August 17, 2018

Trailer Breakdown: Justice League

This breakdown is overdue, but you’ve had time to wait and mull it over, so get ready to take a closer look at the Justice League trailer with me.

Things are changing in the DC Extended Universe. With the Man of Steel sidelined (as only he can be), and a new threat on its way, the job falls to Batman himself to assembles Earth’s meta humans into a single unit. That’s easier said than done for both the characters and director Zack Snyder, but the first extended look at Justice League the movie revealed during San Diego Comic-Con 2016 shows the task is further along than some fans may have expected.

The trailer made good on the producers’ promise that Justice League would be a more thrilling adventure based on the characters involved, revealing our first looks at Jason Momoa’s ‘Aquaman,’ Ray Fisher’s ‘Cyborg,’ and Ezra Miller’s ‘Flash.’ But aside from that, the scenes and sequences showed more than a few telling twists and details, from the new source of Barry Allen’s powers to the relationship between Aquaman and the villages – possibly around the world – who rely on the sea for survival.

Obviously, as with all such early looks, a lot can change between now and the final release of the film, but this was no “B-reel” compilation. Cut like a trailer (to the tune of The White Stripes’ “Ickythump”) and featuring a unifying through-line of Batman and Wonder Woman traveling the world to recruit superheroes for their new team, it’s at least clear that the presentation is meant to represent the overall tone and texture of the film, a.k.a., what WB/DC want people to know (or at least think for now). That, more than anything else, is the point here: a mission statement – this is the movie you’re getting.

So what’s to be gleaned so far?

Justice League, judging by the initial footage, carries over the muted colors and darker visual atmosphere of Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. The main locations in the trailer included a grafitti-splattered hideout for The Flash, a poverty-blighted fishing village, a recently-wrecked city glimpsed behind Wonder Woman and more sparse, underlit warehouse/bunker locations than you can shake a stick at (obviously, there’s a lot more shooting yet to be done).

Fan reactions have proven that this particular aesthetic has both outspoken detractors and supporters – so at least for the latter audience, this is good news. Plus, in a business sense, it’s logical for WB/DC to continue to establish their a unique superhero brand rather than trying to directly emulate the colorful “Silver Age” sensibility that Marvel Studios has mined with its Marvel Cinematic Universe. If nothing else, it looks like it will be easy for moviegoers to tell the Justice League and Avengers apart in terms of color palette alone.

The footage opens with Bruce Wayne in an unnamed town looking for a mysterious man who apparently arrives every so often via the ocean (wonder who that could be). It’s not clear exactly where this is, but it’s the kind of chilly seaside village where men grow awesome beards. Yeah, I really just grabbed this shot because that’s a pretty impressive beard.

Speaking of beards, it looks like Mr. Wayne has grown one of his own. Since he’s clean-shaven in the rest of the footage, this implies that he’s been looking for Arthur Curry for long enough that his trademark stubble has turned into a cowl-defiling face-rug. If you want to get really obsessive, it would seem that Aquaman is the first hero Bruce is searching for. After all, the beard is gone in every other scene.

Then there’s Aquaman himself, looking entirely unlike his traditional comic book counterpart in just about every way. After all, this character is a tough sell before you take into account his bright orange and green color scheme and Aryan looks. Making him look wilder and more dangerous is an interesting choice and could go a long way to selling audiences on a character that many viewers (including people who paid to watch Ant-Man) think is ridiculous.

Aquaman is one of DC’s best known heroes and also one of the most interesting, with a history and aesthetic that combines elements of golden age pulp adventure fiction, medieval mythology and oceanic imagery. He has a cool power-set, an entirely different world to live in and explore apart from other traditional superheroes, and he’s been a core part of most League incarnations for as long as anyone can remember. On the other hand, that his abilities are so unusual and that his world leans so heavily on old-fashioned pulp tropes and fairytale imagery (i.e. yes, he does in fact “talk to fish”) has often led to him being viewed as a “silly” character in need of fixing for a modern audience, often in the form of getting a weaponized hand or being transformed into a Conan-esque “badass.”

That certainly seems to be the take being presented here. What are sure to be instantly-iconic shots of a buff, bearded Jason Momoa (say what you will about him as an actor, he’s got screen-presence) chugging booze straight from the bottle and standing growling at Batman are about as far away from the classic version of Aquaman (or anyone else in the DC canon outside of maybe Lobo), and more than anything else in the trailer carry forth what one has to assume (given Zack Snyder) is an implicit overall refrain that this is definitely not a “Superfriends Movie.” Beyond that, there’s not actually much to report on Aquaman from the trailer. We never hear him called by his superhero name (just “Arthur Curry”), we don’t seem him swimming or using his powers; even the trident (already glimpsed in Dawn of Justice) doesn’t make an appearance.

Just how extreme is Jason Momoa’s Aquaman? He’s so extreme that he’s covered in extreme tattoos and guzzles liquor like an extreme rad dude! I kid, but this is the point where I express some trepidation about what Snyder and company are doing with this character. Could their attempt to make one of the least cool DC heroes relevant to mainstream audiences just transform him into a completely different kind of ridiculous? This is the point in the footage where you realize that there really aren’t many visual effects shots finished, so the bulk of the trailer will consist of stuff that required little or no polishing by computer. However, this seemingly practical shot where Aquaman is engulfed in a massive wave is impressive, reminding us that this guy can do more than talk to fish and withstand elements that would kill an ordinary man.

So you transform Aquaman into a shaggy, wild man with dangerous eyes who has a thing for guzzling booze before withstanding a tidal wave. That’s a start. How do you really prove that he’s Really Serious and Not A Joke? You have him manhandle Batman and make it look easy, of course. Here is the footage reminding you for the nth time that Aquaman is Serious Business. Look at those eyes! Look how he’s shirtless in the snow! Would you see Superman shirtless in the snow? Of course not!

“Arthur Curry. I hear you can talk to fish.” Sure, this new Aquaman is a Tough Guy who Isn’t A Joke At All, but that’s not going to stop Batman from making jokes about him talking to fish. I think I can get behind this intense take on Aquaman if he is tempered by the other members of the team constantly pushing his buttons.

As pretty much everyone had expected, the main thrust of the plot looks to be driven by Batman’s absolute certainty that a cosmic-level threat is headed to Earth and that the eventual Justice League will be required to stop it. There are no Parademons, Apokoliptian vistas, Boom Tubes or even a glimpse of confirmed antagonist Steppenwolf in the trailer (in fact, there are no villains on hand thus far, period), but we do get a shot of what pretty-much has to be either a Mother Box or something to keep a Mother Box in (Mother Box Box?) being buried in a forest by medieval-looking persons at some point presumably in the past. Who are these folks? Atlanteans? Greeks? Someone else? Arthurian legends figure prominently in DC lore the same way Norse mythology does for Marvel, but with Warner Bros rolling out their own King Arthur franchise (with a trailer screened minutes later at the same panel, even!) would they allow that level of potential confusion? Anyway, here’s a group of people in medieval garb gathered in a forest…

Of course we’ve already seen one Mother Box in Batman v Superman, being used to give Cyborg his robotic replacement parts. It makes sense to use a “MacGuffin Hunt” for various Boxes as a structure to build the film around, though it will also be interesting to see what steps are taken to keep audiences and critics from reacting less-than-excitedly to the idea of another superhero team-up movie being premised around playing “hot potato” with a magic cube (one imagines the fact that the Mother Boxes have a much more specific, “big idea” sci-fi purpose than the Cosmic Cube/Tesseract will play a big part in that gambit).

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was one of the few genuine bright spots in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, so every little reminder that she is in this movie is a good thing. It’s kind of amazing just how great this character looks on screen, which makes you wonder why the hell it took everyone so long to realize a cinematic version of this character.

Let’s ask the obvious question: since Batman v Superman features a scene where Wonder Woman watches a trailer for a Cyborg movie er, features a scene where Wonder Woman watches footage of Cyborg’s creation, does this shot of Ray Fisher as a perfectly normal high school student come from a flashback? Or will Justice League casually ignore that awful scene and give this character a proper origin on screen?

Here we are in the home of Barry Allen. I count at least sixteen screens in this shot, which is apparently the kind of stimulation you need when you’re that much faster than the rest of the world. You’ll also note that his costume is on display in the far right of the frame, but we’ll get a better look soon enough.

Probably the biggest turnaround pre- and post release for Batman v Superman was peoples’ reaction to “Batfleck.” Prior to release, many fans viewed Affleck as a potential a weak link (being the next Batman actor to follow Christian Bale). However, by the time that Batman V Superman had launched, even the film’s most ardent critics seemed to agree that Affleck’s brawny, Arkham Asylum-influenced Batman was a highlight.

Ben Affleck was one of the best parts of Batman v Superman, and the decision to depict him as an older, wiser vigilante appears to be paying off here. Watching the reserved and stoic Bruce Wayne interact with the energetic youngsters and oddball characters he’s trying to recruit is certainly amusing. There is no better straight man in a comic exchange than the always serious Batman.

As such, it’s unsurprising that it looks like almost zero change or adjustment has happened for this character in Justice League versus his portrayal in Batman V Superman – not even a costume swap, which is often a rule for superhero movies (if only to convince kids that they need to upgrade their action figures and/or Halloween plans). You don’t fix what isn’t broken and the Batman costume from Batman v Superman was one of the few things in that movie that wasn’t broken. Look at Batman crouch! Look at his knees bend! Look at him do basic motions that were impossible in the rubber monstrosities of earlier movies, however awesome they looked! By now, you’ve likely decided whether or not your onboard with Affleck’s approach to playing Bruce Wayne, so the most interesting thing to note is that he does a lot of his non-combat business out of costume “as” Bruce. He’s shown introducing himself to both The Flash and Aquaman in his civvies, and also hanging out in what looks like a makeshift/pop-up Batcave with Wonder Woman in similarly casual fashion. That’s quite a switch from most prior versions of the character, which emphasized the idea that Bruce does all of his Batman-ing “as” Batman and rarely reveals his face even to his own teammates.

Granted, a lot of that is probably the reality of studios wanting the expensive movie stars hired to play these characters to show their faces as much as possible; hence why Iron Man’s faceplate flips open in a snap instead of being a helmet he has to pull on and off. And speaking of Tony Stark…

That brings us to our first proper introduction to Ezra Miller as Barry Allen, who certainly appears to be the comic relief of Justice League. To be fair, these few minutes contain more jokes than the entirety of Batman v Superman, with just about every character earning a chuckle or two. Still, Miller looks to be leading the charge in bringing some much-needed levity to DC’s cinematic universe.

One thing that viewers (especially on social media) seized on immediately from the Justice League trailer was how similar Bruce Wayne’s recruitment of The Flash (i.e. a famous billionaire in a suit is surprisingly already waiting for a young, nervously-jokey superhero to come home) was to Tony Stark scouting out Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. There’s even a beat where Bruce glances over what could be a prototype Flash costume – implying the plot detail of the rich older hero gifting his young protege new threads will be repeated as well? This extreme close-up of Barry Allen’s Flash outfit reveals a seriously worn texture. It seems that being the fastest man alive causes some serious friction on your clothing…

Now we know how the Flash’s powers will be visualized on screen. As Bruce Wayne throws a Batarang at Barry to test his powers, everything slows down except Barry, who becomes engulfed in blue electricity and watches everything happen in extreme slow-motion. It feels like the halfway point between the super-speed powers depicted in X-Men: Days of Future Past and Avengers: Age of Ultron, although the lightning is a new (and welcome) touch.

Thankfully, what’s more memorable about Flash’s debut here is that Barry immediately undercuts the gravitas of the moment by cutting Bruce’s ominous recruitment speech off and volunteering straight-away because (drum roll, please!) he’s lonely.

Flash will be a closely watched character in Justice League largely because a fair-sized audience is already quite devoted to the television version of him currently heading into a third hit season on The CW. What’s noteworthy here, then, is that League doesn’t look to be going out of its way to be overwhelmingly different in its presentation of the Scarlet Speedster. He’s still the “kid” of the team, still funny, still working out of a makeshift hideout with a bunch of TVs and science equipment, etc. The armored look of the uniform is going to be an issue for some fans, given that Silver Age Barry’s “red onesie” look is pretty iconic, but the film’s interpretation of how the Speed Force works will likely draw some questions as well. It looks as though Barry steps almost-fully into another dimension when using his powers, like Frodo when wearing The One Ring. Something else to note? Clever sound design: When Barry moves his hands in any kind of gesture that would be “fast” for a normal person, you can hear a very subtle “air slice” (i.e. the “kung-fu movie arm-movement noise”) sound effect – nice touch.
This shot is fun because in the space of a millisecond of real time (which is about five seconds of Flash time), you can see Ezra Miller’s face go from “What the hell did he throw at me?” to “Oh, crap. Bruce Wayne is Batman!”
So here’s our first proper close-up of the big screen version of the Flash and you have to applaud this design: it is instantly and recognizably the character while being wildly different from the version seen on The CW’s The Flash. Part of me can’t help but wonder if wearing armor instead of cloth slows him down in any way. Another part of me wonders how Barry managed to construct an outfit that is comparable to the superhero suit designed by billionaire Bruce Wayne. At the end of the day, this look gets my solemn nod of approval.
Largely missing in action from the trailer? Wonder Woman – at least in-costume or engaged in any major action. Not exactly a surprise, since they had to have known that they’d be debuting this after a full-length trailer for her own movie had already run and that the point of the day was selling people on the three “new” heroes. The main takeaway from her scenes would be that her rapport and chemistry with Affleck remains strong, and that no attempt has been made to mitigate Gal Gadot’s unmistakable accent – probably a good idea, since it helps keep her performance naturalistic and adds a subtle extra layer to the idea that she’s of a different kind to the other (human) Leaguers. It should be noted that we are getting a live action Justice League movie that features at least one scene where Batman and Wonder Woman hang out in the Batcave to talk about how difficult it is to recruit Aquaman. That is a combination of words I would never have written a decade ago (partially because I couldn’t write like this ten years ago and, well, yeah).
Outside of Wonder Woman (whose de-emphasis, as discussed, was almost certainly a conscious choice) Cyborg probably has the least screen time in the trailer, which makes total sense given that the special effects being used to create his cybernetic body and “heavy metal” are likely very expensive, time-consuming and largely unfinished. We do get a shot of him prior to his injuries and transformation, which indicates that flashbacks will be a big part of filling in the backstory gap for the new heroes. Otherwise, we see just enough to determine that his design is definitely inspired by the post-Injustice imagining of the character.

Of note, humor doesn’t seem to be part of his programming. That’s an interesting decision, considering that the main (only?) reason that the character became an A-lister and League fixture within the last decade is how popular he was with younger viewers who discovered him through the Teen Titans cartoon; where his personality was that of a boisterous, jovial hero. A team can’t have too many clowns, granted, and it looks as though Flash will be filling that particular role; but in terms of chemistry it brings the question of what exactly Cyborg’s interactions with the rest of the team will be all about.

“I heard about you. Didn’t think you were real.” This is the first time we get to hear Cyborg speak and he he sounds about as serious as you’d expect a mutilated teenager who is only alive because his dad turned him into a robot to sound. “I’m real when it’s useful.” Batman’s response to Cyborg’s observation is a perfect blend of wry humor and stuck-up jack@$$ery. Yep, that’s the Batman I know and love.

Could this be the final title treatment? Could it really be that simple? Because this looks perfectly fine and the little start built into the font implies that the movie attached to this title is, you know, actually fun. I remain skeptical about Justice League because I, you know, watched Batman v Superman, but I dig the tone of this footage in a big way. A little bit of personality goes a long way.

Considering how polished everything looked, it’s clear that we’re only seeing a tiny fraction of the final product here; with plenty of questions yet to be answered: We don’t see any of the villains, don’t get a sense of the main plot, don’t know if the League has a headquarters, don’t even known how long it will take them to actually get together. Perhaps biggest of all, there’s not even a mention of Superman or what might be going on with that particular story thread, even though he’s prominently depicted as part of the first official Justice League “lineup” photo. The takeaway for fans is that what’s already present looks big, ambitious and possessed of a clear vision, which should make everyone suitably interested to see what’s to come.
About Kidane Malik 2 Articles
Kidane Malik, presenting himself! He attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and possibly McQuaid Jesuit. He is secretly Batman, Yoda, the Avatar and a host of other awesome characters from various thaaangs. This guy absolutely loves books, Youtube, and (not so) secretly loves Fanfiction. Speaking in the third person has become a new hobby, at least when writing bios or profiles. He's long winded (or penned), but will try to avoid that for this (since many people told him that "brevity is the soul of wit"). There are many things he could say about himself but suffice to say that Kidane is definitely human (almost to his regret) and basically lives an insignificant, ignorant, spoiled, blessed, little life. One of the only bright spots in that miserable excuse for a living is writing for McQuaid's amazing, online news heap run by the Morales Himself (yes, He deserves a capital "H")! If you will disregard his imperfection, Kidane will be pleased to continue pleasuring your brains with lovely, well-written articles posted via the Shield. Attending McQuaid is one of the best decisions Kidane ever made (during the period of 10 years where he's been conscious of the good and bad decisions he could make) and just know, McQuaid Jesuit, the Morales, Kidane's friends and family, (teachers he supposes), and the Shield are awesome!

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