Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe are connoisseurs of terrible films. In this occasional series, they watch and then discuss the fallout from a particularly painful film. Be wary of spoilers.
Jim: It is surprising, Ken, how bad films for this series have a chance to fall into our laps at the precise moment when they are pop culturally relevant for whatever reason. I had never even heard of the CBS TV movie version of 1997 Justice League of America before I found it online a few weeks ago, and I had no idea it was the star of any note when I recommended it to you. To be honest, most of my recommendations were based only on terrible customs. Of course, I had no idea that one of the protagonists of this adorable adaptation of DC Comics is now playing a major role in CBS itself. Picard. Seriously, it’s even the SAME NETWORK. What are the odds?
ken: Michelle Hurd’s agent is assumed to know a guy in The Eye. I have to congratulate you on this discovery, Jim, as it is another entry in the category of “films made before their time”. It was only a year behind Lama. I think he’s one in a large dataset that all point to the fact that the American public wanted a superhero fare, but there was still tension between serious fanatics who could deliver it and studio producers who looked at budgets and said “Do you want HOW MUCH for CGI for a green ring that turns into an umbrella ?? ”
Jim: This really is the most relevant takeaway here: this film has been a victim of its release window. It is too early to be taken seriously by the people who write, plan, direct and act in it. As you said, this is 1997 and this version of Justice League it was intended as a TV movie that would be a backdoor pilot for a Justice League series. But he is alone one a year earlier Lamaand only a couple of years before 2000 X-Men offers what is probably the first truly modern theatrical comic film. You have to ask yourself how different it might be if it came a few years later. Although I suppose we got the DCEU Justice League 20 years later, in 2017, it didn’t get any better.
Like a 1997 TV production, though? This kind of looks Justice League presented as a high school game.
ken: It is quite terrible. And yes, we have to get him out of the way right at the beginning: Jim, if you had to choose the face of the Justice League, who would you say it would be? Superman, the embodiment of the heroic Legal Good? Batman, the normal boy who fights evil out of pure determination and stubbornness? Wonder Woman, the Amazonian ideal of just femininity, progeny of the god of war? How many of them do you think the firm had rights to, Jim?
Jim: Why you shouldn’t have the rights to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman that prevent you from making a Justice League movies, Ken? ONLY why are the three most recognizable characters on that superhero team? Who needs it when you have a boy in a Martian Manhunter costume who is on the screen for about five minutes and does nothing but stand and talk?
ken: I think there has also been, I think you agree, a dizzying embrace of the “multi-verse” theory of comic continuity in recent times. DC’s Crisis TV event and Marvel’s Verso Spider have raised the theory that every version of these heroes you’ve ever loved or hated coexisted along the Central Finite Curve. Despite this, Jim, nobody brought this version, never. I was totally unaware of it until you brought it to my attention. And I was 14 when it came out, so really they should I have heard of it.
Jim: I was also surprised that I never heard of anyone talking about this film. I just ran into the reference to it online and searched for it. It looks like it totally fell through the cracks. Maybe it’s a function of how terrible and forgettable it is at the same time. The budget seems more worn than the soles of The Flash running shoes.
ken: There is a lot to unpack here. Do you have any juicy detail about how this thing was born?
Jim: I do not! There really doesn’t seem to be much information out there about this. I believe it aired once, on December 28, 1997. This means that it was released almost in the same year Lama, Ken. Unsurprisingly, it had been criticized by TV critics at the time, and there was no chance it would ever become a TV series. One can only imagine what a weekly series would have been like with this cast of schlubs (excluding Michelle Hurd).
Anyway, let’s go inside. Explain to readers how the structure of this film works, because it is honestly more interesting than anything related to the plot.
ken: I am so happy that you asked me. In a courageous attempt to reduce the running time of this film, it avoids the need for further CGI raids which would clearly have made everyone fail and at the same time COMPLETELY ruin the RESOLUTION, the film chooses to cut between the current plot and the confessional speaking head of the members main cast. Out of their customs. Like their alter ego. Describe how difficult it is to be a member of the Justice League.
Green Lantern, software vendor!
Jim, in this film there are absurd absurd lengths to keep their identities secret, including a sequence with not one but TWO Michelle Hurds that we will enter, I’m sure.
Jim: Exactly. So who will see this sitcom-style documentary with a single camera that apparently is shot with all of them, without a costume? It doesn’t make any damn sense, Ken. They are talking in the past about all the other sequences in the film, so it is clearly happening shortly thereafter. And the sequences of the talking head are modified in an apparently random way: they suddenly APPEAR between shots that would otherwise go together. It makes me wonder, would they use the talking head for TV shows? He would have been an early forerunner of the likes of The office is Modern family, etc? Sure, The office he wouldn’t put the talking head sequences between the shots of an action sequence, as he insists on making this film.
ken: It’s as if they knew they only had about 55 minutes of storyline and desperately needed to stretch things further. Unfortunately for them, the cast offensive of this cast is a poor bet, indeed.
Jim: Let’s take a look at the main cast and give a general impression of how each member is represented. The core team is made up of the following heroes: Green Lantern, The Flash, The Atom and Fire, with a newcomer (possibly called Ice) who serves as the naive and public proxy.
ken: We should mention to those who didn’t start out in the comics that these heroes actually make up some of the heavy hits from the Justice League – NORMALLY. Here they are literally helping to scare cats from under houses.
Jim: First of all, Green Lantern (Matthew Settle). He feels like the de facto leader of the team while I’m out doing superhero stuff, by virtue of being the whitest of the white males. Being absent Superman, they only let him borrow Clark Kent’s curly hairstyle. He is a smarmy gentleman who tries exaggerated romantic gestures but has a string of failed relationships and girlfriends who are suspicious of why he always greets them when the beautiful unknown Green Lantern shows up.
ken: Second, The flash (Kenny Johnston). Every team needs a garbage fire that can never do any good and that the rest of the team considers as something they have scraped from the bottom of the shoe. Flash is that boy! He is portrayed as a chronically unemployed schlub, whose super speed doesn’t avoid him at all in his sad daily life.
Jim: I love the fact that he can’t think of one way his super speed could be used to make him earn a dollar or put a roof over his head.
ken: In all fairness to them, Barry Allen is often described as a happy-lucky junkie, but this goes too far in that direction without the most heroic heroism the guy should have.
Jim: Next one, The Atom (John Kassir). High school science teacher Ray Palmer once collected a rock in the desert and can now shrink for some reason! This is the extension of the background that we get for the lesser-known hero The Atom, which is actually considerably more than mentioned for Green Lantern or The Flash. He’s obviously the team nerd from the first moment you look at him, dressed in a sweater and a bow tie and all the rest. Fantastic tidbit casting: I realized that watching these actors John Kassir was actually the voice of the Crypt Keeper on HBO Tales From the Crypt. How sweet it is?
This guy is clearly the muscle of the team.
ken: I couldn’t understand what was familiar, but this drives me crazy. Who knew it could play a more iconic role than the Crypt Keeper?
The last one is the superhero Fire. Michelle Hurd will be familiar to CBS followers ” Picard like the character Raffi, who has a long history with the former captain of the firm. In this story, Fire is an ailing actress. He has all the flying and green flame powers of his comic book iteration, and these are never used once to immolate the bad before he can do his bad thing. The subplot here is that it is pursued by a much younger way that pursues it frighteningly. It doesn’t go anywhere important.
Jim: Two things. First, even though you told me that one of the cast members was present Picard before I looked, I really didn’t know which one. I am delighted, therefore, that as I watched I noticed that Hurd far outperformed. It is the only one with warmth or naturalism: it is clearly at a level different from practically everyone else here. Second thing: the strange little dweeb that follows her is the actor David Krumholtz, whom TV fans will recognize for years in the CBS series Numb3rs, but the only thing I can imagine is Tim Allen’s “Bernard” elf Santa Claus.
Michelle “Please don’t mention the Justice League near me” Hurd.
ken: This is relatively starry, by our standards. And yes, Hurd offers one of the few non-hateful performances in this. Come to think of it, its whole plot is about being a sexy and confident woman it does not do it falling in love with a stupid and pathetic boy. So actually, one of the few bright spots in this damned thing. Jim, over two years of this regular feature have clearly lowered my standards.
Jim: This does not mean that other women are not objectified in this. Tori (Kimberly Oja), who becomes the superhero Ghiaccio, works in a bizarre meteorological institute of some kind (they have the strangest building, and I have to attach a screenshot here to illustrate how strange it is) where his boss Dr. Eno does regularly totally inappropriate comments about how hot it is. In fact, one of the first things he says in the script is “You’re an attractive and intelligent researcher”. Because “attractive” was really relevant to his skills here. Of course, she is flattered rather than rejected by this, because it’s 1997.
But seriously, what the hell is this building.
ken: This is Miguel Ferrer, by the way, the guy who created RoboCop RoboCop. He is undoubtedly the most recognizable guy in this.
Jim: There is no doubt that it is the biggest star here, and you must love Ferrer. Over the years he has played so many bad, weird roles. So many, in fact, it is hilarious enough for me to make a mysterious corner to all those who are the bad guys in this Justice League movie. You hired MIGUEL FERRER, guys. The public knows that in essence he is always a villain.
Clearly that’s not the film’s bad secret.
Instead we have this weird red herring character that Justice League members are investigating when the audience practically already knows that Ferrer is the bad guy. It’s like you’re hiring Michael Ironside in a film that has a bad secret: we all know where he’s going.
ken: We will save our last Justice League member for the big reveal, of course, since it’s the only smart thing about this movie. The plot is extremely simple, so here it is: New Metro is under siege by a villain named The Weatherman. He uses a doomsday weather device to provoke the cataclysms that the Justice League rushes to respond, asking for millions of dollars in ransom in the meantime. Tori suspects that one of his lab mates at Not-Star Labs, but when he goes to investigate, is struck by a strange icebreaker from a suitcase and develops freezing powers that he cannot control.
The members of the Justice League go to sniff the lab trying to find out the identity of the villain and run into Tori, discover his powers, induce her into the League and then defeat Miguel Ferrer. All that’s going on here is a talking head sequence like we mentioned earlier or a secondary storyline that’s lame.
Jim: This is literally all there is to do. The whole thing is about 80 minutes before the end credits, and it’s all extremely poor. It seems that everything has been chosen to make it as easy to grasp as possible. Do I really mean “Fire”? “Ice”? They didn’t want the audience to dig into a comic book tradition here to understand what these people are doing.
The meteorologist is also extremely bland. This is what goes through one of his evil speeches at one point: “I want you to keep one thing in mind about time: it can change at any time.” This is a real quote.
ken: The only remotely interesting thing about him is really his doomsday device. At least good in the film for leveling a credible threat in his super-team. Unfortunately, as I said, one of the things they do to respond is, at some point, to make The Atom shrink so that it can scare a cat from under the house for an old lady. The cat was safer around the house, Ray.
Jim: Clearly there is no budget for actual displays of superhero herring activities, so they resort to sequences of them that save individual people or cats. In fact, the film goes out of its way to keep Justice League members out of their costumes for as long as possible. For long periods they are all in their apartments and there are DEFINED Friends vibrations. Green Lantern is Ross, Flash is clearly Joey. You know it was in their heads, writing this.
ken: All this proves, among other things, completely superfluous. Jim, tell us who really leads this superhero team.
Jim: It is none other than the most loved of all the DC superhero icons, the Martian Manhunter!
You know? The Martian Manhunter?
ken: And where does he live, Jim?
Jim: Do you live … er … under the sea? In a giant submarine. Whale shaped. I assume you remind him of his home on Mars, with all the whale submarines there.
A mechanical whale under the sea. Perfect for a Martian.
ken: I suppose he has a sofa to sleep on when Flash loses his job and tries to crash into the Green Lantern apartment, annoying everyone. I’m just saying.
I will say a lot in defense of the people involved, however. You and I, who aren’t so deeply involved in the comics, don’t give you fuck on Martian Manhunter. No normal person should. But from what I’ve seen of his portraits in other media, this version of the old, wise, serene, somewhat lonely but very benevolent character is actually the point. Furthermore, his costume and make-up closely resemble the character and he also has the power to change form, which at some point he uses to impersonate Ferrer’s character. The film also keeps the intrigue of this until it is revealed later, and never shows up in the talking head sequences (probably because the trick was a nightmare and they didn’t want to involve the actor again).
Jim, someone somewhere has genuinely worried about the Justice League in this. This is the most painful part of this, really.
Jim: But at the same time, they were unable to DO anything with Martian Manhunter in history. It is only the wise old chief who waits at home in his mecha whale – as aliens do – and occasionally exhibits. The thing that changed shape was a fun idea, because technically allows his character to be present in some other scenes, with other cast members acting as if they were the physical ship of the Manhunter. I wonder if actor David Ogden Stiers thought it was all under him, or if he was too old and squeaky to do anything. In the comics, Manhunter is physically strong like Superman. You would never know it here.
ken: Let’s talk about the only scene where J’onnnnnn J’oeoeoeoennnz (or whatever you name) actually uses his powers to help the team. Or rather, a team member. Readers: I don’t care or like Martian Manhunter. I don’t @.
Jim: I assume you are speaking when she hires Fire’s appearance to help Michelle Hurd convince her underage stalker of an aspiring boyfriend that they are actually different people. I can’t bring out his secret identity! Unless, of course, nobody watches the documentary that seems to be making where everyone is talking to the camera in street clothes and their real names superimposed on the screen.
The fire is spreading!
Pulling the underage lover into a room, Martian Manhunter arrives after Shang Tsung turns into Hurd’s appearance in costume like Fire, and they are told to buzz. Later we learn that he is dating a sixteen year old! This is also a great time to mention that the absurdity of the superhero masking that actually works on people is extreme in this film.
Jim: Never underestimate the power of a domino mask that covers 20% of your face in hiding your identity from a loved one.
ken: Atom and Flash wear full face masks and nobody knows Barry, so I’d say it’s reasonable to assume he would be unknown. But even with a full face mask, Atom has its own nasal voice. And we know that John Kassir can make voices, Jim. Likewise, Fire and Green Lantern essentially don’t have a face cover and in the case of Hurd in particular, you won’t find two people with that wonderful “his”.
Jim: Green Lantern is the main offender here. He runs away, turns into a Green Lantern and takes his girlfriend and she is all “If only I could meet a REAL man like YOU.”
Identity: carefully hidden.
ken: Two seconds later! Close enough to smell the terrible colony that you and I KNOW his character would wear!
Jim: Just another reason why it feels so much like the Superman proxy here; the fact that everyone should recognize it.
And while we’re on the subject: can you imagine how pathetic and cheap the interpretations of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman would have been if this film had the rights, Ken? I’d like to see what this design team would have done with the Batman costume.
ken: One shivers to think.
The last real conflict of the film occurs with Tori-che-sar-Ghiaccio who has no mastery of his powers. (Oh, and his love is conspiring with Ray, but whatever.) He comes to the team by freezing a damned tidal wave and saving the city.
Jim: It’s all very much for books. Even the costume they give him in the final moments of the film is particularly horrible.
Whenever I think about any aspect of this film, Ken, I always go back to wondering what the TV show would have been like. Would Miguel Ferrer have been a regular guest? Is that why they show him to try to escape with a small laser in the end? They would need to build a gallery of villains and old thieves. I guess they would have hoped to make it something like this Lois & Clark, but the production values of that show do Justice League of America It looks like The room.
ken: I have good memories of Lois & Clark and actually I think it’s one of Superman’s best TV shows. It is definitely less stupid than Smallville, for whom I have nothing but contempt. Readers, you are not yet allowed @.
Justice League: the movie that makes you say “I wish Dean Cain was here”.
There have been many attempts to try and capitalize on superhero stories on TV, if you remember. The 1990s were the golden age of comic book adaptations, for example. Fox also tried at some point to do something live-action based on the X-Men (Generation X) and it didn’t work at all. It almost seems that this genre was blooming.
Jim: We were still in the Bruckheimer era Batman even movies. However, the most serious comic book cinema was coming around the corner.
Lama I cut my brain into confetti and the ninja kicked it into a cloud of blood when it came out. It is wild to think that this dud was actually made public a few months earlier.
Jim: Any other particular moments in this that stand out for you, Ken? I think the Atom limboing sequence under a laser tripwire really sums up the carefree stupid tone here. For example, Star Lord could do something like this in Guardians of the Galaxy, but here they have to bang him at home literally playing limbo music on the soundtrack while doing it. They have no sense of proportion and don’t know when to quit.
ken: I think the thing that sums up how bad it is comes at the beginning of the film when the team is around and their TV isn’t working. They bring out a repairman and fix the TV with a rubber stick. They do this later in the film with a security door locked in their submarine base that is lasered by Ferrer. AND IT WORKS. Jim, they have an underwater base. Why don’t they go around their submarine base?
Jim: Submarine basic sets are expensive and don’t remind anyone of the popular TV comedy Friends. And reminding people of the comedy of the popular television situation Friends It’s like you’re selling a goddamn superhero show, Ken.
ken: I have never hated a show anymore while it was on the air, except for Seinfeld, Jim. We forget we’ve ever seen this.
Jim: Instead, let’s take away the awareness that Michelle Hurd was too good for this, and has since been rewarded for her patience.
ken: This is the silver coating that I’m taking for sure. Until next Jim, don’t hit Michelle Hurd.
Jim Vorel is a Paste personal writer, and you can follow him on Twitter. Kenneth Lowe is a contributing writer to Pasteand you can read his other works on his blog.