Thursday, June 22, 2017

'Watchmen,' 'Justice League' and Team Snyder/Team Whedon — oh my!

Zack Snyder is getting his second chance at directing a superhero ensemble film with "Justice League."

His first time to play in the DC movie sandbox was in 2009 with "Watchmen."

Reflecting much of his first two installments in the unrelated DC Expanded Universe (DCEU) — "Man of Steel" and "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," "Watchmen" is a hit-and-miss affair. The characters look and act spot on from the original material, but that also means we have to spend much too much time with Doctor Manhattan and Ozymandias monologuing -- falling in love with the sounds of their own voices.

With the exception of a slightly altered ending, it captures the essence of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' 1986-'87 graphic novel/limited series (which is too long at 12 issues). The costumes leap off the pages onto the big screen and there's no less graphic violence or steamy sex.

"Watchmen" though is violent for the sake of violent. As great as actress Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre) looks without her clothes, the nudity is just as gratuitous.

The movie has the same moody atmosphere and follows the same storyline as the original WATCHMEN. All that simply proves is that Hollywood and Snyder can bring a story to life with little alterations. In the end, "Watchmen" is "eh" -- all show and flair, but no substance with nothing much accomplished except for a straightforward telling of a story we already knew. (Grades -- Movie: B-; Limited series: C)

This time, with "Justice League," Snyder gets an assist from Joss Whedon.

What a brilliant director!

Whedon knows more than a thing or two about getting the best from ensemble casts — whether that's the "Serenity" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV series, his unforgettable ASTONISHING X-MEN run or the first two "Avengers" movies. Snyder certainly learned about balancing ensembles in "Watchmen" -- and DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. have heard about the disappointment of the "BvS" story, so any additional feedback Whedon can provide Team Snyder is a great asset for "Justice League" for making it a truly ensemble film.

Just as I had titled my review of the first "Justice League" trailer "playing well with others," the only way for a superhero team flick to work is for everyone to play nice with each other (letting what's great about each character and actor shine equally).

Let me take a moment to address the heartbreak behind Snyder letting Whedon take "Justice League" to the finish line for its Nov. 17 release date.

It's nothing less than horrible to hear about Snyder's daughter committing suicide. That's just awful. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Snyder family. Absolutely no one should blame Snyder for trying to deal with his loss by attempting to complete his movie.

Zack and Deborah Snyder attend the New York premiere
of "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice."
DIMITRIOS KAMBOURIS/Getty Images North America
And absolutely every should applaud him for knowing his limits and calling in Whedon to help him out with filming necessary additional scenes and whatever it takes to finish "Justice League."

How can anyone concentrate on work in the middle of a family crisis? Snyder and his wife handled the situation with class and the fan community kept it classy in supporting their decision.

Now, will Team Snyder do any pre-release publicity for "Justice League"?

It shouldn't matter and I can't blame the Snyders if they decide to bow out of that, too. Reporters naturally will bring up their daughter's suicide and why they left the film; why would they want to put up with that nonsense time after time? Let the Snyders pick up the pieces and start the healing process at their own speed.

From my perspective, Whedon's involvement will be a great assistance in making "Justice League" a solid, if not good or even outstanding film. He loves the superhero genre and created an instant classic with the first "Avengers." (CCC has two reviews of "Avengers: Age of Ultron" -- a spoiler version and of course, a non-spoiler one,)

Whedon's touch could be just the tweak that Snyder's movie needs to take "Justice League" — and the DC Expanded Universe — to the next level it so deserves. Needless to say, Snyder has had a rough time of it from critics and fans setting up the DCEU. So in terms of making films, he needs some big-time redemption. And even if Snyder gets it, I wouldn't be surprised if he steps away from the DCEU after "Justice League" -- especially if it's a massive hit. Go out on top, I say!

"Man of Steel" had a lukewarm reception, but as I say, it improves upon subsequent viewings.

Everyone was pumped to know Batman and Superman would face off in the sequel, but DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. inevitably lost the scheduling stand-off with Marvel Studios and "Captain America: Civil War." Delaying the release of "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" did nothing but make skeptical fans even more so.

Let's be honest about "Batman v Superman": It was a showcase for Ben Affleck's vengeful Dark Knight and failed to follow through with any of Superman's and Clark Kent's character development from "Man of Steel." (Here is an April 2015 op-ed on how I suspected "MoS" would lead into "BvS.") Confusing with more questions than it answered in the theatrical release, "BvS" remains a hot mess with not enough pro-active Superman for us to care about his sacrificial death in the slightly bloated and equally obtuse so-called "Ultimate Edition."

I really enjoyed seeing the writers have some fun with DC characters in "Suicide Squad." Like final battles in "Man of Steel" and "BvS," the ending went big and dumb, but fans and critics had very little good things to say about it. I stand by the "B" grade I gave it.

So the DCEU didn't get its first critical darling until Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot's brilliant "Wonder Woman" — a definitive take on Princess Diana.

And that means there's a lot of pressure on Team Snyder and Team Whedon to keep that great filmmaking mojo going with "Justice League." It would be awfully ugly to go two steps forward with "Wonder Woman" and several back with "Justice League."

Movie Pilot is reporting that despite Whedon's contributions, DCE Creative Officer Geoff Johns has assured fans that "Justice League" remains Snyder's film.

"(It's) important to note that Zack Snyder will still have the final say on the movie. (Geoff) Johns' social media activity seems to confirm that although Joss Whedon has been given a pretty free reign to guide 'Justice League' in Snyder's absence, it won't be in a new direction. While the director has been divisive, he's put plenty of time and energy into these movies, offering a visceral and gritty spectacle which have been commercially successful and has proven immensely popular with many DC fans," writes Benjamin Eaton.

Joss Whedon
Cary's Comics Craze final thoughts: Whedon can — and will — do nothing but help make "Justice League" the movie it needs to be. He can help give Snyder's film the heart it needs to be a critical and box-office success.

Also, this allows the future director of the upcoming "Batgirl" movie to have some more time to play in the DCEU sandbox. Whedon can get an even better idea of how to handle the DCEU and get a perspective on it before placing Barbara Gordon properly in the same movie universe.

Here's hoping my prediction comes true because the DCEU needs to follow a massive hit like "Wonder Woman" with an equally big moneymaker and critical darling.

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