Justice League is clunky and messy. It’s jumbled and misshapen. The presence of multiple directors—Zack Snyder did the bulk of the heavy lifting, though Joss Whedon handled extensive reshoots and rewrites, and roughly 20% of the finished film belongs to him, according to reports—is readily apparent in the mishmash of tones and the fact that it watches like multiple movies shoehorned together. Cringe-worthy choices abound. The fight scenes all look like they’re lifted from a video game promo. And, of course, since this is a superhero movie, the plot revolves around an iconic group of comic book characters searching for CGI boxes powerful enough to destroy the world. But for all the bumps and bruises and problems, and they are legion, Justice League is a hell of a lot of fun.
It’s not the best comic book movie. Hell, it’s not even the best comic book movie this month or even DC’s best movie. And people are already grousing about how it’s DC doing Marvel’s shtick. The story is basically a generic superheroes-team-up-to-save-the-world yarn, and while there’s nothing particularly wrong with that, there’s nothing particularly exciting about it either.
But it’s the core cast and their iconic characters, and their shared chemistry, that drive Justice League. There’s not a ton of depth or emotional investment, or much information on the newer additions, but the central players propel everything else. It’s great seeing Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) on screen so soon after her solo movie. Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight was my favorite part of Batman v Superman, and he makes the character, especially as Bruce Wayne where he spends the bulk of his time, more his own this time out. Though he’s older and world weary, this incarnation has more going on than just rehashing Christian Bale’s brooding, dour take on the World’s Greatest Detective. This Batman cracks jokes and has charisma!
Admittedly, Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is dull and pointless—his role was reportedly trimmed way, way down after the fact, and it shows, unfortunately. Fisher has moments where he expresses personality, but they’re few and far between and he’s pretty fucking wack. Jason Momoa’s take on Aquaman, on the other hand, provides solid entertainment value. He plays like an exaggerated caricature of James Hetfield from Metallica, and he’s all cock-rock level macho swagger, but it’s not so self-serious.
Of the three key newcomers, Ezra Miller’s Flash stands out. Whereas Fisher’s role was obviously pruned, Miller’s was obviously bulked up. While the others have been through battles and trials, he’s an awkward kid who, as he says, pushed some people and ran away. That’s the extent of his heroism to date. He’s nervous and in awe and just psyched to be part of the team. While again it’s all surface level—scenes with his incarcerated father are mood killers—he’s delightful and adorable.
Though the Justice League themselves are a blast, I do wish there was anything even remotely interesting about the plot. The team comes together to fight Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), a horned, CGI-crafted baddie with a nebulous backstory and a nefarious plan to destroy the Earth. Superman’s dead, hope is gone, the world looks like easy pickings. It’s convoluted with nods and asides in a way only a comic book movie can be—it involves the Amazons and Atlanteans and the ancient history of humanity—but that’s the nuts and bolts.
For all the plot holes and hiccups; the potential hang-ups where the audience could easily pause, raise a hand, and say, “Huh?”; and places where Justice League threatens to veer off on one tangent or another, a brisk pace keeps things moving right along. Until it doesn’t.
I’m going to touch on potential SPOILERS for a second. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially those who paid one iota of attention to the production, build up, or marketing for Justice League. But if you go in completely cold and have never read a comic book, hold on to your butts.
Everything is hunky dory until they figure out a vague way to bring Superman (Henry Cavill) back from the dead. Shocking, right? And when it does, the pace absolutely tanks. The momentum plows straight into a brick wall, the wall falls on it, and then it crawls backwards. It’s so dull, it’s so tedious, and I love Amy Adams, but why does Lois Lane suck so fucking bad? She’s terrible. She has even less purpose in Justice League than in BvS. The dialogue between Supes and Lois is laughable and lifeless. All of this reaffirms my long-held belief that, aside from his powers, Zack Snyder has zero clue what to do with Superman as a character. I get that he’s integral to the plot, but holy hell, every second of this thread is excruciating and turgid. POTENTIAL SPOILERS OVER.
Full of ubiquitous CGI, the action sequences look like they always look. It’s the same as every other comic book movie, Marvel, DC, or whatever. Every big battle, and there are many, looks like someone playing videogames and that’s…fine. There’s nothing egregious about them, but at the same time, there’s nothing memorable.
For those who complain that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman are too drab and gloomy, you’re in luck. Though every traditional Zack Snyder flourish is present and accounted for—excessive slow motion juxtaposed with rapid, frantic acceleration; swooping cameras; gratuitous ass shots (there are so, so many low-angle views of Gal Gadot’s butt)— Justice League never falls into that washed-out gray rainbow that so plagues its predecessors.
The Themyscira scenes aren’t as vivid as Wonder Woman—and the Amazons’ costumes are definitely designed by a dude and fall more on the trying-to-be-sexy side than the functional side—but they’re still bright and lively. And the Gotham City scenes aren’t a muddy swath of murky shadows. One early nighttime scene shows off a hyper-stylized skyline that’s very comic book-y, which I dig, even though there’s not much more pulled from that bag of tricks.
While I haven’t read any other reviews yet, watching early reactions has been intriguing. I know people who hate Batman v Superman but enjoyed Justice League, and I know fans of Dawn of Justice who found this disappointing. (For the record, I’m in the middle on BvS; I don’t love it, don’t hate it, there’s merit in some regards, not in other.) Perhaps it’s a case of mismanaged expectations, either too high or too low.
Some audiences will love Justice League, others are destined to hate it. A quick scan of the internet proves that legions of devotees who haven’t seen it yet already hail it as the greatest movie ever made. (Such is the state of modern fandom.) It’s not. But it’s not bad.
Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon both leave substantial DNA in Justice League, but there’s obviously been so much additional meddling in the finished product. It’s janky, clumsy, and unwieldy at times; it’s a crazy gumbo of light and dark, goofy and serious; there are great one-liners mixed with groan-inducing sap; and it suffers from significant structural and narrative issues. But it’s also largely an enjoyable superhero adventure. Thrilling, exhilarating moments and a strong chemistry between a charming cast carry Justice League over most of the rough patches. It’s not great, it’s not even DC’s best movie this year, but it’s fun. [Grade: B]