The idea of a Justice League Movie has been one that nerds across the globe have been clamoring for. The question is, does Warner Bros’ take on the Justice League live up to the hype? Well, let’s examine that.
Justice League is a film which was beset with troubles in its development. The official line is that Zack Snyder had to leave as director doing to the horrific tragedy of losing his daughter to suicide. Snyder allegedly chose Joss Whedon as his successor for the project. Recent rumors have cast doubt on this line of thinking but I am not here to speculate on what happened to Justice League, but rather to evaluate the cut of the film which hit theaters. This is all to say that Justice League was directed by Zack Snyder AND Joss Whedon and this, regrettably, shows. The term “identity crisis” is being bandied about and I’m inclined to agree to it as an apt description of what was going on in the film. Like them or not, Justice League‘s predecessors (Man of Steel; Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) knew exactly what they were and proudly strove towards those goals. It is unclear exactly what Justice League was attempting to accomplish short of “not drowning”.
The film’s transitions and pacing are off-kilter from the get-go. We open fairly well with a cell phone video of the recently deceased Superman and a montage of all that has meant for the world. Then, however, we bounce dutifully from hero to hero (with little thematic or plot significance for anyone but Batman) to introduce everyone. Batman knows that an alien power is scouting Earth for eminent invasion now that Superman is dead. People are particularly sensitive to spoilers of films like this, however, so I will not delve too deeply beyond this synopsis. The trailers proclaim “The world needs Superman” and the opening confirms it. There is, however, no resolution to this need, no exploration of this need, nor any confirmation of this need. According to Justice League, one would assume the world needs Superman exactly like it needs Wonder Woman, or Batman, or Flash, or Aquaman, or Cyborg, or a big gun. Ironically the character of Superman is treated as more of a plot point that talks than he does the beacon he is supposed to be for this world. Other reviews rave that “Superman is back” but the truth is, he’s no more than a man-shaped gun with a button that dispenses cliche or even downright jarring dialogue. To this DCEU fan, this is a fundamental betrayal.
Gripes about Superman aside, the rest of the cast does great in their roles, even if not all of them are given a lot to work with. Cyborg is woefully un-utilized and Aquaman has one scene that’s going to mean little to the non-insider and beyond that we have little reason to invest in him. Cyborg and Aquaman are also introduced to us using an agonizing amount of poorly written expository dialogue where every character on screen should have a clear idea what is going on but they say it for the audience’s benefit. The exception to the rule with our new heroes is the Flash. Barry Allen is given a lot more attention, development, and motivation than the others and I am glad for it. Ezra Miller is an absolute delight in the role and I found myself wishing he was on screen whenever he wasn’t. The dynamic between Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Ben Affleck’s Batman was, likewise, a treat worth savoring.
Our conflict is eerily similar to Marvel’s Avengers. Stop me if this sounds familiar to you: a powerful but unproven malevolent force (Steppenwolf) uses alien beings (Paradeamons) to steal an ancient and powerful artifact (Mother Boxes) that will enable him to essentially conquer the Earth. Granted there’s a terraforming bit involved here but that was covered far more competently in this very franchise with Man of Steel and with a far more compelling villain in General Zod. Don’t get me wrong, the conflict in these big team ups is always secondary to the team itself but… I found it lacking in creativity or gravity.
The action is mostly well-done but I found it a tad annoying that much of what we were getting were poster shots, even if it did feel quintessentially comic booky. Effects like Flash’s Speedforce were good but then the absolute CGI-fest that often accompanied Superman and Cyborg in particular felt really rubbery. To counter that, there did seem to be a very well-defined sense of space in all of the action beats and the action seemed to stem from that.
Then there’s Danny Elfman’s score. I could (and have) go on for hours about the sheer ineptitude of this score. The DCEU has been blessed by the talent of Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL but Elfman decided to sacrifice the appropriate themes crafted by those artists for THIS universe on the altar of his narcissism. Instead of building on those themes, he discards them and makes a lazy appeal to nostalgia. He’s the film score equivalent of a war criminal in my eyes.
I must conclude that while there is much to enjoy about Justice League but what is there is marred by the editorial butchery that happened to the film. I can declare it Sane but barely. It will likely be remembered as a guilty pleasure with equal parts guilty and pleasure.