This past Thursday, Geoff Johns made some comments to the Wall Street Journal about Justice League. These comments focused primarily on comics-accuracy and the intended tone of the upcoming film.
Of course, instead of just focusing on those comments, Wall Street Journal proceeded to get its nasty value judgments all over the article. Regurgitating tired anti-DCEU talking points like reshoots, second-week drops, and the factually incorrect idea that ‘Neither Ben Affleck’s Batman nor Henry Cavill’s Superman crack a smile,’ WSJ writer Ben Fritz throws all objectivity out the window in a display all too common in the present state of superhero journalism.
Since we’re here, let’s start with Geoff John’s comment:
“Mistakenly in the past I think the studio has said, ‘Oh, DC films are gritty and dark and that’s what makes them different.’ That couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a hopeful and optimistic view of life. Even Batman has a glimmer of that in him. If he didn’t think he’d make tomorrow better, he’d stop.”
Factually accurate in all respects. WB saw a lot of financial and critical success for The Dark Knight and its associated franchise. This was, of course, before superhero flicks became dominated by the Marvel formula. The Dark Knight Rises, last installment in the trilogy, came out the same year as The Avengers did, after all.
By 2013’s Man of Steel release, people had begun to decide that a ‘superhero movie’ had certain characteristics. Those characteristics included a certain amount of self-deprecation and a specific visual tone. When MOS treated its subject unironically and deviated from that tone, critics and fans divided on its quality. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — a film Johns consulted on, by the way — treated the consequences of the Battle of Metropolis with utmost seriousness, and didn’t shy away from realistic psychological effects tragedy and heroism had on its headliners.
Nevertheless, a redemption story — which Batman v Superman was, frankly — has an underscore of hope by default.
Sometimes when reading criticism, I wonder if critics exited the movie before it ended. Batman’s monologue at the end should put to bed the idea that the movie has no hope in it:
“Men are still good. We fight, we kill, we betray one another, but we can rebuild. We can do better. We will. We have to.”
Batman’s redemption, played over the memorial service in Hero’s Park, where chalk writing beneath a Superman sigil proclaims: “If you seek his monument, look around you.”
The pure hope of that moment creates the emotional catharsis for the entire film. Out of the darkness, even Batman finds hope, and he finds it because of Superman. The movie turns on that axis of hope: Superman grapples with whether the symbol of hope that he has become is effective enough against the tragedies of the world. Batman has lost all hope, only to find it again in Superman’s willingness to sacrifice. Lex Luthor sees any symbol of hope with any power as fraudulent. Lois Lane fights for the symbol of hope that Superman presents, and in so doing brings Luthor down.
By grappling with the theme of hope, instead of simply giving us a retread of Christopher Reeve or Brandon Routh, BVS is a character drama rather than an action film.
Speaking of characterization, another of John’s comments dealt with that:
“We’re trying to take a really hard look at everything to make sure we stay true to the characters and tell stories that celebrate them.”
Note the use of the words “stay true.” This implies that Johns has confidence that they have been true to the characters and will continue to be so.
Considering, again, that the tone of Justice League has always meant to be lighter than Batman v Superman, all of this makes sense. One twitter user pointed out in a tweet:
“Man of steel: They’ll race behind you
BvS: They will stumble,They will fall
JusticeLeague: They will join you in the sun” (source)
This references a quote from Man of Steel, where the AI version of Jor-El tells Clark:
“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
Overall, placed in a proper context, Geoff Johns’s quotes don’t really imply any serious course correction on the part of DC.
Only when slanted by shoddy journalism do the quotes seem that way. To combat that, let me correct those tired talking points I mentioned before:
1) Reshoots. Most films have some kind of reshoot or pickup shoots. In fact, this article from August of 2014 includes a statement from Kevin Feige of the MCU that “[The idea of ‘finding the movie in the cut’] brings great solace to me when we screen our movies for the first time and they’re terrible and they’re a big mess. I remind myself to get calm and proceed. Post is my favorite part, because it’s easiest to find what’s wrong with the movie when you’re watching the movie.”
2) Second Week Drop. Yes, BVS had an 81% drop including Thursday preview numbers. Suicide Squad had a 67% drop. But Captain America: Civil War had a second week drop of 74%, despite exquisite press and a Metacritic score of 75. X-Men: Apocalypse had a second week drop of 75%, as well, and middling reviews. Considering the bad press dogging both BVS and Squad, the numbers come as no surprise.
3) Batman and Superman can’t crack a smile. Okay, clearly you need a reminder:
And really, you’re complaining about Batman not smiling? Batman? Are you sure about that?
In sum, Ben Fritz needs to take a hard look at his journalistic objectivity and maybe do some ‘course correcting’ of his own before covering the DCEU again.