Justice League, 2017.
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Ciarán Hinds, Diane Lane, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Billy Crudup, J.K. Simmons, Kiersey Clemons and Jeremy Irons.
Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to find and recruit a team of metahumans to stand against this newly awakened threat. But despite the formation of this unprecedented league of heroes—Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash—it may already be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.
Whether one considers Justice League a Zack Snyder or Joss Whedon blockbuster (the latter was brought in to film quite a few reshoots, and dodgy CGI will make it clear who directed which scenes just as much as the shifting tones aligning with each filmmaker’s trademark style), it brings out enough likable qualities in each member of the crime-fighting team to almost stand upright as popcorn fun. This sentiment is not limited to returning members from previous disappointments (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) or landmark genre successes (Gal Gadot’s fiercely empowering depiction of the Amazon Princess in Wonder Woman), but includes newly introduced faces Barry Allen (Ezra Miller as The Flash), Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa’s Aquaman) and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher as Cyborg); they may be in desperate need of more backstory to invest audiences into their struggles as individuals, but their powers and distinct personalities are dazzling and easy to appreciate.
In particular, The Flash is a fresh highlight with his introverted social awkwardness in conjunction with his spot-on comedic line delivery, making for one of Justice League‘s most shining recruitments as a movie and member of the villain fighting squad. Additionally, he also adds a great deal of support to his companions, serving as a civilian rescuer rather than another suit of spandex trading blows among the special effects driven battlefields. It’s genuinely refreshing seeing superheroes focused on saving lives just as much as they are banishing evil, meaning that witnessing Barry manipulate time to transport innocent bystanders from the line of fire to safety is a pleasant sight, doubly so considering the stylish slow-down and speed-up filters complete with sparks of electricity radiating outward from his presence. Based on the material The Flash is given here which Ezra Miller runs with at the speed of light, it’s safe to say that fans of the DC Extended Universe will come away anticipating Flashpoint.
Still, Zack Snyder can’t help overindulging in slow motion, as a mid-battle sequence where The Flash races to tip Wonder Woman’s sword back to her during a critical moment taking on Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds as the 100% CGI ancient warrior with a generic motive to use the power of long-buried relics to replace earth with his own now-destroyed world) one-on-one is extended so long that its awesome factor is sucked dry by the time it’s done. Generally, there are numerous other instances of unnecessary slow-motion, but far more frustrating is the ghastly CGI rendering everyone from potential world destroyer Steppenwolf to key Justice League component Cyborg as distractingly fake looking. For some reason, the Parademons don’t suffer this same fate.
This does somewhat become a non-factor during the climax drenched in darkly lit green screen environmental backgrounds, but in its wake emerges the equally annoying gripe that not a single thing about this apocalyptic nightmare is appealing from a cinematic perspective. Zack Snyder’s presentation of such things is nothing but orange hues, bleak color palettes, and mass destruction. There isn’t a creative bone here, and furthermore, if I’m being honest, Steppenwolf himself isn’t very intimidating. He is lacking in special effects detail and threatening expressions to boot, coming across stupid and silly despite his overly serious quest. It doesn’t help that he is unceremoniously and quickly disposed of in a final act that falls shockingly flat.
So how about the rest of the team? Well, DC made the unanimously agreed upon mistake of moving forward with its first all-star extravaganza rather than flesh out each superhero with their own film, so, for the most part, it’s impossible to care about any of their pressing personal plights, and in some cases unclear what to even think considering that the feature is bombarding viewers with characters they aren’t acquainted with yet. The underwater utopia of Atlantis is definitely a striking work of visual art, but it would be nice to know something about its inhabitants and characters so that its inclusion expands on the overall narrative of Justice League itself, instead of coming across as a multi-minute cameo. The same goes for Barry Allen visiting his father in prison for a crime he’s convinced he did not actually commit; two scenes don’t build a relationship worth giving a damn about. Cyborg really gets screwed over in this regard, as he is already the least familiar member, a problem Justice League does no favors remedying with development. It’s like trying to find empathy for RoboCop in a team-up movie composed of similar robotic heroes, where it’s never really explained in detail why or how he got that way.
Put it this way: blessed with the existence of Wonder Woman, there are multiple moments where events and surface knowledge of it usefully come into play. Her homeland of Themyscira plays a pivotal part in this story, and because of that movie, it’s easy to become engaged in what occurs there in Justice League. Now, it still doesn’t pack the emotional punch that it should, but muscle memory recognizing various Amazonian warriors upped the stakes a little and brought forth more fun. Subsequently, callbacks to Wonder Woman allow Justice League to further flesh out Diana Prince; we are given opportunities to understand her thoughts and connect with her as more than a joke machine like the newly introduced members. That doesn’t stop, most likely Joss Whedon, from subjecting Gal Gadot to some unbearably bad sexual humor (he reuses a similar gag from Avengers: Age of Ultron), but at least there are layers to her character.
By the way, that entire last paragraph was basically just me explaining something that Marvel executives figured out and realized from the beginning. It’s truly a testament to the severe lack of foresight that went into the DC Extended Universe. However, make no mistake about it, the movies are still fun to watch, maintaining a good amount of reasons to keep getting excited about each next installment. The post-credits scene for Justice League is actually one of the best the film has to offer, setting up something cool in store for the future.
In addition to building upon Wonder Woman’s commercial and critical success, Justice League also centers itself on the fallout from The Bat taking on the Son of Krypton in a colossal showdown for the ages (even if their differences were bizarrely and humorously solved by the name Martha). Batman is once again bone-crunchingly brutal and fast-paced in battle, this time a bit more optimistic in personality thanks to Superman’s heroic sacrifice. Ben Affleck continues to thrive as both Bruce Wayne and The Caped Crusader; his solo film is most definitely another date to mark on the calendar.
Justice League is, unfortunately, unable to take what does work and weave it into a satisfying spectacle. The honest truth is that for an “event feature”, it’s wholly forgettable. The pacing is all over the place spending nearly 30 minutes in the first act showing us what every character is up to, edited with no flow. When the band gets together the blockbuster does find smoother sailing thanks in part to a lighthearted tone with amusing superhero interactions, but the ever so urgent stakes of saving the world never feel earned. The final fight is anticlimactic, acting as the final touches to a predictable and flat experience.
Is it an improvement from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Absolutely, but the same flaws persist, including new ones. Thankfully, the Justice League themselves are a fun bunch to be around, so here’s hoping that future writers and directors can create stories worthy of the talented actors embodying these charismatic symbols of hope.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com