REVIEW Justice League (2017)

Fair warning: considerable spoilers follow – read after watching.

If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I’m a fan of superheroes. I read Marvel and DC comic books by the truckload, religiously follow every superhero show on television and streaming, and have watched every superhero film released since 2008’s Iron Man at least twice. Seriously. I just rewatched every Marvel Cinematic Universe film ahead of Thor: Ragnarok.

The latest superhero film to hit theatres, of course, is DC’s Justice League; an all-star team-up that brings together the biggest heroes in the DC universe – Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg – to fight an intergalactic villain (Steppenwolf, a henchman for one of DC’s biggest villains, Darkseid) intent on taking over the world.

The film joins the DC Extended Universe franchise, a cinematic universe already populated by the woefully underwhelming Man Of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016), and the fantastic Wonder Woman (2017), and which is planned to carry on for years on the back of this establishing, and somewhat corrective, team-up.

So how was it? Well, instead of just doing a standard review, let’s copy its narrative structure and arbitrarily jump around between some of what is good and bad about Justice League:

Good: Let’s be clear – I liked Justice League. As we’ll get to further down, the film has flaws; the tone is uneven, the narrative is muddy, and the CGI is shockingly bad for a film with a rumoured $300 million budget. But underneath all that is an entertaining film that is at once a corrective for the grim cynicism of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice and a fun launch-pad for a handful of interesting characters who all seem to be fairly ready for the big screen. It wasn’t great, but it was pretty good. It is easily the best non-Wonder Woman film since Man Of Steel. And it might even be better than that.

Bad: The plot was certainly a bit muddled, with events happening for seemingly no reason (a connecting scene in which Superman is directed toward the action by Alfred – seen in the trailer – has ended up on the cutting room floor), or seeming to happen out of order (such as Bruce trying to recruit Aquaman before he meets with Diana to discuss their recruitment activities). To a film, superhero movies are usually around twenty minutes too long. I thought Justice League probably could have done with an extra twenty minutes in the first act to provide a bit of context for what happens in acts two and three.

Good: Both of the major action sequences – one in the second act that takes place in/under Gotham Harbour, and the final battle in the third – were fantastic, packed full of great moments (like Flash pushing Wonder Woman’s sword back toward her, or Aquaman and Wonder Woman double-teaming Steppenwolf in the climax of the film). A massive improvement from the chaotic fight scenes toward the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. In fact, I’d say the scene in the tunnel under Gotham Harbour is one of my favourite large-scale battles in any superhero film released in the last couple of years.

Bad: The CGI looked bloody awful. Sometimes. It wasn’t noticeably bad throughout the film; most of the movie looks perfectly fine. But when it was bad, it was really bad. The animation on Steppenwolf was cartoonish in quality; I saw one commenter on Reddit describe it as looking like a video cut scene, and that is entirely accurate. And the CGI work done to remove Henry Cavill’s moustache from some of the reshoots is distractingly bad; the first scene featured a terrible CGI moustache replacement, and from that point on I was thinking “real or not” every time Cavill was on the screen. You have to think there must have been a better solution there.

Good: Despite the bad moustache, I thought Superman was much closer to the right sort of tone for the character. Both Man Of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice incorrectly paint Supes as a character who struggles with the notion of being an outsider. Justice League recreates him as a character full of hope, and who (along with Wonder Woman) inspires goodness in others. Heck, Cavill got to smile more in this film than in his previous appearances combined.

Bad: I don’t know if this is bad per se, but I feel like Steppenwolf might have been a little too complicated for what is essentially a “getting the band together” film. The focus should have been on Bruce and Diana bringing the other members of the Justice League together, and that did get the most screentime. But because Steppenwolf was so complicated, the film had to dedicate more time than was ideal to establishing him and revealing his motivations.

Good: The DC Extended Universe started by trying to establish Batman and Superman as the faces of the franchise – which makes sense, being they are the two biggest names on the DC roster. But Justice League reveals that they’ve found a star in Ezra Miller’s Flash, and reinforces just what a treasure Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is. They were easily the most entertaining and most charismatic characters in the film. I want to spend much more time with both of them.

Bad: In his current incarnation, Aquaman might not be suited to a solo film. But also …
Good: In his current incarnation, Aquaman might not be suited to a solo film. Jason Momoa plays Arthur Curry/Aquaman as a kind of a reclusive jock, complete with a gruff voice and a dismissive demeanour, who just wants to be left alone. I don’t think that version of Aquaman will make for an interesting solo movie character. But it does give the writers of the solo film somewhere to go with the character if they can combine his grumpiness with embracing his destiny as the king of Atlantis.

Bad: Cyborg. In discussing the film, my flatmate and I only considered Cyborg when he pointed out that the CGI on his costume is bad; I countered by suggesting that I think the character design itself was at fault, giving the digital artists no way to draw the character without making him look exceedingly fake. Neither of us discussed whether he was a good character, pointed out any memorable moments featuring him, or talked about him in any other context. In other words, Cyborg was forgettable.

Good: Gotham City looked very reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series, moreso than in any non-Burton Batman. I mean, that doesn’t really affect my thoughts on the film, I just thought it was cool.

Bad: After enjoying the sounds of Hans Zimmer in Man Of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, the musical reins were handed over to Danny Elfman for Justice League. I think Elfman is fine, but his rather generic – and non-stop – score here was just kind of bland, and occasionally didn’t fit the film. However …

Good: Elfman did work in nods to his own theme from Batman (1989), John Williams’ theme from Superman (1978), and Zimmer’s Wonder Woman theme from Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016). In the words of Aquaman, I dig it.

Good: There was not enough Green Lantern. Aside from a little nod in a flashback to Steppenwolf’s first battle for Earth, we saw none of the Green Lantern. Why is this good? It means that the hangover from the failed Ryan Reynolds version of Green Lantern (2011) is gone, and I’m ready to embrace a new version of the character.

Bad: There was not enough Darkseid. Steppenwolf directly mentions Darkseid by name in one scene; in fact, I think they should have played up Darkseid a lot more, making Steppenwolf an obvious first step to an inevitable face-off with one of the Justice League’s most memorable villains. And that is if you think Steppenwolf should have been in this film at all; I don’t know if he should have been. I wonder if a simpler threat – monsters from another dimension a la the beginnings of the current run in the Justice League comics – would have made for a better film that gave the team more screentime.

Good: There are two post-credits scenes – one mid-credits featuring The Flash and Superman recreating a fairly iconic moment from the comic books, and a post-credits sequence with Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor meeting Joe Manganiello’s Slade Wilson/Death Stroke – and I enjoyed both. It was legitimately exciting to see Eisenberg playing Luthor more closely to the comics iteration, and Death Stroke is a welcome addition to this universe.

Bad: Justice League didn’t capitalise enough on the popularity of Wonder Woman. It isn’t a shock to suggest that Wonder Woman – both the character and the film – is one of the best things about superhero films in 2017. I’m genuinely surprised that Whedon’s reshoots didn’t lean more into the tone of that film. Gal Gadot is an absolute star. She features strongly here, but I thought she could’ve been even more involved than she was.

Good: Justice League is actually better than a few of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. I’m looking at you Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World. Actually, are we sure it’s good that it is better than a few of the Marvel movies? Maybe …
Bad: Justice League is actually better than only a few of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. If I were to rank every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to date (and I plan on doing that soon), I would say Wonder Woman is better than all but three or four of them. In a way, it’s kind of a disappointment that Justice League isn’t better than more than just the generally agreed upon worst films in the franchise. It isn’t a stretch to say that it should’ve done better.

Finally, Good: Despite all of that, Justice League is an entertaining film – the action scenes were great, the team dynamics were enjoyable, and I enjoyed spending time with these characters. I would like to spend more time with them, if I may.

Have you seen Justice League yet? What did you think?

Justice League was directed by Zack Snyder, from a script by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, and stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, JK Simmons, Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds and Diane Lane. Justice League is in cinemas now.

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