Wednesday, July 28, 2021

NINJA STUFF: It's Not an S: Zack Snyder's Justice League, the Nature of God, and the Persistence of Hope

Esteemed Audience, I haven't reviewed books here for a long time now and I only ever "reviewed" one movie, which was the prequel to this film, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (I loved it). 

And a second film review will not be necessary after I tell you Zack Snyder's Justice League is the greatest movie I have ever seen.

But this isn't a post about the movie. It's a bit about the January 6th insurrection and life "post" pandemic, but it's mostly about my experience of watching the movie and why it gives me hope for a better tomorrow.

And okay, there might be other movies almost as good (I liked Crawl a lot and Zack Snyder didn't include even one alligator in 4 hours!?!). And yes, of course The Dark Knight is still the best Batman movie (calm down), and Jaws is amazing, Us is brilliant, most of the stuff directed by the Cohen Brothers--there are a lot of great movies and picking favorites when we can enjoy them all is a little silly (and the basis for so, so much online content). 

But I never needed those movies the way I needed Zack Snyder's Justice League. I don't know if you've read about this whole global pandemic thing, but 2020 was a really dark year. Like, ya know, historically bad. And the four years before it were frequently agonizing.

For me, one of the many miserable milestones along the path of the United States' descent into madness was the original release of Justice League in 2017. Esteemed Audience, I'd been waiting my whole life to see that movie. I had all the Super Powers action figures as a child and multiple Christmases my poor father stayed up late putting together a Hall of Justice playset for my siblings and I. 

I've only watched part of Godzilla vs Kong. I made it to the first fight, but then I shut it off because I needed to do something. On a television at home, it didn't capture my imagination and the dialogue about why all the punchy/smashy was coming to be was nonsense (wait, there's a hollow earth in this universe!?!). Afterward, it occurred to me that that was probably the same reaction a lot of folks had to Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (even the Ultimate Edition!). 

Fair enough. It's a big world and there are an amazing number of entertainment options. Follow your bliss, friends.

Godzilla's fun, but he was never my thing. Super Friends were my thing and Batman in particular. Because I'm the sort of person who likes to order the same dish I know I like at a restaurant every time I go there,  I sometimes wonder if... it's blasphemous to say it or even think it, but... if  some other character had been placed in such a prominent place in my life at so many important milestones, if... please forgive me...  I might've loved that character the same way I love Batman.

After all, a McDonalds cheeseburger expertly fills its corporately conceived role of reminding me how much I once loved Happy Meals with a toy, often a Batman toy, and the times I spent in the McPlayland while Grandma read her book. That cheeseburger isn't just empty calories, it reminds me of a time I felt loved and safe. 

Thankfully, I'm a unique and autonomous personality formed free of capitalism's influences and I love Batman purely because Batman is awesome

But Batman has been there for almost every transition of my life. I watched Adam West as a kid, blanket cape fastened around my neck. When I became an adolescent, Michael Keaton's dark and brooding Batman was there to really feel the darkness the way I really felt that darkness, man, because bullies are out there right now, and Batman and I have got to go to work. Batman and Robin came out the summer I made (but never finished) my own funny-if-you're-a-moody-teenager Batman movie, deciding Warner Brothers could use the help (still bought the Clooney and Silverstone action figures; still have them on a shelf staring down at me as I type this). 

I read The Dark Knight Returns in college and realized Batman had actually been sophisticated literature all along. I immediately bought a Frank Miller Batman action figure to add to my toy collection because I was a serious adult person with an affinity for valuable collectables. Batman Begins came out the summer my future wife and I started dating and I feigned disinterest until opening night, after she'd said she loved me. Then I moved all my Batman toys into our place:) We were engaged the year The Dark Knight came out and had our child the year Man of Steel released, a film that literally meditates on the significance of fatherhood (it taught me that, as a father, I should avoid tornadoes). 

I could tell you about the time I turned down a scholarship because of a lesson I learned on Smallville, or about how I got a speeding ticket listening to Danny Elfman's "Descent into Mystery" from the Batman soundtrack (no way I'm the first), but you get the idea. I expect to one day years from now take a daytrip from my nursing home in a new Batman T-shirt (bury me in it) to watch Batman Accepts Most of His Friends are Dead and Reflects on the Past. 

I watched a video review of Zack Snyder's Justice League by Ben Shapiro of all people and was amazed to find I agreed with him on almost every aspect of the film. Ben "Blade-was-not-enough-for-black-people" Shapiro is someone with whom I do not agree on almost everything else in life, but we both feel Zack Snyder's comic panel visuals and dramatic style are freaking amazing because Snyder's heroes feel like gods among us, not quipsters in costumes. And he said these things, Ben "Trayvon-Martin-had-it-coming" Shapiro! And I was all like, should I consider listening to more conservative media? Is there a common ground between the right and the left after all? 

And then Shapiro ended the video by complaining about Ta-Nehisi Coats writing a Superman reboot (which I'm pumped about) because America's not systemically racist. And then I remembered why I can't stand that guy. Ben Shapiro and I aren't going to be friends. Too bad. He'd made a wonderful piece of content about pop culture and then he had to ruin it by getting all political.

In 2016, a terrible man who never should've been able to rise to the position he held came to power. He had the support of the people with the money, even though he was transparently racist and sexist and continued to be so publicly unhindered by those appointed to positions with the power to stop him. They cheered him on to degrade and destroy and run wild, thinking only of preserving their own wealth and power and never of the greater good. 

Naturally, I'm referring to director Joss Whedon, who Warner Brother executives hired to "finish" Justice League after Zack Snyder left the project/was fired. It's only apparent to the rest of us how terrible a person Whedon was now when stories have come out from Ray Fisher and Gal Gadot and others, but the Warner people knew and rushed the crappy flick out anyway to hit their year-end bonuses

Seeing the things Whedon cut and the garbage he added leaves little doubt that his changes to Zack Snyder's film were,  as screenwriter Chris Terrio has said, an act of vandalism. He added multiple instances of objectifying Wonder Woman and cut her telling a little girl "you can be anything you want to be." And he practically cut Cyborg out of what is arguably his movie once all his scenes were restored. Certainly he's the heart of the story.

2017 was a hard year. All the years of the Trump presidency were hard years, but that initial outrage of the madness of that awful man in charge was still fresh. There was still the hope that his crimes might one day have consequences and that those who claimed to be moral would practice morality. The crushing, numbing despair that was to come hadn't yet fully set in.

I still believed too many Christians might've just made a mistake in endorsing Donald Trump. Now that they could see what a terrible President he was, logic would dictate that they withdraw their support and return to their previously proclaimed moral beliefs, right? All those hymns we sang and those verses we quoted in Sunday school, those meant something, right!?!

Some may read this post and think Robert Kent, author of The Book of David, hates Christians. And I mean, some are pretty bad, but no. I don't hate Christians. I love many of them. I just want them to act like who they're supposed to be.

During quarantine, I had entirely too much time to think and to reflect on past social interactions since I wasn't having many new ones. I thought a lot about so many of the kids I knew from Sunday school, some of whom went on to attend Bible college, and STILL celebrated the arrival of a false prophet. I've tried to figure out how "spiritual instruction" primed so many Christians to worship in the death cult of Trump's GOP. 

In 2017, I wrote this: I find myself continually thinking of Justice League's haunting opening credits montage of a dark world without hope (Superman) set against Sigrid's extra-sadness-inducing cover of "Everybody Knows." That scene was far too dark and far too real, particularly the shot of the homeless guy with the words "I tried" written on his collection box (get ready for the super friends, kids!!!). The scene made me uncomfortable in the theater because despite the Whedon CGI crapfest with quips that followed, that depressing vision of America in the credits felt right for 2017.

I don't know about you, Esteemed Audience, but I don't think I'm ever going back to who I was before the pandemic or the Trump years. I've seen too much and had my heart too profoundly broken. The poorly-lit costumes of my heroes or Cavill's CGI-mangled upper lip weren't the worst things I saw that year, but the sadness of how badly that movie sucked didn't help either.

I won't recap the trauma of the Trump presidency except to remind Esteemed Reader that I was the father of a black child during it as SOME "Christians" cheered on his racism and sexism and deliberately holding events to murder his supporters since we know he told Bob Woodward he was aware of how deadly Covid-19 was the whole time he was spreading it at his rally's like Randall Flagg.

All of us were inundated with daily tweets and madness and the flaunting of clear criminal wrongdoing proving our "justice system" was a bad joke and the constant lies and the fear of what the mad king might do next, as well as the knowledge that he couldn't be stopped. 

And then he was.

I don't mean to celebrate prematurely. As the Delta variant and probably others are spreading because Trump's cultists won't get vaccinated or wear masks and can't be reasoned with or presented with facts, we can't really talk about ourselves as being in a post pandemic world. As Republican politicians continue to back Trump's election lies as a preface to dismantle voting rights and known traitors continue to walk around free from consequence, we're not in a post Trump world. 

But I witnessed a miracle, Esteemed Reader. A few, actually. I watched the January 6th insurrection as it happened, and it wasn't any tourist lovefest and damn to Hell every Republican who tries to gaslight us and tell us that we saw we did not see. I watched 9/11 live on television as well, and January 6th was scarier. 

There was no doubt in my mind that this was it. I knew I was about to see Mike Pence hung from the gallows next to the banner reading "Jesus Saves" and the execution of many other politicians, and then it would just be a question of could I get my family out of this country in time or was it already too late.

Esteemed Reader, after four years of the previously unimaginable and almost a year of living in fear of a plague, I watched the end of all things live on television.

And then the most unlikely event happened in reality, an event so implausible I'll never again be entirely sure reality is real. I could never write it in a book and I would never accept it as a satisfying ending in a story someone else wrote.

A man named Eugene Goodman, a man braver than I could ever be, literally pulled a Bugs Bunny on the insurrectionists. They were all, "which way did the politicians go," and he was all, "they went that a'way." A couple of shoves and he diverted those maniacs just before they reached the politicians they would've murdered--yes, they would've; they killed cops, and they wanted to kill more. If it was an episode of Quantum Leap, that's the wrong Dr. Sam Becket set right. 

That was a moment of divine intervention if I ever saw one.

 And just like that, God showed up.

I don't know what this means, exactly, but it means something. Reality is rigged, my friends. I don't understand the nature of God and I don't pretend to, but I know what I saw. It's not my first miracle as I've written about my past instances of witnessing God. 

On January 20th, 2021, I watched Joe Bidden and Kamala Harris be sworn in to restore some order to this chaos and to begin rebuilding from the ashes. I didn't believe it would happen until it was done and I cried through Kamala Harris' oath because the cultists didn't destroy us. They tried and they failed.

Of course, there's lots of work still to be done. But I saw God take control; not the racist, sexist, homophobic bully SOME "Christian" conservatives pretend to represent, but the real God. 

The Great I AM made Their divine presence known.

Additional evidence of reality not being quite as real as people think: On June 22, 2020 Joel Schumacher, forever unforgiven director of Batman & Robin died. Much of my intense adolescent hatred of Schumacher was no doubt fueled by the instilled homophobia of my "Christian" upbringing. Adult me loves too many gay friends to be swindled by divisive religious programing peddled by hucksters, but I still think Batman & Robin is the worst movie ever made. And on that VERY SAME DAY its director died, it was announced that Michael Keaton would play Batman again in the upcoming Flash movie. 

Teenage me just retroactively exploded at all his nerdiest dreams coming true in one 24-hour period. Adult me is suspicious. What the hell kind of lazy writers are in charge of this simulation? They're going to have to be more subtle if they expect me to take this reality seriously.

The stress of knowing we're surrounded by cultists hasn't gone away. But Mrs. Kent and I are vaccinated. We've been able to leave our homes and see family for the first time since Christmas 2019. And there've been some other developments in my personal life that, while not as blatantly miraculous as the maneuver Eugene Goodman pulled or the return of Michael Keaton, have given me reason to hope.

Another miracle, of course, happened March 18, 2001. I went to bed at 6pm on March 17th so I could watch Zack Snyder's Justice League on HBO Max at 3:00 in the morning, the moment it released. Esteemed Audience, I have never in my life wanted to see a movie more.

I won't go through the saga of fans, including me, petitioning Warner Brothers to release the Snyder Cut for years. But it's something I never thought we'd see and certainly not all four hours of it with completed special effects and the soaring score of Junkie XL I've been listening to almost daily since because it's just so breathtakingly beautiful. 

I laughed, I cried, I cheered. I FELT something, the joy of my heroes returned to me and their story at last told the right way. I don't care that the slow motion coffee is gratuitous or that Martian Manhunter is shoehorned in, replacing Green Lantern and creating continuity issues (where the heck were you for two films, buddy?), and stepping all over Diane Lane's wonderful MARTHA!!! performance. 

I care that I believed Barry Allen could outrun time and his own self doubt. I care that Darkseid was terrifying and a threat even greater than Thanos. I care that Wonder Woman was a tomb-raiding warrior more awesome than anyone else on the team. I care that Cyborg's story and his relationships with his parents were deeply moving (and that my final draft of Banneker Bones and the Cyborg Conspiracy was safely completed and free of the film's influence). I care that Lois Lane's grief was my grief and I cried when she saw Superman returned to her the way I cried when Joe Biden was sworn in and returned hope to us. I care that Batman found his faith once again and led a team of superheroes the way I always knew he would.

I always believed in you, Batman, and in our darkest hour, against all odds, there you were once again. And you brought the Super Friends together.

I'm not going to convince everyone to love this movie the way I loved it (I've seen it 5 times so far and will definitely watch it more and that's 20 hours of my life well spent). But know that when Cyborg rose up to the challenge and told the mother boxes, "I'm not broken," I wept harder than I've ever wept at a film. Me neither, Cyborg. Me neither.

Esteemed Reader, we still have reason to hope. Miracles are still possible in this fallen world of false prophets. All is not lost, not yet.

The age of heroes may yet come again.

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