Justice League and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Zack Snyder
So… it’s not like anyone is looking forward to this movie and is willing to yell at critics over it, right!? Sigh… now my opinions on Batman v Superman have been made quite clear on multiple occasions, but you know… with Wonder Woman and to a very VERY lesser extent Suicide Squad, I don’t think these films aren’t worth seeing. Heck, even Batman v Superman is worth seeing in the sense that there’s so much to learn about NOT making a good movie from it! I am absolutely not looking forward to this movie and I don’t expect it to be all that good, but I’m going to sit in my seat, watch all the crappy local car commercials, and then hope that I’m not just completely wasting my time and money being there. I The fact that I’m expecting this to be bad is not the same as WANTING it to be bad or HOPING for it to be bad just to get some “outrage clickbait” out of it, because I don’t need any MORE things in my life to piss me off even if I get a hilarious and insightful review out of it. I’d rather write hilarious and insightful review of GOOD movies! So then… does Warner Bros and DC have what it takes to keep this franchise afloat after Wonder Woman became an critical and box office smash, or are we stuck with more of the same crap until these DCCU films stop making money for them? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins sometime after the events of Batman v Superman where (SPOILER ALERT!) the world is still reeling over the DEATH OF SUPERMAN! Everyone’s moody, crime is on the rise, and to top things off, aliens have started invading Earth! Yeah, that whole dream sequence with the Parademons in the last movie? Well it’s not a full scale invasion just yet, but Batman’s swinging around Gotham City finding these space bugs all over the place and needs to figure out what the heck is going on! Well it doesn’t take long for the TRUE threat to reveal himself as Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) who, now that Superman is deader than disco, feels confident enough to stage an all-out attack on Earth… for some reason. I mean I GUESS he tried to take over the planet back when it was Middle Earth and Amazons, Green Lanterns, and I THINK Shazzam were able to stop him, so maybe he’s after this planet for revenge or something. IT DOESN’T MATTER THOUGH! What matters is that he’s gonna tear shit up and the world needs its most powerful champions to fight against him which includes the aforementioned Batman, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jasson Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Will the Justice League be able to put aside their differences and come together (right now!) in order to stop the greatest threat humanity has ever faced? Just what is Steppenwolf’s master plan, and what other forces are in play that these mere mortals are only seeing the briefest glimpse of? How much more leeway will we have to give WB just to make sure we keep getting Wonder Woman movies!?
It’s good! Yeah, I’m as shocked as you are that this didn’t turn out to be a flaming garbage fire of a movie, but I’ve got to give credit where it’s due because this movie is… good. It’s just fine! Sure it’s no Wonder Woman, The Dark Knight, Captain America 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, or even Zach Snyder’s own Watchmen, but about as good as any given X-Men movie; outside of Deadpool and Logan of course. Now it’s got some HUGE problems with it that I’m probably gonna pin on the original director (the only one who gets an actual directing credit on this) but we’re no longer in inexplicably bad territory like we were with Batman v Superman where the flaws and the poor decision making were tantamount to catching lightening in a (really crappy) bottle. There are some structural issues, the plot spreads itself WAY too thin, and some of Zack Snyder’s visual obsessions get in the way of the overall aesthetic and tone, but considering how much I was dreading this movie and how low the bar has been set for the DCCU, I’m perfectly fine with an entry that is basically on par with Iron Man 2; a movie I actually like quite a bit but can clearly see the flaws of. It’s probably too little too late to save the DCCU as there are already talks on how to reboot it, but at least we got one more decent film out of the damn thing before it completely implodes in on itself.
What this movie gets right has a lot to do with fixing the mistakes of Batman v Superman as it’s very much a sequel to that film more than anything else (not a single mention of Suicide Squad here). For one, its plot is VERY straightforward and doesn’t require a whole lot of set up to get the action going; unlike with Lex Luthor who’s plan not only made zero sense but was shrouded and obfuscated for so much of the runtime. I wouldn’t say that Steppenwolf is a good villain as he’s just a notch above Malekith in Thor: The Dark World (even I don’t remember anything about him and had to look up his name) but he does end up standing on his own as a villain rather than as a forbearer for a greater threat. All that stuff that was randomly shoved into Batman v Superman about Darkseid is THERE, but it fits more organically into this film because they take time to establish THIS dude while letting the extraneous details about him and his world just filter in from the background. His plan is possibly a bit TOO simple as it basically involves Steppenwolf gathering three McGuffins that look SUSPICIOUSLY like the Tesseract from the MCU, but maybe it was best to keep things as basic as possible considering we have at least three new characters to introduce and develop on top of the world building and dealing with leftover threads from the last movie. That said the briskness of the pace in the movie does leave several parts feeling woefully underdeveloped; particularly Atlantis which looks REALLY bad and incredibly sparse. Along those lines, the Amazons fare a bit better as the one big action scene with them is rather impressive, but it’s also incredibly disappointing to see how they’re depicted in this when compared to how they were represented in Wonder Woman. We already knew going into this that the costumes were changed to apparently make them more sexy (or I guess Zach Snyder’s version of “empowering”), but the problems go beyond the clothing they wear. They aren’t as interesting as the scene flies by rather quickly, the end up being rather disposable as they’re picked off left and right, and… well they just come off as kind of silly. There’s a scene where Hippolyta tells the Amazons to SEAL THE GATES on this one storage building they have, and they’re method of doing so is… to have incredibly burly women knock down pegs so that stone walls fall down; sealing everyone including themselves inside. I mean I’m just spit balling here, but could a DOOR have worked? Granted it would have probably needed to be a MAGIC door, but I’m pretty sure that a civilization that has been around for thousands of years could have thought of a better locking mechanism than DROP SOMETHING HEAVY; not like it even works as Steppenwolf just jumps out through the roof (I think). They just don’t have any of the personality or even much of the strength that they had in Wonder Woman, and I get that we’re got a WHOLE lot of ground to cover in a really short amount of time here, but their one big scene could have been handled a lot better.
That’s probably the biggest (but by no means only) problem with the film; everything is just spread way too thin for anything to feel all that satisfying outside of the League members themselves fighting together. Cyborg’s backstory is missing an emotional center to it (the mother is never really mentioned and his father drops out of the movie with no fanfare at about the halfway point), so Ray Fisher’s brooding comes off as obnoxious and whiney. Ezra Miller will invariably be compared to Grant Gustin which is somewhat unfair considering the latter has entire freaking series to develop himself and his world, but there’s really not a single scene in this movie with the flash that outdoes the CW show (nor the Quicksilver sequences in the last few X-Men movies). Heck, remember how they cast LEGENDARY CHARACTER ACTOR JK Simmons to be Commissioner Gordon? Well the dude shows up for MAYBE one and a half scenes and is out of the movie; ditto for Amy Adams and Diane Lane as Lois Lane and Martha Kent who are just on hand to remind us that Superman was a thing in the last movie. It all just feels so perfunctory and without any weight which admittedly is better than Batman v Superman’s FALSE sense of weight and import, but the end result feels less like a movie and more like one of those CW crossovers; not a BAD thing per se as I am a fan of The Flash and Supergirl, but the whole project calls to mind that apocryphal tale of the chef who spent a million dollars recreating the Big Mac. The monumentally negative reception of Batman v Superman (along with the massive success of Wonder Woman) does seem to have been a wakeup call of sorts for DC and WB who wanted to steer this franchise in a new direction, and to their credit they certainly made something better. In the process though, they seem to have hacked off a bit too much to fit with this new vision (which is basically a dumbed down MCU movie) and the finished project feels somewhat… incomplete.
Speaking of incomplete, MAN is this a rough looking film! I don’t know how much of Zack Snyder’s original vision is left in this and whether what’s on screen is THAT much of an improvement to it, but it looks like a movie that’s only about eighty percent done with massive workarounds and shortcuts to get us to a finished product. Batman looks freaking TERRIBLE in this movie with his bulky ass straining beneath the mountains of fake muscle that make him look less like a physically fit and lithe creature of the night and more like a Vienna sausage who can’t touch his toes without ripping his Bat-Pants. I don’t remember him looking THAT bad in Batman v Superman, but I guess that’s what happens when you mess with the color pallet post production and every inch and curve of that suit is on full display; to the point that it affects pretty much every action scene he’s in as he never looks convincing in the slightest. He looks like he should weight about four hundred pounds with all the crap on him, yet his movements look like he’s about as light as a feather which leads to scenes where we’ve got this chunky bastard floating through the action like they were filmed underwater! Similarly (though not as drastically) Flash and Cyborg don’t look particularly good with the former’s costume being too bulky and stiff to be an effective running suit (was it just me or does Ezra Miller’s running look SUPER awkward in this?) and Cyborg is just a CGI monstrosity that lacks any significant detailing (outside of LOOK HOW MANY PIECES THERE ARE) and has absolutely no personality to it. Fortunately Wonder Woman still looks great as Gal Gadot’s costume is unchanged (I think) from what she had in Wonder Woman, and Aqua Man is… fine. His suit has a bit too many whorls and texture to it, but it at least looks functional which is more than can be said about three dudes on the team. There are other technical issues as well, mostly due to some rushed CG from what I assume to have been the reshoot footage, but overall the aesthetic is just wonky and never really finds the right middle ground between Batman v Superman and this lighter tone it’s striving for; once again showing how the drastic changes between films DID improve things, but also lead to some things getting lost in the transition.
Since we’re on the topic, let’s talk about the giant Amazonian Elephant in the room that’s the only thing giving this movie a shred of credibility and relevance! Gal Gadot is seriously the main reason why this movie works to the degree that it does, and she is still PHENOMENAL in this role. It feels like an entirely different movie whenever she’s on screen as the action is much shot better, the dramatic scenes have more weight, and the thematic elements about working together and looking out for someone other than yourself has much more resonance! Now she’s not the only one that’s doing their part in this movie as Ezra Miller is a solid comic relief and Jason Momoa is actually really good in this interpretation of Aquaman (maybe even enough to carry a movie which would be first for the guy), but there’s no denying that most of the good aspects (as well as most of the public interest at this point) falls squarely on Gal Gadot’s shoulders who handles that burden with assurance and grace. Seriously, if there’s nothing else to take away from the DCCU experiment, it’s that Wonder Woman should have had a film long before now and Gal Gadot will still be in Wonder Woman movies if and when WB gives up and reboots the whole thing.
Before I end this, there’s still ONE more thing we need to discuss that goes REALLY deep into spoilers, so if you don’t want to know anything else about the movie before checking it out for yourself, just skip ahead to the end of this review or come back after you’ve seen the film.
We good? Alright, so let’s talk about Superman. Like most things in this movie, Superman is MUCH better but still rather awkwardly dealt with as Henry Cavill is FINALLY given the chance to actually act like Superman, but the circumstances involving his return and the screen time devoted to it just feels like dead weight dropped right in the middle of the story they were already having trouble keeping us engaged with. The resurrection scene itself feels overlong and has absolutely no tension as we KNOW it’s going to work (it’d be like if a Frankenstein movie never had the monster come to life) and the following scene where Superman is temporarily evil is just… weird. Okay, he’s not REALLY evil; it’s more like he’s got amnesia and is in total self-defense mode, but even then the justification for THE LEAGUE VS SUPERMAN is the biggest plot contrivance in the whole film as Superman is RELATIVELY calm as he’s trying to get his head on straight, but for SOME REASON Cyborg’s armor (without his control!) fires off a shot at Superman. WHAT!? Now admittedly the ensuing battle is pretty great (easily the best Flash scene in the entire movie), but in a movie full of shortcuts and hand waves, that was a leap too far and soured me on this entire subplot. Thankfully Superman has a great scene at the end to show how awesome and heroic he is which I GUESS justifies us having to spend time to bring him back, but like the only Amazon scene we get in this movie, they needed to make it SHINE rather than use it to merely get us from A to B.
Look, the fact that this managed to clear such a low bar of competence shouldn’t mean a whole lot in a cinematic landscape that has such great films as Logan, Captain America: The Winter Solider, and even Thor: Ragnarok which is still tearing it up at the box office. Still, the fact is that this is easily the second best film in the entire DCCU canon and for those who are invested in these movies and these characters, which I feel counts for something. If you have even a shred of curiosity about this film or the DC movies as whole, I would actually recommend seeing it in theaters; especially if you’re like me and were expecting this to be awful. You might be pleasantly surprised that we actually got a GOOD movie out of it, and while it’s not a GREAT film, I think it’s GOOD ENOUGH to hopefully get things back on track for this cinematic universe. I know that’s practically damning this thing with faint praise, but that’s still better than no praise at all, right!?
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