Volume Six, Issue 45!
“Movie Review: Justice League”
It’s been a long road to Justice League. After numerous false starts, a George Miller almost directed movie, and Batman V Superman, it’s finally time for DC’s all stars to take the stage on the big screen. But after a troubled development that saw Zack Snyder have to step down due to a family tragedy, which caused Joss Whedon to step in and handle reshoots, the League has finally assembled, and the hopes and dreams of the entire DCEU rest upon it. With so much riding on Justice League, and the amount of work involved in making it, being worried about the end result is a legitimate concern. But amazingly, Justice League does mostly work, especially when it comes to correcting the mistakes that Warner Bros and Zack Snyder made in previous DCEU efforts.
Now before we go any further, let me get this out of the way: Justice League is not as good as Wonder Woman, which still stands as the high mark of WB’s DC movies. But it’s also nowhere near as bad as Batman V Superman or Suicide Squad. There’s a joyfulness and spirit of hope to this movie that was nowhere to be seen in those previous entries, and it seems like with League that Snyder and Warner Bros executives actually listened to the concerns of fans and critics and tried to course correct their initial plan. Of course, there are some caveats with that, like when Batman (Ben Affleck) says that “Superman was a beacon of light” for people. Well, he wasn’t in Batman V Superman (at least not anytime I watched it, which has been too many times, and no, it doesn’t get better each time I watch it), so I’m not sure what Superman we’re talking about. But if you can roll with it and accept that Warner Bros is trying to right the ship, you’ll find a lot to like about Justice League.
One of those things to like is the cast, which let’s face it, has never been a problem with these movies. Every member of the Justice League has a chance to shine here. The interplay between Batman, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and The Flash (Ezra Miller) is a lot of fun, and will definitely remind you of your favorite banter moments from The Avengers. Of course, with a script punched up by Joss Whedon, that’s not a huge surprise, but it’s a welcome one after Batman V Superman saw the two title characters barely spend any time talking with one another, especially when if they just talked it out they’d never need to fight in the first place.
Justice League’s plot is very much a “getting the band” together one, and while it tells that story at an accelerated pace, there’s actually a lot more story packed into it than you’d expect. Batman has been investigating a possible alien invasion, and has decided that it’s time to assemble the other metahumans he discovered from Lex Luthor’s computer in order to combat them. That’s it. No really, that’s it. After the countless plotlines and side trips of BvS, it’s a little weird to have such a straightforward plot, but it’s actually really refreshing, if one of the film’s faults as well. Because if there’s one area that WB should’ve copied Marvel at, it’s setting up the characters in solo movies first.
We didn’t need a ton of back story on Thor in The Avengers because he had his own movie first. If you missed that one, you could go back and watch it, or watch it before you see Avengers if you really cared enough. With Justice League, the only characters we have any real connection to are Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Since Wonder Woman’s the only character with a solo movie before Justice League, when the Amazons show up you already know their deal (assuming you saw Wonder Woman, which I’m guessing you did). But when Aquaman heads to Atlantis for a short scene, it’s a bit of a weird moment because you don’t really know his connection to the sea kingdom, or how Atlantis operates. Earlier in the movie Aquaman states that he’s a man with no connection anywhere, so why does he care if Atlantis is attacked? Sure, we get the bare information that we need for the plot of the movie, but anyone going into this movie cold (or just from seeing BvS), might be turned off by that.
Much was made about Justice League’s scant 2 hour running time, and while I don’t agree with the fanboys who made death threats to the people who reported it, I do think that one of the movie’s faults is the runtime. While the setting up of the League is fun, and some of the best parts of the movie, it’s definitely an area that could’ve been improved by having more time to breathe. The moments we get with Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman are pretty good introductions to them, but it also means we have to accept some pretty broad strokes of the narrative brush. Questions like “how did Aquaman know where to meet the other League members?” or “Wait, how do they know this SPOILER will bring Superman back?” are definitely ones that will ruin the movie the longer you think about them, but the fact that they bring you to some legitimately fun sequences almost makes up for it.
Speaking of Superman, if there’s any character that feels like a different character from the previous films, it’s him. Once he comes back (come on, that’s not a surprise), Henry Cavill plays him like a completely different person. While it’s very strange for a character to get a hard reset like this, it’s a welcome one. For the first time Henry Cavill finally acts the part instead of just looking it. There’s a warmth and charm to his Superman that brought a smile to my face, and for once I finally bought the idea that THIS Superman is the one who could inspire people.
Also inspiring people is Wonder Woman, once again played to perfection by Gal Gadot. Much like in Batman V Superman, Gadot steals the show and has some of the best action sequences in the film. Even more so than before, Gadot stands shoulder to shoulder with the other actors and more than dominates the screen as the Amazonian. It’s simply a blast to see her on screen kicking ass.
You know who else is a blast? Jason Momoa’s Aquaman. A character that I’ve long loved but was always embarrassed to say so, Momoa plays Arthur Curry like a badass longhaired loner who at first wants nothing to do with the League, but after Atlantis is attacked he decides to join up. It’s shaky reasoning, for sure, but like Wonder Woman, it’s a lot of fun seeing this swaggering dude with a trident mess stuff up (for those wondering, yes, you’ll hear him say “yeah”, “my man”, and “dig it” like a hilarious underwater Macho Man). Momoa is clearly having a blast, and it’s infectious.
The same can be said for Ezra Miller, who was honestly the biggest surprise for me, as I was sure I was going to find him super annoying. But surprisingly I found his take on the Flash to be pretty damn funny. Casting Flash as the amateur on the team was a pretty inspired take, and he’s got some truly standout moments here. The same can also be said for Ray Fisher’s Cyborg once he gets into the team dynamic. Before that he’s pretty much just a sullen guy who’s part robot, but when he gets to bond with the team he’s pretty cool (and his CGI looked a lot better to me here than it ever did before).
But what of The Batman, played again by Ben Affleck? Well, he still certainly looks the part, depicting a Batman that looks like he walked right off the page. Affleck’s got more to do in this movie than in Batman V Superman, and he handles it pretty damn well. There are some moments where it looked to me like he was ready to go home, but there’s also moments where he really looks like he’s having a good time, even though it’s a little odd having Batman drop some Whedon quips. For my money he’s still one of the better Batmans we’ve had in the movies. If this is the final time Ben puts on the cowl, it’ll be an okay send off, but I’m pulling for him to give us one more cinematic adventure before he hangs up the cape.
Of course, the League has to fight somebody once they get together, and this time it’s Steppenwolf, who’s leading an invasion of Earth by the Parademons to transform our Earth into a mirror image of Apokolips, the planet he wa-you know what, long story short, there’s really only one kind of team up story, and Justice League’s is basically the same as The Avengers. A bunch of heroes have to team up to stop a big threat. The big threat this time being a giant CGI horned creature that’s voiced by Game of Thrones actor Ciaran Hinds, who honestly didn’t do much for me. He really exists to lead an army of nameless drones and fight the Justice League. His goal is no different than any other major villain’s, and while Hinds does as much as he can with the role, there’s only so much that a CGI villain can bring to the proceedings.
Combining Joss Whedon’s dialogue with Zack Snyder’s action stylings could’ve gone either way: either a complete disaster or a pleasant surprise. But to be completely honest, Justice League isn’t either of those things. It’s surprising that it’s watchable at all when you think about the amount of behind the scenes drama that took place with it. There are weak elements to this movie (and they are pretty weak), but the moments that work? Well, those moments work extremely well.
In the end, that’s kind the best way to look at Justice League. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. The ending of the film made me hopeful for future WB DC films, and I’m actually looking forward to a director’s cut blu-ray because I want to see more of these characters. Hell, I’m looking forward to a sequel to this movie because I want to see more of these characters. Justice League is like watching a ship course correct in real time, but for the first time I’m rooting for the ship to make the turn because I can see the awesome potential that’s on the shoreline.