Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons
Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon
120 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action.
It took me over a year to finally watch Justice League. I picked up the film last year, and I just didn’t have the nerve to see it. After all the craziness going on behind the scenes, it felt as though this film just got destroyed by problem after problem. I read some reports from early set visits on Justice League, and the overall mood was quite good. Then, the problems began. Not all of these can be blamed on any one particular person. Director Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch) had to step away from the film after the sudden death of a family member, a move I will never blame him for. So as far as the finished film goes, how does Justice League fair?
It’s been some time since the death of Superman (Henry Cavill, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible – Fallout) at the hands of Doomsday, and the world has mostly moved on. But Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, Argo, The Accountant) cannot. He is haunted by the power he witnessed by the enemy due to a dream he witness of winged creatures and an Armageddon in the potentially near-future. His mission is to build a team of protectors. With Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, Furious 7, Ralph Breaks the Internet) already joined up, they focus on recruiting Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa, Conan the Barbarian, Braven), Barry Allen (Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher, TV’s True Detective) to the cause. Bruce and Diana find their mission ever more difficult with the arrival of Steppenwolf, a military officer from Apokolips, in search of the mythical Mother Boxes, three cubes capable of immense power.
I’m not usually a guy for high expectations with blockbuster fare. I personally find that smaller films can have just as much impact as larger ones in the blockbuster landscape. For example, Ant-Man is a fairly low-stakes superhero film when compared to something like Avengers: Infinity War (sorry for making my point with MCU films here). The one area where this thinking doesn’t count is the team-up films. When you have a film like Justice League, it needs to be big. It needs to have those memorable set pieces. Justice League’s biggest problem is that it’s forgettable. I just watched a night or two ago and I have trouble placing most of the action. Not much of the set pieces register in my mind. That’s a problem. This should be the one that reminds fans that the DCEU has stumbled in the past but they’re making up for it here and into the future. Snyder’s departure from the film didn’t cause this problem. Warner Bros did.
In response to criticism, Warner Bros stated that Justice League would have a shorter run time. At least, that’s the statement. At no point in any of the DCEU films, outside of Man of Steel, was the run time every really an issue for me. They are lengthy films but the DCEU always kind of branded itself with an epic quality maybe even more so than the MCU was. Warner Bros responded to criticism that wasn’t really there and shorted the run time, allowing for more butts in seats to see this movie. They responded to criticism that the films are too dark. Again, not an issue that I encountered outside of the brooding Man of Steel, but I just think they respond to any criticism big or small and it damages their plan.
I found Justice League, at the time I watched it, to be more enjoyable than anticipated. I feel like it sets up the team dynamic pretty nicely, and I like where it set the trajectory of future installments of the DCEU, but as a film, it also suffers some of the problems of Avengers: Age of Ultron, where it completes some arcs we’ve seen started and starts some new arcs but the meat of the film is missing. This is especially apparent with the portrayal of Steppenwolf, performed through Mo-Cap by Ciaran Hinds, a tremendously gifted actor. Steppenwolf’s scenes were altered and sliced up, turning a potentially frightening villain into a flat, one-dimensional CG target. It kind of makes Justice League seem like another example of Suicide Squad, a film with great heroes on a flimsy mission.
I really enjoyed the few moments of interaction between members of the Justice League themselves. I just wish we had more of them. For example, Superman is on the front cover and appeared in the trailers, so it’s safe to say he’s in the movie. He’s been through a lot in this cinematic universe, and I feel like he needs screentime to really showcase it. I would liken his struggle closer to Tony Stark’s from Iron Man 3. He’s been through some shit, but he never gets the time for us to connect with him. They could have utilized Lois Lane (Amy Adams, Arrival, Enchanted) to connect us to this higher being, but they choose not to.
Ben Affleck is yet again at the top of his game here with Bruce Wayne and Batman. I’ve been saying for a long time now that he’s the best part of the DCEU and I stand by that claim. It’s a shame he’s been brunted with all these problems that have soured his experience because he’s a damn capable actor/director/writer who really could have spear-headed this whole world, but alas, that’s the way it goes.
Gal Gadot is also quite well-suited for her character. She plays Diana with a sense for saving and protecting, and it doesn’t come off all that cliché or silly. She gets more to do here than she did in Batman v Superman coming off her solo film with such high praise.
The real standout for me was Jason Momoa’s turn as Arthur Curry. He played Aquaman in such a different way than I had planned given what little the audience has to go on so far. I didn’t expect to see such a pessimistic asshole interpretation, but it’s all done in jest with an understanding of his place within the team, and I loved every scene with him as they all brimmed with fun.
I think the plotting of Justice League wasn’t wrong from the beginning, though. I remember hearing word from some of the involved crew that the film was initially to open with the large-scale battle for the Mother Boxes and a Lord of the Rings-style opening narration to set up the mysticism around these items. That intrigued me, the idea that DC was perhaps treating this film like an epic in the style of Lord of the Rings was very exciting. The finished film opens with a live-video of Superman that really just doesn’t sit well.
Justice League stumbles a lot throughout, and it had a rocky road leading to its release (can you say Mustache-gate?), but it isn’t the worst thing to come from the DCEU, and maybe that’s its biggest sin. This should have been IT. This should have been the one to really knock it out of the park. Instead, it’s mildly forgettable and very simplistic. It makes me sad because, while I still enjoyed it, there’s issues abound and I really want the DCEU to survive and thrive. This just isn’t doing it.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.
For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.
For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.
For my review of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, click here.
For my review of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, click here.
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