The Lighter Tone of ‘Justice League’ is Just What the DCEU Needs

Artiness hasn’t really worked for the DCEU, and it’s about time Warner Bros. shook things up.
By  · Published on November 13th, 2017

Artiness hasn’t really worked for the DCEU, and it’s about time Warner Bros. shook things up.

Justice League hits cinemas this week and early reactions to the film have already been more positive than the majority of films on the DCEU’s slate. This new interview with Justice League‘s cinematographer, Fabian Wagner, further assures us of the lighthearted approach that the film employs is more of a good thing.

Speaking to Kodak, Wagner discussed Justice League‘s lighter visual tone and the benefits of shooting the film on 35mm, especially when it came to meeting Zack Snyder‘s slo-mo requirements. Much can be said about the director’s utter reliance on the slo-mo method at this point in his career, but apparently, 35mm film works exactly in Snyder’s favor. Wagner notes:

“Zack likes to shoot slo-mo action sequences, and Justice League was no exception. The beauty of working with the 500T is that, in combination with the lenses and the lab [i-Dailies, now Kodak Film Lab London at Pinewood], I could push the stock several stops and quickly adapt to his request, while retaining the image quality.”

But despite adhering to Snyder’s general stylistic tendencies, Wagner also speaks about the calculated choice to move away from over-stylizing the DCEU films from here on out. As io9 points out, Batman v Superman was kind of moving in that direction narratively. Although BvS still preserves the general gloominess that has defined Snyder’s cinema for years (both in storyline and cinematography), it was evidently always intentional for Justice League to turn away from that:

“Zack wanted to get away from the stylized, desaturated, super-high contrast looks of other films in the franchise. I am someone who likes to light very naturally, so that fitted my work ethic. It had already been decided that Justice League would shoot on 35mm film, and although I had not shot celluloid for several years, I was excited by the prospect.”

That shift away from stylization and darkness is definitely a fresh, sensible approach to the fluctuating franchise. However, it’s also a much more hopeful indication of how stories in the DCEU could be received overall in the future.

Now, a film like BvS didn’t work for most people, but it did work for me. I enjoyed it enough to see the theatrical cut twice, although there has been no urge to rewatch it since. Nevertheless, watching BvS that first time was still an exercise of, “Oh, look, I guess Zack Snyder is back on his bullshit.” There’s such a thing as recognizable directorial style, and then there’s what Snyder tends to do in his movies, which are usually 3-hour style-over-substance extravaganzas. The characterization in BvS surprised me enough that I managed to like the movie, regardless of a messy narrative structure.

But BvS doesn’t even have a particularly deep narrative to begin with. For many, there was simply a lack of narrative sense in the theatrical cut, let alone any impetus to care about what the characters are going through ostensibly without first knowing where their inner demons come from. But the film’s cinematography takes itself so seriously that a huge disconnect in the overall tone of the movie occurs.

Hence, despite being built up as the ultimate anti-glitz superhero franchise, then attempting to rectify some of that with BvS without much success, the DCEU actually truly found its footing earlier this year with Wonder Woman. Part of that links up with how it is visually conceived by Patty Jenkins and cinematographer Matthew Jensen.

Yes, Wonder Woman certainly featured a ton of desaturated scenes once Diana lands herself in dreary London, so it isn’t 100% perfect in that regard. But the very best cinematographic moments of it involved Themyscira in its warmth and sunshine. Witnessing the Amazons train in lush greenery against a backdrop of cerulean sky and sea added emotional depth and character to those scenes. Themyscira feels alive in Wonder Woman; much like someplace you’d want to visit or even live in. This perfectly set the stage for the overall gravitas that propped up the film’s message of the preservation of love. While Wonder Woman has been criticized for apparent “lapses in narrative energy,” one can’t deny that there is something more to cling onto in that movie than the next Batman incarnation. Anyone would want to protect the sacredness of the Amazons and their homeland, and it is the closest emotional tether to simply caring about what goes on in DCEU movies.

For what it’s worth, Justice League sounds like it will at least be a fun ride, and has also generated keen interest in characters who haven’t yet had their solo debuts. That coupled with a discernible difference in the film’s visuals doesn’t guarantee a massive hit, but it is certainly a step in the right direction for the DCEU.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)