crossover episodes with the Arrowverse properties. But based on the pilot, Superman & Lois has taken off to a promising start. 

José Soto and Walter L. Stevenson

 

Henry Cavill, Superman No More?

superman no more

When the news came out this week that Henry Cavill was done with portraying Superman in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) or Worlds of DC or whatever the hell the cinematic universe is called now, my reaction was “WTF, Warner Bros.?!”

Let’s be frank here, how can Warner Bros. and DC let one of the few bright spots in their struggling cinematic universe leave? Superman is the originator of the DCEU being that Man of Steel was the first film. It was a successful revamp of the character’s films, though it has its critics. Sure, it was not a runaway success, but it fared better than the ill-fated Superman Returns, so why isn’t there an actual, proper sequel to Man of Steel?

Most fans know that the sequel morphed into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where Superman was forced to share the spotlight with Batman in a clumsy attempt to adapt the famous comic book storylines, “The Dark Knight Returns” and “The Death of Superman”. What is frustrating is that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had the elements of a great Superman film in there. It followed the aftermath of Man of Steel where the world reacted to the existence of Superman, a powerful alien living among humanity. It showed how many people were uncomfortable with this. A proper sequel could have developed this theme more, included the Lex Luthor story, how he created something to kill Superman and end with his death. This would have had more of an impact with audiences as people would have been more explicitly remorseful over how they treated Superman and realized that he actually was a force of good. Then a third film could have adapted the entire “The Return of Superman” stories, introduce other heroes, and lead up to the Justice League.

But no, Warner Bros. felt they had to rush out their answer to The Avengers and we all know how that turned out. This is not a criticism of Justice League, which was enjoyable, but the entire DCEU by that point seemed so rushed and hastily executed.

Ever since the failure of Justice League, the DCEU has been adrift with announced then abandoned films. We still don’t know when a standalone Batman film will come out. It may be one thing if a Batman film was actively developed with Ben Affleck on board to play the Caped Crusader. This may have softened the blow of Henry Cavill no longer playing Superman. But it’s becoming clear that Affleck is done with the role and the proposed Batman film seems to be in limbo. Instead we get announcements of secondary characters and concepts like Supergirl, Gotham City Sirens and so on.

What the film studios fails to realize is that they are abandoning the heart and core of DC. Yes, Batman is the most popular DC hero, but Superman is right up there, and without those two, the DCEU now feels crippled and aimless. What is worse is that aside from the CG mess over mustache removals, Superman (and Cavill’s performance) was considered the best thing in Justice League because he was a bright beacon of hope. In other words, the proper way he should have been presented.

There are many stories and rumors circulating about what happened. It appears that Henry Cavill either wants more money and/or is getting impatient over the lack of progress over a new Superman film. Meanwhile, the film studio is hesitant to greenlight another Superman film because they think it won’t make much money. The thing is, aside from Wonder Woman, none of the DCEU films have been true blockbusters and Man of Steel is considered to be one of the best DCEU films. Plus, Cavill’s star power is on the rise thanks to his praised appearances in films like Mission: Impossible-Fallout. Now he has signed on to star in the upcoming TV series The Witcher for Netflix. This was a clear clue that he would not return to the DCEU.

Warner Bros. is being extremely short-sighted and obtuse in their unwillingness to increase Cavill’s salary and produce another Superman film. Of course, this could all be one massive and public game of chicken where the film studio and the actor are trying to negotiated the best deal. Who knows? For all we know this could be a ploy by Warner Bros. to see how much demand there is for another Superman and wanted to see what the reaction would be if it “leaked” out that Cavill was leaving.

Well, all of this certainly got our attention!

What is not helping the anxiety felt by fans are the non-answers given by Warner Bros. and the bizarre Instagram video by Cavill where he holds up a Superman figure. Is he trying to tell us that he is done with Superman? Let’s not forget the rumblings that Michael B. Jordan is allegedly being considered to take over the role.

Saying all of this is exasperating is an understatement by impatient fans who are still waiting for a proper Man of Steel sequel. If it never happens or Cavill doesn’t return, and with the Batman film in disarray, the film studio might as well pull the plug and kill the DCEU. After that, wait some time and reboot the entire thing, except this time have a clear leader who can properly guide their superhero cinematic universe. But no matter what happens, at least we got to behold Henry Cavill’s superb performances as Superman/Clark Kent. Just like Christopher Reeve, Cavill will be Superman forever in our hearts.

Lewis T. Grove

Man of Steel & The Five-Year Anniversary Of The DCEU

Man of Steel
This month marks the five-year anniversary of the beginning of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU( and the film that started it all, Man of Steel. This film brought the most iconic superhero, Superman, into the modern age with incredible visuals and a very interesting take on his origins. The film starts as expected on the doomed planet of Krypton and shows Superman’s father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and the beginning of the feud between the House of El and General Zod (Michael Shannon). The planet shown is very unique and has a wonderful sci-fi aesthetic that is a radical departure from the cold, crystalline Krypton shown in older Superman films.
After Jor-El’s infant son, Kal-El, is sent to Earth, the story shifts suddenly to present day where Kal-El, now called Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), is now a grown man unsure of who he is and where he came from. His life as a child on Earth is told in flashbacks and shows how difficult it was for a boy with superhuman powers to try to lead a normal life. Lessons from his adopted father Jonathan (Kevin Costner) include trying not to draw attention to himself until he was ready, even if it meant not saving those who were in danger. This harsh lesson would haunt Clark later in the film when tragedy strikes the Kent family.
Man of Steel presents a startling depiction of the title hero as it focuses on Superman’s uncertainty about himself when he learns of his alien origin and during his battles with Zod after he arrives on Earth. This is sharp contrast to previous depictions of Supes, where he is more accepting and confident of who he was. However, in the end, Superman is able to defeat Zod and start his journey as Earth’s greatest hero. The battles between Superman and Zod and his henchmen are thrilling to watch and culminate in Superman having to kill Zod in order to save civilians from being killed. This was a divisive thing as many fans balked at seeing the Man of Steel killing someone. The large-scale collateral damage across the city Metropolis caused by the epic battle was also controversial among fans. This different take on things carries on throughout the rest of the DCEU, where Batman is shown as a bitter and cynical crime fighter of 20 years, at the end of his rope, and Wonder Woman is in hiding after dealing with a century of war and heartbreak in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Superman kills Zod
 The new depiction of these characters has been controversial and the mixed reception to some of the DCEU films has led some people to want Warner Brothers to reboot the whole thing but this would be unwise. To date there are already five DCEU films released with three more filmed and in post production (Aquaman, Shazam and Wonder Woman 2). You don’t cancel a franchise eight films into it. What WB seems to be doing now is focusing on standalone films as opposed to team up epics like Justice League. This in part due to the disappointing  box office for Justice League. Going back to basics gives DC an opportunity to recapture what Man of Steel did so well, which was to have a streamlined film with great action and a focus solely on the heroic character without having to establish a number of other characters that WB was quickly trying to introduce. Now that those introductions are out of the way, they can now take their time to fully explore these heroes. Hopefully this will begin with Aquaman, which is coming out this December. Hopes are high with a well-regarded director in James Wan and rumors of epic underwater visuals and battles that this film will kickstart the next phase of DCEU films. Although I do hope that we will eventually see another Justice League film; the post-credit scene of of the film suggests the formation of the supervillain group, the Legion of Doom. It would be great to see them battling DC’s heroes in a big mash up.
 Another positive of this shared universe is that we are finally seeing films that have DC characters which were previously ignored in films. Earlier decades were dominated by Batman and that’s about it. This can hurt a brand if it’s focused too much on one character only. In fact that is what happened with the DC films which for the most part were devoted to Batman for a couple of decades.  Broadening the scope of DC films has led to the breakthrough of Wonder Woman, probably the most popular film of the DCEU, so far. All of this will let other characters have their day in the cinematic sun like the aforementioned Aquaman, as well as other fan favorites like Nightwing, Batgirl and the Flash. 
 But the one that started it all is also the one that started DC Comics way back in 1938. Appropriately, Superman is the beginning of the DC’s shared cinematic universe and his film Man of Steel is I think, the blueprint that should be followed by the next group of DCEU films. And hopefully we will see another Man of Steel movie, as well.  It’s maddening that Warner Bros. keeps announcing new films featuring lesser-known characters while there has been no indication that Man of Steel will have a proper sequel. There are persistent rumors that Supes will be appearing not only in Shazam, but also show up in other DCEU films and be the link the link between the different movies. If this is the case, then the future of the DCEU should end up brighter after its somewhat shaky start.
C.S. Link

The State Of Two Cinematic Universes: MCU & DCEU

This past week the news involving the two big superhero film universes perfectly illustrated their states. For the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) it seems clear that they can do no wrong. This is based solely on the astronomic success of its latest film Black Panther. Meanwhile, over at the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), the woes continues with the latest news that Joss Whedon is no longer involved with a proposed Batgirl film.

So why are the states of both cinematic universes so vastly different? Both have popular superheroes and their films have tremendous talent creating the films. But why is the MCU so popular while the DCEU is looking more and more like the JV squad? Well, it’s not easy to pinpoint the success and failures of both universes but there are some factors. Let’s go over them.

MCU

One advantage Marvel Studios and the MCU had over Warner Bros. and DC was simply a head start. The MCU began in earnest ten years ago with Iron Man. That film featured a well known, but not very popular, superhero. Marvel Studios did not have the luxury of having their early films star Marvel Comics’ headliners like Spider-Man and the X-Men. With this handicap, Marvel Studios was forced to focus on the character of Iron Man and it worked. But that was not all, at the end of the film, there was the famous Nick Fury tease that signaled the existence in the film of a larger universe. This excited fans and set the groundwork for a viable cinematic universe.

Each film in the MCU has organic (usually) references to other Marvel properties that helped create excitement for future films even if the current one was a disappointment. It also helped that each film in the MCU is distinctly different (for the most part) from the other. They ranged from standard science-based superhero yarns (the Iron Man films, The Incredible Hulk), political thrillers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), period pieces (Captain America: The First Avenger), Star Wars-like space adventures (Guardians of the Galaxy), quirky, comical heist capers (Ant-Man), supernatural tales (Doctor Strange), stories set in fantastic locations (the Thor films), cultural milestones (Black Panther), and good ol’ superhero epics (the Avengers films). By being so versatile the MCU never seems to run out steam or stories to tell. Granted, the films have their faults like subpar villains, which are just dark versions of the main heroes, but the focus on character and stories made the MCU so successful.

Black Panther and MCU

There is also one other important factor that the MCU has and that is Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios and the filmmaking version of Phil Jackson. He masterfully and carefully guided each film to tremendous success. His vision for the MCU and ability to carry it out is a big reason for the upbeat state of the MCU. Will they falter? Of course, in fact, the MCU has had some genuine stinkers like Iron Man 2, but it has been able to quickly recover. Right now, Marvel is on a hot streak that has been going on for several years now and the future looks terrific with upcoming and hotly awaited films like Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel and of course a sequel to Black Panther. Hopefully this streak will last for years to come.

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