The Avengers Vs The Justice League: Why Writing Matters

 

I watched Justice League last month to see what all the DC/Marvel movie hoo-ra was about.  For those of you not plugged into superhero-internet spasms, DC has all the truly Golden Age iconic heroes—Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman—and is flailing at the box office, while Marvel has less universally known heroes—Ironman, Captain America, the Hulk—and is making money so fast it’s giving the industry a headrush.  I don’t care about box office, I care about story, but I do think there’s often (not always) a strong correlation between good story and good profit, so I decided to do a compare-and-contrast, to look at Marvel’s big superhero team-up, The Avengers (2012) and DC’s team-up, Justice League (2017), to see why DC keeps falling on its face and Marvel usually (not always) kicks box office butt. 

My thesis going in: It’s the story, stupid.  My thesis after watching Justice League twice last month and The Avengers at least half a dozen times in the past six years: They’re the same damn plot, so it’s something beyond that.

Uh, that would be the writing. 

Let’s start with the plot, since it’s the one thing they share:

Six people with special abilities squabble about working as a team to defeat a scenery-chewing alien who plans to destroy the Earth with a magic box/three magic boxes using a team of alien flying monkeys.  The Evil Alien Overlord and his monkeys invade, and the squabbling heroes—four hot men, one hot woman–come together under the leadership of an immensely rich hot playboy and kick alien ass to the surprise of absolutely no one. The Earth is saved. 

Not kidding, the movies have the exact same plot.  So why is The Avengers something I’ll watch again and Justice League something I will actively avoid?  Let me count the ways: the protagonists, the antagonists, the pacing, the stakes, the emotional resonance and connection to the story . . . .

It’s the writing.

Let’s break this down.

Protagonists:
The DC Justice League is led by Batman (Ben Affleck making solemn and depressed statements and looking very handsome); the Marvel Avengers are led by Ironman (Robert Downey, Jr, making deadpan wisecracks and looking very handsome).  Both of these guys were introduced in earlier movies, so they come into the movie pretty much fully developed characters, both determined to save the world, except Batman is Eeyore and Ironman is Tigger. 

That means that their set-ups are different, and that becomes crucial to their characterization. Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, is the guy in charge, trying to assemble a team of heroes  by saying, in essence, “We’ll probably all lose our tails and die.”  Ironman, aka Tony Stark, joins the Avengers at the behest of Nick Fury, one of the top guys at America’s secret defense organization, SHIELD, but only after Fury has given him proof that the world is in real danger.  Batman’s a leader, Ironman’s a wisecracking loner.  Bruce Wayne is a tortured soul; Tony Stark just wants his girlfriend/business partner, stuff to invent, and a drink.  Because of that, Stark is reluctant to join the team and suspicious of everybody once he gets there, which he manifests in rapid-fire smart ass remarks in conflict with others, while Wayne pontificates to his team in slow-release infodump.

That means that the dialogue in The Avengers is fast-paced, full of conflict, and funny, and the dialogue in Justice League is long stretches of infodump, non-scenes where characters morosely exchange information.  Since most of the Justice League characters are depressed—Cyborg is not happy about being half a robot, Wonder Woman is still guilt-ridden over the death of her lover in WWI, and Batman is Batman, a guy who would mope during Airplane!—after awhile you start rooting for the flying monkeys.  The only saving graces here are Aquaman, a boisterous good time guy who can control the seas, and the Flash, an awkward teenager who joins up because he needs friends.  My cut of Justice League would be just those two because they’re wonderful.  My cut of Justice League would also be five minutes long. 

And then there’s character arc: Bruce Wayne moves from depressed billionaire to slightly less depressed billionaire; Tony Stark moves from selfish-control-freak-wisecracking billionaire to self-sacrificing-part-of-a-team-wisecracking billionaire.  There’s a great scene between Stark and Steve Rogers (Captain America) early on in The Avengers where Rogers, the all-American hero, calls Stark out on his selfishness, telling him that he’s not the guy who’ll lie down on the wire to save his team; Stark snarks back that he’d just cut the wire.  It’s one of those whose-is-bigger power plays, with some great wordplay (“Get the suit”) and it’s conflict, not infodump.  These guys are not friends and they are not a team. But at the end, when the aliens attack New York and the six Avengers are facing down chaos, Stark says, “Call it, Cap,” handing over power to the military guy who knows how to lead, and minutes later, when somebody has to fly a nuke into space to save New York, Stark steps up, knowing he’s going to die.  (Yeah, he doesn’t, but it’s chilling just the same). 

Stark snarks and arcs, Wayne whines and stays the same.  

Points to The Avengers.

Token Woman:
A team of six is five guys and one woman.  Grrrr. I know this stuff is adapted from the comics which has the worldview of a fourteen-year-old-boy (Boobs!  Butts! Catfights!), but this is the twenty-first century and we’ve evolved, damn it. The saving grace here is that both women—Natasha Romanoff/the Black Widow in The Avengers and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in Justice League—are smart, strong, dangerous characters who kick ass on a regular basis and stand toe-to-toe with the men on the team, none of whom are stupid enough to try to protect them or otherwise make them into the Girls. 

And yet, the Russian former assassin holds the screen while the Amazonian demi-goddess gets handed the dullest dialogue in the history of, well, Wonder Woman.  Prince is depressed because her lover died in WWI and she thinks it’s her fault because she led him into battle, in spite of the fact that he was already in the army doing dangerous work as a spy and the fact that he made the plan to sacrifice himself on his own.  In other words, the only reason that Diana Prince is guilt-ridden is because DC movies are Dark.  This is also a big reason why DC movies are terrible: they take iconic heroes who believe in Truth, Justice, and the American (or Amazonian) way, and make them guilt-ridden pessimists.  Gal Gadot is doing an excellent interpretation of Wonder Woman, but she can’t overcome bad dialogue and static characterization.   Look at Justice League’s idea of how to introduce a strong heroine:

Show her using superpowers to take down a gang of miscellaneous bad white guys in black suits who break into a bank, shooting people, and prepare to blow up four city blocks.  Wonder Woman notices the commotion and saves the day with her Lasso of Truth, bullet-repelling golden bracelets, and super speed; in other words, she wins because she has super powers, not because she’s smart or interesting.  Gadot does the best she can, but the writing in this scene is so clichéd, so tooth-achingly bad, that the whole thing falls flat, even though she’s just saved a pack of terrified school children.  “I’m a believer.”  Really, you’re writing for a demi-goddess and you went for pseudo-dramatic crap?  Wonder Woman is better than that.

Meanwhile, over at The Avengers, Natasha is tied to a chair in a Russian warehouse being menaced by three Russian thugs.  She’s terrified, she cowers, she asks questions trying to stave off torture, all of which delights the scene’s Big Bad, who comes toward her with pliers. Then his phone rings.  

Natasha does not have super powers, Natasha has super smarts, a devious mind, and a well-trained body, so we can connect with her as a human being and admire her for her intelligence and her skills, not to mention her courage and her little black dress. Natasha is also vulnerable; she takes out the Russians and returns to the Avengers because she finds out her best friend is in trouble.  

Wonder Woman is a super-powered action figure; Natasha is a strong, vulnerable human being.  

Points to The Avengers

The Teams:
Justice League has Batman, still depressed over the deaths of his parents thirty years ago, Wonder Woman, still depressed over the death of her lover a hundred years ago, and Superman, who is dead.  Seriously. They recruit Cyborg, a young scientist depressed over his lab accident that left him half robot; Aquaman, who isn’t depressed by anything but will snap if you bring up his mother, and the Flash who is thrilled to be invited along.  Any scene that has the Flash in it becomes interesting and fun, most of the scenes with Aquaman are also boisterous and engaging.  Meanwhile, Batman looks longingly at Wonder Woman who stares off into the distance remembering Steve Trevor, and Cyborg has nothing to do.  Aquaman sits on Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth and is compelled to tell her how hot she is. The Flash explains that he’s not a fighter (mostly he just pushes people as he runs by them) and he’s afraid of water and heights and danger in general; the Flash is a vulnerable delight every time he shows up which is unfortunately not often.   What none of these people do is connect. There are no emotional bonds, no friendships formed, no sense of a Leverage-like team of equals with complementary skills.   Because of that, the team isn’t interesting or compelling or fun, and it’s a team movie.

The Avengers, on the other hand, have connections all over the place.  Tony Stark doesn’t like Steve Rogers because his dad knew him and thought he was great and that’s all he ever talked about while Tony was growing up a delinquent; Steve Rogers, the epitome of the American Hero, sneers at Tony because he has no ethos, he’s all snark and flash.  Natasha goes to recruit Bruce Banner, terrified because he might turn into the Hulk, a terror he evokes when he loses his temper with her.   She goes anyway because her best friend, Hawkeye, has been taken by Loki.  (Hawkeye is happily married, so this is a great platonic friendship, another nice character touch.)  Banner shows up, withdrawn and quiet, and Tony connects and takes him to the lab, where they become the Science Brothers and inspiring a lot of internet slash fiction. Even Thor the god enters the team through conflict: he tries to take Loki back to Asgard when Stark and Rogers have taken him prisoner, and there’s a great fight scene among Ironman, Captain America, and the thunder god, with twists and turns and snarky dialgoue while Loki waits patiently to be taken to the Avenger’s ship so he can put the rest of his plan into action.   Then the ship is attacked, and Loki kills somebody they all care about, and they’re scattered in battle as Loki opens the portal.  Which is when the six become a team, reuniting in New York to save the world, drawing on each other’s skills in shifting partnerships for individual personal battles.  They battle each other (and they’ve all got great senses of humor and Whedon dialogue so their fights are entertaining not just bashing and explosions)..  There’s a shot of them standing together as the Chitari invade, and it’s hokey and obvious and over-the-top and you don’t care because it’s wonderful.  They’re a team.

Points to The Avengers.

Antagonist: 
We’ve talked before about how an antagonist shapes a story, and in the beginning, the antagonists of both The Avengers (Thanos) and Justice League (Steppenwolf) are big rocky-looking aliens who want to conquer the Earth and make it burn.  You know, Evil Overlord stuff.    However, somebody in the writers’ room at The Avengers (that would be Joss Whedon) noticed that Thanos was a cliché with no real pressing motivation and put in a patch: Thanos sends a vengeful Asgardian to Earth as his emissary to capture the Tesseract (heretofore known as The Magic Box) that will open a portal from his realm to Earth and allow his flying monkeys, the Chitari, to invade.   And that’s all we see of boring Thanos until the end when he gets his “Curses, foiled again” scene.  Instead, we have Loki, smart, devious, angry, and mean as cat dirt (as my grandmother used to say). 

Loki is a brilliant antagonist because he’s so damn smart; it doesn’t hurt that he’s also evilly funny. While Justice League tries to fuel an entire movie with the generic fear of the Earth burning and everybody dying, The Avengers makes it personal: If Loki opens the portal, Thanos will give him Earth to rule, and Loki’s idea of good government bears a striking resemblance to a horror from real history.  So Loki goes to Stuttgart, manages a very clever theft, and then arrogantly goes out in public and makes a Hitler-like speech that inspires an old German man to defy him (“There are always men like you”) which still makes my throat clutch, and all of that hoo-ra draws Captain America and Ironman in to capture him.  That was dumb, Loki.  Except what Loki really wants is to be brought aboard the Avengers ship for the next stage of his plan.  That was smart, Loki.  The fact that Loki is played by a sly, wry Tom Hiddleston does not hurt, but the characterization and dialogue the script gives him is the key.

Meanwhile, Justice League’s Steppenwolf erupts different places on Earth, gloating as his flying monkeys (parademons) swoop around, feeding on fear (why?) and promising international flame and some other stuff as he picks up the three Magic Boxes he needs to . . . I can’t remember.  I saw this movie twice and I don’t remember what the boxes do.  I think when they’re together they open a portal, yadda yadda, and I know he calls the boxes Mother, which . . . I dunno. Steppenwolf is one of the worst antagonists I’ve ever seen on the screen.

Loki is smart, devious, and funny, matched with six assorted people (only three of whom have superpowers) who are having trouble with the whole team-building thing (as Stark tells Loki later, “It takes us awhile to get traction”); Steppenwolf chews the scenery he plans to burn later as five superheroes fail to find and secure three boxes while raising a sixth hero from the dead . . . 

Points to The Avengers.

Flying Monkeys
Every Evil Overlord needs minions. The Avengers’ Thanos has the Chitari, an army of alien soldiers who invade New York riding jet skis and leading the way for giant scaley wormlike-ships that knock over buildings.   Justice League’s Steppenwolf has para-demons, skinny bat-like aliens who feed on fear and have the intelligence of avocados.  Real bats should sue.   The Chitari’s main weakness is in navigation—Hawkeye tells Stark that they can’t bank between buildings—but they’re strong and fast and real bastards, and there are a lot of them, so they’re a problem.  The para-demons are pretty much driven by their lust to feed on fear, which means at the end, they devour their leader who’s just been defeated by the Justice League.  This is a new level of dumb in minions, but then Steppenwolf wasn’t exactly a major mind. 

Points to The Avengers.

 

Pacing:
Oh, god. 

Justice League has two kinds of scenes.  1) Non-scenes without conflict where two people exchange information.  2) Conflict scenes of people/aliens/superheroes bashing each other.   This is a movie that has Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, Cyborg, and Superman-Risen-from-the-Dead, and it’s boring because the pace is leaden, the conflict is intermittent, the characters are flat and invulnerable, and the plot continually circles the drain:  

• Steppenwolf rises on the Amazon’s island and steals the first Magic Box.  Batman and Wonder Woman talk about it. 
• Steppenwolf goes under the sea and steals the second Magic Box.  Batman and Aquaman talk about it. 
• Batman and the gang use the third Magic Box to raise Superman from the dead and deal with the fact that he came back angry, hooking him up with his girlfriend so he’ll remember his humanity and sending back to the farm where he was raised—GET THE MAGIC BOX YOU JUST DROPPED, YOU IDIOTS—and doing weepy scenes with his mom in a cornfield while Steppenwolf steals the third Magic Box. And they talk about it. 

Nothing better than stupid superheroes.  You had three jobs . . .

The Avengers has two kinds of scenes. 1) Conflict scenes between and among the Avengers trying to work on power and anger issues that showcase their flaws and vulnerabilities and force them to change. 2) Conflict scenes between the Avengers and Loki and his flying monkeys, most of them individual, emotional, and verbal (“Puny god”). 

I dragged myself through Justice League twice, and even when I was trying to find points for compare and contrast, my mind wandered.  On the other hand, I’ve seen The Avengers at least six times, and every time I’ve watched every minute.  It’s a masterpiece of rising conflict and escalation, rooted in human interaction and vulnerabilities.

Points to The Avengers.

Stakes:  The World! 
Steppenwolf wants to make the world burn because he’s an asshole.  Loki wants to let the Chitari in because Thanos has promised to make him the king of the whole shebang which is important to Loki because his dad gave the kingdom of Asgard to his brother Thor because Loki was adopted from the Frost Giants . . . well, you had to be there.  The key is, Loki wants success desperately because it will validate him as a king and a leader, healing the rejection from his father.  Steppenwolf wants to make the world burn because . . . it’ll remind him of home?  Because he’s evil.  I dunno, it’s hard to determine motivation from a scenery-chewing pile of rock that has no inter-personal skills beyond “You will burn!”.

Points: The Avengers

The Climax:
The climax sells the story. If the climax is strong, it can save a weak story.  If the climax is weak, it can kneecap a strong story.   The Avengers ends with aliens attacking New York City, thousands of people in danger, shown as individuals being threatened in small moments so the conflict becomes real and visceral (and very reminiscent of 9/11). Justice League ends in a barren wasteland somewhere in Russia (Chernobyl?), the only inhabitants a mother, father, and two kids in some kind of bunker, your generic Terrified Family.  (It turns out later there was an apartment house, too, but that’s just so Superman has something to carry.  What the hell an apartment house was doing out there, I have no idea.)  In The Avengers, Tony Stark carries a nuke into the portal to blow up the invading army and Natasha closes the portal just as he falls free; the Hulk grabs him and they all gather round his body, which appears to be dead until Hulk terrifies him back to life.  Then they go find Loki, who’s been beaten to a pulp by the Hulk in an earlier scene.  In Justice League, the team defeats Steppenwolf in a battle so vanilla that I can’t remember it, and in defeat he’s afraid, so his para-demons devour him, and the Justice League does the equivalent of looking at each and shrugging. How is it possible that I can’t remember the climax of this movie?  Right, it wasn’t memorable.  The climax of The Avengers?  The six Avengers surrounding a beaten Loki, who sits up, looks at his formidable opposition now united as a team, and says,  “I think I’ll have that drink now . . .”

At the end of Justice League, Bruce ushers Diana into a beautiful large room that will be site of all future Justice League meetings.  At the end of The Avengers, the six return to their lives, with Nick Fury promising that when they’re needed again, they’ll return.  (They do, but the next two movies are not as good; haven’t seen the fourth one yet.)  Both movies end with teasers for the sequels, and I didn’t care about either one, I was just happy about the Avengers coming back and luke warm about the Justice League returning.  

So yeah, the Avengers gets those points, too.  There is just one area where the Justice League crushes the Avengers:

Diversity:
Justice League has white guys Batman, Superman, and the Flash, female Wonder Woman, black Cyborg, and a Pacific Islander Aquaman.  The Avengers are five white men–Ironman, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, and Hawkeye– and one white woman, the Black Widow.

Points: Justice League

I could go on, but the success of one story and the failure of the other really come down to the basics of good story-writing. Both movies have good actors and both movies clearly spent some bucks on locations and special effects.  But good acting, interesting backdrops, and cool explosions cannot make good story on their own.  For that, you need interesting characters in well-motivated conflict fighting for goals that are personal and compelling.  The posters above really tell the story: The Avengers are caught in action, sited in a New York of chaos and desperation; the Justice League is a circle of six gloomy faces on a feature-less dark background.  Without personality, connection, character arc, human stakes, without the fuel and fizz of great storytelling, even Wonder Woman cannot save a movie.

Watch The Avengers, avoid Justice League.

 

58 thoughts on “The Avengers Vs The Justice League: Why Writing Matters

  1. Just wanted to say that this is one of the best analyses of the superhero team-up that I’ve seen. I have my issues with Weldon but he knows how to bring the character-based conflict and the snappy dialogue. And hooray for Natasha. The cries went up for a Black Widow movie following the first Avengers movie and were quickly squelched. Finally, after years of pleading and the considerable success of Wonder Woman, Marvel/Disney is considering one.

    I adored Wonder Woman and the WWI setting (which doesn’t get done enough, IMO) but I avoided JL like the plague based on the trailer alone. If you can’t make the trailer interesting then why bother with the movie.

    I think you would like Thor: Ragnorok as well. Another example of a well-written character-based film. And it’s hysterical.

    4+
    1. I liked Thor Ragnarok, but I’ve only seen it once. Same with Wonder Woman. I have to see a movie at least twice before I can take it apart, and three times is better. Maybe in the future . . .

      2+
      1. Would love to read your analysis of either movie!

        BTW, you might want to correct the sections where you have Wonder Woman set in WWII. They backed it up to WWI for the movie which really helps the storyline, imo. The first use of aircraft for combat and the first use of chemical warfare really work with Diana’s confusion and outrage that war outside her island is waged in a completely different and impersonal manner. The horrors of the 20th century really begin with the first world war and are continued and become more advanced in the second world war. I thought Wonder Woman really did a good job with that aspect of the movie.

        2+
  2. I am a comics person — I was reading comics years before there was a movie about any of them, and you echo how I felt about the two series. The liveliness and attention to developing interesting, engaged, vulnerable but plucky people as heroes and secondary characters really made Marvel comics a pleasure to read and connect, while DC comics were wedded to a pretty ossified tradition and set of costumes that only sometimes would erupt into human-like dialogue or actions.

    With one exception, and that was the series of DC comics containing a Justice League story written by British writer Alan Moore that was truly amazing. It started with a sentence that began something like “There was a house that floated above the world, and in that house there were heroes.”In that story, he reimagined all of the heroes in that group, just by going into who each person was and why and what that reflected about the world as well as what that meant to the world.

    Unfortunately, it was the exception that proved your rule — once another writer took over, everything went back to the era of wooden superhumans with menacing costumes. I so agree with you — it’s all about the writing.

    2+
    1. Alan Moore has done some truly awesome work. Including League of ExtraOrdinary Gentlemen.

      1+
  3. A beautiful summary of both movies. My theory is that the Marvel CEOs have sold their souls to something, and that they’re getting their money’s worth out of the deal.

    I’m so over Batman. There’s only so many times you can reboot the same character, and there’s only so much dark and gloomy I can take in a character. At least Michael Keaton played him as nuts. There’s the line in JL where someone (can’t even remember who) asks Bruce what his superpower is, and he says, “I’m rich.” And I suspect we’re all meant to say “Haha! Of course there’s more to Batman than that!”, but all I thought was “Haha! Nailed it.”

    And yet Iron Man is so much more than wealthy. I love the way as things go on throughout all the movies, we start to see a guy who has money, brains… all the resources at his fingertips, and he can’t handle the idea that there are things that he can’t fix or make go away. He hasn’t had to master humility, so he takes on board a sense of guilt for everything and keeps trying to fix things that can’t be fixed, and making things worse in the process.

    4+
    1. I think the Ironman arc has been brilliant. The second one was not good except for the Black Widow stuff, but the first and third were just excellent. Marvel really deserves props for brilliant casting: Robert Downey Jr as Ironman, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, just perfect for those roles, not to mention Paul Rudd as Ant-Man.

      4+
      1. Oh, I adore Paul Rudd as Ant-Man (I still remember him as Josh from Clueless), and I’m really looking forward to seeing more of him in Ant-Man and Wasp soon. The casting overall has been brilliant, and Samuel L. Jackson has redefined the character of Nick Fury.

        2+
  4. Wonderful dissection of both movies! I absolutely love humour so the Marvel films are always good fun. The god-like DC heroes are just too good to be true (well, I love the Flash and WW looks great, but still nothing compared to Spidey/Tom Holland, Ironman, Cap, Thor and Loki etc.), so in essence: boring.
    Have been to see Avengers Infinity War with my son and a friend of his and the immense number of superheroes was just too much to take in, but nevertheless the writing managed to make the teenagers cry! Really heart-wrenching little moments with Groot (oh my what a treat to have a quintessential teenager-Groot, so recognisably teenaged!!) and Spiderman. And I could relate to why Thanos did was he set out to do.
    It’ll be a long wait for the next Avengers movie but we’ll sure be in theatres next year!

    1+
  5. I’m new to the whole superhero thing, but my boss is a semi-closeted comic book geek and lent me the first “Deadpool” movie (and both “Kingsman” movies – not superheroes, of course, but similarly fantastic fun.) If you’ve seen “Deadpool,” I’d be interested to hear your take on its blithely tongue-in-cheek approach to the genre.

    1+
    1. Deadpool is really faithful to the original comics, so he was always a fourth-wall-breaking jerk-with-a-heart-of-gold. And god knows, Ryan Reynolds was born to play a jerk with a heart of gold. I really liked the first one, haven’t seen the second but plan to.

      4+
  6. Yes! I had so many jumbled thoughts along these lines and your analysis was clarity. Every scene with the with the Flash was amazing.

    The Aquaman truth telling scene was funny. And at least his character had some energy, not all moping about his sad childhood.

    The Wonder Woman movie was great, so I was disappointed that WW was just a side note in this movie.

    3+
    1. Well, Aquaman threw that hissy fit underwater about his mom leaving him. He lost points for that. Otherwise, Jason Momoa was great.

      3+
  7. I love and agree with this wholeheartedly.

    Kind of the same issue I had with Solo, in some respects. That movie isn’t bad but it isn’t funny, which is disappointing given who’s in it. Humor is desperately needed in the DCverse. I’ve dragged ass through two of the movies (not Justice League though, not gonna now), and the only one I liked was Wonder Woman. Who is not depressed and sad in it since it’s the origin story.

    2+
  8. I was watching the 2015 movie, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and at the end the team has finally solidified and they are given their next mission. And I remember you saying that the problem with the Catwoman movie was that it was all prologue. I wondered if the same would be true of these creating a team movies.

    3+
    1. Not if the creat-a-team story IS the story. (I never saw Catwoman, so that one was not me.)
      I think it’s like a romance. If the romance is the story, you have a writing problem because to make the romance believable, they’ll have to compromise at the end, but compromise is a really weak ending. So you bring in a mutual antagonist that the lovers have to fight together, and the stress of the battle and the necessity to compromise and cooperate to achieve their separate goals against the antagonists forges them into a committed relationship. They don’t fall in love in spite of the antagonist, he’s a major reason why they fall in love.
      Same way with The Avengers. It’s not that the different people wouldn’t have helped each other out, it’s that they wouldn’t see themselves as a committed team without Loki and the Chitari. They put a lampshade on that at the beginning of the next Avengers as I remember: They’re all together relaxing at Tony’s place, teasing each other like a family.

      Meanwhile, back at Justice League, there’s no sense at the end that they share more than a workplace, people in the next cubicle, as opposed to (as Thor would put it) friends from work.

      4+
  9. If the Avengers is on TV, I tend to watch it from whenever I catch it mid-channel-hop all the way till the end, including post-credits scene.

    It’s like dessert. Other post credits scenes don’t have the same effect.

    I love Black Widow and have come close to convincing myself I can afford the crafted action figure, because Boo-hiss Disney/ Marvel didn’t make a worthwhile one.

    Luckily by the time I decided, the crafter had sold out. And was onto something else. Whew.

    I adore Natasha. Every damn thing about her. I simply reason away *that scene* in A:Ultron as a vestigial tail from her creation in less progressive times. I think she’s the one that needs a movie because it would be great to see the start of Natasha within the Black Widow system and her turnaround.

    1+
    1. I think the success of the Wonder Woman movie pretty much woke Marvel up on that one.
      The comics world in general has not been friendly to women, which is just dumb. We’re more than half the population, people, and we have money to buy comics.

      I always figured Dottie from Agent Carter had a start like Natasha. Remember those scenes where they taught the little girls to kill each other?

      5+
      1. Oh I agree. That scene with the Snow White video. When Peggy leads the 107th to find “Howard’s weapons”. But I want to see how it worked during Perestroika.

        There’s a Natasha Kinsski and Charlie Sheen movie about a parachute instructor something and he used the term “KG-used-to-b” and I want to see the training and dismantling and hiding in plain sight of the Widow program that the term brings it to mind.

        I’ve not glommed on Funko. Thanks tho’. I had a teeny Gamorra that I’ve since misplaced. She did make me smile.

        1+
  10. Coincidentally, my father and I talked about the Marvel and DC teams the other day and none of us could remember what the DC team was called and who the heck was in either team… I have a vague idea about a Captain America and Iron Man somewhere in the Marvel universe, but that was about it. (We also suspected Spiderman was in there somewhere, but I can’t see him anywhere so either that is another team or we were 100 % wrong about him playing in teams of any sort.)

    Anyway, I haven’t watched any of the analyzed movies, and still I really enjoyed this analysis. Thanks for the good laughs, Jenny! I will avoid Justice League. But The Wonder Woman-movie, is that one horrible, too?

    0
    1. I think every little girl everywhere should see Wonder Woman and probably most grown-up girls, too (it’s designed for the kid in you). Gal Gadot is terrific in the role and really embodies the best of the classic character. Also Chris Pine just nails it as Steve Trevor, and what could have been an icky man-of-the-world seduced innocent Amazon subplot is instead a meeting of two equals who respect each other.

      Having said that, I saw it in the theater once and then bought the digital version when it came out, but i haven’t watched it again yet. I had problems with the writing (I think Krissie held a knife to my throat and said “Don’t tell me what’s wrong with it”). I think you go in just planning to revel in a terrific heroine who saves the world and gets the hot guy for a night. It’s a real reversal of the hot hero and The Girl, so that’s nice.

      I think the best Marvel movie has been The Winter Soldier. You really have to watch the first Captain America movie to get the full impact, but that’s another movie that’s great for kids (of all ages). It’s an origin story about a guy who really believes in truth and justice and the American Way, and it’s beautifully done, it’s just not compelling and fast-moving. Enormous fun to watch. And then you get the adult payoff in Winter Soldier which, I think, is the best superhero movie out there, all of it character driven. For fun, watch Ant-Man, which is another great movie to watch with kids, if kids are okay with violence (nobody bleeds, but people in robot suits bash each other). Also giant ants, and it’s really funny. Also, but for adults only, Ironman 1 and 3.

      Maybe I’ll watch Wonder Woman again this week and do an analysis of it. I really do these for me, to figure out what’s wrong with a story in hopes I don’t do that and to keep my non-fiction chops semi-sharp (I’m still sloppy with these things but you all are easy).

      4+
      1. Wonder Woman’s issues are all in that last act. Really didn’t stick the landing. But most of it was wonderful. And they got the World War mission movie homage right, unlike the first Captain America movie.

        2+
        1. I had problems with the beginning, too. I really need to see it again, but as I remember, aside from the big mistake with the antagonist, it was mostly character stuff I had problems with. Like helicopter parenting seemed illogical for an Amazon. I know nothing about WWII mission movies, so over to you on that.

          1+
          1. You might enjoy some of the classics, they kind of made the cinematic template for action genre community-building. And may have created the fundamentals for the “less polished heist” genre.
            The Great Escape
            The Dirty Dozen
            Kelly’s Heroes

            Mainly, I was annoyed that The First Avenger montaged over all of their actual missions, so I have no sense of The Howling Commandos as characters or as a team. But you know what each of the members of Wonder Woman’s team bring to the table, and how they work together well, both in action and as friends.

            0
          2. Isaw The Great Escape a million years ago. Still remember big parts of it.
            And I loved the Howling Commandos in Agent Carter where they did get some great screen time. I think the First Avengers was an origin story, not a WWII story, so giving more time to the Commandos wouldn’t have fit the story.

            1+
          3. Even in Agent Carter they didn’t use the Commandos as well as I’d have liked, since that episode was really about her relationship with Chad Michael Murray.

            I’d rather that The First Avenger had not included the Commandos at all, then. If it’s an origin story, then let the team be Steve, Bucky, Peggy, and Stark all the way through. Don’t suddenly throw in a whole bunch of cameos, tease at their great personalities, montage-tell us that they’re suddenly really close comrades, but not actually show any of that.
            It doesn’t help that Bucky basically has no character after the first act, or in any of the present day movies. He’s the dude version of a sexy lamp.
            (It’s one of the reasons I wish Cap had gotten two movies before The Avengers, the way Iron Man did. That would leave enough screentime to do that team of characters justice.)

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    2. On remembering the teams . . . SIX IS TOO MANY. I believe I’ve said that before.
      I can remember the DC big three: Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. After I saw the movie, Aquaman made an impression. Cyborg was given so little to do, plus I’d never heard of him before, so he kept slipping my mind, and I kept thinking the Flash was Spiderman (teenage superheroes who live in the outer boroughs and wear red suits . . .)
      I’ve watch so much Marvel that the original Avengers are easier, although it’s easy to forget Hawkeye–Ironman, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, the Hulk, Hawkeye–but now they’re adding new ones (like the comics did) so there’s Vision and Wanda and Black Panther and Ant-Man, and Spiderman, shortly to be joined by Captain Marvel and . . . TOO MANY. OTOH, I did love that airport fight between two groups of incredibly powerful people who didn’t want to kill each other and spent most of their energy on trash talk as one group tried to stop another group from getting on a plane. I’m not big on fight scenes, but that one was pure character conflict. Also very funny.

      3+
      1. I love that airport fight scene. Civil War isn’t my favorite; probably won’t re-watch it, but that scene is great. And then Falcon dodges Vision’s laser blast and suddenly it was emotional and scary. I’ve watched that over again on YouTube.

        The sheer number of people is one of the reasons I haven’t seen Infinity War. I’m having the same issue with Legends of Tomorrow. I love it, but do we really need Wally West? No. No, we do not. Constantine will be a fun addition, and if they’re fighting demons, he’ll be necessary. But that ship is crowded, and Kid Flash just feels like one too many. When they added Zari, there was a legitimate plot reason that was explored over several episodes. Wally just seemed to be there at the last minute to make up the numbers for the big finale, and he wasn’t even that necessary since Ray was there.

        1+
        1. I’m WAY behind on Legends, so I’ll get back to you, but yes, Civil War isn’t in my top five, either. But the airport scene was genius, especially with Ant-Man and Spiderman. Lots of great Cap moments, too (“Where you from, kid?).

          1+
          1. “Little dude is big now.”

            “You got heart kid, where’re you from?”

            “Queens!”

            “Brooklyn.”

            2+
          2. Rhodes’ reaction to Ant Man being huge was so good. Tony’s too. “Does anyone on our side have an amazing trick they’d like to share now?” Ant Man meeting Cap was funny too.

            It’s possible I’m overreacting to Wally being on Legends because I’ve always found him vaguely annoying on The Flash; he comes across as immature a lot of the time. But I also think they tend to overcrowd the Waverider. It’s hasn’t really bothered me too much since season one until Wally showed up. Probably because I really liked the people they added.

            0
          3. I agree on overcrowding the Waverider, especially with people with redundant talents. They need a thief again; bring back Snart. But I am happy about Constantine coming on board. I pretty much stopped watching the Flash as Wally was coming on, not because of him but because it got so damn dreary, which is dumb because that’s a sprightly cast.

            I loved the react to Ant-Man getting large, too. That whole battle scene was so much fun, and I don’t like battle scenes. I think it’s because one group was trying to stop another group from getting on a plane, and nobody wanted to kill anybody. Just don’t get on the plane, okay? Nope, gotta get on the plane. There’s that one moment when Black Widow and Hawkeye are beating each other up, and Widow stops and says, “We’re still friends right?” and he grins and says, “Depends on how hard you hit me,” and that was the whole scene right there.

            2+
  11. Winter Soldier has some great Natasha Romanov being a spy vs Steve Rogers being a soldier moments. Then both their worlds implode, and they truly have to work together. Real growth arc.

    1+
    1. Maybe that’s why I love Cap and Widow together, opposites working together. I just love Winter Soldier in general. Such great characters. Also the kiss on the escalator because I’m a ‘shipper. I know it’s hopeless. I don’t care.

      3+
      1. I’m not. Steve is still pretty haunted by his death in life, “It’s the beds?”, Asks Falcon.

        So it never occurred to me. I see them more as a family/mentoring duo. She sets herself up to needle him a bit like a big sis or older cousin because she sees the innocence in him that she never had and is both worried about it and protective of it.

        1+
        1. They sell that pretty well in Civil War when she shows up at Peggy Carter’s funeral so he won’t be alone.

          2+
  12. Yeah, Cap, Widow and Falcon are such a great team. I really want to see how they got Falcon’s suit out of the tighter than Fort Knox security.

    And I want to see how Hawkeye and Widow meet in Budapest.

    I, personally, don’t need more of Natasha’s training as a kid. I have a 10 year old daughter. Just no.

    And if you want to see an amazing athlete, go looking for Jessie Graf of American Ninja Warrior. A couple of her runs on the course are just amazing.

    3+
  13. My only problem with Wonder Woman was at the end with the big, noisy, brainless fight against the Big Bad — lazy writing!!

    1+
    1. It really spit on all of the themes they had worked on up to that point.

      Men don’t need a supernatural force to fight each other needlessly!…except no Ares really is there with supernatural powers causing bad things to happen.
      Wonder Woman inspires people to do better, and is so much more than a warrior!…except no, her ultimate way of winning is still Punch Harder.
      Ares doesn’t need to use force to make the war worse!…except no he still need to become a CGI block that Punches Hard.
      World War I was about how no side was in the right!…except no turns out the Germans are the bad guys after all.
      Steve Trevor sacrificed himself because Diana needs to show men the better way!…except no she’s going to ignore them until aliens show up.

      I’m amused by the thought that Moffat had no idea what to do for the 2017 Christmas Special, until he saw Wonder Woman. And the film really should have had a classic Doctor Who non-violence resolution to the plot. Diana uniting both the forces from all sides to dismantle the weapons that would devastate their families. She can’t stop the war, but she can stop the arms race. (Who knows, maybe an Amazon secretly helped stop the Daleks from infiltrating the Allied forces later on…)

      0
      1. I agree except for the Germans being the bad guys. There’s that bit at the end when Ares is defeated and the really young British and German fighters look at each other in confusion. The German command is awful, but so is the British fat-cat command.

        But the rest of it? I have to see the film again, but as I remember it, I agree with you.

        0
        1. They never really characterized those German grunts who were just following orders, though. We needed scenes of Diana talking to them an realizing that they’re just as trapped as Steve is into this cycle of violence. Instead, everything is still set from the POV of the Allied team. And since Ares is the only Allied leader character we see scheming to make the war continue, we never see how the Allied command is as bad as the German command.
          So in the text, it’s still Allied heroes vs. enemy Germans, which is never challenged.

          What would really have hammered it in would be something like Steve getting orders to not destroy the weapons, but to get a sample for the Allied forces to start using instead, and part of his arc is like Cassian from Rogue One’s, of deciding to be better than that.

          0
          1. I’ll do one reply to both your comments because I’m going to say the same thing:
            The stuff you want would have made the movies worse because they weren’t about what the movie was about.
            If you want more Howling Commandos (who doesn’t?), give them their own movie. Captain America was an origin story, not a team story, Agent Carter was about Peggy making her way through a sexist male world in the fifties. Neither of those stories would have been helped by more Commandos. The Commandos showed up because they were part of comic history and to show how Rogers earned the trust of men who had scorned him; they showed up in Agent Carter as a validation of her war experience, choosing her as their leader over Murray (who wouldn’t?).

            The same with more scenes of Diana lampshading the young soldiers, or the Allied command being horrible or anything else. Wonder Woman wasn’t about WWI, it was just set in WWI. It wasn’t a war movie, it was an origin story. Do they have a responsibility to get the details right? Absolutely. Do they have the responsibility to discuss violence as a repeating cycle? Nope.

            It’s kind of like Sharknado. To evaluate the success of Sharknado’s story, as a critic once pointed out, you have to ask, “Does this give us sharks in a tornado?” To evaluate the success of Wonder Woman, we have to ask, “Does this establish who Wonder Woman is and launch her into her mythology?” Yes, it does. There are a lot of things about this movie that need work, but it does not need conflict-free scenes of people discussing violence. And again, changing Steve’s plot steals story real estate from Diana; Steve is there to get fridged, which I object to, especially since he could have parachuted out, the dummy.

            We all rewrite movies in our heads–I still want Cap and Natasha together–but once you step away from what you want emotionally, If you’re a writer, you have to look at story structure and pacing and all the other things that make a narrative compelling.

            One way to deal with not getting what you want from a narrative is to write your own. That’s what I did with The Turn of the Screw and Maybe This Time; that’s what Pat Gaffney did with Wild at Heart. Maybe you have a WWI story in you that needs to be written.

            1+
  14. Avengers Assemble had something for fans of every superhero character and it shows. It made us care for the characters.

    Justice League, is worryingly forgettable (I usually have a good memory for films) so had to look up why Steppenwolf wanted the boxes, apparently all three would convert the Earth into a version of his homeworld.

    Though I read somewhere apparently before someone changed the script, they were supposed to resurrect his Mother, hence the name thus giving us another person with Mummy issues in that movie.

    I also think the Amazon fight scene was the best, those women were organised, co-ordinated and dedicated, compared to the lacklustre Atlantis fight and Justice League

    1+
      1. I swear, when Aquaman started bitching about his mother, I thought, “If she’s called Martha . . .”

        0
  15. I don’t think Ben Affleck could do witty if the fate of the real world was dependent on it.

    3+
  16. In total agreement with the Marvel vs DC match-up. Marvel is so much better than DC at all the stuff you write about that is necessary for a good story–comics and movies.

    While DC is inferior to Marvel in story telling, I thought I might point out that I think they nailed something in the Suicide Squad movie. Think Aqualung guy is in this one. I love Harlyquin–she is definitely a strong female character. A little nuts but good team building skills.

    0
  17. I’ve loved The Avengers since it was made, I rented Justice League, watched it once, tried for twice, fell asleep. Which does not happen very often.

    0
  18. I am in the minority that thinks Ben Affleck is underrated as an actor (e.g. I thought he played – well – the more difficult parts in Good Will Hunting *and* in Armageddon, movies at opposite ends of the quality spectrum in most respects) but I still don’t want to go near those DC movies. Gimme some FUN dammit.

    Deeply disappointed by what I’ve heard & read about the waste of Wonder Woman in “Justice League.” I was also annoyed by elements of the Wonder Woman movie, which I did see (because Wonder Woman and because Gal Gadot is truly a goddess). Chiefly the framing device and the excessive amount of time spent on Amazon island, whatever it’s called.

    I thought by setting the opening and closing in present day, the filmmakers basically wasted all that emotional energy we put into the great cast of WWI supporting characters. “Oh all those interesting people you just went to war with and would love to see again? Never mind, they’ve been dead for 100 years.” F U DC.

    0
  19. I absolutely, unabashedly loved Wonder Woman, and actually saw it 5 times in the theater. Granted, part of the reason was because my sister-in-law, whom I shared a love of all things Wonder Woman with, died unexpectedly shortly after it came out, thus making it my sort of happy-escapist place to be. But I still love it. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine were both fantastic; it was fun, it was romantic, I still get chills when I watch the “No Man’s Land” scene, and, it was also a little cheesy–but in the best possible way. My only quibble would be the last 15 minutes or so–the too-long, too by-the-numbers battle with Ares was just kind of boring. Some fun moments, and a truly great sacrifice by Steve Trevor, though, and it just couldn’t ruin the rest of the experience for me. (Also: if you haven’t seen any, look up the Gal Gadot/Chris Pine press junket interviews on YouTube. So. Much. Fun. So much chemistry between those too, you almost wish she’d leave her husband and that they’d just run off together already.)

    Now, I don’t know if you’ve seen Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and/or Batman vs. Superman, but they are awful. They take all of the joy and fun out of the superhero trope, and reduce both characters–and all of the side characters–into boring, morose, uninteresting nothingness. Gadot’s Wonder Woman cameo is the one small bright spot in the latter film–but even she is too dark and too brooding. Probably the best, most fun moment in the whole movie is Gadot’s little grin after being smacked back by the mindless alien blob thing, right before she jumps back into the fray. But it’s about 10 seconds of fun in an overly-long movie. And, oh my god, they truly made Lois Lane too stupid to live. (Side note: not too long ago I went back to the original Christopher Reeve Superman, which I loved as a kid, and from which Patty Jenkins took inspiration for Wonder Woman. It was second-level, sometimes cringeworthy cheesy, not least because of the time in which it was made, but it had everything that was missing from Man of Steel, namely FUN.)

    Needless to say, I went into Justice League with no small amount of trepidation, and you could not be more right in your analysis. I’m a DC girl, I love those characters, but Zack Snyder should really never be allowed near any of them ever again. Superman and Batman were already ruined for me from the previous two films, and Cyborg was just a one-note character. While I still love Gadot’s Wonder Woman, here she was back to being dark, morose and the token female. While Jason Momoa’s Aquaman has his moments, Ezra Miller’s The Flash is the only character that truly managed to shine, thus making almost every other character look dull(er) by comparison. I would love to see a Wonder Woman/Flash/Aquaman film in the right hands with those actors–that could be magic.

    I’m behind on my Marvel movie watching, although I skipped ahead and saw both Thor: Ragnarok (loved it) and Black Panther (awesome world building and kick-ass characters, blah, by the numbers battles). But I’m looking forward to catching up.

    Thanks for this analysis. I simultaneously look forward to and dread your analysis of Wonder Woman. I know it’s not perfect, but it’s become a bit of a sacred touchstone for me, due to circumstances. But have it.

    0
    1. I will get to it, I swear.
      As I remember, I had issues with the beginning and the ending only. The middle part I remember as being wonderful.

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