After a troubled production, does Justice League mark the start of a winning streak after the massive success of Wonder Woman, or should DC and Warner Brothers start all over again?
Yes, there will be SPOILERS in this review. Sorry.
Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) work to form the Justice League in the wake of the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) and ahead of an attack by the villainous Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). Annnnd…that’s it. The plot in this one is super-thin and is really about gently rebooting the DC Expanded Universe going forward as opposed to being the culmination or definite start of something. In the film, audiences meet Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) as the team comes together and tries to learn to work together. Will they defeat Steppenwolf? Will Superman return? Do you really not know the answers to these questions prior to seeing the movie?
Despite the litany of bad things I will say about Justice League in this review, I didn’t hate the movie. It’s a fun little adventure film with colorful characters, which is a relief after the morose Dawn of Justice. It’s no secret that Justice League had a more than troubled production. The film began filming immediately after the critically-reviled Dawn of Justice hit theaters and then, in the middle of post-production, Director Zack Snyder left the production following a family tragedy. Joss Whedon, who was already penning rewrites to Chris Terrio’s screenplay for reshoots, was recruited to direct said reshoots. The work Whedon did was extensive enough to earn him a co-writing credit with Terrio. So, with all these behind the scenes issues, you’d think the finished product would be an ungodly mess, right? Well, you’ll be surprised to know that the film is only mostly an ungodly mess.
Let’s start with the good. The Justice League members themselves are really good, which is a relief. Gal Gadot continues her great portrayal of Wonder Woman, picking up right where she left off in her solo movie this summer. Affleck does a good job as Batman, but with all the rumors swirling that he wants out of the role, it’s difficult not to see that desire etched on his face. It seems that all it took was Superman to die in order to get the Superman everyone knows and loves. Henry Cavill shows that he can play the character anyway we need him to…even if Superman’s transition from dour to friendly doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the previous films, or at least it’s not explained very well—a common theme in this film. The new characters worked out pretty well too. Momoa’s take on Aquaman is a complete 180 from the traditional Superfriends version. Miller is great as the comic relief. He’s a younger Flash than the version on TV and also serves as a kind of Robin stand-in for Batman. Ray Fisher has the unenviable task of being the exposition character, but Cyborg is very tied to the plot of the film—what little there is. The most important thing about the three new characters is that I’m definitely interested in seeing more of them.
What else is good? Well, this film is definitely more fun than Dawn of Justice, but WB seems to think that fun = non-existent plot, because there’s barely any here, and what is there doesn’t make a lot of sense. The added humor fit well too, I thought. I wasn’t thrown for a loop by the shift in tone like I’d feared. I also enjoyed how the League brought Superman back. As nonsensical as the plan was, it at least fit in with the story and didn’t feel like a cop out. Of course, the argument can and should be made that killing Superman off in the first place was dumb as hell, but I liked how they tried to fix that mistake.
Now, what’s bad about this movie? Buckle in, because there’s a lot. Like I said, while I really liked the new, (read: classic), take on Superman going forward, the transition didn’t really feel earned. Soft reboots are fine, but Justice League is asking audiences to forget two movies-worth of backstory.
As I’ve pointed out, the plot here is paper-thin. Yes, the point is to get the League assembled, just like it was in Avengers, but at least the latter film had a decent story. The weak plot is exacerbated by the weak villain, Steppenwolf. I’m sure DC/WB is trying to save Steppenwolf’s master, Darkseid, for a later film, but it’s disappointing to see the Justice League joining together to simply fight the B-team.
The film’s story may also be weak due to WB’s mandate that the film be under two hours. It’s completely obvious that there was way more story here that had to be cut for no good reason. The film actually feels truncated, as if the story is just bullet points with no nuance or fleshing out. Aside from the film feeling artificially shortened, it also felt rushed. I’m from the school of thought that the big DC characters are known enough that starting with Justice League and then spinning off into the solo movies would have worked fine, but Dawn of Justice screwed that all up. But Justice League feels like everything was crammed in with little to no thought. It’s a very hurried affair.
However, the absolute worst parts of Justice League revolve around things that could have been easily fixed. The CGI in this film, especially in the third act, is bad—really bad. It was shocking how shoddy the film looked at times—this also goes to the rushed feel of the movie. If the release date had been delayed, it might have turned out better. Finally, for a film featuring the Justice League, the titans of the DC Universe, Justice League is conspicuously lacking in epic moments. Remember that scene in Avengers when the team is finally assembled and there’s that rotating shot of them prior to the main battle? There is nothing like that in Justice League and Joss Whedon—director of Avengers—directed the reshoots. There is a shot that shows the assembled team, but the shoddy CGI rears its head again when the team members look like they aren’t even in the same place. So, you’ve got the premiere DC heroes, teaming up in a single movie, fighting a second-string villain, and they don’t even strike an epic pose. What a letdown.
Overall, while I enjoyed the tone and characters in Justice League better than in Dawn of Justice, the shoddy-looking effects and general nonsensical story have me grading it lower. Your enjoyment of Justice League will depend on your expectations. If all you’re looking for is a fun, but messy, comic book movie, you may just love it. But, if you’re looking for DC to finally even things up with Marvel quality-wise, best put your hopes into next year’s Aquaman or watch Wonder Woman again.