At this point, there's really no getting around the cold hard truth: Justice League is an outright failure of the DC Extended Universe. While it's garnered slightly better critical reviews than the likes of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, it's coming up considerably short where it counts for Warner Bros., with box office returns lagging well behind all the other DCEU releases. That DC's version of the superhero team-up has yet to match the opening weekend of Marvel's The Avengers after three weeks in cinemas has thrown the future of DC's film slate into question, and people are understandably beginning to point fingers at those who they feel are to blame for whiffing on such seemingly sure thing. The most ardent fans of the DCEU have come to something of a consensus regarding who Justice League's failure should largely be attributed to: Joss Whedon.
Joss Whedon Did His Best To "Save" Justice League (This Page)
The argument against Whedon is both straightforward and weirdly complicated. On a surface level, the hate being leveled Whedon's way makes a certain amount of sense; after Zack Snyder departed the film's production in the wake of his daughter's death, Whedon took over as director for the film's reshoots and post-production process. While that was initially sold as Whedon stepping in simply to oversee completion of Snyder's vision, we've since learned that was not the whole story.
Warner Bros. was unhappy with the direction the film was taking well before Snyder left the production, reportedly calling an early cut of the film "unwatchable." Whedon was brought in to work with Snyder on suring up the script, and was the natural choice to take over when Snyder could no longer participate. But rather than completing Snyder's vision, Warner Bros. had Whedon drastically alter both the tone and story of the film through reshoots that were much more extensive than was originally made clear. This, understandably, led to a film with a schizophrenic tone, a Frankenstein movie attempting to bridge the decidedly different styles of the two filmmakers.
The reshoots are pretty easy to spot, as several of the actors look noticeably different, sometimes within the same scene. Most infamously, the shoddy CGI erasure of Henry Cavill's Mission: Impossible mustache sticks out like...well, like a weird CGI upper lip, making every Superman reshoot readily apparent. Coupled with the fact that Whedon is simply not the visual artist that Snyder is made it very easy to see the movie's unfortunate seams. One of the chief arguments against Whedon is that he should have made subtler changes to the film and maintained as much of what Snyder had intended as was possible to create a film that was thematically and visually coherent.
The problem with that argument is pretty simple: that's clearly not what Warner Bros. hired Whedon to do. Reports have recently surfaced claiming the studio considered firing Snyder after the polarizing reception that accompanied Batman v Superman, realizing their DC superhero slate was in need of a course correction. The first signs of that adjustment were apparent in this summer's Wonder Woman. Directed by Patty Jenkins - who worked closely with newly installed DC Films head Geoff Johns - that film was a triumph, striking a warm, earnest tone that seemed very far away from Snyder's dark, violent interpretation of the DC Universe, and yet just as far away from the winking, snarky antics of Marvel's films. Both a critical and financial smash, Wonder Woman pointed the way forward for the DCEU.
But through Warner Bros.'s own poor planning, the wheels were already turning on Justice League, which was still being conceived of by Snyder and his collaborators. Rather than delay a film they had next to no confidence in, they went into the process creatively compromised, pushing a tone and sensibility on Snyder that simply never fit him. When tragedy struck and Snyder departed, Warner Bros. saw an opportunity to further alter the film, hoping to salvage what they likely knew was a picture out of step with where they were heading. Whedon was essentially handed an impossible task: radically rework a visual effects intensive blockbuster that he didn't initially conceive of in a few short months.
It would have been a nearly impossible task for anyone, and the fact that Justice League makes a lick of sense at all is a testament to Whedon's talent.
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Wonder Woman 2 (2019) release date: Nov 01, 2019