Published on November 23rd, 2017 | by Damien Straker
Justice League – Film Review
Reviewed by Damien Straker on the 23rd of November 2017
Roadshow presents a film by Zack Snyder
Produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jon Berg and Geoff Johns
Screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Fabian Wagner
Edited by David Brenner, Richard Pearson and Martin Walsh
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release Date: the 16th of November 2017
Was Justice League, DC’s long-waited and frequently delayed response to Marvel’s The Avengers, worth the wait? The short answer is immediately no. To overcome the various problems associated with its development this would have to have been a particularly impressive superhero film, which it’s not.
Since 2007, the project has floundered. George Miller was to direct the film here in Australia, but it was scrapped because of tax rebates. Zack Snyder was hired to develop this version but also left this year because of a family death, which saw Joss Whedon take the reins. Yet when the narrative is this blasé and the characters aren’t as fun as they should be, it’s a question as to why so many bothered.
Zack Snyder has made a career out of dopey blockbusters and has spent time studying painting, directing car ads and music videos. He also attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He has made several fizzers in recent years, including Man of Steel (2013) and Batman vs. Superman (2016). Saying this is a step up from those films and the dreadful Suicide Squad (2016) is a bit misleading because even though this is more coherent, those were awful movies.
What’s most disappointing here is the generic narrative. It’s become impossible not to pre-empt that these films will climax with a boss fight and people punching one another. This one features Batman (Ben Affleck) assembling a group of superheroes to help ward off an alien invasion, led by a terrible baddie named Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), a bozo with a set of horns who might have borrowed them from Cate Blanchett.
Batman enlists Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller, a scene stealer) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Without reading the comics, it’s hard to summarise what this lame and forgettable villain Steppenwolf wants to achieve besides destroying the world and collecting three magic boxes for power.
Despite the threadbare story, there’s still problems establishing the perspective, tone and characters. The film’s tone constantly moves like a pinball. Take one of the early scenes. There is a sombre credit sequence where the characters mourn Superman’s death and there’s even a dramatic slow-motion shot of a Muslim woman being abused in a store. The film then cuts to a highly cartoonish action sequence where Wonder Woman takes down a group of criminals preparing to blow up a city block.
This highlights the awkward, fluctuating mood shifts, from dramatic to cartoonish, and the unforgivable way that Wonder Woman’s traits have been stripped out. What made her fun earlier this year was watching her learn and adapt to the modern world. Now that’s gone so she simply overpowers men with high-powered assault weapons, flies through a ceiling and disperses a red digital countdown bomb.
The blandness extends to the rest of the group because they’re not as interesting as they could be. Rather than using Batman as the protagonist to guide us to each recruit in Blues Brothers fashion (Batman even mentions getting the band back together), the film becomes fragmented, opting to introduce each character on their own. This immediately recalls the horrible exposition and rigid structure of Suicide Squad.
Batman is a major weak link, firstly because of how bored Affleck is with the role and because he fails to stand out in any of the action sequences as well. Snyder still doesn’t understand the essence of this character, especially when he has him shooting down hordes of generic CGI aliens instead of undergoing stealthy detective work. Some of his dialogue exchanges are poor too such as when he says, “I think there’s a war coming!” and Wonder Woman responds: “No. Its already here”.
Aquaman and Cyborg aren’t much fun either. The best character by far is Ezra Miller’s The Flash. He runs rings around Affleck’s self-seriousness with so many ridiculous quips that it’s as though he’s reading off a different hymn sheet to everyone else. There’s an action sequence where The Flash’s powers come into play that adds to his distinction and almost makes the sequence work if you can forget the similarities to X-Men’s Quicksilver scenes.
Sadly, The Flash character raises a major problem with the film’s mood. To lighten the film’s tone in the reshoots, it feels as though many of the joke lines have been pasted onto the end of the dramatic moments whether they fit the scene or not. In one serious moment, a major character is tearing the group apart so The Flash quips about the movie Pet Cemetery (1989). While Justice’s mood is lighter than some of the recent DC outings, it’s still important that these quips fit the context of the scenes and, in some cases, they don’t.
The side characters also disappoint because several strong actors go to waste in tiny bit roles, including J.K Simmons, Diane Lane, Amber Heard, Henry Cavill and Amy Adams, who are all sidelined. Adams’ Lois Lane and Henry Cavill’s Superman are both treated badly with an unnecessarily gooey romance scene on a farm and both become deus ex machina devices, twice, to resolve plot points all too conveniently. Due to this, there’s little tension in the film’s digital-heavy climax of the film.
Too much of film resembles a video game, including a poor scene where the aliens attack the Amazon women’s island to steal one of the boxes. It doesn’t feel as tactile as the world that director Patty Jenkins successfully created because the CGI is so obvious. Having characters being thrown into walls but left unharmed doesn’t help the tension either. Only The Flash’s reluctance to enter combat seems relatable—though this humorously asks what kind of a monster Batman is to throw rookies into an end of the world mission with no prior training.
Given the generic state of the plot and how uninteresting the characters are, Justice League wasn’t worth the trouble. It was always going to be a difficult assignment because Warner Bros. and DC didn’t do the early groundwork by giving each character their own film before uniting them here. Unfortunately, the tone and the mood fluctuate clumsily, leading to clashes in a simple wonky plot that’s already stitched together by convenience, luck and tensionless boss fights with a poor villain.
Nonetheless, it’s not as bad as the last few entries and I’m still interested in seeing Joss Whedon’s Batgirl movie. It could follow the path of Wonder Woman and have one strong, interesting character to focus upon rather than half a dozen weak ones. That was one of DC’s best films recently because it opted to make a feature in its own unique way rather than blindly following Marvel’s tired formula. Not everything Marvel does is great or even good. If this film is anything to go by, it’s something Warner Bros. and DC need to quickly realise.
Summary: Given the generic state of the plot and how uninteresting the characters are, Justice League wasn’t worth the trouble.