JUSTICE LEAGUE Review
The DCEU has had a, less than stellar start to its universe. Warner Bros. resisted the easy ‘universe-building’ first film that has killed other universe franchise films and instead made the critically and commercially mediocre (and underrated IMO) ‘Man of Steel’. Then it all falls apart. The 4-movies-in-one, ‘The Dark Knight Returns v The Death of Superman: Dawn of Justice League Origin’ was divisive amongst audiences and critics, yet was commercially successful. Things didn’t get any better with the rushed Frankenstein-of-a-film, ‘Suicide Squad’, which was again commercially successful, despite the Tomatometer. Audiences and critics all gave a collective sigh of relief when the smash-hit ‘Wonder Woman’ was released and gave the shot of adrenaline the franchise needed. Is ‘Justice League’ another leap in the right direction; or another reactionary, executive muddled mess? Well, it’s somewhere in the middle.
In short, ‘Justice League’ is fine, fun, and flawed. It is not the same breath of fresh air like ‘Wonder Woman’, nor is it an unmitigated disaster like BvS. It is an indicator of the new direction of the DCEU. ‘Justice League’ is a much simpler film than previous DC (or superhero) films; Batman and Wonder Woman must recruit a team of super-powered individuals to prevent a grey, poorly CGI’d monster from destroying the word. Your typical superheroing fare.
‘Justice League’ may not be as tightly made as it’s Marvel counter-part, but it does a better job of expanding the universe. It feels like a film made by fans, for fans with nods and references to DC comic book moments. ‘Justice League’ succeeds in giving each member time to grow, although it is clear certain characters were short-changed. Gadot and Affleck embody their characters, with both characters narratively justified to be more optimistic than previously. Ezra Miller is a unique Barry Allen; a quirky, socially inept and inexperienced Flash that distances himself from the TV Flash, but suffers the brunt of co-director Joss Whedon’s typical humour (to mostly ill-effect, namely a cringe-worthy take on brunch in typical Whedon fashion). Jason Momoa has clearly been given the short-end of the stick, with only two or three notable scenes, but offers a glimpse of his solo film in 2018. The surprise stand-out is Ray Fisher as Cyborg, who gives a more subdued performance than the other newbies and has a clear character arc that was rushed for runtime purposes. One of Hollywood’s worst kept secrets is Superman’s return (a League without Supes is like Queen with Freddie Mercury). In what little he is on-screen, Cavill demonstrates the Superman he was meant to play; the hopeful, optimistic hero who takes time to save civilians in a battle, while kicking the CGI villain’s arse.
One of the many flaws of the film involves the cookie-cutter villain, Steppenwolf, who is clearly used to set-up Darkseid. Steppenwolf is so bland, he never feels like a threat for the League. He is just another grey, hulking, CGI monster, reminiscent of Doomsday-light in BvS; Abomination in ‘The Incredible Hulk’; Whiplash in ‘Iron Man 2’; Apocalypse in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’; Ultron in ‘Age of Ultron’. The list is endless and he can be excused when the heroes are enjoyable to watch. Audiences and critics do the same for Marvel all the time, so why not DC? Another problem with Steppenwolf, and the film on a whole, is that the CGI is clearly rushed to meet the deadline and cover for Whedon’s problematic reshoots. The action is thankfully not affected and is the standard Snyder-fair; epic, testosterone fuelled sequences that offer nerd-gasmic moments. The Flash has a number of memorable action moments, that match the Quicksilver sequence in ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’. An opening Batman sequence feels ripped straight from a comic book; and Gadot maintains that ferocious joy of battle demonstrated in ‘Wonder Woman’ and BvS, dispatches drones with a sly smirk.
Given the films turbulent and near-disastrous production, it’s amazing the final product wasn’t more disastrous. With Warner Bros. studio mandate to cut the film to a 2-hour runtime, the man-handling of fill-in director Joss Whedon, and Snyder’s tragic exit from the project, the result is a lack-lustre final product that straps you in, gives you serve whiplash as the story rushes along, and gives glimpses to the epic Snyder story that would have been less superhero team-up and more of a conclusion to his Superman trilogy. Audiences may not be surprised by what’s in the film, but will be by what isn’t in the film, given the notable admissions from the lengthy marketing campaign. If any film deserved a director’s cut, it’s this.
Overall, ‘Justice League’ is better than it should have been but is not as good as it could have been. The action and characters are entertaining enough to excuse its many flaws. ‘Justice League’ did what it needed to; give audiences hope in DC again.