Rudimentary Reviews: Justice League

Justice League was not a bad movie- that needs to be immediately made clear. It was also not the game changer it had been hyped up to be.

DC was listening to its critics in 2016, when Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice was criticized for its slow pacing and incredibly dark plot. Both are fixed in Justice League. The Earth is in a state of mourning and distrust since the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), and an ancient conqueror by the name of Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) decides to take advantage of this and lay siege to the planet, aided by his insect-like army of parademons. The movie opens with the Batman, who he is well aware of the looming threat. The first act then proceeds to jump around between the different heroes as they realize the gravity of Steppenwolf’s assault and mobilize to resist him. Eventually, Batman is able to unite Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) to fight back against the extraterrestrial threat.

Seeing the heroes come together was a rewarding experience, as it should have been, but the effect was marred by DC playing the script incredibly safe throughout. That’s not to say the movie suffered from poor action or pacing, as it was fast paced and satisfying to watch, but the entire saga is incredibly predictable, particularly for anyone who watches the Marvel movies. Both the plot and the themes almost perfectly mirror Marvel’s 2012 hit, The Avengers. Though Justice League plays its part as a superhero movie capably, it makes no effort to try something new and unique, leaving the audience with no standout scenes to remember the characters by.

Speaking of the characters: it becomes apparent some very potent liberties have been taken when one holds them up to their comic book counterparts. Most blatantly so is the Flash, or Barry Allen, who is written completely out of character. In a complete break from the comics, where he is older, sociable and generally pretty mature (minus the occasional verbal razzing of his opponents), Allen is a college student with a quirky attitude and a squeamishness around both other heroes and dangerous situations. He serves as the comedic relief for the team, cracking joke after joke throughout the entire duration of the movie. The material is almost always genuinely amusing, and it led to him, despite the change from the comics, being one of the best elements of the movie. Miller is fantastic in the role, completely nailing the youthful excitement Allen has to actually be running around with the big boys. His character may have been written to more so reflect Grant Gustin’s portrayal in the CW show The Flash. Even then, Miller’s Flash is far younger and more energetic than Gustin’s.

Aquaman was a complete misfire. Everything from his appearance to his attitude come across as far too edgy. If Miller’s Flash was the excited kid of the team, Momoa’s Aquaman is the grumpy teenager that thinks they hate everything and everyone. His wife from the comics, Mera, does make a brief cameo appearance, but it just serves to leave several unexplained questions than provide any context, likely done to set up the underwater hero’s upcoming movie. He also suffers from little character development, other than a single scene that practically shoehorned a discussion about his feelings in.

The writers had Cyborg play closer homage to the comics, particularly back from DC’s New 52 relaunch in 2011, which changed his backstory and escalated him from semi-popular Teen Titan to a founding Justice Leaguer. Anybody hoping he would reflect the character from the well-received Cartoon Network Teen Titans show of the early 2000s will be sorely disappointed, this take on Victor Stone leaves him angry and confused over his newfound cybernetic powers. Fortunately, it does lead to a rewarding character arc for the movie to play with, which it undertakes well. Ray Fisher won’t win an Oscar for this role, but he does the character a lot of respect and the portrayal comes across pretty cleanly.

The two returners, Batman and Wonder Woman, are expected to carry the film along, and they succeed at this marginally. Affleck’s take on Batman, one of the better parts of Dawn of Justice, suffered greatly from DC’s efforts to lighten up the tone. The actor tries to appear dark and brooding despite the rather high number of quips he drops throughout the story, a blatant and awkward contrast in the writing he can’t quite overcome. Batman also makes several irrational decisions, which doesn’t accurately portray his character from any recent form of media overly well. Much like in Dawn of Justice, this iteration of Batman is too prone to making a rash statement or decision solely on emotional merit. At least he isn’t killing this time around (well, not any humans).

Wonder Woman is represented a little better. Gal Gadot continues to shine in the role. She’s three movies in and has really gotten comfortable with her portrayal of Diana Prince, making it increasingly difficult to imagine another actor taking up the mantle. Once again (a bit of a running theme with this movie really) the writing almost crippled her character. Prince is forced to confront internal demons that arose in DC’s other big blockbuster this year, Wonder Woman. These have evidently been plaguing her for the past hundred years, which seems rather impractical, even for an immortal Amazon warrior such as herself. The movie, like Dawn of Justice, fails to answer why she would take a backseat throughout the many atrocities of the 20th century, like World War II, but had a sudden change of heart when Batman asked her for help.  Another major focus of the film falls on her being pushed into the role of a leader, an interesting premise given that traditionally Batman or Superman undertakes that duty.

Superman barely appeared in any of the promotional content, though it was known Henry Cavill was going to star, and it would seem impractical to form the Justice League without Superman. He is indeed in the movie, but it would be unfair to readers to elaborate further upon his role just yet. Amy Adams is also back as Lois Lane, stuck in mourning at the passing of her lover. The movie does serve to seemingly explain what a curious scene from Dawn of Justice meant, when the Flash had appeared to Bruce in a dream sequence. At the same time, this could be an inaccurate connection, and the murkiness is just another piece of evidence of the poor writing that has plagued much of the DC movies released thus far.

In all, the acting cannot be critiqued too heavily. Each actor played their character well and the cast had excellent chemistry together. The movie’s biggest flaw was its lackluster writing. The plot is far too cliche for DC’s biggest superhero movie thus far. Steppenwolf is a mediocre villain at best. He never feels overly threatening, and his plan for conquering Earth is both poorly explained and lacks any sort of personal motivation. He’s only there because the heroes need somebody to fight. This drastically lowered the stakes in the movie, the premise became not a question of if the heroes will win, but instead a question of when they will win.

From a cinematographic standpoint, Justice League continues its trend of doing everything efficiently but not great. Most of the movie, especially the action scenes, is done in computer generated imagery (CGI). It would be unfair to critique this move for that alone, due to CGI’s increasingly justifiable presence in many action flicks to allow for a greater scope within the fights and more unique appearances among the characters, but Justice League looked a bit rushed and unfinished in some places. There are a good handful of shots that exhibit horrendous special effects, looking like they were pulled straight from an old video game rather than a feature film. Cyborg’s appearance is the most noticeable flaw. The special effects team struggled to make his face and body appear realistic, and his head will sometimes look out of place on top of his CGI body. He was always going to be a difficult character to pull off, but there have been several similar characters in other movies that can at least utilize an audience’s suspension of disbelief more efficiently than him.

The choreography is okay, but due to how powerful the characters are most of the fight scenes rely on heavy CGI rather than stunts. During these scenes, the movie loves to cut into slow motion, a cool idea the first few times one sees it, but by the end of the movie the film’s reliance on this effect has worn the audience thin. The one exception are the scenes with the Flash, who runs around the battlefield with everything frozen in time, lightning cackling behind him. If the movie had only used slow motion for him, then it would have been easily justifiable, but instead the producers tried to cram it in as much as possible. This, combined with a few choppy cuts (especially in the beginning) leads to many of the fights feeling chunky and unpolished.

The musical soundtrack is great, Danny Elfman mixes his own style up with a touch of Hans Zimmer’s work from Dawn of Justice. The music always accompanies what is happening on screen excellently, helping convey the scope and feel of the movie where the writing fell short.

Justice League was not a terrible movie. It united all the heroes together and placed them on the screen for the viewer’s pleasure, but it carried this task out in a way that was ultimately unremarkable. There are no big moments that really resonate with a viewer, no surprise twists or shocking moments. Maybe this was due to the negative backlash Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad received, but the writers appeared to not want to take any risks this time around. That means that the movie is devoid of any gaping misfires, but it can also be boring. It is unknown how much of this can be attributed to the movie’s production being split between two directors. Zack Snyder had the helm originally, but a tragic death in the family forced him to step down, and the rest of the production was directed by Joss Whedon. Switching directors mid-production is a challenging move to pull off, and in this case it is not at the fault of any person or company. In the end, Justice League managed to stay afloat despite that rather heft obstacle. It is a step in the right direction after Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, but it doesn’t quite meet the hype generated before it’s release. A good movie, but by no means perfect.

Final Score: 6.5/10

Pros:

  • Acting
  • Soundtrack
  • Good pacing
  • The Flash

Cons:

  • Writing
  • Weak villain
  • CGI
  • Aquaman and Batman

Justice League art from Warner Brothers.

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