Together at Last - Justice League (REVIEW)
written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Before delving deeper into this, I wanted to make it known that I am a huge DC Comics fanboy. While I enjoy my Marvel movies, when it comes to comics... DC has my heart between the big two; still, I intend to be completely impartial in my review. SO! I saw Justice League, and to be completely honest... it wasn't bad.
Allusions to a threat on a global scale were heavily hinted at during BvS, and while Lex Luthor turned out to be just as mad as one would expect a ego-maniacal super-villain would be... he did have a point that mankind should fear what's coming. After the death of Superman, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince set out to recruit other extraordinary individuals to help stand at their side when the darkness comes. This darkness is personified by Steppenwolf, a world conqueror and loyal servant of Darkseid... DC's ultimate big bad. With Bruce Wayne's restored faith in humanity, and how deeply Superman's sacrifice affected him, he realizes that the best thing for the world right now is bringing these mythical heroes together.
Both Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot reprise their roles as two-thirds of DC's trinity; joining them are Ezra Miller's take on Barry Allen/the Flash, Jason Mamoa as the Atlantean Arthur “Aquaman” Curry, and Ray Fisher as Victor Stone/Cyborg. Supporting cast includes Jeremy Irons returning as Alfred Pennyworth as well as Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Some new faces who will shape the rest of the DCEU were also introduced; JK Simmons as Commissioner Jim Gordon, Amber Heard as Mera, Joe Morton as Cyborg's father Silas Stone, and Billy Crudup as the wrongfully accused Henry Allen. Unfortunately, left on the cutting room floor were apparent cameos from Kiersey Clemons as Iris West and Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko. Henry Cavill does return... but I'll keep hush-hush about that bit for now.
Most of Justice League revolved around the core members, scenes featuring side characters were kept short and rarely detracted from the core narrative of the film. Aside from a flashback scene meant to explain the significance of the Mother Boxes, the film did a spot on job of zeroing in on what it should be focusing on. While it was cool to see an age-old battle between Steppenwolf's army and a union between the old Gods and Amazons, the Atlanteans, and the armies of man... honestly that scene felt like misplaced fluff and played out like a budget version of the opening of Lord of the Rings.
This truly felt like the work of two directors, Justice League at times lacked consistent pacing. I likened this more to watching a three episode arc on TV with a different director behind each episode. After Snyder had to bow out and Joss Whedon took over, reportedly 20% of the film ended up being the Whedon reshoots. While it's hard to tell how much of Snyder's vision was altered, one positive I can point out is the increased use of daytime hero-shots. BvS was freaking dark all the time and even in Man of Steel, the suit was dark and brooding. Personally, I think Snyder's eye works great for pictures like Watchmen and 300 which benefited from it... but not colorful superhero stuff. Justice League is considerably brighter than Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Wonder Woman. Even the slipshod acid trip that was Suicide Squad failed to brighten up this dark and gritty DCEU. The costumes are striking and the color palette felt more in line with the bright-tights of the MCU than Snyder's rain-soaked DCEU. It's unclear how much of this decision was rooted in Snyder's vision and how much of it was thanks to Whedon's approach, but personally I'll welcome it as a step in the right direction.
There's a lot that works here, but just as much that doesn't work. Character introductions were clear and concise, it moves quickly from featuring these heroes as lone-wolves to building some semblance of a team. It reminded me of how each hero was introduced in 2012's The Avengers, what I felt it lacked was the connection the MCU made before introducing their super team. In The Avengers we had two films for Iron Man, one for Cap, one for Thor, presumably one for Hulk, and of course the rest of the team being featured in the films leading up to it. Justice League feels like trying to fast track that Avengers feeling without establishing a connection with the audience. While I had a blast watching Justice League, if you try looking at it from the perspective of a non-comic-book-nerd moviegoer... you can see how it can feel a bit confusing. If watching The Avengers is like saying “I Love You” after being together for a while, Justice League is pulling a Ted Mosby and professing your love on the first date.
I've been a strong supporter of Affleck's Batman and despite my criticism of how Snyder characterized him in BvS, I had high hopes. Those hopes were not wasted, Affleck is solid as Batman and after the events of BvS he seemed more like the Batman I expected him to be from the start. Wonder Woman was just as fantastic as she was in her solo film, she even felt more human... something one can attribute to a century spent with mankind. My personal highlights come in the form of Jason Mamoa's Aquaman and Ezra Miller's Flash. I've always been a huge fan of Aquaman and felt he consistently got shafted standing in the shadows of the Bat, the Kryptonian, and the Amazon. Mamoa's portrayal is charmingly irreverent, in his first scene he scoffs at Bruce Wayne... not taking the threat of Steppenwolf serious. Eventually, he does find his purpose and joins up with the heroes... but never sacrificing his easy-going surfer-bro attitude. Ezra Miller on the other hand played a very different Barry Allen than I was used to... but not in a bad way. I'm happy to see that Miller's Flash is his own version and one that wasn't burdened by an already stellar portrayal in the CW series. The Flash lightens up much of the somber mood and in a war with an all-powerful conqueror, he does manage to get the most laughs. Ray Fisher's Cyborg was a solid performance but one that felt a bit wasted in the grand scheme of it all. Much of Cyborg's scenes involved him interfacing with some manner of tech, leaving much of the high-impact action scenes to the rest of the team.
Now I won't spoil it for you, but it's obvious that Superman does return. The circumstances behind his return will stay between me and the cellophane, but personally I was pleasantly surprised by how Superman was handled in Justice League. While Henry Cavill does look the part, he was downright unlikable in both Man of Steel and BvS. What Justice League did was restore the character to the Superman I expected him to be. I've never been much of a Superman fan... but I really loved what they did with him here.
The film's weakest points come thanks to its villain. Unfortunately that ends up being a glaring sore spot for the film as a whole. A hero is only as heroic as their villain, and while Steppenwolf was indeed a threat... he just wasn't a fun threat to watch. Voiced by Ciarán Hinds, Steppenwolf was just a giant CGI villain in a film that didn't need him to be another giant CGI villain. His motivations were never clearly laid out, aside from his reputation as a conqueror. As a comic book geek, I knew exactly what Steppenwolf was planning (remember the dream sequence from BvS?), but once again looking at it from a regular moviegoer I can see how much of a let down this paper-thin villain was.
I previously stated how disjointed the pacing was but to Justice League's credit I can say that it flowed much better than the reshoots from Suicide Squad. One unfortunate side-effect of the reshoots was the Henry Cavill Stache-gate controversy. Basically, Henry Cavill had grown a mustache out for a movie he is currently filming... forcing production to digitally create an upper lip for Cavill in some scenes. There are points in the film where it's very noticeable, and some points it wasn't. I didn't have a compelte aversion to these scenes, but it was enough to make me point and say "he should have a stache here."
All in all, Justice League was a fun movie... not a perfect movie... but a fun movie. Generally I like to get more out of my movie and was initially worried for it given the WB mandated two-hour runtime. Thankfully, Justice League wrapped up nicely and further opened up the DCEU for future stories in this world. Justice League may not have been critically well-received like Wonder Woman, but I felt they did the best they possibly could have done given the tumultuous production. While Justice League isn't a total course correction for the DCEU, I can with confidence say that it's a nudge in the right direction. I've still got high hopes for the DCEU and will continue to have high hopes for the DCEU, I mean... you gotta believe in your heroes, ya know?
a nudge in the right direction...