Written by Eric Cahill
A few years back, rumors swirled that DC was just going to go ahead and do a goddamn Justice League movie. At some point they hired a director, hired all the actors, and spent millions getting it going (mostly due to legal stuff that is incredibly shady but still). But it seemed absurd! It seemed like it was created with the sole purpose of getting the attention of fanboy blogging and entertainment news soundbites. No way was this ever a project that was actually happening, no one was having these meetings, it was all some Bizarro PR campaign to promote Common’s album, who the hell knows. Of course, the project really was happening (until it suddenly wasn’t) and somehow the script really was written (and recently leaked). And believe it or not, it reads exactly as a script produced for a completely fake and completely weird PR campaign would read. I honestly couldn’t even have imagined exactly what that was until, Shazam, I read it. Let’s dig in. Spoilers ahoy.
The script opens at a funeral, for whom we don’t quite know. We’re led to believe it’s Batman’s funeral. Most of the League are sitting sadly, Wonder Woman is eulogizing sadly, and Superman is all up in space. Sadly. This being the opening scene perfectly demonstrates the most jarring element of the project in general, as well as the deepest weakness that runs through the script. We only know these guys through the comics (and probably mostly cartoons) we’ve seen them all in before. The spectacle, the emotion isn’t just that we’re at a funeral, it’s that we’re at a JUSTICE LEAGUE funeral. But we just don’t know who the fuck these people are.
The script makes no effort to explain the various origins of the characters. There is a (more or less… no wait most certainly less) POV character in the Barry Allen Flash, but at the start of the film, he’s already been the Flash for a long enough time for it to be old hat to him, he’s already married to longtime love Iris, and for goodness sake, HIS NEPHEW HAS SUPERPOWERS.
Yeah, Wally’s in there, with the powers, with a mock costume, asking to be a sidekick. From whence did these individuals came? I dunno. Why do they have super speed? I dunno. Does it matter? Well… maybe.
But anyway, the emotional beats all center around the idea that Batman betrayed the other superheroes by compiling a list of their weaknesses and creating a satellite and shooting it into space with the sole seeming purpose of being a creeper on his friends. Somehow (I say somehow because this is never explained in the script), this satellite uses nanites to do basically whatever the hell it wants. And by whatever it wants, I mean it can make you blind, or make your skin burn forever, or make you afraid of anything, or make you vibrate through the earth, or create out of a whole cloth a virally infectious sea creature that breathes fire. But most importantly it can make anyone in the world in a killer robot but covering their skin and transforming them into OMACs.
You see, the story features Max Lord as the primary antagonist, here wanting revenge against all superheroes because they didn’t rescue him from experimentation that gave him mind controlling superpowers. He somehow fundamentally alters Batman’s purely observational satellite so that it creates living machines to do whatever the story wants to do at any given moment. You may ask yourself, why does this machine make all the heroes confront their greatest weaknesses instead of turning them into mind-controlled killer robots? And you may find that there is no answer within the script. Hell, if you can make GL blind, Aquaman afraid of water, and set Martian Manhunter on fire forever – why not just do all three at once to all of them?
That aside, one of the biggest issues with the narrative (at least present in this draft) is that we don’t know if the Leaguers actually KNOW each other. Flash talks about Wonder Woman in a familiar way initially, but then when he meets her it’s the first time he’s ever done so. So then I assume that, ok I guess I misread and that all the characters DON’T know each other. But then, it seems, everyone else does! All of the characters have preexisting relationships except the Flash. You don’t know this until about halfway through however, sometime after the scene where Barry inexplicably and offhandedly gives his secret identity away to people he just met. So maybe the screenwriters didn’t know they hadn’t met yet either.
And the movies depends on the relationships, established offscreen, by these characters, to propel the emotional narrative. When Batman shows up to reveal that the plans used to take down the team are his own, everyone is aghast. I was a little confused. Every scene we’ve seen of Batman up until this point was him sitting alone in rooms hating these dudes. And there’s various bits in the script (including an explicit scene right before the final battle) that indicates that somehow these characters have never fought side by side before. And yet earlier they are pretty much sitting around reading aloud from one another’s dream journals.
This is the predominant reason it is important to establish the characters beforehand – because if your story is based on preexisting conditions in their relationships, then you lose the audience. You can open a movie with someone being dumped and have the entire subsequent movie be about that relationship but you need to spend that movie making us understand why. The ‘Mortal’ screenplay is one in which a series of traumatic events happen to characters who don’t really know each and learn no lessons by the end except that they should be best friends. The big emotional climax (the funeral and who it’s for is certainly an afterthought in the lives of these characters) is Superman telling Batman he can still be their bro, when effectively he did everything up to and including cold blooded murder, that they all have pledged to stand against.
And oh yeah, cold blooded murder. I don’t honestly have a problem with Batman committing murder, or superheroes doing it in certain contexts, so I didn’t really have a problem with Batman’s big action towards the end of the script. My only problem is that it’s not even established as something that the team feels that strongly about until just about when it happens. In fact, Wonder Woman is so against the idea that she willingly goes along with being strangled to death by Superman just so she doesn’t have to murder the guy FORCING HIM TO STRANGLE HER. However, as soon as Batman does it, she doesn’t seem to care even a little. You really buy in this script that Batman is a tool who deserves the no friends he has. But the script is maddeningly looking for a cheer when he gets all the friends there are.
Martian Manhunter is there, but in no way should he be. The script is really full of superfluous bits and as a big action movie, that’s ok. But it’s easy to see that much of the spectacle could have been trimmed away in order to give the characters a little bit more to do as characters, develop them a little, make them interesting besides whatever you as an audience member project onto them when the movie starts. Manhunter doesn’t do much besides spend literally the entire movie on fire. He does have one graceful note during a fierce battle against Superman, that really demonstrates his power and his value as spectacle. But it’s an oasis in a movie where he is just on fire the whole time.
Speaking of creative uses of power, Green Lantern (here John Stewart) gets a few good scenes to show off his stuff. It’s sort of like a greatest hits. He has absolutely no personality, but there’s a ring slinging a plenty. The best scene is probably when he creates a fully realized playground, with fully reactive children to try it out. When one of the children is having difficulty with an aspect of the monkey bars, John adjusts it immediately. After doing so, he then goes to a design he’s working on in order to incorporate that minute change into an actual blueprint for an actual playground he’s working on. That, THAT is a great use of the character. One of the better things, in fact, about Hollywood pumping out superhero films is that the writers on them are either that mercenary, or just that much than the comic writers themselves, that they can really contextualize the superpowers in a way that has legit weight in the real world. The movies become like a series of “what would a guy who could do this do if he could do this”.
Like this is a scene where Barry uses his vibration to stimulate his wife. It’s only a little as dirty as it sounds. Barry vibrates and simply passes through his wife, giving her a pleasant sensation. The Flash uses his powers for intimacy – not sex, just romantic intimacy. Meanwhile, in his monthly title, he’s doing something a hell of a lot less interesting.
I always say the reason people really like Spider-man (besides his cool powers, funky costume, and the jokes, the jokes, the jokes) are because he’s a dude. A real, really real dude. He’s got shit to deal with he’s got problems directly related to being a superhero. All due respect to writers who say the contrary, I DO give a fuck about where Green Lantern gets his money. I really DO care how Batman butters his bread.
There’s a scene where Flash shakes Aquaman’s water hand (yeah he also has the water hand out of nowhere in this movie) and I realized that Flash is actually going to DESCRIBE how it FEELS to SHAKE A WATER HAND. And I realized I was ENTHRALLED. I want to know what that would feel like! That’s what makes superpowers interesting! That I don’t have them and I’d love to know what they’re like.
Speaking of Aquaman, he’s a total dick here, which is absolutely what everyone likes about him at this point (and also of course “Outrageous!”). Even though he inexplicably insists his magic water hand is just a hand, it of course is a magic water hand that has magic. The character struggles a bit where the script tries to reconcile a limited power set with the other members of the team. However, there is a reality about giant whales jumping out of the water that can be more impressive than a magic dude magically flying, so that does come across as exciting on a script page, imaging it on a big screen. His character is best served however by having the MOST personality of everyone, and having a more dramatic, sort of subtle, love story with Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman is given a bit of the shaft. A lot of lip service paid to how awesome she is, but literally 90% of that is talking about how hot she is. The other 10% is characters admonishing other characters for talking about how hot she is. At one one point, she laughs at a joke about how she doesn’t wear pants, but that’s pretty meta – I mean, it’s a brand new iteration of the character in a brand new movie, why doesn’t she just wear pants? Perhaps most the most disappointing aspect of the whole film is just how much she gets her ass kicked by Superman. It flips the story it steals from shamelessly on its head – here, she’s not fighting an equal with the intent to murder while holding back her own strength, she’s desperately using every trick she has just to survive his attack.
And that’s essentially all Superman really does in the movie, hit stuff and hit it big. That’s great, that’s fine, I mean that’s all he did in the Bruce Timm Justice League cartoon anyway. And he is the most established character, so we can be forgiven a little bit of assumption. But it’s a little jarring when he flies off the handle at Batman who then questions him “I thought you were non-violent?”. Well, I guess Batman’s not reading the script.
Wally is superfluous, his one actual plot in the movie discovering information in an inexplicable and 100% pointless way. Barry literally says “using you hack skills to look up nanobots” and Wally finds out the most secret secret in the entire world in less than a day. This information is pointless even, as it’s all given to the heroes shortly thereafter via monologue.
But nothing in the movie is as superfluous as Talia. The less said about that pointless nonsense, the better. Talia is basically just a powerfully sexual equal to Batman, which is great, but she literally just stands in one room the whole movie and then dies somehow at some point in some way I don’t understand.
There’s a big fight at the end, where Superman says they have no time to evacuate New York because of how fast a robot horde is coming. Of course they don’t attack until 10 script pages later. Superman also makes clear the robots are after them, but offers no subsequent explanation as to why they don’t just leave the fucking city.
There’s also a dumb bit where Max’s plan hinges on the consumption of fast food. As a vegetarian and a father who cares about his child’s health, I goddamn hate fast food restaurants and welcome their denigration in a JL movie. But here it was pretty dumb and out of nowhere.
I piss and moan, but there were some good elements. A few good jokes (though not nearly enough) and spectacle up the ass. Superman’s battle with the League is a particular delight. We really get to see the range of the characters abilities. Unfortunately, that they’re being used on each in their first movie seems like kind of a waste.
There’s a LOT of unnecessary name dropping and in jokes to the continuity, so if you’re into that (I’m personally over it) than you’ll love it.
And honestly, the swarm of OMACs and the battle following would have been glorious to see. I have a soft spot for those blue OMAC robots so it’s just that subjective experience talking, but whatever shut up. I don’t quite understand how the JL swears they’re against killing and repeatedly state that they must take it easy on the OMACs because each one has an innocent person trapped inside but then rips them to pieces with abandon. Aquaman literally feeds them to sharks and Wonder Woman rips off at least one arm and knocks off at least one head with it.
In conclusion, read it. I left out the big surprise at the end, so you’ve got incentive. And without getting too into it, it’s really, really, really, REALLY an AWFUL lot like ‘The Avengers’. Take that as you will.
But seriously Hal Jordan Memorial Park? Why even?