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REVIEW – Justice League

Directed by: Zack Snyder
Produced by: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jon Berg, Geoff Johns
Written by: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon
Edited by: David Brenner, Richard Pearson, Martin Walsh
Cinematography by: Fabian Wagner
Music by: Danny Elfman
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Joe Morton, Amber Heard, Billy Crudup
Based on characters from DC Comics
Year: 2017

 

Finally, right? I think I finally understand now why DC/Warner Bros feel as though they have to catch up to Marvel now that Justice League has been released after years and years of development and false starts. It’s been a rocky road for DC, to say the least, and it’s hard to fault people for continually pointing this out. The studio has largely been reticent to move away from their bread and butter of Batman and Superman (and characters closely tied to them, as was the case with Suicide Squad), and even their efforts to set themselves apart from Marvel, tonally, has been met with criticism for emulating the grimdark tone of Christopher Nolan’s exceptional Dark Knight Trilogy films, regardless of whether it was appropriate or not. As a result, general reception of nearly all their films, with the notable exception of this year’s Wonder Woman, have also been decidedly negative to mixed, at best (though I still generally like Man of Steel, despite its obvious flaws). Come to think of it, that can actually be said all of pretty much all of their non-Nolan-helmed films (a pretty damn big exception, mind you) since 1992. But now – finally – everything has come together in Justice League, the film that finally unites worlds in live action, as we’ve all been hoping to see. Was it worth it? Does it make the pain of watching DC limp through all those years of trials and errors feel worth it?

… Well, to be perfectly honest with you… no. Justice League does not at all make up for all the mistakes and sins of not just the past four years. It doesn’t even make up for the agony fans probably felt last year watching Batman and Superman finally meet each other on the big screen and then proceed to yell at each other until the dramatic realization that they both shared a mother… or, rather that their mothers just coincidentally happened to share the same name. Small difference… Those who have paid attention will know that they’ve also failed to get this world going since well before 2013, with Joss Whedon’s cancelled Wonder Woman movie being scrapped in the writing phase, or George Miller’s Justice League going so far as to start casting and then also find itself cancelled. There was also that one time DC thought it was a good idea to paint Ryan Reynolds in a gawdy green CGI bodysuit and call the resulting brick to the head “Green Lantern” – a film that itself at one point almost starred Jack Black in a comedic take on the concept. I mean, good grief! No – for all but the most desperate fans of the characters and the comics, I think Justice League is nowhere near going to make up for all the wasted time, effort, and anticipation of everyone involved over the years. But, you know what? Even all that doesn’t necessarily mean that Justice League, on its own, isn’t worth seeing, particularly while it’s in theatres.

The movie is shockingly simplistic in overall narrative, picking up a short time after the end of Batman v. Superman, with the world still mourning the loss of the Kryptonian savior. It’s been predictably hard for Lois Lane and his mother, Martha Kent, but even Bruce Wayne, who as Batman once sought to kill the Man of Steel, is still coming to terms with the realization of what was lost with the death of Superman. And so, alongside Wonder Woman, he continues in his efforts to assemble a team that could hopefully compensate for that loss, should the day ever come that the world needs saving once again. … Of course, that time is now, as a being called Steppenwolf has arrived in an attempt to capture and unite ancient alien artifacts called Mother Boxes, which will bring about cataclysm upon the planet and… yeah, you know the drill. Can they put together a team that can take him on and stop the oncoming threat of the apocalypse? … Do you even know what the title of the movie is?

It’s honestly not that much different from 2012’s The Avengers, which also happened to be directed by this film’s credited screenwriter and uncredited secondary director, Joss Whedon. What matters most in these movies is how it all plays out, all the while enjoying the interactions between the characters and all the action and Easter Eggs thrown in for fans to notice – all that good stuff. And fans should get some enjoyment out of that, for sure, with Justice League. Even the score has little references to movies past thrown in for good measure, and that’s very fun. The returning characters – the ones who played bigger parts in the previous films, that is – all return in fine form, too. I’m still a fan of the weathered Batfleck, who seems keenly aware this time around of his reluctant dependence upon his new allies. Gal Gadot remains a wonderfully warm and welcome Wonder Woman. Jeremy Irons is a great Alfred, and even characters who I didn’t like previously (Lois and Martha Kent, for example) end up being better here, too. One guy in particular that we’ve seen very little of in the marketing also returns in a way that makes you wonder why DC never went that route from the beginning. … Spoilers? Oh, give me a break – you knew it was coming!

The biggest problem, however, is the one that many, including myself, saw coming: the fact that this team has only been halfway developed. Despite small cameos elsewhere, there’s no prior sense of who Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman are in this universe, even for fans of the comics and other adaptations, it’s not really fair to rely upon outside familiarity for us to get to know these versions of the characters. Pretty much all of their development has to happen right here, in a film that also spends much of its runtime further fleshing out characters we have seen previously. Perhaps that’s why, then, they chose to go so generic with them?

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is probably the least consequential of the three in terms of plot. The character is already a joke in a lot of people’s minds, and so DC has made him the boisterous royal muscle guy, sort of their version of Thor, but with a surfer dudebro sensibility that sometimes doesn’t make sense for a character largely cut off from mainstream America. (Also, in one supposedly badass slow-mo shot, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Did Aquaman seriously just litter?”) The Flash, traditionally the heart and clown of the group, remains so, but I’m not certain I enjoy this uber-awkward doofus portrayal they’ve gone with. There are amusing moments with him, and I like Ezra Miller far more than I expected to like him in the role, but the film makes it hard to find the hero lurking within the character sometimes when he’s watching, for example, a hostage situation and can’t help but make a bunch of jokey excuses in an attempt to back out of helping, particularly after one of the hostages just got their neck snapped. (This is also a symptom of the film as a whole having an issue with keeping a consistent tone. It’s fine to have jokes sprinkled throughout even serious moments, and Whedon himself has proven to be adept at that even outside the superhero genre, so it’s very possible that this likely has to do with the fact that Whedon was hired way late in the game, which… given the circumstances in this case, is kind of understandable, if not exactly excusable.)

Most tragic, however, is the fact that Cyborg and the film’s main villain, Steppenwolf, have almost no dimension to them whatsoever. Cyborg barely registers as a member of the team, despite his prominence in the story. He’s such a non-personality that a late game invocation of his exuberant catchphrase “Booyah!” seems ironically out of character. We find out that he’s only alive because his father couldn’t bear to part with him and brought him back to life using technology derived from a Mother Box, but because the character is so bland and monotone, the revelation of his backstory mostly just ends up feeling like an explanation for how Cyborg is useful as a tool rather than an insight into him as a person. And that’s largely how the film uses him, too – he hooks up to technology and makes them do the things the team needs. I’d compare him to R2-D2, but even that bleep-blooping character has more personality and complexity than the utilitarian Cyborg, which really sucks because he’s a character that could be really interesting, even if they wanted to lean heavier on the tragic backstory.

Steppenwolf, meanwhile… well, he’s just your average generic world conqueror who boasts of his impending triumph over the world and our heroes. Fans who know about DC’s New Gods and his association with that area of DC know what his arrival is a harbinger of, but given that even DC seems unsure of where it’s going with their movies now (despite keeping in the mid- and post-credits sequences for this film), it’s hard to get excited about anything. At the very least, The Avengers had some cool aliens and had one of the more charismatic villains in the MCU stable – one who had already been established previously – leading the charge against our largely already developed heroes, and so that film felt like a joyous celebration of all that came before. Justice League feels like you’re experiencing the last stretch of a marathon where the runner has spent too much energy early in the game and is now just exerting itself to get to the finish line – it’s intriguing enough to stick around and see it through to the end, but you’re also kinda glad that’s all over with and move on.

This movie hints at both larger but potentially duller things to come over its runtime, but it also more explicitly details smaller stakes to come in its final credits stinger. I would advise DC to emphasize the latter over the former, because if there’s anywhere that DC has excelled in the past that could also set them apart from its rival, it’s in the area that the stinger hints that I don’t really want to spoil here in this review, but you probably know what I’m at least hinting at. I didn’t hate this film, and I’m glad I saw it, if only because it’s finally – finally – happened, and I’m generally a fan of all these characters and feel like this could now finally – FINALLY – be the beginning of something that could both be really great over at DC but also potentially very different. Sure, it botches the introductions for half of the team, but at least now you know who they are, and there are some fun moments they have together, so with them already established, we can all hopefully look forward to moving past the preliminary introductions to get to know them… That is, again, if DC actually follows through with their promises now that they’ve finally – FINALLY!! – fulfilled the one they’ve been hinting at and promising for the better part of at least a decade.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3 / 5 for fans… 2.5 / 5 for non-fans

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  1. December 8, 2017 at 10:29 pm

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