Unless you spent the weekend offline it’s probably safe to say you have witnessed the latest trailer for Justice League, the upcoming Warner Bros. film that promises to unite the biggest DC Comics characters for the very first time on the big screen. This was the second trailer shared to promote the film’s November release, and it featured nearly three full minutes of largely never-before-seen footage. Check it out:
There is a lot to digest in this trailer, but most of it stems from the visuals on display rather than the narrative itself. With nearly five minutes of footage revealed through trailers already I would argue most people cannot tell you what is happening in Justice League beyond the long-teased gathering of heroes. Even that, which has more or less been guaranteed since the launch of the DCEU, is not complete when the film begins. All signs point to another lengthy origin story setup that leads to an all-out battle with evil forces not of this Earth.
If DC and WB want to keep the mystery of the plot hidden, that’s fine, but they should have learned by now that glimpses of CGI-carnage and forced humor do not evoke a sense of confidence in the serialized universe they are desperately trying to make us embrace. Just look at one of the trailers for last year’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which appears to be constructed with the exact same approach:
If anything, the Dawn of Justice trailer actually tells us more about the narrative, but the villain still takes a backseat to sarcasm and CGI-aided chaos. I couldn’t tell you Zod would become Doomsday, or even what a Doomsday is based off this trailer. I cannot tell you a thing that is supposed to happen aside from the fact Batman and Superman would eventually come to blows which, if we’re being completely honest, is made fairly clear in the title.
Justice League should be DC’s answer to Avengers, but so far it is unclear whether or not the DCEU has learned anything from complaints made about earlier entries. Everything about this trailer speaks to being more of the same, all the way down to the seemingly abandoned, fiery set piece where the big battle is poised to take place.
Furthermore, there appears to be essentially zero stakes in Justice League. DC fans know Batman, Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash all have solo films planned in the years ahead, and it’s not like DC would write-off Wonder Woman when they have a potentially hit solo film with her coming in just a few months time.
Then there’s the noticeable absence of Superman who, if you recall from the final moments of BvS, is kinda-sorta, but not really dead. His return is imminent, but this trailer is cut in such a way that one has to wonder how much screen time will be spent teasing his inevitable return rather than resurrecting him early so that he may join forces with the rest of the League and quickly set to defeating the bad guys. Once again it seems we will spend the bulk of the film setting up what will most likely be a singular battle, which given filmmaker Zach Snyder’s track record could run anywhere from fifteen to thirty-plus minutes in length. Exciting, maybe, but certainly not a surprise.
This is not an argument that Justice League needs to model itself after Avengers. On the contrary, the best thing the DCEU could possibly do is find new ground in the superhero team-up genre so that the entirety of this film offers a fresh perspective on what our relationship with costumed heroes would be like if they were indeed real. Viewers got a bit of this in the first two-thirds of Batman V Superman, but as soon as Doomsday made his presence known all discussion went out the window in favor of computer-generated destruction with next to no stakes.
There is, of course, still a chance Justice League could surprise everyone. Warner Bros. has given us very little to go on aside from the footage above and the promise of a new, more threatening villain. That said, if the goal is to catch us off guard, choosing to promote the film with the same sights, sounds, and turns of the previous films feels like a misstep. There is simply nothing here that tells us the DCEU has heard fan complaints or changed course from their dark and gloomy direction (I will say that Wonder Woman, which arrives this summer, looks bright, and it is entirely refreshing to see).
We’ll see what happens as the November 17 release date draws closer, but right now the outlook for Justice League is fairly grim. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.