Zack Snyder's 'Justice League': A Review


First, let’s put some cards on the table: I didn’t like this film at all. That will save you some time, perhaps, if you’re a fan and don’t want to read a negative review. But if you are in agreement with me, or simply want to know why I disliked it so much, feel free to read on.

More cards: I have been reading Marvel and DC comics (and others) since 1963 and have a collection of comics stretching back into the ‘60s which includes many masterworks. I’m also a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In addition, I’ve studied fiction in various forms for almost 50 years now and have written a book called How Stories Really Work — so what follows isn’t merely opinion, but is based on fairly close analysis.

Some context: over 1986 and 1987, DC Comics published Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbs, a work of art which changed the world of superhero comics forever. As you can read about in my book, there are four basic genres in storytelling: Epic, Tragedy, Irony and Comedy. Superhero comics, as developed by the two giants in the field, Marvel and DC, firmly began in the Epic genre, though Stan Lee and his cohorts at Marvel had from the early ‘60s been adding in elements of tragedy, irony and comedy and making their characters much more rounded as a result. DC had tended to stick with more two-dimensional stories and characters — and then Watchmen came along. In Watchmen, Moore and Gibbs dragged the sub-genre of superhero stories over into Irony: in their book, many dark and grim things happened to brooding and twisted characters, encased in a very (and I mean very) bleak dystopian world.

The graphic novel of Watchmen was immensely popular and influential. Comics afterwards were never quite the same: heroes became anti-heroes, characters developed psychoses and ‘dark sides’, and plots became gloomier and gloomier. Just look at Batman in the late ‘80s, or Superman, or Wolverine, or what happened to the X-Men or any of the major comic book characters. Things got ‘real’.

Not accidentally, this coincided with a gradual decline in the sales of comic books over the ‘90s, part of the effect of which was to drive Marvel into bankruptcy (which is another story). A smaller, dedicated public loved the darker tales — but the wider comic books audience tended to prefer stories of a lighter, more Epic tone.

Zack Snyder made a movie of the Watchmen graphic novel in 2009 which, while not totally faithful to the even darker original version, was an attempt to capture cinematically the ironic tone of which the Watchmen comics reeked. It garnered a small but loyal audience, but, paralleling what happened in the comics industry, it was not more widely hailed and suffered commercially. By then, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was underway, and this turned out to be a masterclass in how to make appealing and commercially successful superhero films.

What was at the heart of the MCU’s success? They stuck closely to the original ‘Epic-with-other-elements’ feel of the ‘