justice league review

Grading on a Curve (and a review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League)

I like some things more than is reasonable: chicken wings, superhero movies, coffee.

Thumb on the Scale

So when I consume any such, I can’t help but distort its intrinsic quality with a personal favoritism, fudging the objective grade with my own preferential thumb on the scale. An objective D+ movie (Affleck’s Daredevil, let’s say) becomes a C+ in my book. Can’t be helped. If the main characters wear costumes and do heroic (or anti-heroic – I see you, The Boys) deeds, then the flick gets a tick up the scale. This means that even clunkers like Catwoman can’t utterly fail and are passable in a pinch.

It also means that objectively superior movies – Avengers: Endgame, Captain America: Civil War, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, Dark Knight – become off-the-scale A+++ timeless treasures, infinitely re-watchable.

Same with chicken wings. Perfectly crispy, tangy but not all-fire, slathered instead of smothered, served so immediately that the vinegar steam is its own reminder to slow down or risk a coughing fit. Wings like that are worth driving across the country for. Which is only one of the reasons I can’t live in Buffalo: I’d have to eat at Anchor Bar every night.

And coffee. I loves me a fragrant, fresh-brewed gourmet cuppa from a barista who knows better. But really, anything brown and hot will do, because warmth and caffeine and morning habits. Our daily instant is the ideal no-cleanup compromise for life on the road.

C Becomes A

And for each of these, there is another grade adjustment that I’ve discovered as a vagabond, where cell-signal limitations and COVID shutdowns hinder access. For every month that passes without, another letter grade is added on top.

Like last week’s chicken wings at Fernwood, where we lived on the Big Sur river for four days. They were decent: smoky, tender enough, dry-ish, salty and hot, with pungent blue cheese. Decent. Fine. A solid mid-grade C to anyone else. Add one grade for being wings and another for a month without and I ended up with an A-quality dinner on the road. That’s a win.

It’s in this vein that we watched Zack Snyder’s Justice League after venturing down from our Mount Madonna camp to Gilroy, the World’s Garlic Capital, for provisions and signal – but mostly signal. We hovered long enough in “civilization” to scoop up the four-hour recut spectacle, then scampered home to watch, me as eager as an eight-year-old with an Easter basket full of just-gathered treats.

Capes and More Capes (and Spoilers)

I grew up reading comics. Selling my 50-year collection went a long way toward paying for Libbie. So it’s inescapable that I want to see the stories I read on newsprint brought to life on digital celluloid. I want to see extraordinary feats, epic battles, and the static icons of my youth transformed to full-motion cinematic excess.

Which this movie delivers on. 

I also want to see a director’s new take on a familiar origin story, not unlike a Shakespeare fan comparing multiple versions of Hamlet, and liking each for their differences and similarities.

Which this movie delivers on.

I also want the eye candy of seeing beautiful people (let’s start with Momoa, Gadot, and Cavill) in fantastical settings with half their clothes off.

Which this movie very much delivers on.

Our Modern Myth

Comics are our modern myth, and like myth they can assume certain background knowledge in the telling, which ZS’sJL does. For most viewers, this will be a distraction and a drawback; for me, the visual shorthand is a plus.

When I see Darkseid invoke his deadly, caroming Omega Beam in Cyborg’s utopian vision, or in pursuit of the anti-life equation, my context brands this as rewarding fan service for Jack Kirby’s ultimate villain. Those without intimate DC comics history will roll their eyes at another hokey, power-mad, Thanos wannabe.

Newcomers will wonder at the length of an extended scene where Flash saves a random woman driving by. I know her as Iris West, his eventual wife and critical partner in ongoing successes.

Passing references to the Lantern Corp are not throwaway dialog to me; they are exactly what I’m listening for. As is the surprise introduction of the Martian Manhunter in the guise of a background character we’ve seen for years now.

When Snyder hovers overlong on heroes posing or rendered in slo-mo detail, I see myths made real, the way I tried to do with my own pencil throughout most my teen years, when being able to re-create comic art with fidelity gave me a sense of accomplishment otherwise hard to find. Other viewers might wish those preening scenes got to the action more quickly.

It’s four hours of cinematic vanity, and I’d have welcomed four more.

To me, this movie is a solid B+. But I won’t say whether that’s before or after grading on the curve.


  1. I Probably wouldn’t have watched this if we hadn’t recently subscribed to Disney+. But surprisingly, I liked it. I never saw the original, so there was not much to compare it to. Mercifully for me, the film was divided into bite-size chunks, so that we could watch it in 3 seatings. I definitely had some eye-rolling moments, especially during what seemed like multiple epilogues. One of the best things about this film was that the algorithm served up WandaVision as a possible next view. We binged that one pretty quickly. Would be eager to hear you thoughts. Looks like Marvel Studios may have created several of these series based on minor characters and I think I will enjoy them.

    Totally get what you say about the satisfaction of subtle references. We just watched the most recent episode of For All Mankind. There is a scene with this arrogant rich guy who makes a big deal about serving wine that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson. I know this from the book The Billionaire’s Vinegar; a non-fiction about a guy that was manufacturing “fine vintage wines” in his basement. One of his most outlandish concoctions was several bottles of wine ordered by Jefferson during his time in France. He had many aficionados completely convinced. Most famously, he sold a bottle to one of the Koch brothers. The production crew got everything right in that scene, right down to the shape of the bottle.

    1. Did not know that wine story! I’ll keep a lookout for it when we get to the series. Regarding WandaVision –– we’re holding off on our Disney+ subscription at least until Falcon & Winter Soldier wraps, but after that we’ll likely be catching up on all their Marvel shows. Looking forward to WV!

  2. WIW I did NOT like Avengers: Endgame. The might of the Avengers, with Captain Marvel (who flew through and disintegrated Ronan’s ships, stopped his missiles etc.) not only could not defeat Thanos without the glove, but couldn’t even transport the glove from one part of the battlefield to a van in another part. I know it’s silly, but that was weirdly disappointing and kinda ruined the film for me… I definitely DID like the Zach Snyder Cut! I miss some of the humorous moments from the theater release, but this one seemed a lot more real. And was good to see that, even with Superman present, they still would’ve lost if not for The Flash.

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